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Ward Theatre premieres 'Jacuzzi' next month

The Ward Theatre Company will open its premiere season in North Carolina later this month with a production of “Jacuzzi”—a “deadpan thriller” written by New York’s The Debate Society. Looking to be a hip, comic production like no other, “Jacuzzi” centers on a solitary ski cabin where “the wealthy and the aimless meet in the simmering waters of a hot tub.”

Founded by artistic director Wendy Ward, T’81, the Ward Theatre Company has produced works in New York City, Philadelphia and Melbourne, Australia—moving to a new Durham theater venue in November 2014. The Theatre Company is closely associated with the Ward Acting Studio, also run by Ward. She prepares actors for success on screen by instructing them with the Meisner technique through six-week acting intensives and part-time acting classes. 

The cast of “Jacuzzi” has trained at the Acting Studio and will extend the sincerity of emotion highlighted in the Meisner approach to their upcoming production.

“I’ve never missed acting since I’ve started directing, because it’s been so creative and innovative and challenging and fun,” Ward said.

Already performing an unconventional work, the Theatre Company rehearses in an unconventional way. For example, Australian cast member Emma McKay has joined practices over Skype. Moving the laptop to face the action on set, Ward has found Skype effective in incorporating McKay into rehearsals despite being on separate continents. In addition to adding a cast member over video, the Theatre Company practices in their sets and lighting much earlier than most performance groups.

“I create my environment immediately,” Ward “It’s not built four days before the opening. We try to get the actors working in the environment, so part of their work is getting used to living in the space,” Ward said.

The set for “Jacuzzi” definitely creates the mood of a wintry ski cabin. Performing in warm lighting and multiple rooms filled with cabin-like furniture, the actors will provide an authentic performance in an authentic setting. “Jacuzzi” forgoes a traditional stage production for more intimate acting in a small space. Initially drawn to small spaces while acting at Duke, Ward has found them effective while directing.

“I did all my shows at Branson—now Brody Theater—which is a small space. This may have something to do with why small spaces appeal to me,” Ward noted.

Because Meisner approach is suited for screen actors, the genuine emotion it emphasizes is more easily viewed up close. The set for “Jacuzzi” is surrounded by only one row of seats. The audience will be in the middle of the action, viewing the actors at a more personal level.

“Some people that haven’t gone to the theater a lot may find it initially confronting,” Ward said. “But overwhelmingly, my audiences come back because they love the experience.”

Far from a normal stage production in both script and setting, “Jacuzzi” will provide audiences a new view of acting. Chairs positioned around the set will allow for different points of view and seeing the work multiple times will reveal new aspects each time.

“None of the direction is done for the audience. It’s always done to create an experience for the actors on the stage to create public solitude,” Ward said.

Instead of acting to or for the audience, the actors in “Jacuzzi” have been taught to see themselves as alone on stage. The audiences are just witnesses to the events. This method of acting draws spectators into Ward Theatre Company shows, as well as students to the Ward Acting Studio.

“I didn’t really start learning how to act before I came to the studio,” said Ryan Fleming, an actor in “Jacuzzi.” “I consider this my first show because it’s so much different and so much better than the shows I’ve been in before.”

In contrast to other acting companies, the Ward Theatre Company brings all actors to a high skill level, rather than spotlighting one actor’s talents over another’s.

“With everyone being trained in Meisner and learning those skills, it’s different from other shows when you’ll see it and say you liked one actor more than another,” said Ward Theatre ensemble member Robbie Wiggins.

With all actors expertly trained by an experienced teacher, “Jacuzzi” promises to be an entertaining theatrical experience. On top of the acting, the script itself will create a new, humorous and exciting atmosphere.

“It’s a thriller with a twisting plot that keeps the suspense going and keeps the audience wondering,” said actor Geoff Bowen.

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