Liars and Believers: Making Magic Happen in the Boston Theatre Scene

Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

A still from Icarus. Photo Credit: Chris McIntosh.

If the Liars and Believers aren’t on your radar yet, get ready for some shockingly innovative news. Since 2009, this theatre group has been making headway breaking into the niche of collaborative, explorative theatre that both pushes the limits of and brings together artists of multiple media from all over the Boston area. Founder and artistic director Jason Slavick is ready to bring his theater group closer to their unique mission with their upcoming production of Icarus.

Slavick’s theatrical training was very traditional. The Boston theatre scene, Slavick notes, boasts a very thriving, but very heavily traditional-style theatre community. After experiencing the scene for himself, Slavick asked not where he could fit in, but what else could he provide for Boston theatrical artists? He sought to fill a new, less populated, and edgy niche of “experimental” and collaborative theatre that was lacking in the community.

With the founding of Liars and Believers, which had its first season in 2009 to 2010, Slavick sought to create “a home for innovation” that would push artists to push themselves, in both playing to their own strengths and trying on many new and different artistic hats. Liars and Believers’ productions incorporate combinations of movement, dance, live music, mask, videos, and puppetry that varies with each show that creates an immersive, interdisciplinary theatrical experience for audiences. The Liars and Believers function on a cooperative, collaborative structure, united by the guidance of Slavick and the overall process of deriving playfulness from an analytical and intellectual approach.

A still from Icarus. Photo Credit: Chris McIntosh.

Slavick believes that “trying to make good art is the biggest block to creativity,” and thus creates an environment in which being wrong is ok, so long as the artists get a chance to enjoy and discover new things through the act of play. Liars and Believers’ works generally starts from nothing but the collaborators themselves, undergoing an intensive one-year (or more, as in the case of Icarus) process of creation.

This process begins with an initial theme, progresses to laying a ground work with initial artist-collaborators, and then bringing together a full team to flesh out a concrete story through improvisation and conversation. Slavick claims that for a director of a collaborative piece, “directing is the same as writing,” and he is the director/writer lynchpin that guides the artistic team to a cohesive production through a combination of their unique skills. A recent rehearsal for Icarus showed off these techniques in action. Slavick began the rehearsal by presenting the two actors he was working with “the structure of the argument” he wanted them to eventually achieve through their scene, then gave them free reign to explore. Slavick constantly pushed them in new directions, and made the process into an open but guided dialogue for the actors.

What was truly amazing to see, though, was the group collaboration that occurred when a challenge arose regarding the use of a dramatic costume/prop piece that was important to the show. As the actors worked intensely with the director to figure out the best way to handle the issue, Faye Dupras, the show’s puppeteer and “image based theatre artist” stepped in with her knowledge of manual manipulation of objects and visual presentation of complex material. The entire team worked together as a unit, combining their skills to solve the problem and the results were truly beautiful to watch. This was an illustration of the beauty of such a group, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of this collaboration pans out at the upcoming premiere of Icarus.

A still from Icarus. Photo Credit: Chris McIntosh.

Icarus is one of the most time-intensive projects the Liars and Believers have undertaken. Originally conceived and created two years ago by Slavick, it is an updated, “music-theatre” retelling of the classical myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Set in the 1930’s at the height of the Great Depression at a freak show, this retelling parallels the recent economic recession in the United States. Liars and Believers creates work that seeks to say something, even if it is a poignant question, that pulls at universal humanistic and/or political themes. This play explores both, as it questions the “eat-or-be-eaten” mentality of our capitalistic society/economy, which it does through the devious freakshow ringleader character of “Minnie Minowseczech,” played by Emerson graduate Aimee Rose Ranger (BA Theatre Studies Acting ’07).

The play also explores the humanistic aspect of the original myth: the paradox of giving one’s child the means for independence only to watch them contribute to their own downfall. In the classic myth, Daedalus, played in Icarus by Jonathan Horvath, builds wings of wax for his son Icarus, played by Lukas Papenfusscline, to escape their prison, only to see him fly to close to the sun and fall to his doom. This concept is explored in a myriad of new and innovative ways, in true Liars and Believers fashion. The entire play is scored and almost entirely sung (excluding about five minutes) with original contemporary Americana “indie porch music” written by Nathan Leigh, which Slavick describes as “a cross between Mumford & Sons and Kurt Weill.”

Another exciting aspect is the creative and innovative use of puppets, designed and created by Faye Dupras, the self-proclaimed puppeteer and “image-based theatre artist” of the show. Dupras has years of experience in puppetry, and she now believes that America is experiencing a “puppetry renaissance,” in which puppets are starting to become a meeting place of several artistic media such as visual art, movement, and sound, which is becoming an increasingly popular theatrical device. The show’s puppets include marionettes, life-sized puppets, and even puppets made of everyday objects, all manipulated onstage by actors and musicians.

Icarus, which runs from May 1-11 at the Oberon in Cambridge, is sure to be a beautiful and thought-provoking experience. It is also an amazing opportunity for young artistic minds to see what is coming to the forefront of theatrical innovation in the Boston Community.

Liars and Believers is offering a special discount for students through this code: STUD.


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