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‘Bootleg Radio’ brings collage-style performance to the stage

Elena Perantoni and Amanda Loch perform in Available Light’s “Bootleg Radio.” Credit: Courtesy of Matt Slaybaugh

While it can’t be found on the AM or FM channels or Spotify, “Bootleg Radio” is making noise about what it’s like to live in the world as it is today.

The play has two performances left at Available Light Theatre, a Columbus theater company that focuses on bringing in conscious and compassionate theater, which also serves the community.

“‘Bootleg Radio’ is about hope and it’s about what it takes to try and find it or make it or have it at this particular moment in time,” said Jennifer Schlueter, associate professor of theatre and one of the play’s creators. “[The play] is a series of flashes, it’s kind of like tuning a radio dial honestly, so that bits and pieces come toward you as the audience. There’s a lot of room for you to make meaning out of it.”

Schlueter has worked with AVLT on various projects for several years and curates the theater’s Next Stage Initiative, a play festival that allows up-and-coming playwrights to share their work with audiences.

AVLT was founded a decade ago with the intention of bringing community-conscious performances to the Columbus area.

“Basically we try to find plays that speak to our world and the current state of our world and kind of examine our culture and reveal the beauty of humankind,” said Elena Perantoni, a company member of AVLT and one of the actors in the play.

When the theater was choosing its programming for the 2017-2018 season, it brought in Schlueter to help choose the season’s opening piece. After looking at a variety of scripts with the theater’s executive director, Matt Slaybaugh, Perantoni said the pair decided the piece they needed to perform didn’t exist yet.

For inspiration, Schlueter and Slaybaugh turned to “Reality Hunger” by David Shields, a collage-style book that combines quotes and art from multiple sources. Although they didn’t keep the book around during the process of creating the play, Perantoni said it served as the vision for the play’s style.

“If I had to define the type of piece that we’ve created, it’s collage theater … bits and pieces of poetry and movement and dance and song that all come together to kind of establish a common theme,” Perantoni said.

Together with a team of about 15 people, including Perantoni, Schlueter used a style of creating theater known as moment work, where individuals improvise after taking a prompt.

These improvised pieces are whittled down and organized continuously until the final play is created.

“The nice thing about this way of collaborating and this way of sharing things is everyone is coming into that room from a different place,” Perantoni said. “Whatever you’re feeling that day gets infused into the art that you’re creating.”

The creation process for the play began in May, and “Bootleg Radio” had its first performance on Sept. 28.

The stage is set in an “alley format,” which creates an intimate setting by allowing the two sides of the audience to look at each other throughout the show, with the actors on a catwalk down the middle.

“The piece isn’t itself until people receive it, it’s very much a piece that talks directly to the audience and so it’s just beautiful to see how it blossoms with other people in the room,” Schlueter said.

While Schlueter has been working in theater for many years, she said this is the first time she has done a piece of this style.

“This is a real shift in my own theater-making practice,” Schlueter said. “I’ve never built anything before that steps this far away from plot and character. I’m really excited about the things that I’m learning and what I want to try next.”

“Bootleg Radio” will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday and and Saturday at Available Light Theatre. Tickets can be found at the theater’s website or purchased at the door.

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