?Penumbra? a journey into the world of color
Ambitious multimedia performance lands at the Abbey Theatre

Malaine Gabel, left, and Welana Fields get together for a Penumbra dress rehearsal at the Abbey Theatre last weekend./Photo by Todd Newcomer

by Jules Masterjohn

aking art can be a seductive activity: to dream of melodies and short stories, sculpture and dance is the province of the muse, alluring and enticing the creative mind. Moving from these visionary ideas generated from within the imagination into the world of form and substance, the earth plane is where the rubber meets the road for most creative acts. It is in the material world that the finesse of creativity can be really appreciated … where the paint joins the canvas, the clay gives itself to the fire,- and where the players entrance the audience.

Captivate they may, when next week, the inventive and ambitious multimedia performance, “Penumbra,” an original mythic tale set in a land defined by color, light and shadow, will be presented at the Abbey Theatre. Born of the collaborative efforts of Alex Oliszewski, LeAnn Brubaker and Stacey Sotosky, “Penumbra” invites viewers of all ages to engage their imaginations while being entertained by much more than the typical stage production.

Recently I witnessed the makings of this layered visual and auditory performance, which is based upon a narrative that unfolds through the use of multiple projection screens, intelligent lights, music, digitally altered video and sound, along with eight actors adorned in masks. Encountering a work in progress of such large scope, a conversation with writer/director Alex Oliszewski helps to give insight into the visionary processes that have brought this performance piece to the theater.

JM: How did “Penumbra” come to be, and what inspired it?

ALEX: It all started when I found a window into a “world of color,” which is the name of the made up world in which “Penumbra” is set. It is somewhere a few stars to the left of Never Land and just on the edge of the Void. For the purpose of creating a theatre for the active imagination, LeAnn and I populated the world of color with a number of different characters. “Penumbra” is the third in a series of stories. LeAnn, Stacey,and I figured out the general story arc, and then I fleshed it out in a script form. I use a method of writing stories about individuals from within a framework of a much larger epic story, similar to the style of JRR Tolkin. I have been trying to figure out how to make it big enough so that I could invite an audience in and let them have a look for themselves. I want to activate my audience’s imagination; I want them to feel that the dreams I am translating for them into a stage play are so surreal they can touch it.

JM: Tell us the story line.

ALEX: The story of “Penumbra” is an original synthesis of various creation myths. There are elements of Asian, Pagan, Christian, Catholic and Native American mythology wrapped up in the story. It is a creation myth told by the old man of the mountain. This story is about Lighdow and Shadight, a color fairy from one world and shadow fairy from another. We learn how they survive the Sand Queen’s Wrath and why there are

shadows now that mix with the colors of the world.

JM: Is there symbolic meaning to the title, the penumbra being the area of partial shadow between the complete darkness and complete light of an eclipse?

ALEX: When I try to imagine the penumbra, I see the boundary between our eyes and the world of color. It is the screen through which we are closest to those things that we are not. Theatre, when created for an active imagination, is the perfect window into the world of colors hiding within.

JM: There are moments in “Penumbra” that feel mesmerizing. ALEX: The auditory focus and style of the play creates an experience much like a guided meditation. The story is told in a sort of dreamlike state that is fleshed out by abstracted visual references to the plot and drama. Our minds live in dreams, yet our bodies live in Durango. I enjoy the challenge of trying to activate that part of the human mind that thinks that bubbles are cool, and that maybe the dragon that lives on the other side of Smelter will come out and play. I think “Penumbra” will come off well to children, but I really want adults to feel a little bit of magic behind there eyes.

JM: Working collaboratively toward creating a multimedia piece, are there challenges and rewards for developing such a large and diverse vision?

ALEX: I find my largest challenge is to keep things simple and balanced. My largest reward is through the sensory and social experience of creating and performing with a cast of live performers and an audience.

JM: Where do you want to take the audience?

ALEX: Home, to the world of color.

JM: Home … please say more about this place.

ALEX: I am not sure ... I feel much more at home in my dreams sometimes. I am very aware that what I have contributed to the world of color is a semi-autobiographical map of my soul and life story. There are so many issues in the world: war, money, religion, love. There are many different ways that people express themselves, but I feel at home in a theatre. I enjoy nothing more then giving an audience a reason to show up to a theatre and share a story.

One reason to show up to the theater is for the experimental multimedia approach of “Penumbra;” a merging of film, music, sound and light effects, and theatrical action that is an uncommon occurrence in our community.

Performances will be held May 31 at 7:30 p.m., $15 adults/$10 students; and June 3-4 at 9 p.m., $10 adults/$7 students. Tickets are available at The Abbey Theatre, Magpies Newsstand and Southwest Sound.

Actors Malaine Gabel, left, and Welana Fields display their Penumbra masks Sunday./Photo by Todd Newcomer



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