July 11-17, 2001 Show Business


by Bridgit Dengle

What’s a RAT? Erik Ehn writes, "It’s not that there’s not enough good work out there; there’s not enough out there out there. Experimental theaters, geographically and financially isolated from one another, struggle separately when they could be struggling together–not in less pain, perhaps, but in a common and revivifying pain." Thus the RATS were born. Artists of many of the nation’s fringe theaters first officially gathered in 1994 in Iowa City. Some of their goals are to give experimental new work a longer life and wider audiences as well as to foster collaboration between like-minded and often marginalized companies. This year’s annual conference purposely coincided with TCG’s. Host venues were Philadelphia’s Brick Playhouse, the Shubin Theatre, the Fleischer and Theatre Double.

Anyone can join. Gabriele Shafer (a quintessential RAT who’d met Ehn at Yale Drama School) was involved in a reading of Dirty Little Secrets by Jeffrey M. Jones (a Brooklynite) at the Los Angeles RAT conference in 1999. It intrigued Ed Hawkins, who ended up directing the play at Annex Theater in Seattle, with Shafer acting in it. As part of RATS’ philosophy, they found her a day job in addition to her role! This way RATS can travel and be in each other’s productions.

Shafer has lived with her husband, Nick Fracaro, in Brooklyn since 1984. For years, the two of them have been artistically involved with Dick D. Zigun, Founding Artistic Director of Coney Island USA, who produces, among other things, The Mermaid Parade. But due to RATS’ influence, the couple are now expanding into Philadelphia. They just culminated their year’s residency at Theater Double by helping organize the Rat Conference. "It’s a life in art versus a career in art," says Shafer. In a wonderful mix of creativity and pragmatism, Shafer’s night job is in New York, Fracaro’s free-lance day job is in Philadelphia and together they curate "Fly By Night" every Saturday of every first weekend of the month at the Brick Playhouse. Six writers, six directors and eighteen actors are needed to accomplish this. On Friday night at 10p.m., everyone gathers, bringing props, costumes and one noun and one verb for each writer. With this, they write all night while the actors and directors sleep. At 10a.m., the writers hand off their brand new script. The directors and actors go to work and all the plays get done at 8p.m. that night! Interested artists can get involved via http://rat.whirl-i-gig.com/rat.htm.

Whether you want to expand your horizons or discover brand new ones, there really is a wonderful world out there. Travel the great beyond–certainly beyond mid-town and even downtown. While you’re heading to rehearsal, you can use the subway commute to learn your lines and do some intense character study. Expand your horizons and get inspired by taking a road trip. Venture out to a theater far, far away and play on some boards that may date back a century. This summer, get out of the city and get into all the exciting theater beyond the confines NY.