Imaginists to perform in Sonoma for the first time on July 31
Peace, Liberty and Democracy have been imprisoned by President Corn and his cabinet. On Wednesday, July 31, the Imaginists will make a rescue attempt, bringing their satirical show “Peace: the Redacted Version” to La Luz Center.
“I’ve heard them called the theater of the future,” said Kate Eilertsen, a fan of the company for several years and now a member of its board of directors. “It’s no longer about appearing on a big stage,” she said. “It’s about engaging with the important topics of our time.”
At the end of the month, the Imaginists’ free, bilingual, bicycle-powered, self-described “art is medicine show,” now in its 11th year, will ride through Sonoma for the first time. Based in Santa Rosa, the company has been around for almost two decades, according to executive director and co-founder Brent Lindsay.
Lindsay and his partner Amy Pinto met in 1988 and began their first theater company five years later. “The Imaginists,” said Lindsay, “sprung out of that original company in 2001 and really came into being in 2002. It began as an educational program and eventually transformed into the ensemble theater company that it is today.”
The company tries to be a unique artistic venture – one that questions conventional definitions of theatrical productions in terms of cast, venue and creative process. Lindsay noted that “the company has an acute awareness for social justice; we’re never turning a blind eye to what’s going on around us, and we’re always trying to provoke the audience to ask questions.”
One of the more unconventional aspects of the Imaginists is the makeup of its ensemble. Lindsay mentioned two specific examples of the somewhat-unlikely performers who joined the troupe this season: the first, a Venezuelan contract worker for PG&E powerlines who recently moved up from Los Angeles; the second, the leader of a Bay Area mariachi music camp for children.
Eilertsen explained, “The recruitment of performers is all really done through Amy and Brent’s engagement with the community.” This engagement includes community partnerships and collaborations with organizations such as Healdsburg Day Labor Center, Committee for Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Centro Laboral de Graton, Comite VIDA and more. In the past, the productions have included cast members who are day laborers or even juvenile delinquents, according to Eilertsen.
“One of the unique qualities we have is that we work with the ensemble to create original material,” said Lindsay. “By doing this, we’re able to keep a very contemporary conversation going.”
By channeling the real-life experiences of the cast, the overall impact of the productions are augmented in several ways: the shows have a greater sense of authenticity; amateur actors learn skills from the more experienced and professional actors in the troupe; the professionals are exposed first-hand to the real experiences of the amateurs; and, perhaps most importantly, audiences are more likely to be actively engaged with stories based firmly in an often-shared reality.
“We’re interested in making a difference in theater, and that can’t happen if we only have professional actors acting like ‘real’ people,” said Lindsay. “We travel on bicycle because want to take theater to communities that don’t typically seek it out.”
He explained that there were tangible changes in the community after the 2016 election. “People needed to escape from the new tension and stress, especially those who now felt like they had to always watch their backs. We just wanted to release the pressure valve and have a good laugh.”
Though the company has undergone many changes since its inception, Lindsay and Pinto have never abandoned their emphasis on education. Six actors in the upcoming Sonoma show are paid interns from nearby high schools that lack their own drama programs. Lindsay described the creativity and open-mindedness of youth as an invaluable asset to the company’s creative process. “We’re not just sharing what we already know,” he said. “By working alongside young actors, we’re able to take more risks.”
Eilertsen further expounded on the inventive nature of the company, stating that their shows, which are performed in both English and Spanish, “are both funny and tragic.”
“It’s not like the theater we know,” said Eilertsen. “It feels like entering an art space. Since the venues are so intimate and communal, audience members really feel like they’re part of the performance.”
Though the Imaginists have a special interest in youth, one of their primary goals is to stimulate conversation and curiosity among everyone present at the performances. This, of course, includes the adults present.
“Education has no age limit,” Lindsay said. “If an adult thinks they’ve stopped learning, it’s a death sentence.”
The upcoming show at La Luz Center will be the first Imaginists performance in Sonoma, though they have worked with local elementary schools in the past. Lindsay explained that that they have been interested in performing in Sonoma for several years, but “this was just the year that it magically happened. Our vision and La Luz Center’s are very similar,” he said.
“It’s very important to bring people together,” Lindsay continued, “and a lot of times that has to do with making sure our bandwidth is growing.”
“Peace: the Redacted Version” will deliver satirical insight into the state of the country, with thinly-veiled pseudonyms aplenty. Eilertsen recommended paying special attention to the Sarah Huckabee Sanders character and the interpretive dance by the dramatized Attorney General William Barr.
“In the end,” said Lindsay, “humor is the way we open up, and we become more empathetic when we’re open.”
“Peace: the Redacted Version” will ride into La Luz Center, 17560 Greger St., Sonoma, Wednesday, July 31 at 7:30 p.m.
The show is free, but donations will be accepted at the door.
For more information, visit theimaginists.org