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New theater group Red Door Ensemble finds niche

BY CAROLINE BERG | MARCH 11, 2010 7:30 AM

Laura Willis/The Daily Iowan
Joshua Beadle, the director and cofounder of the Red Door Ensemble, goes over a script with the new acting troupe in his Iowa City apartment on March 9. The group discusses the practicality, appeal, playwright, and overall desirability of each script.
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Although 12 organizations stand on the Iowa City theater platform, a group of local entrepreneurial thespians have found a theatrical niche to fill in the Cultural Corridor.

“I started the Red Door Ensemble because I have a passion for contemporary theater,” director and co-founder Joshua Beadle said. “[However] instead of being the curator of contemporary work, we’re creating the canon with all original works.”

The ensemble will preview its début season with Red Door Shorts at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Public Space One, 129 E. Washington. The young group will perform 10-minute snippets of Post-Apocalyptic Postcards, How to Heal the Hurt by Hating, Germans!, and Blood on the Canvas, as well as a hodgepodge of never-before-seen short stories and monologues. Admission is $5.

In 2004, Beadle started Stage Left Productions to broaden the contemporary theater terrain in Cedar Rapids. In 2009, however, his theater company’s foundation collapsed. Now, he has drawn a finer blueprint for his artistic vision.

“There’s a huge amount of talent in all facets of theater here in the Corridor,” the 25-year-old said. “We’re not really pushing to produce just local community talent or work done by friends. We’re just looking for really good [original] works.”

With each script decision, the company weighs together the practicality, appeal, playwright, and overall desirability among the ensemble to produce the show.

“It just so happens that with every potential disagreement we all might have, everything ends up working out,” the UI theater graduate said, then shrugged.

Beadle developed the company’s administrative structure to roughly model that of Second Thought Theatre in Dallas, which incorporates one production ensemble with one acting ensemble. The idea is for everyone to shoulder the production and creative weight so that ensemble members are less vulnerable to burning out.

“Someone made the comment that we’re like a communist organization,” Beadle said about Red Door’s balancing responsibilities evenly among its production crew of four and acting crew double that size.

“The lines are not so drawn in the sand,” Beadle said. “Not everyone is just an actor, or technician, or director. They’re everything — everybody’s collaborating and involved.”

Kerry Kieler, a co-founder and the general manager of Red Door, appreciates the opportunity to participate in every aspect and step of producing a play. She witnesses submitted scripts evolve and participates in their revisions. Not only is this a broadening experience for her professionally, it also helps with the group’s communication and dynamic.

When local playwright Karl Gronwall’s script for Germans! first circulated among the ensemble, Kieler was not in favor of producing the play. However, Beadle and Kieler tried acting out some scenes. Slowly, the play revealed its true potential as the two bounced around the dialogue. Beadle realized that “this [play] is flippin’ hilarious,” and Kieler was also sold.

Rick Adams said acting for original plays takes up a great amount of time in order to create an appropriate character and mood for the play.

“If you’re doing Shakespeare, you can just go find an old Laurence Olivier film to study and watch a million times,” the 24-year-old “baby” of the group said. “With doing all new works, there’s nothing that’s been done before on it to draw from for your own acting.”

Adams described Red Door Shorts as a sort of scatterbrained acting endeavor that quickly hops from one train of thought to another.

“There’s one number in which one of our guys has to perform a really heavy monologue about his mom dying from cancer,” Adams said. “Then, immediately, he does another piece where he has to be really excited that George Bush is being elected as president.”

Kieler, who also collaborated with Beadle on Stage Left Productions, said the former company moved toward the direction of socially provoking plays, which became too serious. With Red Door, the 29-year-old said, a thread cannot be sewn from one piece to the next, and there’s much more laughter.

Red Door will hold its season through the summer rather than “straddle the gaps” between years as the other theaters in Iowa City tend to conduct their performance schedules.

“I hate the months of transition,” Beadle said. “December and January, I don’t want to deal with them.”

As for finances, he is paying out of his own pocket for Red Door Shorts and utilizing his positive relationship with the community-building organization James Gang, which supports Public Space One. At the moment, the ensemble is largely relying on the power of word of mouth for its advertising. However, the group plans to throw events each month to benefit and promote the new theater company.

For its first play, Post-Apocalyptic Postcards, Beadle wishes to host a zombie dance party a couple weeks before opening night. He also hopes to create postcards with graphics of people screaming and running from zombies.

“It’s a lot of guerrilla-ish Internet promotion on sites such as Facebook and the [Iowa Theatre Blog],” Beadle said. “The focus really right now is on building an audience.”

He also hopes to build a better network for up-and-coming playwrights looking to get their work produced. He wants to host a YouTube channel, “Page to Stage,” on which playwrights may upload short acted clips of their scripts as a resource for producers.

“One of the biggest issues for production companies is taking the time to read through a stack full of scripts,” Beadle said, who experienced this frustration at Stage Left. “With [‘Page to Stage’], we hope to create a direct link between producers and playwrights.”

Always knowing he wanted to own his own theater company, he envisions a 99-seat black box for both Red Door and community performance groups to share in Iowa City.

“I think part of the reason we’re going to be so successful is because of the fact that we’re all friends,” Beadle said with Kieler and Adams in his company. “I would do anything for these two.”


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