The Mysterious Appearance of the Rogue Artists Ensemble

OCT17rogue1TNN:  Tell us about the Rogue Artists Ensemble.

Sean T. Cawelti:  We are a non-profit organization and we met at UC Irvine and have been working together since 2001, Our mission is to tell stories in unique ways. We use puppetry and masks, old story telling conventions, as well as newer ways with technology, sound manipulation, video mapping, etc. We mash that up and create immersive experiences for audiences. 

We only create original work. It takes us a long time to create a project and this one in particular we’ve been working on for 6 or 7 years. We have toured internationally but we are mostly focused on Los Angeles. We do not have a permanent space or a home so we are always embedded in different communities.

TNN: And now you are in our community.

STC:  We’ve been in and out of the neighborhood for a couple of months now, having conversations with the owner of the space we are currently using.  

TNN:  Where is the space?

STC:  That’s a part of the mystery we embrace. When you order a ticket from our website you will receive information about the location along with the storyline. 

TNN: What is the show you are currently working on for us?  

STC: The piece is called Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, an exploration of several Japanese ghost stories and folktales viewed through a multicultural lens.  It places 12 audience members at a time in the middle of an exhilarating original tale.

TNN:   How many of you are in this production?

STC:  There are about 15 of us in the ensemble with a production team of around 35 and an additional 25 actors. So all told about 50 people put this together. 

OCT17rouge2TNN: Where else have you performed. 

STC:  We create the projects here in Los Angeles with Los Angeles talent but we also take the work outside of LA and have toured internationally. 

TNN: You are also co-producing this production with East West Players, correct? 

STC:  Yes, they are based in Little Tokyo. 

TNN:  So why have you come to our neighborhood?

STC:  We looked for spaces and did workshops of the production in different areas of the city- like we did one in Van Nuys at the Japanese Garden. It is an amazing space but we learned that we cannot be in such a public space. We need to have more control over the environments and an ability to divide the audience. Actually, Neil, our production manager connected us with this 1927 building, a storage facility that's being turned into a space for the arts. It’s south of Washington between Arlington and Crenshaw. 

TNN:  Are there other things going on at that location?

STC:  They’re doing an Escape Room in there. 

TNN:  What is that?

STC:  Its an immersive audience experience where a group of people are put into a room with clues that they have to work on together to figure out how to get out of room or series rooms depending on the experience. This is currently extremely popular in Japan and Europe and here in LA. there are at least over 100 of these rooms. They can be created for children or adults.  I’ve attended many of them. 

TNN: It sounds like a great space for your performance. 

STC:  It is.The exciting thing is we are allowing only 12 people in the audience.

TNN: So there are more than twice as many actors as audience?

STC:  Yes. It lasts around 75 minutes. No intermission. You move around the space and some of the rooms are quite small. Some of them are bigger. We are using every trick we know to transport people into these Japanese ghost stories using puppetry and black light effects and a lot of other tricks. 

TNN: When does it open?

STC: Friday, October 13, and runs through to November 5. 

TNN:  How important is the reaction of the community you are serving and working in?

STC:  We have thought a lot about it. Before we committed to doing the project we reached out to the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council (UNNC) and met with them and attended their meetings. We got a small grant from them and as a part of that UNNC will be doing a raffle to give away free tickets to people in this community for the first couple of weekends. We also have two days where we are doing educational programming. One is a mask and puppet programming and allows people to make puppets and masks of their own. We are charging people to attend but for people who can prove they live in the community it is free.  People can reserve a space if they go to our website.

These stories are pretty rarely told and they really connect to the Asian American communities so we will be reaching out in that community, door to door to let them know about the show.  

TNN:   We as artists have a huge responsibility to respect the communities we go into and respect that they are communities and understand what they need and what they are about as we are in their space.

STC:  We definitely have learned over the years how important it is to let the community know what is going on.

TNN:  What will be the biggest challenge?

STC:   The tech aspect. From room to room there are a lot of different things that will change. Emails that we receive will set up parts of the story. I don’t want to say too much. We are encouraging the audience to interact but also breaking them up, sometimes there is only one person with a few actors. Everyone’s experience will be different. 

TNN:   That is really unique and exciting.

STC:   It is. We hope that either during or after the show, they share their experiences and talk with each other. We are telling stories from Japanese culture that many people feel are real. There are shrines in Japan dedicated to these stories which predate the Bible. They are old tales.

TNN: How do you prepare for something like this? Especially since it is not exactly your culture?

STC:   I just went to Japan for the first time as a research project for this. I loved it. I still have Japanese money in my wallet. Anyways, one of the things they do in their tradition is to visit the shrines where the spirits are enshrined. We went there and actually asked permission to tell their stories. We stayed in a Buddhist temple and participated in some ceremonies. Different sections of the Kaidan Project story feature monks so the trip was super informative.

TNN:   What makes it different than any other immersive theater?

STC:   I think the scale. It is a really huge piece. It is over 10,000 square feet of space that you are traveling through. The other is that there are times that you are guided but there are also times when it feels more like an escape room and you have to make your own choices. We just have not found other theatrical projects where people are using all the different things we are using. 

To find out more and reserve a spot go to:

www.Rogueartists.org




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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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