Jay Michaels looks for the Group Theatre in the 21st Century

Strasberg would be proud

A playwright colleague of mine oft-quotes from Clurman’s book about the formation of The Group Theatre. The Group Theatre was a theater collective based in New York City and formed in 1931 by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg. The company included actors, directors, playwrights, and producers. The name “Group” came from the idea of the actors as a pure ensemble; a reference to the company as “our group” led them to accept the inevitable and call their company The Group Theatre.

In my travels, I can say with surety that most companies uphold this concept. But do they truly go all the way or do fall short somewhere. The logic of why companies grow and shrink or just plain disappear or become something else is vast. Money, power, opportunity, difference in talent, and so on.

It has made me ask the question, can a “Group Theatre” mentality exist in the 21st century when nonprofit theaters have “producing artistic managing associate producer in charge of playwrighting” or when film titles suddenly appear on mastheads of plays, or simply, companies claim to be in-it-to-win-it but in reality disappear fast when one (or more members) get a TV spot.

Nothing wrong with TV. I should know.

I found a company, opening next month, and they have shown some extra signs of Strasberg-ish behavior.

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The new theatrical ensemble, PaperKids Theatre, takes this at its word. Tory Delahunt, a founding member, requested her name be removed from leading off a paragraph in the press release. This was a force of habit of mine as most companies have a “leader.” PaperKids looks like it has leaders.

Their premiere production is a revival of a clever John Cariani multi-layered piece.

Love/Sick sounds like a Netflix series – and that’s a good thing. It’s nine short plays in one ranging from love-at-first-sight to long-time marriage. “The audience watches as couples in realistic situations are disrupted by absurdist impulses, acts of confession, and devilish desires. Rife with insecurity, notions of what “should be,” misunderstandings, and more. Basically, LOVE/SICK explores the rise and fall … and rise again… of love,” says Tory Delahunt, a member of PaperKids Theater.

Love/Sick, a 90-minute production, will be at the Hudson Gild Theatre, 441 W 26th St, New York City, with performances on February 24 @ 9pm; February 26 @ 9pm; and February 29 @ 6:45pm

Tickets at: https://www.paperkidstheatre.com/love-sick

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Ruben Vellekoop started out honest. He needed to google the Group Theatre to really answer the question well. It was that quick research that led him to state,

“I think that’s exactly what we are – a collective of actors, writers, directors, producers who all love working with each other and want to create cool stuff.”

Well said.

Carlos Moreno Henninger knew the subject of the question and elaborated; “The Group Theater had a specific vision of artistic integrity and vigor that seems a little exhausting at this point- we came together because we knew each other and we wanted to work more so than to create a specific type of theater we felt we weren’t seeing out there (sounds like Strasberg’s vision to me). But at the same time, their focus on the “group,” on the ensemble, feels really right to me. The best part of this experience has been the collaborative nature of every part of it, and I haven’t found that too often outside of PaperKids.”

Kristi Donna Ng didn’t answer. She says she didn’t know who the Group Theatre was. But she interjected; “the benefit is that we are all a team and can split up the work so that no individual is overloaded.” Sorry, Kristi, you do understand the Group Theatre mentality.

My contact with the company, Tory Delahunt, you-know, the one who didn’t want a title,  chimed in with “We are not creating any sort of acting technique together (or at least not yet), so we’re not reminiscent of Group Theater in that regard. But we’re a collective of artists putting on something that’s important to us, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Jaimie Wallace feels the adventure: “I think it’s similar in the ensemble aspect of it, but I’m not sure. We’re new and I think we’re still trying to find out footing, but I am excited to see where it goes!” Shawn Zylberberg, like Jamie is readying for the long haul. “We still need time to define our mission and until then, we’re a group of artists trying to put on a damn good show!”

And Leah Serinsky offered a battle cry in answer to the question. “we are working together to create something we all believe in! The teamwork, the friends, the love. It doesn’t get better than this.”

Funny, that’s exactly what Tory said!

Joseph Segot offered a real Hallmark card moment: “I am not too familiar with the group theater. but, if it’s a collective of big-hearted, talented, inspiring, and truly lovely people. who love to perform and make art. Then yes, PaperKids is absolutely reminiscent.”

Jeremy Rafal and Sudheer Gaddam  both echoed the core of the Group Theatre.  It is not about creating the “the Method;” but a safe space to open our hearts And minds to make art:

“This company is very much in the spirit of what theater is supposed to be about. We are an ensemble and we got each other’s backs,” says Jeremy with Sudherr jumping in with “I don’t know about the Group Theatre, but it’s fun to work with people you like to work with.”

As an epilogue, Jeff Brackett summed it all up beautifully.

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“Yes, in the sense that it came out of a specific place, at a specific time, and to serve a specific purpose. We have all been studying Seth Barrish’s collection of acting techniques at The Barrow Group. I believe we are something new, however, while still holding true to similar principles. We live in a world that is very different than the early 20th century that Stanislavsky lived in. We are creating a response to our current world and a prompt for the world to have new conversations and to pave new paths.”

From my chats, the PaperKids seem to understand the “Group” dynamic. All for one and one for Art. They understand how to not just be actors, directors, producers, writers, designers, technicians, but simply performing artists working with other performing artists.  Not only did I not get a whiff of titles but – like I said about Tory – they seem to disappear with conversation.

Maybe its fitting that their first production be about love actually. As a real company of artists understand that better than anyone. One might say that the real essence of the Group Theatre and the Group mentality is to apply unconditional love to your art.

As Shakespeare wrote, ““To business that we love we rise betimes and go to’t with delight.”

Happy Valentine’s Day

https://www.paperkidstheatre.com/love-sick

 

 

 

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