Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, a play about life, love and growth, is named after an acting exercise.
The exercise works like this: First, all participating actors (preferably more than two) must stand in a circle. One actor will make a movement and an accompanying sound. Then, everyone in the circle has to mirror this sound and movement until the next actor transforms it into another sound/movement combination.
The exercise is said to strengthen spontaneity and to break down personal barriers among actors. Apparently, it’s a pretty inspiring game for playwrights, too.
Theatre KAPOW! takes on Vermont playwright Annie Baker’s critically-acclaimed and Obie Award-winning play Circle Mirror Transformation next week. The show follows a beginner acting class in rural Vermont led by an artsy hippie. Only four students sign up: a “pouty” 16-year-old, a hippie husband, a divorced carpenter and a former actress. The production celebrates theater and creativity, but throughout, it highlights the changes and growth of the characters during this five-week period as they get to know one another through active and sometimes kooky theatrical games.
Certainly, people in the arts community will pay particular attention to the company’s upcoming show. But it’s not really about acting and theater, said Katie Collins, who plays acting teacher Marty, even though the entire production occurs within a community acting studio. The exercises these actors perform, Collins said, are just as true to life as they are true to stage.
“The exercises are about noticing things, remembering details, listening to one another. They’re all things that beginning actors have to learn. But they all apply to life. You need to notice people, to pay attention to things, to be in the moment,” Collins said.
The play, she said, is more about slow, subtle transformation.
“It’s a very quiet show, but that doesn’t mean nothing happens. I think it’s very true to the sort of shifts and changes that just happen in life. Sometimes they’re not big and dramatic. Sometimes they’re very quiet,” Collins said.
In fact, most things about this play are subtle. It contains a small cast that includes Collins, Carey Cahoon (Theresa), Garey Trahan (James), Aaron Compagna (Schultz) and Olivia Dodd (Lauren). There are no sets, no extravagant costumes, and really the only props, Matt Cahoon said, are a wall ball and a hoola hoop.
The structure of Circle Mirror Transformation, too, is subtle.
“It doesn’t follow the sort of standard structure you’d see in a movie or in a lot of stage plays,” said Director Lowell Williams in a phone interview. “It’s very intricate and unexpected.”
The show premieres in a fitting place: at Studio 550, Manchester’s newest community art center. Only about 30 seats are available at each performance. This intimate staging will hopefully help audiences absorb this quiet, transformative show — they will, after all, be right in the midst of things, perhaps even sitting in bean bag chairs, on the floor.
“Annie Baker wrote these very specific directions, with pauses and silences that could be uncomfortable in a large theater, but will be very intentional and true to life in this small space,” Collins said.
The space, said theatre KAPOW board president and co-founder Matt Cahoon, fits the play \ perfectly.
“This is one of those cases [where] we found the venue before we found the show,” Cahoon said. “We have been talking with Monica Leap [Studio 550 owner] since way back. ...The first time we walked through the building, there was still construction being done. It was still in the dream stage. … Initially, we thought it would be a great place to do some of our trainings.
“But then we read this play by Annie Baker, Circle Mirror Transformation. … It seemed like a perfect fit: the playwright called for a room that had mirrors on one wall, hardwood floors, and that kind of space exists in Monica’s venue,”
Even the classes Leap holds at Studio 550, outside the movement studio, proved helpful. Theatre KAPOW co-founder and actor Carey Cahoon recently attended one of the Studio’s hoop-making classes and some hoop movement classes with Liv Kau for the play. (Hooping, Matt Cahoon said, is an integral piece to Carey’s character.)
“What drew us to it was the funny script — it was kind of an opportunity for theatre KAPOW to have fun at our own expense. These kooky theater games and the training is the kind of stuff we do in Manchester,” Matt Cahoon said.
“But it’s a really beautiful, really poignant play that ties up so nicely and fits so well with what we wanted to discuss in our season,” Matt Cahoon said. “We’re dealing with all of these issues of the awakening human conscience, coming to grips with relationships and with ourselves. It’s a really beautiful piece about real people and how they live their daily lives.”
Appeared in the Nov. 28, 2013 issue of the Hippo