As Boise has grown, it has become fertile turf for creative minds; and, despite hard economic times, Green Zoo Arts Collective has blossomed, too.
An umbrella organization for two rock bands and a theater company, GZAC is the brainchild of a group of friends who met through the College of Idaho music program. Founded in August 2012, the fledgling theater company is set to perform its second installment of one-act plays, collectively titled A Night at the Zoo, at The WaterCooler, Thursday, Sept. 5.
The mission of A Night at the Zoo, according to playwright Thomas Newby, is straightforward.
"We're trying to create an evening's worth of entertainment," he said.
That's an understatement. The two one-act plays to be presented, Waiting Games and Like it was Never There, speak to the human experience, the meaning of life and why we create in the face of our mortality. They're introspective and likely to leave audiences in a meditative mood.
Waiting Games is the story of two strangers left alone in a room filled with toy fragments and bits of machinery, but no clue as to who they are or their origins. According to a press release, it "presents a world where there is no reason to function and nothing to believe in except the hope of a forgotten past and the numbness that hard labor often provides." It stars David Cowan and Jeff Young. Newby directs.
"These two characters are living in a world in which they don't have anything that society has imposed upon them to look forward to tomorrow," Newby said. "Without those things society imposes upon us as precious and valuable, what do they do to function day after day?"
Newby says that despite somber themes, the plays are good for a few laughs.
"There's definitely a lot of humor in both pieces. I tend not to think of it as self-deprecation, but I like to be as honest as possible in a very visceral way," Newby said.
The immediacy of Newby's humor and honesty are apparent in the second one-act play of the evening, Like it was Never There, in which a wind chime (played by Rod Wolfe) courts the wind (Leah Reynolds) to assist it in finishing its symphony--a project that becomes more difficult as chimes decay and fall away.
"It's in a state of disrepair, falling apart one chime at a time. The character says something like, 'Once I lost that chime it was like it was never there;' that's what's happening to it physically," Newby said.
The play's director, David Ketchum, says that because of the brevity of the one-act (each play runs about 30 minutes) and the nature of its characters, he's approaching Like it was Never There like a fable, complete with representative characters and an upbeat conclusion.
"It's a cleaner way of telling this story. With a lot of the themes Tom [Newby] has going on in the play, you can't sacrifice the story expanding on philosophical motifs. You have to show a little spark," he said.
Despite not being a bona fide member of Green Zoo, Ketchum is a College of Idaho graduate who came across Newby and the future Green Zoo members at the music program. He said Newby approached him about directing one of the one-acts in part because the short play needed a fresh pair of eyes.
"I think one of the reasons he wanted me to direct it was he and some of his other friends would probably have a particular take on the show and maybe he wanted someone else's opinion of how the show would work," Ketchum said.
Ketchum stays true to the one-act's text--"You're telling the playwright's story and you have to do justice to that story"--but when he directed a dress rehearsal for Newby, the author was struck by the play's tone.
"When Tom first saw the show rehearsal, he was a little surprised. He said, 'Wow, I'm surprised you made [the wind chime] so upbeat. Some of that was me; some of that was the actor trying to make new choices and communicate the story more effectively," Ketchum said.
According to Green Zoo's logistics manager, Ricardo Osuna, little shocks like that are part of the fun.
"We're really excited to collaborate with theater artists that we haven't worked with before, and are really enjoying the different perspectives they bring to the production," he said.
Outside talent includes Ketchum, actors David Cowan, Leah Reynolds and Rod Wolfe, stage designer Miguel Tapia and stage manager Rachel Kaufman. All told, the production will have twice as many staff members as Green Zoo Theatre's January one-act play presentation, Signal to Noise.
In addition to a second one-act play, the evening's entertainment also includes musical performances during the intermission by Cameron Andreas of CAMP and Heart Hunter, as well as Marcus Eugene.
"Having two plays in production, as well as including guest musical performances between the plays each night, will obviously make for a more varied show than Signal to Noise," Osuna said.
Both plays will be performed in a large conference room at the WaterCooler with a rag-tag production team, a few short plays and small music acts. But according to Osuna, the preparation that went into A Night at the Zoo will give the evening the feel of something collaborative, foreshadowing things to come.
"Our last theater production was the first thing that Green Zoo Arts had done outside of The Green Zoo [the rock band]. Since then, I feel like we have all been able to think more about Green Zoo as a collective and begun to branch out and work on some different projects," he said.