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Alumni - James Stone '10, Peter Beard '10
Entrepreneurial RoarsAlumni start Minneapolis theatre company, implementing acting model learned in UI class
University of Idaho alumnus James Stone said he knows to get what you want, sometimes you have to get dirty — maybe even a little predatorial.
Stone and fellow UI graduate Peter Beard have recently launched their own theatre company, Theatre Coup d’Etat. Their mission: to use a raw, minimalist approach to provoke audiences into a visceral reaction.
Before setting foot on stage, in order to tap into these raw emotions, actors are subjected to the “Animals” class — a six-week workshop modeled after course they first experienced at UI.
Professor David Lee-Painter’s Animals class has been around since 1996. The class is now taught every other year in the fall and asks students to emulate predatory animals. Many walk on all four "legs" throughout the class, which is held in the Charles Houston Shattuck Arboretum. There is no speaking other than grunts and screams, and each animal carries with them a hand-crafted — otherwise known as stuffed — animal they must guard and protect as their kin.
The goal? To provoke and "kill" each other using the most true-to-their-character means possible. That means a lot of fighting, baby snatching and aggression — all raw emotions Stone said he and Beard seek to encapsulate in all Theatre Coup d’Etat performances.
For Stone, the class teaches an actor how to “exist truthfully in imaginary experiences.” This knowledge is good to have whether you’re a spotted hyena facing off against a leopard, "Macduff" hoping to slay the army general "Macbeth" or "Stanley" confronting "Blanche" in A Streetcar Named Desire.
“If you can pretend to be a spotted hyena in a group of animals, you can probably do just about anything,” Stone said.
“You’re operating off of instinct, in the moment. In those circumstances, we react as animals to given circumstances. It’s all about the core ... not the craft or beautiful language or anything else.”
Waiting a whole six weeks before touching a script can be a foreign concept to actors working for Coup d’Etat, and Stone said all actors approach the task differently.
“There’s always some resistance,” Stone said. “People are wondering, ‘Why are two white boys from Idaho making us run around in a meadow?’ ”
Stone said all actors eventually find the connection in the process.
“I learn something every (class),” Stone said. “It can be something technical, vocals, movement, a deeper connection to the animal. ... What do I need in these given circumstances? What is it like to lose? Finding all of these different things, that’s what we take on stage.”
Stone said the knowledge gained is another “tool in the bag” actors can apply to all performances, and this is tool is just one of many that go into a Theatre Coup d’Etat production.
Stone and Beard share responsibility in all aspects of the business, from writing grants to directing and even acting in performances. The work can be grueling, Stone said, but after a year of hopping around from one job to the next, he said starting his own company was the best decision.
“It was a way for us to do the type of work we want to do the way we see fit,” he said. “Twenty-four hours a day, you hate it at times, but it’s what we live for. We’ve had to learn a lot of things, a lot of it the hard way, and God knows we made mistakes."
The company often partners with other nonprofit organizations to cross-market. Their most recent collaboration was with the Minnesotans United for all Families coalition urging voters to vote against the state’s proposed marriage amendment — and their campaign succeeded.
Theatre Coup d’Etat gives a percentage of its proceeds to such organizations in exchange for advertising. The partnership allows the company to reach audiences it may not be possible to reach on its own, Stone said. Of all the jobs he is responsible for, he said creating a connection with the community is the most rewarding.
“We feel like we’re doing to right thing,” Stone said. “The moment when you finally start the show and get to watch the process ... create the bonds you make, the community you give back to and the (theatre) community you form. ... A piece of my humanity has been crafted, and my life is now enriched.”
Learn more about Theatre Coup d’Etat online.