Slow Theatre gains momentum in Chico

Amanda Rhine

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Rob Davidson, left, Jesse Mills, Alex Hilsee and Jessica Sijan of Slow Theatre perform scenes from Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)” on April 27 at The Bookstore in downtown Chico. Photo credit: Amanda Rhine

The concept of slow theater is very much like that of slow food in that it strives to preserve the integrity of community theater and get locals involved.

“The analogy would be to slow food,” said Robert Davidson, Chico’s Slow Theatre board of directors president and Chico State English professor. “Slow food is really concerned with, ‘Where did that food come from?’ ‘Who grew it?’ ‘Why am I eating it in Chico?’ So with slow theater, there is a similar set of questions and answers.”

The mission is to to bring local actors and writers into the limelight and give them a chance to show off their hard work and develop an education program so that people of all ages, especially children, can be trained and get experience in the dramatic arts.

“We want to kind of cultivate a culture,” Davidson said. “Community theater is just anyone coming up and saying they can act. Then you go to the shows, and the acting is really uneven. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

A primary focus is to contribute to the local community in a way that other theater groups don’t seem to do, by trying to stay applicable to Chico.

“We feel like a lot of local community theater doesn’t necessarily put on shows that are relevant to Chico,” Davidson said. “They’re just shows that they like or think people will pay money to see. We’re interested in theater that actually speaks to this community.”

With such a centered mindset, the group takes its time in selecting actors and scripts to introduce to the public.

“Part of our process, the ‘slow’ part of it, is that we take our time,” Davidson said. “We research scripts and find actors who are right for the roles in those scripts. Then we find producers and directors and community partners.”

The in-depth process seems to be paying off. Last summer, Slow Theatre sponsored the free Labor Day weekend festival known as The Butcher Shop for the first time, and it was hailed as a big success, bringing in about 2,000 people.

“We had to turn people away at one point because there were too many people showing up,” Davidson said.

While the outcome of the three-day event was more than favorable, the thrown-together preparation was not, Davidson said. This year, the group is taking a different, six-month approach that will likely become the new norm for future planning and generate more participation.

“We have found and solicited work from some local writers, and we already have a certain number of scripts and we’re meeting already – right now — to develop those scripts with the writers,” he said. “Then we’re going to have a retreat on Memorial Day weekend and bring the writers. We’re going to bring actors, and we’re going to bring producers and directors.”

The prep work doesn’t stop there, Davidson said.

“Then we’re going to do a really intense series of workshops with dramatic readings and rewrites and critical feedback and so forth,” he said. “The writers leave at the end of May and have June and July to revise those scripts. Eventually, we got to get the cast together.”

In addition to The Butcher Shop, Slow Theatre now pops up all around town to perform shortened dramatic readings with various actors that they think will be well-received by the local theatergoers.

Performing at such places like The Bookstore, 1078 Gallery and private homes, the group hopes to bring attention to what they’re doing, create a dialog between artists and audiences, and have people share their experiences since promotion is heavily reliant on word of mouth.

“Part of our reasons for (the readings) is to get out in the community and get the word out and get people interested in what we’re doing,” Davidson said. “So that’s one part of our master plan.”

Amanda Rhine can be reached at [email protected] or @am_rhine on Twitter

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