Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Community School graduate is theater marvel

Two-woman show plays Ketchum


Johanna Marvel enjoys the benefits of Donna Sellinger's brief role as a chair.

It will be an active show, a high-energy show. There will be role sharing, role reversal and possibly even some tomfoolery.

For the three young women who are currently touring the nation with their show, "By2," the show has been a creative evolution, testing the waters of audiences' appetites for live theater.

Johanna Marvel, 22, of Hailey, is a graduate of The Community School in Sun Valley. She first met Donna Sellinger at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Conn.

"It was our study-abroad semester," said Marvel, pointing out with a laugh that Connecticut doesn't exactly qualify as a foreign country. "We learned a style of theater there that we all really enjoyed and picked up on."

After the semester, the two went back to their respective institutions of learning—Marvel at Iowa's Grinnell College and Sellinger at State University of New York, Purchase—and contemplated the lives of traveling thespians.

Sellinger endeavored to tour by herself as a one-woman show entitled "The Superbowl and Other Stories" during the summer of 2004. After a few stops in Canada, she called Marvel, desperate for an acting partner.

Fortunately, the day before Sellinger called her, Marvel had learned that she wouldn't be guiding rafting trips in Stanley as originally planned. With no plans; she set sheets to the wind and joined Sellinger on the road.

With the girls' creativity thusly compounded, the two began a limited tour of venues ranging from London, Ontario, to Minneapolis.

Upon returning to school in the fall, Marvel received a call from a man in Cincinnati who had seen their show. As a member of the Cincinnati Playhouse, he offered to fly the two to his city for a performance. The big time had officially been hit.

Sellinger and Marvel put on a Valentine's Day show at Cincinnati's Alteractive Festival, taking weeks away from pressing graduation requirements at college to rehearse and prepare. Not only was the show a success, both also managed to graduate from university, Marvel with a double Spanish, Theater major and Sellinger with a degree in Playwriting.

With their freshly printed degrees in hand, the two decided to apply to the Idaho Commission on the Arts for a grant to help support "By2." The ICA, a subsidiary of the National Endowment for the Arts, was sufficiently wowed and granted the girls $960 to travel the country performing.

Flush with a government mandate and wallets bursting with taxpayer dollars, "By2" went to the next level by calling Sarah Lowry, a fellow NTI graduate, to join the creative process as the show's director.

Lowry has proved an indispensable creative catalyst, helping with scripting and adding dynamism to an already quirky repertoire.

"It's not a tear-jerker, but not a knee-slapper either," Marvel said of "By2." The show features six to eight stories, written entirely by Marvel and Sellinger, told with a wide variety of rhetorical tools and perspective changes.

"The two actors constantly switch roles, morphing from character to character, character to narrator, narrator to furniture, and furniture back to character," Marvel explained in a written statement.

"It is a high-energy show: two actors portray the odd collection of characters and create six very different worlds with only the help of a handful of props, two yoga mats and two folding chairs," she noted.

Among the worlds developed are that of a confused traveler named Tom, a child named Sam and a cynical teenager dealing with a dysfunctional family on Superbowl Sunday.


"BY2" plays at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum Dec. 5-6 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for students, available at the door.

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