Thursday October 4, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- The founders of Acting on Impulse tried to do it like every other non-profit arts group.

"We actually formed a board at one point, and we just looked around and said ‘This isn’t us,’" recalled Thomas Griffin, co-founder of the 10-year-old Brattleboro-based collective of actors, writers, directors and technical staff.

Instead, Acting on Impulse has remained steadfastly disinterested in infrastructure -- it still has no building, no board, no staff, no set season, no fundraising campaign or any of the other structural trappings of typical theater companies.

What it does have is a collective devotion to theater at its basic, purest level -- finding good plays that interest its players and wringing the most out of those plays through a commitment to the craft of acting.

That, coupled with an equally steadfast devotion to a mission that includes inclusiveness, risk, social activism, aiding worthy causes and the belief that live theater in intimate settings can bring people together and a be force for good, has kept this decidedly under-the-radar little theater company going for a decade.

And that is worth celebrating.

On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Acting on Impulse presents its 10th Anniversary Celebration at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St., the only way it really could: with a night of assorted theater scenes and excerpts, short plays and music featuring many of the people who have graced its productions in the past.

"I’m frankly proud what we’ve done some really quality work.


Advertisement

It just sort of occurred to me that ‘Wow, this is something to look back on and be proud of,’" said Griffin.

True to its mission, the 10th Anniversary Celebration is also a fundraiser for Peter Diamondstone and Doris Lake, to aid in their recovery from a fire which destroyed their home. Suggested donation is $10-$30.

"It kind of epitomizes what we do in that the vast majority of our performances have been benefits," said local actor Jerry Levy, another co-founder.

Predictably, serendipity guided Acting on Impulse’s first days. Griffin had just returned from Los Angeles, where he had been pursuing acting, directing and writing. Ill health forced him to curtail his activities, but he wanted to keep his chops sound. He connected with his pal Levy, and the two of them cooked up the idea of doing "The Gin Game."

"We do plays on impulse. We got the name right," said Levy.

From that debut, followed "A Thousand Clowns," which was suggested as a vehicle to work with young Willie Finkel. Since then, Acting on Impulse has presented nine other plays, including "Love Letters," "True West," "Overture to a Thursday Morning," "The Kiss," "The Fever" and "Marx in Soho." Some have been produced for short runs, others, like Levy’s one-man shows "Marx in Soho" and "The Fever" have been produced many times -- locally, across the country and overseas.

The plays are chosen not because they’ll be big at the box office, but because they are interesting to the performers and directors.

"That’s the stuff that excites me -- to bring people in and give them a chance to do their work and shine," said Griffin. "I’ve really loved these people, and I loved working with them."

Often that means small audiences. But they don’t seem to mind. "I’ve performed ‘Marx in Soho’ 200 times. I would say that at least half the performances have been for 15 or less," said Levy, who only really minded the intimate crowds once, when he caught a couple making out during a performance.

Though Acting on Impulse averages about one new production a year, "we’re doing a lot of stuff under-the radar," said Levy.

They have been workshopping Ibsen’s "Rosmerholm" in people’s homes for two years and have also been workshopping on Arthur Miller’s "The Price."

"We get together, have dinner and talk about the play, and then we get up and rehearse," said Griffin.

Last spring, they launched a series of what they called "house performances," where people are invited to someone’s home for dinner, a performance of "The Kiss" and then a discussion with Griffin, who acts in the play, afterward.

"The whole thing seemed to kind of crystallize the kind of intimate theater we want to do," said Griffin. "I think, as a culture, we’re longing for that kind of connection."

In the meantime, you can connect with Acting on Impulse at Saturday’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, which features performances, writing and direction by Rupa Cousins, Christopher Emily Coutant, Jesse Diamondstone, Keely Eastley, Thomas Griffin, Patricia Hartland, Francis Hauert, Michael Fox Kennedy, Charles Monette, Devan Monette, Sara Nicole Vitale, Kurt Weisman, Richard Wizansky, Mark Ziter, and, of course, Griffin and Levy.

Reservations are recommended. Call 802-254-8513.