We continue our series on spotlighting some of the non-Equity theaters in Connecticut. I put questions to Kailee Ostroski, President of the Backyard Theater Ensemble – https://www.backyardtheater.org/. Their upcoming production is Caryl Churchill’s “A Number,” which will play the first two weekends in April.
Tell me about the Backyard Theater Ensemble.
Backyard Theater Ensemble is a collaboration of artists devoting their time, experience, and resources to produce theater that inspires, challenges, and entertains both performers and audiences. Our volunteers each fulfill multiple roles on stage, behind the scenes, and in the community. These roles capitalize on members’ talents while also acknowledging our weaknesses to empower growth. We create theater that is a powerful instrument that asks all ensemble and audience members to confront the realities of our world. Since it’s founding in 2011, BTE has produced or been involved in dozens of productions in Connecticut. BTE prides itself on producing shows that are complex and challenging in theaters and spaces that are intimate. BTE’s shows create a connection between actors and audiences through the closeness of the physical space and the relevance of the issues presented in the shows. BTE is also proud of the collaborative work it does with other community theater organizations in Connecticut, most recently with Hole in the Wall. We embrace the opportunity to work alongside others who love art and theater.
Why did you start the company?
During the summer of 2010, the town of Cheshire sponsored its last young adult community theater production. Cheshire, like so many towns, fell victim to budget constraints that ended support for the theater program targeted at young adults. The following summer, a group of young adults was feeling the loss of this program. There were plenty of outlets to perform theatrical “classics”, but not many outlets for productions that were “different”. The founders of BTE found inspiration in the play Loose Ends by Michael Weller. Weller’s piece was mature and challenging for its actors and forced audience members to confront complicated and uncomfortable societal issues. The founders of the ensemble called up their fellow thespians, many of whom were recently graduated from college and looking to reconnect with their old hobbies as they transitioned to “adulthood”. They proposed the idea to put this production up on their own. Rehearsals took place in members’ backyards, giving the group its name, “Backyard Theater Ensemble.” Today, BTE is still a growing company. The organization is made up of all volunteers who donate their time for their love of theater. The company embraces the opportunity to pursue the “passion pieces” of our members.
How many shows are you planning to produce during the year?
We do two productions per year – one in the spring and one in the fall. We do this to ensure our volunteers have space to pursue their other passions and balance their family and professional commitments. We also like to leave space for exciting opportunities like playwright festivals, one act competitions, and the development of original works.
Your upcoming production is A Number by Caryl Churchill. Can you talk about the show and why you chose this play?
A Number is a densely-packed, surprisingly suspenseful drama about identity, investigated through a father and his son who has been cloned. The piece is immediately remarkable for the experience of one actor playing three distinct characters, but even more impactful is the depth of feeling and differences in relationships with the father. The writing is thrilling and engaging, with the characters constantly interrupting each other and providing revelations. It is a compelling and intimate play, with both humor and drama, and we know our audience will be thinking about it long after it’s over.
Reviewing your past shows, you have produced what I would term more challenging works. What guides you to pick plays?
Our philosophy as an organization has always been to do shows that inspire and challenge us as artists, and are thought provoking to our audiences. We believe art plays a fundamental role in developing and furthering our society, and we do shows that bring important topics front and center. We’ve found there are plenty of theater troupes that perform the classics and the comedies like Shakespeare and Simon. But it can be hard to produce and attract people to a show that’s “different” or “challenging”. We believe these pieces are important and they deserve to be brought to life. The more we engage with challenging material and talk about it as a society, the more capable we are of being open-minded and having conversations or debates about things that will push us to better ourselves and our world.
Why should people come out to the show?
There has never been a better time to celebrate the triumphs and tribulations that we all face as humans in a world that is constantly changing around us. All of our shows touch on this journey, our evolution, and teach us to face those challenges with passion and an open-mind. We believe our pieces not only entertain, but they help us develop as people, and that is what it means to be human. A Number is packed with emotion and dense ideas, and will make you laugh and cry and think. We look forward to seeing you there!