Next Folding Theatre Company push their creativity to the limit with Fred Nebula.
On a mild Sunday afternoon in February, members of Next Folding Theatre Company gather in the basement of Sir James Dunn Hall on the St. Thomas University campus to rehearse scenes from Fred Nebula, which will run March 2-4, 2017 at Fredericton’s Black Box Theatre.
As the company’s only production of the season, Fred Nebula combines many elements that have come to define Next Folding’s programming over the years including its Creative Collaboration, a unique development process that draws on everyone’s ability to write, act, and most importantly, to think outside the box.
“This is what we do at Next Folding,” said Ryan Griffith, the company’s Artistic Director. “We take huge leaps of faith and try to do things that we’re not sure that we can do.”
Fred Nebula certainly embodies this concept. It’s like a Creative Collaboration on steroids, with some company members writing scenes and acting in others or performing original music composed as part of the process. For the members of Next Folding Theatre Company, Fred Nebula is an all-in investment and a true exploration of the creative process.
“We have grown very comfortable with our template for the Creative Collaborations in that we’ve built the formula, we’ve tried that formula, we’ve repeated the formula and the formula worked, so at a certain point you can’t just keep doing the same thing all the time,” said Griffith.
“Even though each Creative Collaboration we’ve done has been completely unique, the template was always the same. What we wanted to do this time was to take that template and see how hard we could push it, how far we could challenge the structure and see if it would still work. This time around we have eight writers who created ten scenes,” said Griffith. “The writers were paired up to write scenes for act one and then we shuffled the pairing so that we had different pairs writing for act two. This was done in hopes of giving every voice a chance to be heard.”
Kira Smith is one of the writers involved in the story. As with many of the nearly twenty theatre artists involved in the creation of Fred Nebula, this is her first time working to bring a story to life in this way.
“We worked together in a very collaborative fashion,” she said. “I was involved in writing two scenes and it was my first time writing with partners. That alone was very interesting, and it was neat to see how other writers took ideas from these scenes and incorporated them into their own.
“All eight writers were paired up. Then we wrote our scenes and came together to share them and see if they actually worked together. After that we went back and wrote another set of scenes and squished them all together. Griff [Ryan Griffith] did some rearranging to make it all work. He’s a genius.”
On the surface, Fred Nebula could easily be described as a ‘space play’ complete with a mothership, aliens and a crew, not unlike a particularly odd episode of Star Trek. But as actor and musician Melissa McMichael points out, beneath the surface it’s still very much a New Brunswick story.
“Fred Nebula is a really interesting narrative because it’s very episodic,” said McMichael. “Basically, the story focuses on a crew floating through space, but as a community onboard a spaceship, it’s very similar to small town New Brunswick and so our story is loosely based on parallels between the two.
“With a project like this, we’re given the chance to play on our individual strengths and collaborate with different kinds of artists. I’m not that great of a writer but I get to act in the show and perform as a musician and I get to collaborate on writing the music,” said McMichael. “It’s an interesting company in that we all play many roles both on stage and off stage.”
For actor Jennifer Lynn Flewelling, creating theatre in such a unique way, with such a large number of contributors can only benefit the broader community in the years to come. She sees companies like Next Folding as catalysts for Fredericton’s the next generation of actors, writers and theatre artists.
“Next Folding Theatre Company provides a really great support system,” said Flewelling. “It’s so nice to have a company that brings so many talented people together to create, but also to network with one another. Relationships and ideas build and grow and for me, that’s how we end up with the next stage of theatre in Fredericton. It all moves as a cycle.
“Recently we had a large group from the theatre community move away so right now in my mind we’re in a growing stage,” she said. “I feel it’s really important for me to be here with this group making connections and sharing ideas so that in a few year’s time we will have new companies and new ideas supporting new plays based on the connections we’re making now.”