Synetic’s New Voice Series production of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’

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With the announcement of its New Voice Series, Synetic Theater is taking its own unique approach to the development of the richly talented pool of emerging theater-makers and budding theater leadership in the DC area.

The New Voice Series is focused on capturing the energy and generational outlook of rising theater makers, those with their own individual instincts along with an interest in the Synetic physical theater style of performance.

Synetic Theater’s Founding Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili. Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.

But wait, there is more to the series. As explained to me by Paata Tsikurishvili, Synetic’s founding artistic director, the New Voice Series will create opportunities not just for Synetic company members, but also for creative artists outside of the four walls of the movement-oriented Synetic as well. The model is to provide mentoring to develop universal theatrical and leadership skills and provide opportunities beyond acting, including directing and choreography.

Asked for the “why” behind the New Voice Series, the response was quick in coming. “It’s time to give opportunities for others to grow and flourish,” said Paata. “I want to give others the opportunities I had when I arrived here in America from Georgia. I want to help others establish themselves in the theater as I was helped. That is why the Synetic New Voice Series was created.”

With the New Voice Series, emerging theater-makers, directors, and choreographers will be coached and mentored under the guidance of Paata Tsikurishvili and Synetic’s Founding Choreographer and Associate Artistic Director Irina Tsikurishvili.

“We aim to motivate and inspire those in the New Voice Series to become universal performers and leaders in the broad theater community,” said Paata. The Series will be in line with “blending innovative techniques and movement, investing in artist’s growth, and creating unforgettable visceral experiences for all audiences.”

For those less familiar with Synetic Theater, the company first electrified the DC theater scene in 2002 with distinctive choreography and physical, movement based productions not seen before in the DC area. The style is one that Paata “fell in love with right away when younger” watching performing artists in his native Georgia.

Synetic’s initial production in the DC area was Hamlet…the rest is silence. The production wowed critics and audiences alike. It received multiple Helen Hayes awards. Since then the company has continued to receive dozens of Helen Hayes nominations and awards.

The upcoming production of the New Voice Series is based upon a Synetic in-house adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic American children’s book from 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Paata Tsikurishvili called Baum’s book “great source material for Synetic. It is known by many. And, it has plenty of supernatural aspects.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Director, Ryan Sellers. Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.

For the Synetic production of The Wonderful Wizard of OzRyan Sellers is directing and co-adapted with Tori Bertocci. Bertocci is also the production choreographer. As part of the New Voice Series, Sellers and Bertocci developed the initial Oz concept, then honed it with Tsikurishvili’s guidance and the collaboration of the entire Synetic Oz team.

Sellers has been an actor and teaching artist with Synetic for over a decade. A Springfield, Virginia native, he graduated from Edison High School in Fairfax County and went on to Catholic University to study theater. One of the first Synetic productions he saw was Faust in 2006. He “had never seen anything like it before. It was so visceral in its story-telling.” He decided then and there that he wanted to become part of the company. He took to the mainstage with Synetic’s Romeo and Juliet in 2008.

When Paata approached Sellers with “the opportunity to direct, I jumped at the chance.” As Sellers and I chatted, he mentioned that he had played high school football. That experience helped him appreciate Synetic’s physical style that could bring theater to those who may have thought traditional theater was not for them. Synetic was physical and movement-based. It was a way to communicate and “show physical strength and flexibility. A body becomes a visual instrument to tell a story.”

Sellers went on to chat about how physical movement provides not only clarity but can become another means for “an emotional telling of stories, as voices and singing add feelings.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz choreographer, Tori Bertocci. Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater.

Bertocci, from Culpepper, Virginia, first became aware of Synetic while at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, VA. Bertocci  holds a degree in Theatre Performance with a focus in Dance/Choreography

In an interview, Bertocci indicated that Synetic’s use of “movement as a form of theatrical communication is a powerful art form.” That made the company one she wanted to be involved with. Now she is the co-adaptor and choreographer for Synetic’s first New Voice Series mainstage production.

For Bertocci there is “no lack of physical spectacle for the audience in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. After all, the source material has extraordinary characters including flying monkeys, Munchkins, witches, poppies, and an assortment of new friends for Dorothy.

Developing her own brand of kinetic choreography, Bertocci considered how “to use symbols and gestures and movement as ways for the voiced characters and non-voiced characters to understand each other and tell the story.” She described it as a very collaborative process involving the entire cast and crew. Bertocci spoke with deep feelings about the dramatic tensions of one particular Oz element: for those who could not speak, a verbal Dorothy becomes a very powerful figure to those without a voice.

Asked about the major element of the original music for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Bertocci gave hints by naming a couple of composers/singers as inspirations. Names included Pink Floyd and Karl Crain. She also mentioned that scenes that take place in Kansas can be expected to be more acoustic.

This Oz production for the Synetic New Voice Series will be “an innovative adventure for the entire family where verbal and nonverbal communication embrace each other.” noted Sellers and Bertocci.

Using the Synetic New Voice Series format with the guidance of the Tsikurishvili, Sellers and Bertocci came up with Oz concepts centered upon a collision of two worlds. The beloved character of Dorothy has been swept away from a speaking world to enter a world in which others do not have voices. How will Dorothy communicate with those in her new world? How will others understand she wanted to get back home to Kansas? How will those without a voice communicate with Dorothy, including their fears of the witch?

And now, who can’t be curious to take in Synetic’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with its motto, “True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.” As the old saying goes, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz plays July 11 through August 12, 2018, at Synetic Theater. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.