A group of self-proclaimed "renegades" is stripping acting down to its basics, by staging theatrical readings of plays at West Hartford's Noah Webster Library.
The "Play-Reading Renegades" group was started by West Hartford resident Marsha Howard Karp, Berlin resident JoAnn DeWind, and Simsbury resident Rick Fiocco as a way to give the actors more control over what plays they perform, and do so without needing to memorize every single line.
The group, which has between 60 and 80 members who might be considered for a part, first performed a reading in March.
"I really wanted a nice group with a bunch of other creative artists and I wanted it to be very supportive and I wanted us to have control over picking out our plays and being in those occasional roles we always wanted to do," Karp said.
They perform the last Thursday of each month in the library's meeting room. They dress in all black and read their part from binders. They are practically face to face with their audience.
With no extravagant sets or tailored costumes to overshadow the actors, the performance comes down to the pure essence of acting, Karp and DeWind said.
"The actors still enjoy developing their characters," DeWind said. "Though there are limitations - you don't have the costumes, the wigs, the makeup - there is a lot you can do sitting in a chair with facial expressions, your hands, your voice. They use their instruments fully without the benefit of the other things."
Karp said one performance brought around 70 spectators. She describes it as a unique audience that is rooting for the actors.
"The people who come to see it, they have a lot more enthusiasm in the sense that they are rooting for you," Karp said. "They are not coming to judge the scenes, to judge the costumes, to judge the way you look. I love that. It's been a beautiful atmosphere that way compared to full-on plays, which seems to be a lot more of a showcase with a lot more nerves."
The next performance will be on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. Karp is producing, directing and acting in Norm Foster's Jenny's House of Joy. After that, the next performance will be Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. DeWind will be producing, directing and acting in a play by local playwright Bailly Shannon Morse, called An Author in Search of Six Characters.
DeWind, who has been working on that October production since June, said these performances have been very personal because of how close they are to the audience and because of how much the actors are focusing on their characters and dialogue - instead of everything else that comes with a stage show.
"The intensity is more personal, while developing your character and working with your group, rather than making your costume and wig and makeup just right," DeWind said. "It's very narrowly intensified to your character."
The group has been helpful for actors in other ways, too, as Karp said they've been able to network and create new friends in the acting scene.
"They've met new friends and they're networking a lot now," Karp said. "That makes it really appealing to everybody."
No plays are scheduled for after October yet, but any updates to that will be made on the website, bit.ly/play-readingrenegades.