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June 6, 2010 - 1:42pm

Batavia native brings fresh creative energy to local theater

posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, Plays, creativity, east bethany, theatre.

This Saturday, Heather Ackerman invites you into an alternative universe with alternative theater...

Well, all right, maybe that first "alternative" is a bit over the top...but the second is definitely real.

The venture

Ackerman's new East Bethany-based theater group, "Honesty Theatre," will be putting on their second production Saturday, June 12. It will be made up of a series of individual performances grouped under the theme of "alternate realities."

"All of these stories will be based on different 'what if' ideas," Ackerman said, citing as an example a vignette that has Sophocles' Antigone winding up in New York City.

Ackerman describes Honesty Theatre as "an experimental writing company for the stage." The group is made up of small teams of actors, each responsible for writing, producing and performing a short play...all in one day.

Each teams' play is included in a single, themed performance every month. At Honesty Theatre's premiere last month, the plays that were all about "beginnings." Subjects included Adam and Eve, beginning relationships, the first day in a new town, etc.

Ackerman says this style of theater is good for both audiences and actors; audiences get to see something "no one has ever seen before" (since it's being more or less created and performed at the same time), while actors have the chance to explore their creative instincts.

"Our emphasis is on the creative process, what we learn along the way and being creative with words, rather than on the final product."

Nevertheless, the Honesty Theatre troupe is taking advantage of lessons learned from their last show to enhance the quality of the next one. For example, instead of writing the scripts on the day as the performance, they decided to "workshop" the scripts well in advance this time. Spontaneity will still be very much in play, but with scripts prepared in advance, the actors can focus more energy on the performance aspect of the show.

"Acting on the fly is a lot better than writing on the fly," Ackerman said.

She also encouraged more interaction and reciprocal feedback between the different acting teams, as well as some advance rehearsal time. During the first production, the actors had to rehearse while the other vignettes were being performed. This time, they will be able to see and offer feedback on their fellow actors' work.

The brains behind the operation

Though currently a resident of East Bethany, Ackerman is a Batavia native. She has been acting since she was a youngster and has an impressive repertoire of local theater performances, including roles in Summer Youth Theater productions of "Alice in Wonderland," "Godspell" and "Oliver." She has also worked with a local independent theater company called Something-or-Other Productions, acting in such plays as "The Laramie Project" and "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged" from 2004-2007.

While a student at Genesee Community College, she had starring roles in "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "A Christmas Carol."

In addition to acting, she also has experience writing local theater productions. Her first stage play, an experimental piece about young girls and their perspectives on relationships (love, breakups, etc), premiered at GCC in 2003.

After earning a bachelor's degree from the NY University at Buffalo, she spent six months living in Boulder, Colo. It was there that the seeds of Honesty Theatre were planted.

"I was looking at the want ads and I noticed that there were these people looking for a theater writer," Ackerman said. "I called them right away, got the job, and wrote for them the whole time I lived in Boulder."

The names of the two individuals in question were Erin Kelly and Jesse McDonald, and they ran a spontaneous theater company just like Honesty Theatre. Kelly, in fact, was one of the founders of "L.A. Café," which was the first group to experiment with this type of theater.

"They're actually doing very well in Boulder," Ackerman said. "In the time since I left, they've already become a larger theater company."

Ackerman was so intrigued by their approach to live theater that she wanted to bring it to her own neck of the woods. She asked Kelly and McDonald for their permission, and they granted it happily.

The venue

Honesty Theatre productions take place at the East Bethany Old Town Hall, at 10440 Bethany Center Rd., which Ackerman says has "exactly what (they) need" in spite of its smaller size. The hall contains an old vaudeville stage.

"It has seating for 100, and it's great as a theater because it has an old-fashioned look and bright polished wood."

Saturday's show will begin at 7:30 p.m. and last about an hour and a half. Tickets are $8 and will be for sale at the door.

For more details, call Ackerman at 356-4678.

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