Jeff Janisheski, Chair of the Theater Arts Department and Artistic Director of CalRep, was flipping through the March 2017 issue of Dig Magazine. An article, “Choosing Education Over Incarceration,” caught his eye. As someone whose job is to bring diverse communities together through storytelling, the article struck a chord with Janisheski.
The story was about Project Rebound, a “rehabilitation center for formerly incarcerated individuals entering higher education” and more specifically, about one man and his journey from prison to university.
“I told myself, ‘We have to do something with [Project Rebound],” he said.
The result of this collaboration is “In the Penal Colony,” a play, experimental opera and living story based on real experiences weaving together different mediums of storytelling to tackle the American prison industrial complex. The performance is the latest to join the “Devising Democracy” series, a four-year plan from the California Repertory Company of “being committed to California — addressing issues that are urgent to our local and regional communities,” according to a CalRep press release.
The monthslong process has included interviewing Rising Scholars and Project Rebound members, working with the Long Beach Opera House and meeting with students from the community in order to bring a twist to the classic play in a way that connects to our time.
“It’s a very ambitious project, I thought this could be really exciting,” Janisheski said. “I have no idea how they’re going to work together, but that’s part of the excitement about experimental theater. You’ll figure out how it’s all connected just like I will.”
“In the Penal Colony” is the last of four performances coming to University Theater stages this spring at Long Beach State. It will run from April 25 through May 5.
Before heading into the classic Franz Kafka dystopian story, students will be treated to a night in a 1930s Berlin nightclub in “Cabaret.” Based on the play by John Van Druten, the dark political commentary uses song and dance to “hold up a mirror to America in a rise to fascism,” according to Janisheski.
“It’s a classic and sadly timely musical,” he added. “It’s deeply political and really important to what we do at CalRep.”
“Cabaret” premieres on Feb. 21 and runs through March 3 in the Studio Theater.
Audiences are brought into a more local arena for the second CalRep performance in the spring, with an original play written by Long Beach State alum, Tahirih Moeller. In the world premiere of the hip hop show, “A Live Mixtape,” the public will hear a blend of scenes and poetry based on the neighborhood Moeller grew up in Long Beach.
“I wanted to write something that resembled the neighborhoods I was raised in as well as the people I was raised around,” Moeller said. “I hope that students will see themselves in the many stories I have crafted as well as the overall humanity of many people showcased throughout the story.”
Moeller’s play will open to the public on March 14 and finish its run on March 23.
CalRep returns to its political theme in its third performance of the season with “The Revolutionists,” a comedy set during the French Revolution, reimagining the time period with four distinctly different characters, one being Marie Antoinette herself.
“I read it and I thought, we have to do it,” Janisheski said. “It’s outrageous, irreverent, it’s a very fun but pointed play about power, about the politics of the time that also reflect a bit [of] what’s happening now.”
The rebellious satire takes the stage March 21-29.
For more information on CalRep’s theater schedule or ticket prices, visit http://web.csulb.edu/colleges/cota/theatre/on-stage-now/index.html. Tickets go on sale Feb. 1.