Tucson has a brand new theater entity making
its debut next October. Rogue Theatre is an exciting and promising
venture because its founders are two of the most talented and adventurous
dramatis personae in this—or any other—area. Cindy
Meier and Joe McGrath are both superb actors and directors with
broad and varied stage experience. We can look forward to some surprising,
challenging, and satisfying theater from these two, beginning with
their production of Jean Genet’s
brilliant and controversial The Balcony. McGrath is directing,
and has a new and original vision for the piece that will do what
good theatre is supposed to do: get people feeling, talking, thinking
—Jesse Greenberg, The
Desert Leaf, June 2005
The Rogue Manifesto
The theatre is a place for us to question our assumptions and encounter
new ideas. It is a place to appreciate points of view impossible to see
in any other way. It is a place where symbol, language, ritual, and character
meet and mix and lend color and texture to our lives. It reveals in the
human spirit that quality we call divine. A community so enriched can
A few years ago Cindy and I were reading a new play for Old Pueblo Playwrights,
and decided, more or less on a whim, to get together and work on scenes
from A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill. Roles
that we loved dearly in age ranges that were rapidly slipping through
our fingers. We had both admired the play for some time, and were impressed
with one another’s talents, and wanted a forum to work with good
people on a very good script. Since then we have worked on several scenes
and have performed them successfully in educational settings.
The experience has confirmed our philosophical predispositions. Namely,
that simple production, focused on language and the power of theatrical
symbolism is much more exciting and rich than most of what we’re
seeing on our American stages at present. Many productions display enormous
levels of craft with little artistry. And our audiences are being trained
to view the theatre as a place where illusions are created and nothing
more. They’ve come to expect that they’ll leave the theatre
with a sense of having done a duty, much like the unwilling Sunday worshiper.
Or that it’s a hit-or-miss affair, and that often they’ll
have to endure a script that, having provided its opportunities for various
sight gags and scenic wonders, at its core has absolutely nothing to say
to them. This is wrong. Theatre should resonate in us. It should stay
with us. It should cling to us and haunt us with its characters and problems
long after the curtain has gone down. We all have had this experience.
And all of our theatres have achieved this wonderful level of penetration
from time to time. But commercial concerns corrupt the ideal.
Money inevitably influences a theatre’s choice of plays and how
they’re produced. It’s hardly a secret that certain plays
and genres of theatre are a much easier sell than others. Whereas one
title will guarantee an 80% house, another piece of truly fine, fine theatre
will struggle to find an audience regardless of its quality of production.
A hard fact for those of us with high ideals.
There is an audience that is being left on the table, so to speak. They’re
perfectly willing to imagine an Irish landscape or London drawing room
provided you have something to say when you’re there. They’re
looking for intelligent discourse. They’ll be happy to listen to
rich language with a few words they’ve never even heard before.
It will be OK with them if you say that this red cloth is blood and this
blue cloth is water, and this man standing with his arms out represents
a wall. They love theatrical symbolism. In fact, they won’t mind
if the symbolism is a heck of a lot subtler than that. This audience does
do nuance. And we hope to serve them.
People like to use their imaginations. A simple theatre is
an imaginative experience for the audience. But, as in anything, simple
isn’t easy. Without automated scenery and lights and breath-taking
costumes, actors are stripped and alone. They must penetrate the work
to such an extent that they need no help to be riveting, and if they’ve
reached that point, they can do without the distractions. How do they
reach that point? They must have a school of acting and strong, insistent
direction. A way of working. And they must have time.
The Rogue will be a way of working. We will become expert at pulling
entire worlds out of our pocket. The Rogue will be fearless about expecting
intelligence from our audience. The Rogue will try always to stay at or
above the level of our audience, because there is nothing worse than playing
beneath them. We will ask more of ourselves, our audience, and our community.
And we will do this in a spirit of love and generosity. Because, along
with everything said thus far, the theatre is a gift.
We’ve chosen to inaugurate this enterprise with a play that presents
both problems and opportunities. Jean Genet’s The Balcony
is a vivid, sprawling, occasionally absurdist play with a large cast.
It will ask a great deal of both our performers and our audience because
it is explosive, ritualistic, and inevitably perplexing at times. It has
a great deal to say about the roles of the leaders and institutions that
enjoy our admiration and respect. How deserving are they? Where do we
get our heros and archetypes? Who is that man in the flight suit on the
deck of the aircraft carrier, and what role is he playing for us? Now
some have advised us to “start slowly” as we get underway.
Producing this play is not starting slowly. We can only explode onto the
scene with The Balcony. It’s big, loud, and aggressive.
Will it be a success? I don’t know. It will be a piece of theatre
that I would love to see. That much I can say. What remains for us is
to find an audience that doesn’t mind the challenge.
We’ve chosen the name The Rogue because we want to poke and prod
and kick over sand castles, and if a few people get pissed off, from time
to time, well, that’s OK. It comes with the territory of talking
about things that people care about, and looking at those things in unexpected
ways. In other words, it comes with the territory of doing real theatre.
—Joseph McGrath, Artistic Director, September 2005
The first season of the Rogue Theatre has confirmed our initial convictions
about what we are attempting to accomplish. Our audience has appreciated
the level of discourse and the opportunity to participate in an imaginative
event, and we have rapidly developed a reputation for those qualities.
We have found that high quality literature develops high quality work
in our artists. Our rehearsal process has encompassed roughly twice the
time that comparable companies might devote to such projects, and we have
found that every last moment of those rehearsals were fruitful in developing
not only the work, but the ensemble, and the individual performers as
well. It has been gratifying to find that the Rogue already seems to have
developed a musical aspect to its ensemble, headed by Dr. Harlan Hokin,
that will be critical in coming years to not only its theatrical posture,
but to the training of ear and voice that must happen if we are to continue
with this rich language. The Rogue is devoted to our local actors, and
we hope to train them to capabilities far beyond what is typically asked
of them here in Tucson.
—Joseph McGrath, Artistic Director, April 2006