Almost one year ago, Prism Co. created what founders Katy Tye and Jeff Colangelo consider to be the company’s most successful work. That piece pitted a real Mixed Martial Arts fighter against a Dallas actress in an immersive, staged, competitive MMA fight. As with all Prism works, Animal vs Machine was entirely wordless.
In a year’s time, much has changed for the small theater company. Now a full-fledged nonprofit organization, Prism — soon to be rebranded as Prism Movement Theatre — received a cultural equity grant from the city of Dallas to remount Animal vs Machine as Bruises: Animal vs Machine. They will tour it to three separate venues over six weeks in Dallas.
The show is a “ruthlessly vivid portrait of two women” staged in a 360-degree ring that allows viewers to move with the fighting. Tye and Colangelo say they realized how well the show could travel when they were forced to pack it up on their opening night last year, after the fire marshal shut it down.
“We were literally walking around a parking lot trying to figure out if we could just set it up there and do it,” Tye says.
This experience got them thinking about ways to produce the show in different venues. They loved the idea of a circus-style traveling show that would bring theater to the people rather than ask audiences to come to them, and Bruises proved to be the perfect “set up and go” production. Now it’s at your door and it’s free.
Prism is well suited for community engagement projects because of the way the company bridges the gap between theater and movement, a language that is universally understood. After one production of Animal vs Machine, Colangelo saw little girls acting out the scenes they’d watched.
“It’s like we had created superheroes or something,” he says.
Which was kind of the point. Tye and Colangelo wanted to produce a story that featured strong female leads. Tye says Bruises is also an opportunity to depict women fighting in a normal way, without sexualizing or exploiting them. In the piece, fighting is just a vehicle to understand the characters.
“The fighting is a vessel,” Tye says. “It is a way to communicate something else. It’s the background story.”
This language is ever-changing. Tye and Colangelo took in the feedback from the first production and used it to improve the piece. They say Bruises is their tightest narrative to date, and working with different actors and fighters has shown them how well the play works with different body types. Improvements have also been made to the choreography; now Prism has a “movement philosophy” — and it’s not always easy to adhere to.
“The fight numbers are like the big number in a musical,” Colangelo says. “At one point there’s six solid minutes of fighting.”
Being fit is not enough when it comes to executing these scenes. Both of the actors/fighters in Bruises have trained in Tai Chi, ballet and MMA. They’ve also been working on weight sharing, each adjusting their weight as needed to make the movements smooth.
“You can’t just be strong,” Colangelo says. “You have to know how to listen with your body.”
In touring the show, Prism has engaged students and community members, giving them roles in the production. For many of Dallas’ districts, lack of access to the arts means lack of understanding about what it even means to work in the arts. Part of the Prism’s goal is to shed light on artistic career paths.
It’s a grand next step for this young theater company, which is also producing Medea Myth: Love’s Beginning as part of the Elevator Project at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and collaborating with Theatre Three. Between these projects, Tye and Colangelo have devoted nearly every second of their time to creating movement theater in Dallas and bringing it to parts of the city where it just doesn’t exist.
The grant for Bruises has enabled them to produce the play the way they want to, and to do things like hire staff members to run technical and lighting design, which is all done from a single laptop, making the production both more fluid and mobile. It’s fitting for a company that’s all about movement.
This 60-minute production of Bruises: Animal vs Machine will run at 8 p.m. March 31 through May 21. The first weekend of performances will take place at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center, 223 W. Jefferson Blvd. For more information and to reserve your free tickets, see Facebook.
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