Off-Leash Area

Off-Leash Area


acoustic guitar finger-picking in bright rhythm (Jennifer Isle) And they’re off… they’re gone. (Paul Herwig) I was working in Canada as a freelance actor with an agent, and I was part of the union up there. And I wasn’t very happy with it, and I wanted to go back to what I used to do, which is create original work and not work from scripts. So when I came back to Minneapolis, I wanted to start a company where I could do just that. And I didn’t want to work alone. (Jennifer) He was looking for, specifically a dance person to work with, to work in a more interdisciplinary fashion, and he put out a notice, and I answered the notice. Here comes Lily back. (Paul) People who saw us when we were rehearsing together kept asking us how many years we had been working together. And we’d never, you know, it had been weeks. So it was a great sign of a terrific, you know, working relationship. And then it became another relationship, and we got married and have this company, and it’s kind of like our baby and our small business and our little nest egg and everything all at once. (Paul) Big stick, get it, get it! (Jennifer) Off-Leash Area creates and produces all original works, which means we create everything ourselves as opposed to using a script first, and then using something from that. (Paul) So Off-Lease Area is, you know, it’s a place where all different kinds of breeds of dog run free and play, you know? If they don’t get along, if they’re mismatched, they figure it out, and then they carry on. And the idea of a area where this happens is a metaphor for the studio, and it’s a metaphor for the imagination. And the fact that you’re off-leash means you know, freedom and liberty to do what you want when you want to do it, but within the constraints of the fences around the dog park and the parameters that we set up for each show. [electronic music plays] We perform in spaces ranging from garages to the Cowles Center, downtown Minneapolis. Every show is really different because there are myriad ways that dance and theater can mix together. (Jennifer) So one show may have tap and jazz as a base movement element for a lot of the dance work that’s done. Another show may be entirely in mask, it depends completely on just what styles and forms within those genres speak to us for any particular show. I think there’s always a really specific world that we create, and not just a specific world in terms of like place, like artist studio or countryside, but it’s a very specific world in terms of how it looks, how it functions, what the rules are for moving in it, you know, ’cause we’re a movement-based company, so we never do anything that’s naturalistic or realistic– never, ever, ever. You know, it really takes you out of everyday life and takes you to a place that’s more dreamlike or more ethereal or fantastical. And people are really excited to go to a different place if you open the door for them and welcome them in. You know? And, you know, once they’re in, then I, we think it’s okay to do edgy things or to do challenging things. You know, as artists, we want to present people with experiences that make them want to live a fuller life, that make them want to live life better, that make them look at life in a different way. I don’t think there’s any other reason to have an arts experience than that. Even though we’ve worked together collaboratively for 16 years, Jennifer and I have always done individual projects. Any thoughts come to your head about using the central alley… (Jennifer) Because we work in our own genres as well, it’s really important to us to keep nurturing those places, those things that we do separately as well, so when we come together, we can keep growing as individuals, as well as how we work together. (Paul) So we’re doing the second half, yeah? (Jennifer) Yes, so immediately after Soft Shoe. We initially started doing shows in our own garage when we bought our house 11 years ago. We have a very large garage, and we walked in there and said, this place is huge, we could do shows in here. And we said, yeah, we could do shows in here, so we did! Make sure I have the right cue. (Paul) We kind of thought that, you know, maybe only our friends and theater and dance people would come to see it. And from the very first time we did a show in there, at least half, if not 3/4ths of the audience were people we didn’t know. And we started building an audience that way and it went from there. (Jennifer) After we had been doing shows in our own garage for about 5 or 6 years, then one of our board members, who lives in the suburbs said, I would love this to come to our neighborhood, and this would be a great idea if you could take this idea out to other places. The Garage Tour is a project we love! [laughs] We fill up a truck every weekend during the Garage Tour and every weekend we go kind of like a little traveling circus, we go a different location, a different host garage or other unusual space, and set up a whole black box theater, complete with risers and seating and sound and lighting system. And the host invites their own neighborhood and friends in the community, and we spend the weekend doing shows in their own neighborhood, so we’re really bringing, taking art right out of the core of the city and bringing it directly to neighborhoods and to the people. [cheers & applause] Thank you so very much for coming out tonight and actually coming to see a play in a garage! Something that’s, of course, both challenging and really exciting is how intimate the space is; we have people sitting right there on, if it’s a really particularly full garage, there’s little kids right in the front row, sitting on cushions at the edge of the stage. So the audience is just right there, which can, as a performer, be really terrifying! [laughs] You don’t have that luxury of just kind of playing out to the big space, but it’s fun to create for just this little special gem of an intimate space as opposed to the big giant, raw, cavernous theatrical space of a traditional theater. (Paul) I wanted to start a company because I wanted a vehicle with which we could continue to create our own work over a very long period of time. And it wasn’t so much that we wanted to do something that nobody else was doing. We wanted to create a company through which we could find out what is really us, with our varied skills and the different things that we bring to the buffet, you know– what is our taste, what is our vision? Because I believe that, you know, the more an artist can hone in on what it is about them that’s particular, that’s strong, and that is durable, the more interesting the work will be and the more varied it will be over time. And there are lots of different interdisciplinary companies. There are lots of different companies that are hybrids of dance and theater, and I guess I like to say that what makes Off-Leash Area special is that this is the Jennifer and Paul version of that.

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