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The Chaotic Travels of the Theater Company Poor Dog Group

The Chaotic Travels of the Theater Company Poor Dog Group
Brian Guillian

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Zipping from Malibu to Manhattan, spending a month in Europe, regrouping and conferring with like-minded colleagues in a state-of-the-art "pleasure dome" -- it sounds more like the itinerary of a high-powered executive with a hefty expense account than a contemporary performance company named Poor Dog Group.

But don't second-guess your decision to switch out of your theater major in college just yet. These CalArts grads may not have to clock in to a 9-to-5, but they never, ever clock out either. In addition to collaborating here in L.A., they're constantly on the go. Over the past year, they took planes, trains, automobiles and more in pursuit of forming relationships with companies around the U.S. and abroad, seeking out more places to perform to support themselves full-time as a company, and interacting with other troupes to help inspire and refine their sharply drawn, sometimes infuriating work.

We asked artistic director Jesse Bonnell and director of development and programming Itamar Stern to take us around the world with them. Try not to get winded. (Note: Not all company members attended each trip.)

1. January 2011

Under the Radar Festival

New York City

"Europe descends onto New York City, shopping for fresh blood," Bonnell says of the festival, which saw Poor Dog presenting to 80 international contemporary theater companies looking for new productions to bring to their respective cities. "It was our introduction to the circuit. We did 10 10-minute presentations -- Under the Radar speed dating," Stern adds.

2. January/February 2011

The Getty Villa residency

Malibu

For the company's first major commission, it spent two weeks developing Dionysia Dionysia, which examines social and sexual politics in the myth of Thyestes and Atreus, alongside leading academics on Greek theater. Also, "We worked on our tans," Bonnell says.

3. June 2011

Radar L.A.

Los Angeles

Poor Dog presented to the new international theater festival Brewsie & Willie, their adaptation of Gertrude Stein's 1946 novella, in which she gives voice to World War II G.I.s' uncertainty of their futures upon their return to America. "She's a real American who's really critical of America, just like we are," Stern says.

By staging the performance, attended by mostly middle- and upper-class audiences, in a loft near Skid Row, the company was "hovering above these two worlds and talking about the issues that concern both class systems," Bonnell adds.

September-October 2011

Wunderbaum residency

The group won a fellowship from L.A.'s Department of Cultural Affairs, and Bonnell and Stern used it to travel to Europe to study the differences between the U.S.'s and the Netherlands' funding of the arts.

4. Germany, one week

In Berlin, Stern says, "I rode my bike nonstop for four days from gallery to museum to sold-out theater houses."

5. The Netherlands, three weeks

Their schedule was so rigorous, Stern lost his voice after a three-hour meeting with the Ministry of Culture in the Hague. "I had to whisper through the 16 interviews we had in our final three days of the residency," he says. The two rented a room in a house, and were so busy they never saw the construction workers who occupied the other four.

Theater in the Netherlands, Bonnell says, is like, "'Show us the weirdest, most obscene art and maybe we'll like it.' And your grandmother is the one making that request."

6. Poland, four days

Bonnell and Stern couldn't even attend any of the conference's panels, since they booked back-to-back meetings for a solid two and a half days with different companies. "We met in this café in Krakow's city center and transitioned from drinking coffee to wine to beer," Bonnell says.

7. France, one week

Bonnell: "I saw a theater piece with two women and one was an android from Japan. I saw another piece where they dangled toddlers from these crazy cranes. I've never seen anything like it and I probably never will again."

8. November 2011

EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center) residency

Troy, N.Y.

The entire company spent three weeks in a "wonderland for the arts," Bonnell says. "It was a full endorsement of our imaginations," Stern concurs. "We'd ask for three projectors, and they'd say, 'How about six?'"

9. January 2012

Under the Radar, American Realness,

COIL Festival

New York City

Stern says they were particularly captivated by the Lower East Side's American Realness Festival. "This is the breeding ground for what America contributes to the international contemporary performance landscape, and I'm hooked on wanting to contribute," Bonnell agrees.

10. February 2012

The MacDowell Colony residency

Peterborough, N.H.

Bonnell won a fellowship to the oldest artists' colony in the U.S. "I made fires and drank soup and played a lot of ping-pong with some architects from Madrid," he says. "And I did a lot of writing and reading."

11. March 2012

South Coast Repertory's Studio SCR

Costa Mesa

Poor Dog remounted The Internationalists, a text developed by Bonnell, first presented in 2009 and toured through Eastern Europe. During rehearsals, Stern -- who has a role in the play -- worked on a grant proposal onstage as the rest of the company did yoga, danced with brooms and in every way toyed with traditional theatrical boundaries, all around him.

12. March 2012

Theatre Communications Group/American Express Leadership Boot Camp

Greensboro, N.C.

For three intense days, Stern attended the mentoring camp, which pairs emerging and established leaders in the theater community. It's difficult to say just which Stern is.

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