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Free Theater at Know — You’re Welcome!

By Rick Pender · July 22nd, 2014 · Curtain Call

You read that headline correctly. The outside-the-box thinkers at Know Theatre, the offbeat company that presents the Fringe Festival every June and other mind-expanding performances year-round, has a new idea. Led by new artistic director Andrew Hungerford, this initiative is called “The Welcome Experiment.” 

It’s the result of a question they recently asked themselves: “What if we really meant it when we said we wanted to engage the community?” That’s led Hungerford and his team to explore what might happen if they open their doors at 1120 Jackson St. in Over-the Rhine to anyone who wants to see a show — whether or not they can afford a $20 ticket.

Inspired by a similar move by Mixed Blood Theatre in Minnesota, Know is redefining what they mean when they say “Welcome.” 

Admission won’t be free every night, to be sure — they do have a staff that needs to be paid, actors who can’t work for free and the expense of maintaining a theater building. But for the coming season, Know is adding Wednesday night performances for their main stage shows and making admission to those performances free of charge.

Hungerford is quick to admit that he doesn’t know what will happen. But the Know staff thinks this is an idea worth trying. 

Their website says, “Do you live in a low-income situation? You’re welcome here. Are you a struggling student? Or an artist? You are welcome here. Even if you’re just unsure if live theater is your ‘thing’ and you want to see what we offer without stretching your budget: Come on down. You too are welcome at the Know.”

The Welcome Experiment kicks off with Know’s season-opening production Harry & The Thief. It opens on Aug.

8, and when two Wednesday performances (Aug. 13 and 20) roll around, the theater’s doors will be open to anyone interested in showing up for Sigrid Gilmer’s story of time travel and Harriet Tubman, a tale they’re terming an “epic summer blockbuster” and “a socially conscious riot of a play that mashes up costume melodrama with an over-the-top action movie.” 

It’s about a guy with a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard who has a time machine and a thieving cousin he sends back to 1863 to find Harriet Tubman — and give her guns — “lots of guns,” in fact. The show is virtually brand new, having received its world premiere last November in Chicago. 

Hungerford has committed to a diversity of playwrights and directors, especially women, starting with Gilmer. Another woman, Holly Derr, will stage the show. 

Currently an artist-in-residence at Skidmore College, she has also taught and directed at Marlboro College, Smith College, the American Repertory Theater, the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company Consortium and CalArts. Derr is also a feminist media critic who has written for HowlRound, Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic.

“As a director,” Derr recently wrote for Know’s blog, “I often describe what I do as translation. I translate the writing on the page into action on the stage. I translate actor impulses into narrative structures. I translate history and memory into stories being told right here, right now, right in front of the audience. 

“My hope with this production is that I can serve primarily as a translator for the epic myth of Harriet Tubman, for [playwright] Gilmer’s voice and for the memories and thoughts and feelings of the actors embodying these characters.”

Later in the season Know’s new associate artistic director Tamara Winters will stage two of Know’s productions: Lila Rose Kaplan’s Bureau of Missing Persons (Nov. 29-Dec. 20) and Adam Szymkowicz’s Hearts Like Fists (March 27-April 25, 2015).

Finally, Know is offering a new kind of subscription. For $20 a month (or a flat fee of $240) you can become a “member,” receiving free, unlimited standby seats and seeing a show as many times as you wish as long as seats are available. (The membership can be used to get one reserved seat per main stage production all season long, too, as well as buying single tickets for others with a $5 discount.) 

Members will be admitted to the theater a few minutes early to get choice seats, and they can get discounted drinks (“artist prices”) at the Underground Bar. There are other benefits.

That’s a lot of new stuff coming at us all at once. But would we expect anything else from Know, Cincinnati’s most innovative theater company? You’re welcome.

CONTACT Rick Pender: rpender@citybeat.com



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