Ghost Road Keeps Thoughtful Productions Light On Their Feet

Categories: Culture, Theater

Thumbnail image for butterfly.jpg
Patti McGuire
As Katherine Noon, artistic director of the Los Angeles-based theater troupe Ghost Road Company, says, South Coast Repertory's Studio SCR series is unique in Southern California:
"There is nothing else like it in Southern California," Noon says of the series, which brings smaller, alternative companies into SCR's intimate Nicholas Studio for weekend runs. "This major cultural institution putting time and money into new, innovative local work is such a boon to the theatrical community here."
Ghost Road's offering is The Bargain and the Butterfly, an ensemble-driven work based on a Nathanial Hawthorne short story that the company's website calls "a beautifully haunting new play, which explores the delicate intersection between genius and madness."

We caught up with Noon, who directs and developed the show in collaboration with her ensemble, and asked some deeply probing questions about one of the more interesting troupes in the greater Los Angeles area, which was founded in 1993 by fellow students at the California Institute of the Art's.

OC Weekly (Joel Beers): Ghost Road has been around for 20 years. Has it ever had a home, or are you a gypsy troupe?

Katherine Noon: Ghost Road is an itinerant company. We spend the majority of our time developing new work so it doesn't really make sense for us to have a theatre. There are a couple of theatres in LA where we tend to perform most often - ARTEL and Atwater Village Theatre. The goal is always to develop work that will eventually tour so being light on our feet is an advantage. That being said, we do have our feelers out for a more permanent working space. It does become burdensome to move around during the creation process."

How would you define the troupe's theatrical aesthetic?

Almost our entire focus is on ensemble-devised work. We start with an idea or an existing text and, as an ensemble, develop the work collaboratively with one of us as the leader of the process. Through this process we develop character, image, text and the central ideas and questions. We have adapted classic works like The Oresteia (Home Siege Home) as well as being inspired by scientific ideas and short stories, as is the case with The Bargain and the Butterfly. The work can feel otherworldly, but at the same time is relevant to a contemporary audience. The language leans toward the poetic with strong physicality and visual imagery."

What was the genesis of The Bargain and the Butterfly?

Initially, it started with artistic burn out. Ghost Road had just come off a large project and I had nothing left creatively. I wondered what it was about some people who seemed to have endless creative energy and were so prolific in their output. I began to research psychology and neurology and kept coming up with the very narrow border that divides madness from genius.

I know this is territory that has been well trod, but I did find one interesting bit of information about a new discovery concerning a variant on a gene. People with this variant have an equal chance of being a genius or being schizophrenic. This led me to think about genetics and the imminent ability of parents to choose genetic traits for their unborn children and I wondered, "If it was possible, would anyone choose for their child to be a genius with the knowledge that they were risking schizophrenia?"

About this time I came across Hawthorne's short story, "The Artist of the Beautiful," a story about a young clock maker and his desire to make a perfect clockwork butterfly that would possess perpetual motion and, by all accounts, a soul.

What do you hope audiences will walk away with from this production?

In our work, we tend to ask more questions than we answer. We hope these questions open up ideas and conversations for audience members and the imagery and words will continue to resonate beyond the theatre.

See also:
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