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From left, Kathleen Mitchell, Taylor Porter and Kevin Escobar rehearse the 'Jack-In-The-Box' scene for the Pipe Dreams Theatre production of 'Unlatched: A Devised Work.'

DECATUR — Pipe Dreams Theatre’s mission is to play, experiment and explore. Their latest production "Unlatched: A Devised Work" employs each feature.

The original play will be on stage April 27 through 29 at the Pipe Dreams Theatre.

“Unlatched” is described as devised theater. “It is experimental theater that starts out without a script,” co-director John Farina said. “It does not exist the first day of rehearsal.”

The show is a collection of 12 separate pieces with the central theme of desire. The topics for each piece includes addiction, sex, learning and mentorship. “Every piece has a different story, but they all have the same theme,” Farina said.

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Actress Mary Heyl.

The play was created as the actors began meeting. Each piece has a box as a prop. The goal is to get an object to the box. “But you don’t know how it is going to get there,” Farina said. “It is more about humanity than it is about the boxes.”

The mini-plays are performed by six actors, but includes solos, duets, trios or group skits. Compared to past plays, “Unlatched” is a collaborative process with each actor’s ideas and contributions. The directors consider this play one of the more difficult. “A script isn’t easy, but compared to this,” Farina said. “This was hard.”

Auditioning for such a play was challenging for the actors, who are Millikin University students. The process began in February.

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Kevin Escobar practices carrying multiple suitcases.

“Typically you bring in a monologue or a song, then maybe they will teach you a little dance,” said actress Kathleen Mitchell about past auditions.

The actors were directed to present a box along with a scenario that includes a beginning, middle and end and a repeated gesture that centered around the opening of the box. The box could be a lunch box, a Jack-in-the-box or a suitcase.

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The cast of 'Unlatched: A Devised Work' perform 'The Cage' during rehearsals.

After they were cast, the actors continued to present their ideas. They were given prompts by Farina and co-director Denise Myers before each rehearsal.

“Everyday we were challenged to take 15 minutes and make a scene,” said actor Hannah Geisz. “We then brought it back to the rest of the team.”

The scenes were gathered to create “Unlatched: A Devised Work.” The actors estimated approximately 90 percent of their ideas did not make the cut.

“But that’s okay,” Geisz said. “That means the 10 percent that made it into the show are the creme de la creme.”

Millikin University is a performance learning college. Although Pipe Dreams Theatre is a separate business from the university, the directors and actors understand the venue is an ideal place to learn different techniques in their craft. As a devised play, the actors learned other ways of acting and creating. “We’re not here to be educational, but it turned into that,” Farina said.

Each rehearsal brought together new ideas and scenarios. As showtime draws near, the cast continues building the play.

The actors learn about the process of creating such a show, but also test their own creative abilities. “You are given a subject and you have to go off and create something yourself,” said Mary Heyl. “And you have to work together with others.”

Another challenge for actors was the lack of dialogue in “Unlatched.” The show relies on movements to tell the story. “Everything you do on stage is super clear and purposeful,” said actor Kevin Escobar.

The goal is tell a story in a unique way. According to the cast, each audience will have their own interpretation of the stories. “If a piece doesn’t make sense, our castmates are going to tell us,” said actor Kyra Lamartine.

“This isn’t something only artsy people will get,” Giesz said.

Although no words are spoken, the show is not considered family friendly. The subjects are dark and mature with material not suitable for young children. “Some pieces are a little darker, some are comedy based, some are whimsical,” Lamartine said.

The focus for the actors was to make sure all audiences will understand and appreciate the stories. “Even if the story is about addiction or sex or mentorship, they can find their own connection to it,” said actress Taylor Porter.


"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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