Constellation Stage and Screen will premiere its inaugural theatrical season with the immersive, outdoor theater production “The Grown-Ups” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Hundredth Hill Artist Residence & Retreat on North Fish Road.
Written and directed by Nightdrive, an experimental theater company based out of North Brooklyn, “The Grown-Ups” takes the stage in an entirely new way – by sharing it with the audience. Around a fire pit, audience and cast members sit together, which allows visitors to fully immerse themselves into the summer camp world of “The Grown-Ups,” as if they’re fellow counselors.
“It was just this group of artists all living together and deciding we were going to put a show up in our backyard,” Emily Everett, who plays Becca in the show, said. “It grew into this pretty surprising thing that became so much bigger than just that.”
During the height of the pandemic, Everett and five fellow Nightdrive members found themselves stuck inside of the house they shared in New York City. With theaters closed for over a year, Everett said the group needed a creative outlet. The artists were sitting in a circle around their outdoor fire pit when inspiration struck.
“We got really excited about the idea of telling stories around the fire,” Everett said. “From there, we all started telling stories about going to summer camp as kids.”
In July 2021, the crew began performing intimate, COVID-19-friendly outdoor showings of “The Grown-Ups,” which follows a few camp counselors who are “trying to mold the leaders of tomorrow when tomorrow is looking bleaker and bleaker,” according to Nightdrive’s website. Sitting in lawn chairs circling the fire, Nightdrive originally performed for groups of six to eight family members and friends, nearly outnumbering their audience at times.
Everett said she’s excited to perform the play in Bloomington, along with other members from the original cast. Written by co-Artistic Directors of Nightdrive Simon Henriques and Skylar Fox, Everett said the duo’s humor is perfect for a college-aged audience.
“Simon and Skylar, as writers, have such a specific, hilarious sense of humor,” Everett said. “It speaks to a younger audience and a generation of people who grew up online. They really have that sort of online humor.”
During confusing pandemic times, Henriques said he and Fox — who began writing plays together backstage while performing in Brown University productions — wanted “The Grown-Ups" to combine themes like changing tradition, taking agency in the world and modern-day adolescence.
For Henriques, the shift from performing for small audiences to groups of close to 50 people has been overwhelming but exciting. The production has travelled to Theater with a View in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and now to Bloomington.
In the show, Henriques plays Lukas — a character he described as a “sensitive bro.” Henriques said acting in such close proximity to the audience has truly fulfilled his desire for intimate acting. Although, he admitted that sometimes it can be distracting when people in the audience play on their phones or take pictures right next to him.
“It feels exciting to be able to track individual audience member’s experience throughout the show,” Henriques said. “Like, ‘Oh, that person seems like they're not having fun.’ or ‘Oh, they perked up at that line, that's cool.’”
Through Constellation’s “Page to Stage to Screen” model, which sees new productions through as they’re written, performed and eventually filmed, “The Grown-Ups” will be Constellation’s first movie — which will be produced sometime in 2023. It’s thrilling to see the show transform from the intimate backyard setting to becoming a feature film, Henriques said.
Chad Rabinovitz, artistic director of New Works for Constellation, said this show has been a long time coming. “The Grown-Ups” will be the company’s first production since Bloomington Playwrights Project, Cardinal Stage and Pigasus Institute officially merged to form Constellation in July 2022.
“It finally feels real when we're doing shows together,” Rabinovitz said.
For Rabinovitz, “The Grown-Ups” is an exciting first step, and the perfect amalgamation of Constellation’s goals for the future.
“What better way to do it than with a brand-new work that embodies exactly who we're going to be with both the stage and screen element,” Rabinovitz said. “Then, to make it even more perfect, Constellation’s first show ever will be underneath the stars at the Hundredth Hill.”
Tickets for the event are available online. Since capacity is limited to 50 people per show, Constellation encourages guests to purchase tickets soon. The show will run from Sept. 14 through Oct. 1.