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By means of storytelling and shared management, Flying V makes protected house for nerds


Spend just a little time with the management group behind Flying V Theatre Firm and also you’ll come to the conclusion that all of us has just a little nerd inside. Flying V is the place you may let that out.

The 11-year-old group calls itself “your native indie theater” and gives a artistic house for the nerd in all of us. Based mostly in Montgomery County, Maryland, the corporate is split into three “wings”: staged theater performances, analysis and improvement, and fights — as in wrestling matches and different feats of bodily competitors. Collectively, these distinct wings push the boundaries of what constitutes storytelling, constructing a company that’s all the time trying to find out-of-the-box methods to inform tales — typically eschewing conventional theatrical conventions to experiment with new fashions.

The Flying V workers (clockwise from high left): navi, Katherine Offutt, Susanna Pretzer, Ruben Vellekoop, Evangelina Hakes, Tim German, Joey Ibanez, and Kelly Colburn. Photograph by Kriistn Pagan.

In 2020, firm founder Jason Schlafstein got here beneath fireplace for his alleged historical past of sexual harassment. Following Schlafstein’s termination, and the departure of his creative affiliate Jonathan Ezra Rubin, the remaining collaborative creatives, recognized for producing quirky ensemble-driven productions, regrouped beneath a shared management mannequin. The group started to revamp and strategize for Flying V’s future, juggling each the absence of the group’s founder and the onset of the 18-month closure of dwell theater introduced on by COVID.

What emerged from this time of uncertainty was a reconceived management mannequin with an govt director and a group of “creative leaders” who handle the group’s three wings. This construction permits every group chief to give attention to their experience whereas additionally collaborating, contributing, or stepping again when mandatory so processes and tasks can transfer ahead. Every creative lead indicators on for a three-year tenure, which they’ll renew in the event that they select. Within the coming years, the group will shift, by design, and new leaders will emerge and certain steer Flying V in new instructions, permitting the group to discover efficiency in conventional and experimental methods each in individual and within the digital house.

navi (one identify solely) serves because the creative lead for the R&D Wing. They see the group’s shared management mannequin as a symbiotic path to continuous renewal. “What is absolutely thrilling in regards to the mannequin we’re constructing and what we spend lots of each day stressing and dealing by means of is laying the muse for an organization that grows and evolves past our time with it. Embracing who you’re and the place you’re in house and time is a part of the nerd id. It transcends us. I might love to come back to a Flying V present in 10 years, once I’m now not a pacesetter of the corporate, and excitedly expertise what the following era of nerds in cost should say.”

“Flying V has gone by means of an enormous transformation,” stated Govt Director Katherine Offutt when reflecting on the group’s rebirth post-Schlafstein. “We now contemplate ourselves a performing arts group. Whereas we do nonetheless have a give attention to theater, we determined that we aren’t a theater that occurs to do different issues. We’re an organization that does theater and different issues.”

However all the pieces the group does focuses totally on storytelling, Offutt added. “There are lots of alternative ways tales manifest, and since we focus our tales on nerd and popular culture, that’s the aesthetic thread that pulls Flying V collectively. We don’t all the time know what we’re going to do, however in the event you see it, you’ll know Flying V did it.”

Offutt got here to the group in April 2020, whereas Schlafstein nonetheless led the corporate, employed to place an infrastructure in place at a time of fast progress. Then shift occurred — with Schlafstein’s firing — and her managing position turned an surprising govt directorship.

The problem of carrying the group ahead offered the chance to reshape it into no matter the brand new management group wished it to be. That meant analyzing all the pieces, from questioning the large ideas of what a brand new Flying V would seem like and whether or not or to not maintain the group’s authentic branding to the trivialities of day-to-day processes like scheduling rehearsals to finish properly earlier than the Metro closes and creating lifestyle-friendly work hours.

The group made a aware determination to maintain the group’s identify. “After we have been redeveloping,” stated Tim German, an inventive co-lead for the Flying V Fights Wing, “we had the choice to vary the identify. We selected to keep it up as a result of it’s a model that’s acknowledged by the group and so they affiliate it extra with an aesthetic than anybody particular person.”

On the origin of the identify Flying V, Offutt stated she had requested the founder, who defined it was a popular culture reference to the Nineties Disney hockey film The Mighty Geese. Nineties popular culture and nerd tradition nostalgia had been a mainstay of the corporate, which has efficiently drawn in a big cohort of millennial audiences.

So, what the heck is nerd tradition?

Whereas it’s simple to affiliate nerd tradition with comedian books, Dungeons and Dragons, and video gaming followers, German defines nerd tradition extra broadly: “The basis of nerd tradition is being so passionately dedicated to and enthusiastic about a distinct segment matter or topic that you just actively search different folks like that and you’re taking pleasure in celebrating” no matter exercise you’re keen on, from musical theater to cosplay to wrestling to amassing buying and selling playing cards.

Screenshot from a digital 2021 occasion “Flying V Fights: The Recreation Stay!” that includes Ryan Sellers, Abigail Weinel, Maki
Roll, James Finley. Joey Ibanez, editor and graphic design.

Flying V’s theater creative lead Kelly Colburn describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist who wears many hats as producer, director, designer, and deviser. However she by no means thought she was a nerd till she got here to Flying V: “What excites me about nerd tradition as somebody who by no means actually recognized as a nerd till I turned 30 — I’m 33 now — is that this concept of being a nerd is absolutely rooted locally. It’s constructed across the love of this stuff,” no matter they could be. She added that the nerd group is much less attentive to following and observing the artwork than it’s about “speaking about it at size and creating relationships, not simply due to the artwork, however in relation to after which outdoors of the artwork.”

The nerdisphere of Flying V

Flying V’s Theatre Wing, the group’s most established arm, options conventional performs in addition to experimental experiences. Developing on January 28 and 29, 2023, Flying V’s Theatre Wing might be internet hosting the artistic group of Vanishing Lady, a brand-new musical, with a e book by Hope Villanueva and music and lyrics by William Yanesh.

“Within the Theatre Wing,” Colburn stated, “all the pieces is all about storytelling. So while you come to see a theater present at Flying V, you might get that conventional ‘well-made play,’ however you might also come and see an experimental expertise. Vanishing Lady is that extra conventional musical theater mannequin. You’re going to get a sneak peek of a musical in improvement.”

On the R&D observe, Flying V supplied Showburger’s Comedy Check Kitchen on November 14. Helmed by a pair of comedy execs, this occasion inaugurated a month-to-month drop-in “Comedy Check Kitchen.” Sketch writers, stand-up comics, improvisers, and performers have been invited to check out their newest bits on the Silver Spring Black Field for a gaggle of like-minded creatives and contributors.

German, a professional wrestler, works with Joey Ibanez on wrestling and battle exhibits. “We facilitate stage fight {and professional} wrestling occasions and we’ve had a fight health club the place people got here by means of to get licensed,” he stated. “Joey and I wish to say that fights [as Flying V stages them] are about how tales will be advised purely bodily — with violence, intimacy, motion, no matter. Clearly, wrestling is a giant a part of that as a result of it’s a really particular bodily type of storytelling.”

And if the considered on-stage violence appears like a turn-off, German shared his standpoint. “Defensive skilled wrestling is a uniquely American type of storytelling created to imitate sport. However it’s additionally excessive melodrama. The characters, and the viewers interplay, are extra akin to how Shakespeare was carried out within the Globe Theatre.”

Flying V Fights Again that includes Erica Leigh, Yuta Wheeler. Photograph by JayLee Images.

He additionally supplied this for individuals who dislike bodily violence on stage: “Wrestling is staged. It’s choreographed. I’d by no means say that wrestling is the tip all be all of bodily storytelling, I’d solely ask that they struggle watching our wrestling with an open thoughts.”

Generally, Flying V’s numerous pursuits mix into much more experimental creative explorations. For instance, on December 3, “Flying V vs. Tremendous Artwork Struggle” will supply up professional wrestling and a dwell artwork competitors concurrently. Becoming a member of the staged wrestlers might be a gaggle of artists battling each other on canvas, a dwell mash-up of brushstrokes and smackdowns the place something — and all the pieces — may occur.

As for the R&D Wing, that’s the place navi excels. “The R&D division explores and assessments the boundaries of efficiency know-how and nontraditional areas to inform tales. Once more, all of it comes again to telling tales,” they stated. “I’m excited to discover storytelling in nontraditional theatrical methods. Whereas wrestling is a particular instance of that, in my world it lives within the mixture of the digital and the bodily, but in addition in music tradition, burlesque tradition, nerd tradition.”

Earlier tasks navi has helmed embrace an authentic podcast collection that includes native playwrights, audio designers, and performers. “We’re in pre-production of collection three proper now,” they stated, “utilizing all authentic scripted audio fiction with voice actors, authentic music, and sound design.” Plans for June 2023 embrace native cosplay and burlesque performers like Flying V favourite Maki Roll, an space award-winning burlesque and cosplay performer.

Within the digital house, navi runs a server on Discord — a rising social platform fashionable with players that permits for the creation of curated communities. This burgeoning subset of nerd tradition permits followers with particular like-minded “nerdy” pursuits to assemble for personal discussions. Navi likens the rising group alternatives within the digital world to the shift from Walmart-like large field retailers to native home-grown companies, including, “It’s essential to get forward of the curve on that.” Different experimental tasks have included a dwell present known as .DOCS that was totally text-based and came about in chat rooms, by means of textual content messages, and in shared Google paperwork the place actors have been typing and the viewers was studying in actual time. navi and the R&D Wing have spent the previous two years determining learn how to inform a narrative in that format.

Flying into the longer term

After surviving an surprising transition in 2020, Flying V’s management group now faces the longer term with a transparent sense of what it desires the group to be and what it doesn’t. Gone are the times when one monolithic voice dictated the substance of the group. As a substitute, consensus and respect for the varied artistic voices that make up its management group have allowed Flying V to reinvent itself whereas experimenting each with artistic types and management fashions.

“The group is made up of individuals and never one particular person,” Colburn stated. “That permits us to proceed conversations about pop and nerd tradition. It permits us to herald new views. It permits any one in all us to depart after three, 5, and 6 years and to know that whoever is available in subsequent might be bringing a contemporary, new, pleasant perspective to what it’s to be a nerd on the planet as we speak.”

For info on Flying V Theatre Firm, go to flyingvtheatre.com.

SEE ALSO: DC Theater Arts’ current protection of Flying V.

In regards to the Wendi Winters Memorial Sequence: DC Theater Arts has partnered with the Wendi Winters Memorial Basis to honor the life and work of Wendi Winters, the DC Theater Arts author who died within the Capital Gazette capturing in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28, 2018. To honor Wendi’s legacy, the Wendi Winters Memorial Basis has funded the Wendi Winters Memorial Sequence, month-to-month articles to be produced by DC Theater Arts to deliver consideration to theater firms and theater practitioners in our area who have interaction in exemplary work that makes our group a greater place. The centerpiece of those articles is a collection we’re calling “The Firms We Maintain,” articles providing an in-depth take a look at one native theater firm every month. In these occasions of division and battle, DC Theater Arts chooses to rejoice those that do good.

For extra info on DC Theater Arts’ Wendi Winters Memorial Sequence, take a look at this text graciously revealed by our mates at District Fray Journal

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