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AtticRep brings home S.A. theater artists for ‘Amish Project’

by: Deborah Martin – February 8, 2016
Originally Published by The San Antonio Express News

Roberto Prestigiacomo, producing artistic director for AtticRep, has worked all over the world. Even so, something special happens whenever he is able to work on projects in his hometown.

“I’ve had opportunities to go back to Rome, and it makes me so happy, the idea of going back home and working at home,” he said.
He wants to give San Antonio artists who have left to study or to work elsewhere that experience.

And so, beginning with “The Amish Project,” a fictional story inspired by the 2006 mass shooting in an Amish school, the company is actively reaching out to expats whose talents are a good fit for AtticRep productions. The show opens Wednesday.

“There is a lot of talent that is from San Antonio that has left,” he said. “Let’s reverse the trend of people leaving.”

Part of the idea is both to show those who have left that there are opportunities here that they might not be aware of and also to show local audiences that the city produces a lot of gifted artists.

There is a marketing campaign promoting the effort, including the hashtag #BringThemBackSA. The first two recruits are: North East School of the Arts alumnae Sarah Gise, an actress who graduated in 2007, and Cole Wilson, a designer and musician who graduated in 2004.Both were students of NESA acting teacher David Connelly, who is directing “The Amish Project.”

Connelly, who started teaching at NESA in 1999, has watched many of his students leave after graduation.

“I’ve always wished there was some way to have some sort of project that would allow these artists to come back — be near their families, practice their craft — in the city they grew up in,” he said before an “Amish Project” rehearsal with Gise. “And so, having these two things happen — being able to work with an ex-student and have her be able to come back — was really exciting.”

Gise, who works with several theater companies in Chicago, stars in the one-act AtticRep production, in which she plays all seven characters. The show, she is careful to point out whenever she talks about it, is not about an act of violence. It’s about forgiveness in the face of tremendous loss. It’s a challenging piece. The characters — including the shooter, his wife and two of his victims — speak in nonstop monologues, their words sometimes weaving in and out of each other.
Working with Gise on the piece has been “fantastic,” Connelly said.

“When she auditioned, I was really impressed with how much she had grown through her training at (the University of Southern California) and her experiences,” he said. “It was seeing this grown-up, highly skilled young artist, not this teenage girl she had been once upon a time.”

Connelly thought that sound could be an important element in the piece. And he thought Wilson was just the guy for the job. Connelly’s invitation came at a particularly busy time. Wilson is a member of the Santa Fe-based arts collective Meow Wolf, which is in the home stretch for a massive, hard-to-describe, immersive project titled “House of Eternal Return.”

“Folks ask me, ‘Is it a children’s museum? Is it an installation art piece? Is it a venue?’ And I say, it’s none of those things and it’s all of those things,” Wilson said. “It’s the type of thing you really just have to go and see it.

“The interesting thing about it is (that) there isn’t anything else out there that gives you the context for what it is.”

Though that project is pretty time-consuming, Cole agreed to take on the AtticRep show because he could work on it remotely and could create the soundscape himself without having to rehearse other musicians. He also said yes because Connelly was asking.

“I feel really flattered and privileged that he would reach out to me and ask me to collaborate,” Wilson said. “It’s like, he’s a nice guy, but I know he wouldn’t ask me to do something just because he’s nice.”

“The Amish Project” has been meaningful for Gise, too, both because of the quality of the material and because of the ancillary advantages that come from being back home.
“It’s been incredible,” she said. “First of all, I get to live back here with my mom. And I’m escaping the Chicago winter. “Obviously, doing the show is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done, but there are these surrounding factors, like family time and the weather, that add into it, too.”

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