Theater

Trans-continental Theatrics

On the challenges of being a geographically scattered four-piece theatre company.

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One dreary afternoon in early March, Rebecca Noon sits next to her husband, Jed Hancock-Brainerd, on a comfortable couch in a loft above Trinity Repertory Company, where she works as the Community Engagement Coordinator. Both tall and lithe, they sort of fold up like origami, leaning into one another but not quite, their heavy winter boots nearly touching. Jed, who has joined us following a shift at the RISD Museum, where he works as an on-call security guard and visitor services representative, melts into the couch.

It’s a rare moment of repose for the pair. In addition to their own work, sometimes aligning pursuits in the larger theater community (you can see Jed on stage at the Gamm starting this month in Marie Antoinette, which Rebecca is assistant directing) they make up half of the four-member Strange Attractor Theatre Company.

For them, the line between the life they’ve made and the art they make can be razor-thin, or non-existent at times. Luckily, though, it seems to work; they seem superbly calibrated for one another, and say that some of their most fond memories come from times when they’ve been somewhat attached at the hip – commuting to work together, coming home together, making theater together. And admittedly, it makes the proposition of both being full-time artists with fulltime day jobs more sustainable.

“I’ve noticed it gets trickier when one of us is working on something and the other is not. We totally support each other,” Jed told me. Then, to Rebecca, his already soft voice crinkling at the edges, like crows feet around smiling eyes: “I do miss you when I don’t get to spend time with you.”

Since meeting at the London International School of Performing Arts, where they both studied Lecoq-based actor created theater, the two have been collaborators as well as companions. “I was always really drawn to Jed as an artist, because he was such a puzzle to me,” says Rebecca. “The teachers would always point to him as an example of what would be great about the work. But he would never volunteer, he wasn’t running up onstage to show everyone what he could do. He approaches the work from total boldness and also humility.” The couple began dating later that first year, and by the second, they were choosing to work together consistently. They met their two other company members, Aram Alan Aghazarian and Roblin Gray Davis, in school as well, although their relationship with Strange Attractor wasn’t formalized until the group collaborated on a production of Eurydice together in Alaska.

The company is distinguished from other smaller, fringe theaters in the state in many ways – its size, its method of making work (they devise the work physically, in the moment, often without a playwright or director), the pace of its project-based orientation (five full-length shows in five years) among them. But here’s the thing: only Jed and Rebecca live in the Ocean State. Aram and Roblin are based in Philadelphia and Juneau, respectively. Even in this age of instantaneous connection across time zones, that far-flung recipe presents some interesting obstacles for a group of working artists who inhabit a space not of data, of words, of the written, but rather of the spontaneous, the instantaneous.

“For me, one of the things that is a challenge ultimately becomes a benefit,” says Jed. “When you get back into the room together, it’s almost like you have to meet each other again. Even though you know what it’s like to make work together, time and distance change people, too. Surprising things can happen. It makes for much richer, more layered pieces.”

The group often develops and performs a piece in one place, camping out together at the rambling Victorian belonging to Jed’s parents where the pair currently resides, for instance, and then moves it to one of the other towns in their repertoire – creating residencies, in effect. But it would be erroneous to say that they mount the same show in two cities, or take a production “on tour.” As the performers change with time and distance, the productions do, as well.

“I remember when we were working on the show A Terrific Fire in Juneau, mountain climbing became a very important part of the play. Jed invented this very serious mountain climbing character, totally raw and real. When we moved on to Providence, mountain climbing got put into a picture window and became a sort of cartoon of mountain climbing. And the more we learn about each other’s homes and the audiences there, the more we can be intentional about making theater,” says Rebecca.

Though they both confess to not having a professorial level of understanding about the mathematical concept from whence they get their name, it’s certainly fitting. Somewhere in all of this space and time, even with a continental divide thrown in for fun, they’ve managed to formulate a bond that is both steady and flexible.