Staged Surprises

Staged Surprises

ArkansasStaged prides itself on making extraordinary theater in interesting spaces.

“I’m drawn to creating theatrical experiences that surprise an audience and dislodge their sense of what is expected while taking in a performance,” says executive director Laura Shatkus.

In April, the theater company is outdoing itself by staging two productions in one month. The productions share a common thread: Both are one-person shows that find the actor engaging directly with the audience.

Co-founder Kris Stoker returns to ArkansasStaged on April 15 to headline “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. Stoker and his wife, Sabrina Veroczi, founded the theater company with Jason Suel in 2013. When the couple moved to Kansas City in 2016, they left the reins in the capable hands of Shatkus.

“Laura has really taken it and run with it,” says Stoker. “We did it kind of as a side thing, but Laura has really taken it to the next level. We are really happy about that — it brings us such joy.”

Stoker is reticent about “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” even though in less than two weeks he’ll stand in a space at Bentonville’s 21c Museum Hotel and perform it.

“I can tell you what I know, which isn’t much,” he says with a laugh. The conceit of the show is a mysterious one: The playwright, who is not allowed to leave Iran because of his military conscientious objector status, designed the play to be performed without a director or set and decreed it must be performed by a different actor for every performance. Like Stoker, each actor who performs the script sees it for the first time on opening night.

“I’ve tried my best to not look at any kind of information,” promises Stoker. “The play has been done before, with all kinds of actors — Nathan Lane is one of my favorites. But that’s all I know. I will come on to the stage and [stage manager] Celeste [Richard] will give me an envelope, and I will perform something — whatever is on the script in front of me.”

The idea sounds like the traditional actor’s nightmare, but, thanks to his improvisational skills, Stoker says the idea doesn’t intimidate him.

“I’m used to it,” he says. “I’ve done improv. I did it here in Northwest Arkansas, and I taught it at the university. That’s always been my favorite thing to do. I love the concept of going to the stage and not knowing what’s going to happen.”

Audience members are asked to join in the conspiracy by keeping the content of the show a secret, so future actors and audiences can be as surprised as they were.

When Rachel Burkevich takes the stage April 20 at the new Fenix gallery in Fayetteville, she will be a few steps ahead of Stoker. She will have read (and rehearsed) “Natural Shocks” by Lauren Gunderson. Still, she promises, there are surprises — and maybe a shock or two — in store for the audience. The playwright is encouraging theater companies to perform her show throughout the country on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. Proceeds from the ArkansasStaged production will benefit the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action.

“I didn’t understand what the tie-in was going to be until the very end,” says Burkevich of the play. She plays a woman who is hiding out in the basement, waiting for a tornado to pass over her house. “It’s very surprising. I was totally hit from behind. It has a very light-hearted feel until the end.

“I think that the audience will really relate to her.”

Burkevich will have only four rehearsals prior to the performance. She says it’s difficult to know what to expect once she is in front of an audience, given she will be delivering her lines directly to them.

“Usually, in rehearsal and performance, you have other actors to feed off of, to get your responses from,” she says. “I won’t know really at all how the audience is going to take it until it happens — so we’re all in this together.”



‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’

WHEN — 7 p.m. April 15

WHERE — 21c Museum Hotel, 200 NE A St., Bentonville

COST — Free with a suggested donation of $5


‘Natural Shocks’

WHEN — 7 p.m. April 20

WHERE — Fenix Gallery, 16 W. Center St. in Fayetteville

COST — Free with a suggested donation of $10


Categories: Entertainment, Theater