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Idaho Artists Collective

New touring company wants to be Idaho's theater

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In the garage of a mini Meridian McMansion, Bobby jumps up from his recliner, puts on a tinfoil cap--to prevent his thoughts from being read--and, in his circuitous way, tries to explain to his estranged brother Jack about the trial, the judge, the prosecutor and the jury.

"They're idiots and freaks" Bobby says.

"But what did you do?" Jack asks, irritation and resignation registering on his face.

Eventually, as Jack and Bobby down several bottles of beer and oodles booze, we discover that Bobby tried to kill someone. We also discover that while Jack seems like the normal one in this situation, he is as mentally unstable as his brother. There will soon be a vicious, frightening fist fight.

The above scene, though portrayed by real people, is not real life. It is from Act 1 of the play On An Average Day by John Kolvenbach. Bobby is played by local actor Jared Hallock and Jack is played by local actor Gary Winterholler, who is also one of the co-founders of Idaho Artists Collective, the company putting on this production. They perform on May 13-15 at the El Korah Shrine. IAC will use this production to test out its new model as a touring theater company.

Winterholler and his wife Cammie Pavesic--who is the director of On An Average Day--have been involved in scores of local films and theater productions for decades. Both graduates of the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York, Winterholler and Pavesic have always been interested in furthering local theater. In Boise, Winterholler was the co-founder of and both were involved with the family friendly Prairie Dog Playhouse.

The couple will continue their work with children's theater via a non-profit arm of IAC that will offer children's education and entertainment. IAC will also provide training and networking for other area actors. But Winterholler and Pavesic really set their sights on producing contemporary plays that focus on social issues--like the mental illness, alcoholism and family dysfunction that permeate On An Average Day.

Last year, IAC planned to be involved with the Idaho Meth Project. The theater company would have traveled to Idaho schools performing educational plays but funding didn't come through. But the idea of a touring theater company appealed to Winterholler and Pavesic, as did the idea of creating a company that used fewer resources than a typical theater company, thereby possibly making a little money.

"[IAC] is a for-profit theater company," Winterholler said.

Pavesic interjected, laughing, "That's an oxymoron."

She wasn't totally joking. During their years in theater, they paid rent on spaces, paid managers, paid for costumes, paid musicians, paid actors.

"What we learned is that instead of producing eight shows in a year in one place, we could do one show in eight places," Pavesic said. That way, we don't have to pay rent. And we don't have to pay rent when we're dark [off season]."

And what Winterholler and Pavesic hope will make IAC stand out from local theater groups is that they won't be solely local.

"Our hook is that we're the only contemporary touring company," Winterholler said.

So they are taking the show on the road, going to places that may not often see plays, especially provocative ones like On An Average Day.

"We are an Idaho company and we want to serve--I don't know, call it 'the underserved areas,'" Winterholler said. "There are communities that don't have any type of theater, not even remotely."

The idea is to take not just theater into those "artistically dry areas" but to take professional theater there. Plans right now include performances in Sandpoint, McCall, Lewiston, Bonners Ferry and Kuna's new 800-seat performing arts center.

To keep costs down, Winterholler and Pavesic plan to continue performing small-cast plays like On An Average Day with a mission in mind: to present socially relevant theater.

Michael Faison, the executive director of Idaho Commission on the Arts, applauds IAC's entrepreneurial spirit, but suggests that touring in markets where a company is not established is tough enough and that taking a production with difficult subject matter will make it harder.

"I applaud [them] for wanting to be socially relevant," Faison said. "But these are tough times all over. I wonder how often right now, people want to be brought down with a dark message, even if it's one that has great socially redeeming value to it."

Faison said part of the reason a company like Idaho Shakespeare Festival is so successful is that Mark Hofflund and Charlie Fee know their market and understand the importance of balance: audiences are willing to accept and see more challenging work as long as classic, well-known and/or more uplifting pieces are part of the repertoire, too.

Winterholler and Pavesic's faces are familiar in Boise-based theater and film but don't yet have that kind of built-in audience in those "underserved" areas. Couple that with the dark subject matter of On An Average Day, and they may have a difficult road ahead of them.

But what Winterholler and Pavesic also get with IAC is an opportunity to take theater into areas of the state that might not otherwise see it. They get a sense of freedom and they get to travel, Winterholler said.

"It's a way to go visit the state and get paid," he added.