Lynn Lammers says theater audiences are often a homogenous group, and she’s out to change that.
“Our audiences tend to look the same, and always have,” Lammers says. “If other people aren’t coming to the theater, as theater artists we have to ask ourselves why. We have to do better and we have to do different.”
Lammers has made a major effort to “do different” herself over the past three years by launching Ann Arbor’s new Kickshaw Theatre Co. Lammers is the executive director of the nonprofit professional company and the director of its first play, Stefanie Zadravec’s “The Electric Baby,” which runs through Feb. 21 at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth.
After a lengthy search for Kickshaw’s first play, Lammers says “The Electric Baby” fit perfectly with the company’s mission. She says her main strategy for bringing in new theatergoers is putting diverse stories onstage — not just plays about “middle-class, straight, middle-aged, white people.”
The play is a dark but emotional comedy about six strangers whose lives become intertwined in curious ways after they are all involved in the same car accident. Two of them, a married couple, are very much “straight, middle-aged, white people.” But the others are a diverse bunch: A superstitious Romanian mother, an upstanding Nigerian cab driver, a young prostitute and the adoring friend who haunts her from beyond the grave. Grief torments all six in varying ways, some of it related to the crash and some preceding the accident.
“It’s very much an ensemble piece,” Lammers says. “There’s no clear protagonist. We get to look at this sort of situation through six different sets of eyes.”
The show has a magical-realist touch as well. Natalia, the Romanian mother, cradles not a baby but a large glowing orb throughout the show.
“You automatically assume that this lady is a gypsy, or that it’s a supernatural play,” says actress Vanessa Sawson, who portrays Natalia. “But as you take it deeper, you realize it just happens to be expressionistic without you knowing it until later.”
“The Electric Baby” has debuted at an unexpectedly critical moment for Ann Arbor theater, as the venerable Performance Network Theatre announced its closing in December after a 34-year run. Julia Glander, who cofounded Kickshaw with Lammers and plays the role of Helen in “The Electric Baby,” says it’s difficult to predict what that will mean for Kickshaw.
“I’m not sure if that’s going to be an extra big hill for us to climb because of the general mood in supporting the arts,” Glander says. “I don’t know if people will be hungering for something else.”
The play’s first handful of performances have provided mixed indicators along those lines. Lammers and Glander say audiences have responded positively to the show overall, and its opening night sold out. However, turnout was low for the following performances.
The company currently has an “immersive experience” called “Kickshaw Lab” planned for this summer. Audience members would walk through the set of that show, experiencing scenes as they went along. However, Glander says that production — and the others Kickshaw would like to tackle — hinges on the success or failure of “The Electric Baby.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
“The Electric Baby”
8 p.m. Feb. 11-12, 18-19 and 20; 3 p.m. Feb. 13 and 20; 4 p.m. Feb. 14 and 21
Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth
704 Airport, Ann Arbor