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Process Behind the Play

Mariette Hartley will join 50 members of Interact in an annual program, which will feature 'the process' behind 30 plays.


For many working actors, the greatest joy in their work comes not from being on stage in front of an audience, but from what they call "the process," the developmental steps that bring an author's idea, through a collaborative effort, to full-blooded reality.

Actors such as Laurence Olivier and John Barrymore claimed to enjoy the process more than the performance, often becoming bored with a show once it opened.

That process is the idea behind Interact Theatre Company's third annual "Interactivity" program, which began Tuesday and continues through June 30. Thirty plays in 16 programs, featuring all 50 members of Interact--John Rubinstein among them--and a score of visiting artists such as Christine Ebersole and Mariette Hartley, present a pretty good view of what goes on behind the scenes before opening night.

"Interactivity" was the brainchild of company member and producer of the series Peter Zapp, who imported the idea from New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre and their "Oktoberfest."

"In membership theater companies, and with theaters that are dedicated to a lot of new material," said Zapp, "the privilege of creating a project with autonomy, and putting it up on the stage, is valued."

From original plays to classics, from comedy to drama, the programs that make up "Interactivity" are presented in various stages of their creative journey, from sit-down readings to fully staged readings, some almost in a production style.

"You get the gamut of the creative process," Zapp said. "The true meaning and value of our form of art, meaning the performing art, lies in its ever-changing nature. Accordingly, the live performer must say to the audience, 'Here is the illusion of a finished thing, that you change each moment, as it changes you.' The work presented in this festival is the artist's view of the iceberg beneath the surface of the water, the early reflections of an unending process."


Interact co-founder and co-producer of this series James Harper is thrilled at the company's involvement in this year's program.

"When Peter first did 'Interactivity' three years ago," Harper said, "he only had eight projects, and he had to pull people's teeth to get them involved with this whole idea. We walked out of the theater one night, and Peter said, 'Why the hell am I doing this?' Three years later, here we are, with 100% of the company members participating. There are over 80 performers involved this year. And Peter's still asking the same question."

Harper is responsible for the addition of one high-visibility actor in this year's series. Last year he appeared in Michael Arabian's highly acclaimed "The Trojan Women" at CBS Studio Center. The star was Mariette Hartley. At Harper's urging, and in the middle of a very busy schedule including an upcoming pre-Broadway tour of "Deathtrap" with Elliott Gould, Hartley has participated in some of Interact's Monday night play readings, once merely reading the stage directions.

Hartley is quick to answer Zapp's question about why he is doing the series. "Peter has opened up something that is absolutely vital to actors, and the dilemma that we all face," she said. "I do infomercials. I do antacid commercials. I do whatever it is that I'm given, so that my kids can go to school, and so that I can do this kind of work. It's about community, and in some cases, it's all we have."

The Interact members, like Hartley, are all working actors, busy in television and film, but it is stage and theater work, she said, that is the part of the business she and her colleagues were trained to do. She calls it "a mechanism."

"We often feel," she says, "as though we're on the outskirts of some giant thing. Theater keeps our lives going. It keeps my heart alive, my soul alive."


* WHAT: "Interactivity."

* WHERE: Interact Theatre Company, 11855 Hart St., North Hollywood.

* WHEN: Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 1 and 4:30 p.m. through June 30 (no 1 p.m. matinee June 29 or 30).

* HOW MUCH: Suggested donation, $7.

* CALL: For detailed daily schedule and program information and reservations, call (818) 773-7862.

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