The Collegian
Monday, November 29, 2021

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Actors' Gang performance is 'larger than life'

The Actors' Gang, an experimental theater group from Los Angeles, is coming to the Modlin Center on Oct. 9 and 10 to perform its rendition of George Orwell's "1984."

Founded in 1981 by a group of actors including Tim Robbins, the ensemble's mission statement is "to create bold, original works for the stage and daring reinterpretations of the classics."

The performance of "1984" was adapted by director Michael Gene Sullivan specifically for the company. He conducted a workshop with the actors and discovered certain things that worked in the text did not work on the stage and went back and reinvented the script, according to company manager Donna Jo Thorndale.

"This performance is unusual because it was a co-collaboration of the Actors' Gang and the writer," Thorndale said. "The director didn't just send in the script and we did it."

Greg Reiner, general manager of the Actors' Gang, said the style of acting is larger-than-life.

"There is an immediate connection with the audience," he said. "As an audience member you feel part of the event."

Kathy Panoff, executive director of the Modlin Center, said she was excited to have the Actors' Gang return for its second performance at the University of Richmond. She said the previous performance, the award-winning play "The Exonerated" in 2006, received excellent feedback and was a perfect fit for the campus.

As for this year's performance, Thorndale said audiences around the nation have embraced it and responded passionately.

The Actors' Gang's interpretation of "1984" is a "new way of looking at a classic novel," Reiner said. "It is exciting to see the book come to life. It really captures the spirit of the novel."

Panoff said she believes "1984" is a timely and important work for students in certain majors, such as political science and journalism.

"Orwell fashioned this world, and we are living certain components of it," she said. "It is a timeless piece of literature that can be related to the political brouhaha of the current White House acting as its own 'Big Brother' of the 21st century."

The company tours the country each year, performing at 30 to 40 universities per tour. It has also toured the Edinburgh Film Festival, New York's Public Theatre and the Rushmore Film Festival, Reiner said.

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"The actors are really accomplished," Panoff said. "Many of them make their careers in film and do live theater just because they love it so much." Samantha Sawyer, marketing director of the Modlin Center, said this performance was intended to "stretch the imagination and normal limits of what art is to [the students]."

Panoff added that this performance is not going to be for everyone. "We are not trying to tell people what to think," she said. "We are trying to put an environment on stage to get them to think."

Thorndale agreed that the performance addresses tough topics, adding, "It is wonderful to come to colleges and universities where people don't necessarily agree with everything they are told and see."

The performance is going to tackle issues that are unusual for theater to take on, Reiner said.

"We do not do plays set in living rooms, we deal with the larger society," he said. "It gives the audience the opportunity to participate in the civic dialogue."

The actors will hold a post-performance discussion during which audience members will be able to ask issue-oriented questions, and the company will be able to work with students on a variety of topics, according to Thorndale.

There are still tickets available to see this production, Sawyer said. "It is a great way for college students to inexpensively expand their horizons," she said.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Actors' Gang.

Said Thorndale: "We are a group of highly dedicated professional theater artists and actors who are committed to communicating a bold, innovation, socially relevant and risk-taking production"

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