Casper theatre group performs adaptation of “Howl” at Metro Coffee Co. ahead of January 26 Town Hall

Member of Theatre of the Poor warm up ahead of Saturday night’s performance of “Howl”. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

The lights were dim inside of Metro Coffee Co. Saturday night as theater-goers found their seats amidst the 11 white-clad actors of the January 19 performance: an adaption of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl”. The performers were already in character before the show began inside of the space they described as a mental health ward.

“What are you in for?” Cameron Allender, one of the night’s performers, said to a member of the audience.

“Oh, I’m just here for the play,” the audience member replied.

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“What play?” Allender asked, befuddled.

The performance was put on by Casper’s Theatre of the Poor performance art group and Director William Conte wanted the experience to be immersive.

“I want [the audience] to consider us in character,” Conte, who is also a Theatre Instructor at Casper College, explained before the show began. “I want to expand the possibilities for these young artists. It’s about melding content with space. We take spaces and we transform them.”

When they opened the doors for seating, the actors were already in character and in position, some lying on the floor, others wandering the room pausing to gaze off into space and one leaned up against a speaker tapping his foot in time with a Miles Davis tune.

“The theatre is wherever you are standing,” Conte said he tells his actors. “These kids understand that this is art and they are the artists; they are the medium.”

As the 7:30 start time rolled around, the lights were momentarily put out before flashing on again as Chevy Kaplin and Mary MacGuire started playing music from the small corner stage and the actors burst out the first lines of the poem. The performers energetic movement was punched out in sync with their rapid interpretation of Ginsberg’s frenetic language. Lights cast from a projector across their wild motion intensified the dramatic effect.

As the performers went through their pre-show warm up composed of elements of yoga, tai-qi, and meditation, Conte explained why he’d selected to stage “Howl”.

“It’s been on my list for a long time,” said the director. “Poetry has a lot of potential for theatre.”

The group, which is comprised of actors from Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools as well as current and former Casper College students, had previously performed T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and thought that Ginsberg’s “Howl” was similarly well suited for the stage. Conte said he thought that both poems contained a myriad of voices and that is what the group has tried to elicit in their adaptations.

“You must be before you can do,” Katie Overstreet told her fellow performers before the audience was let in.

“Break a leg R.J.!” Caleb Phillips told fellow actor R.J. Navarro.

“Break two,” Navarro retorted.

When asked whether Theatre for the Poor had any other upcoming performances, Conte said those are still in the works. But he wanted people to be aware of a Town Hall the group will be hosting Saturday, January 26 at 4 p.m. at Gaslight Social. The group is interested in purchasing the old livery stable on South Ash Street to host their performances. Conte said the Town Hall event will give the public a chance to talk with the actors and consider making donations towards the $300,000 he expected they would need to raise.

As to how the group felt following their Saturday performance, one actor’s words seemed characteristic of what the group as a whole had to say.

“I thought tonight was intensely awesome,” said Nick McDill.

Following the theatre show, McDill performed music alongside the other members of the band Brain Sweat to cap off the night’s activities.

Other performers in “Howl” were Breanne Wilkinson, Katie McGee, Cuinn Lovelace and Julia Conte.

The performs turn to listen as Director William Conte gives them advice ahead of the show. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

Member of Theatre of the Poor warm up ahead of Saturday night’s performance of “Howl”. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)