When Apron Theatre Co. premieres Short Aprons: A Production of World Premiere Playettesthis Thursday, its members will have only been in their production space for two days. They’ll have conducted their previous rehearsals in friends’ homes and apartments. And after all the preparation, they’ll finally mount their mini-musical about Chilean miners.
The production, which comprises eight short plays, including a dance piece and a fight-based short described as “an action movie on stage,” has been limited by its budget. “We’ve had to be creative with rehearsal space,” says Tyler Budde, Apron’s artistic director. But give the troupe points for variety.
Budde’s vision for Apron started last spring, when he was about to graduate from American University’s Department of Performing Arts. He was worried about losing touch with his peers from AU, so Budde (along with his brother, Craig) quickly wrote and put together a musical, Shirley Dreaming, hoping to encourage his fellow actors to stay in the D.C. area.
Shirley Dreaming premiered at last year’s Capital Fringe Festival. Complete with a small pit and a VJ, the show revolves around a recent college graduate fired on her first day of work, and it earned positive notices from Washington City Paper and DC Theatre Scene. A weekend of performances at the Perishable Theatre in Providence, R.I., followed. The troupe is funding Short Aprons largely with its gross from Shirley Dreaming, along with support from Fractured Atlas, an arts non-profit. (Fractured Atlas provides fiscal and regulatory assistance to new projects by extending their 501(c)(3) status to help encourage donations. It also helps provide small arts groups with other necessities, like insurance.)
Budde now works as a house manager at Studio Theatre, alongside fellow company member Alan Balch. “On breaks we would talk about the philosophy of theater,” says Balch, who is studying for a master’s degree in theater history at Catholic University. “We both take the approach that theater can have meaning beyond entertainment… that there can be community through theater.”
Budde isn’t interested in building something with Studio’s size—-or its trade-offs. “These [big theater] companies are all about the subscribers,” Budde says. “It felt to me like it was all a high-society endeavor.”
While Budde says he understands big theater companies rely on subscriber bases to remain solvent, but he worries that such tactics can rob theater of its inspiration.
“Artistic creation is… inspirational because of the relationships audience members have built with the artists,” Budde says. “It’s like being a dad and going to your son’s play at high school, and all the other parents are filling all the other seats and at the end, the audience is in tears and the shows gets a standing ovation. Why? Because of the relationship that the audience has with the artists on stage. That’s what we want. We want that relationship with our community.”
Budde’s says he’s afraid these relationships no longer exist at many of D.C.’s bigger theater companies. Take, for example, a Studio subscriber. “He’s going not because he knows the show, or wants to see it,” Budde says. “He’s going because he’s got a subscription for five shows and this is one of them…The art itself is kind of cut off at the knees.”
So Budde’s cast, like Lizy Hallacy, a casting agency intern, says it’s eager to see how its experiment in ultra-low-budget community theater is received.
Short Aprons consists entirely of original “playettes”—-short pieces written, directed, and performed by members of Budde’s company.
One, “In the Manner of the Word,” (written by Ezree Mualem) expands on two of the characters in Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, giving them a chance to “convey their true love for each other,” according to Budde.
Another, “Standing Up” by Kyle Encinas, is a “fight” play, where a “down-on-his luck man seeks revenge on the guy who ruined his life.”
Perhaps the most ambitious piece is “Trapped: the Musical,” which is centered on the Chilean miners who invaded so many news cycles last year—-specifically Yonni Barrios, the miner whose wife discovered his mistress while he was trapped underground. “Many musicals based on or inspired by the Chilean minor incident have been talked about in D.C. theater circles,” Budde says. “But this is the first one to take the stage.”
Budde plans to offer a talk-back after every Apron show. (Most companies only hold one or two over a show’s run.) In lieu of subscriptions, he plans to simply ask the audience to stay connected and look out for Apron’s next production.
“I want to ask an entire audience to come share that next experience together,” Budde says. “It’s just an invitation.”
Budde hopes Apron’s network will soon expand. “What we’re saying is we want to celebrate community,” he says. “It’s all about growing an audience…you’re going because your friend’s going.”
Still, Budde says he knows it’s an uphill battle. “It’s all young and idealistic,” Budde admitted. “But it has to be in order to be different from everything else that exists.”
Short Aprons: A Production of World Premiere Playettes runs Feb. 3-5 at Warehouse Theater, 645 New York Ave. NW. (202) 783-3933