Imagine auditioning for a play and being told that you will not get to meet the other actors or see the set until opening night. You don’t have to be an actor to understand how nerve-wracking an experience that would be.
And yet this is a once-a-year experience that local Portland actors clamor for. Established in 2002, The Anonymous Theater Company exists to provide one night of unexpected thrills for actor and audience alike.
Anyone who knows anything about the Portland theater scene is familiar with Darius Pierce, who has delighted audiences for years as an actor working with Portland Center Stage.
What people may not know is that he is also a founding member of The Anonymous Theater Company. Fresh out of Brown University, he and several friends had an idea to create a new and unique type of play. In 2002, they saw their vision come alive in culture-rich Portland. And what an interesting vision it is.
From casting to curtain call, everything happens in secret. The actors rehearse with the director alone and get no access to props or set pieces.
On opening night, they enter in regular clothes and take a seat with the audience. Their identity isn’t revealed until the moment their part is up, then they rise from their seat and head up onto the stage. The secrecy surrounding the whole affair only adds to its mystique.
In what may be one of the more bizarre interviews I’ve ever conducted, I was told I had to meet Pierce – who is also directing this year’s play – and the actress playing Cynthia at a random house in Southeast Portland. While I could ask “Cynthia” questions, I was not allowed to take a picture or describe her in any way.
As she laughs at all the secrecy, she explains why she took this unique gig. “Usually the challenge for actors in a scene is how to keep it fresh every night and make it seem like they’ve never said those lines before,” she says. “But in this case, we really haven’t ever said those lines to each other before. I think it will be exhilarating.”
The unique format also calls for a modified form of directing, as Pierce explains. “I’m really more of a facilitator or a project manager. I’m just trying to get everyone comfortable with what I want them to do.”
One of the main attractions of a show like this is the spontaneity. “I think the audience does want something unexpected,” Pierce says. “Although our goal is to always do the show as best we can, I love that the format supports things going on without destroying the show, and people enjoy it.”
Considering this is unlike anything most actors have ever done, the unexpected is what has everyone excited, for better or for worse. As “Cynthia” herself tells puts it, “I’m really, really scared.”
Since The Real Inspector Hound is a whodunit caper that mixes murder with mischief in a most hilarious way, the material supports any impromptu snafus. After all, when an audience is already primed for laughter, unexpected events on stage only add to the levity.
So if you’re looking for a night of unexpected fun and enjoyable spontaneity at the expense of some really nervous actors, get your tickets now. The Real Inspector Hound is playing for one night only on the U.S. Bank Main Stage at the Gerding Theater at the Armory on August 10. It will be opened by another Anonymous production, On The Porch One Crisp Summer Morning.
The show starts at 7:00pm and tickets are $25. Half of all ticket proceeds will go the Portland Area Theater Association’s Valentine Fund. For more information or to purchase tickets visit their website.