For John Blondell and Victoria Finlayson, the husband-and-wife team who have run Lit Moon Theatre for the past 16 years, just about every day is “take your children to work day.” To the three young men of the Blondell household-Nicholas (11), William (10), and Simon (6)-this often means traveling. In September 2007, the Blondell family, along with the cast and crew of Lit Moon Theatre, spent more than a month in the Balkans, performing at three separate theater festivals in Poland, Montenegro, and Macedonia, and visiting with countless of their eastern and central European friends and colleagues. While the 2007 tour reflects Lit Moon’s ongoing commitment to bringing about a new era in global cultural exchange for theater, it also reflects an awe-inspiring leap of faith and an equally humbling expenditure of energy by Blondell and Finlayson as parents. But part of the amazing immersion experience that is Lit Moon has always been this age-blind inclusiveness.
At a Lit Moon performance I attended before I had been around the theater scene in Santa Barbara long enough to get to know them, someone once whispered to me, “They let the children choose their own clothes.” This remark, which I suppose expressed a mixture of wonder and terror on the part of the speaker, struck me at the time as being quite funny. Now, years later, I still smile, but I am less quick to laugh. Whatever it is being used for-either as a way of producing major international theater tours and festivals or simply as a way of getting the kids dressed in the morning-the Lit Moon method works. Whether Blondell, Finlayson, and their Lit Moon family are reclaiming abandoned theatrical spaces in Legnica, Poland, cruising through the flames and smoke of Kosovo in a minivan, or just relaxing in front of a jolly avant-garde Bulgarian farce with some old friends in Sofia, they always manage to look sharp.
This weekend, The Wedding, which is both the most recent Lit Moon production and the group’s first musical, will have its first full Santa Barbara run at Center Stage Theater. The show premiered last fall in Legnica, and it represents the culmination of several years of hyperactive global aesthetic cross-pollination, with influences ranging from Finland to Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, and beyond. The Festiwal Teatralny Miasto in Legnica is sponsored by the Teatr Modjeska and directed by Polish theater guru Jacek Glomb, one of the world’s foremost innovators in creating theater for alternate spaces. Thanks to composers Jim Connolly and Anna Abbey, The Wedding, which is based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Marriage,” capers through a tapestry of popular music genres, and thanks to the cast, the lyrics are all original. It should be a thrilling night full of surprises and laughter, and will certainly give everyone in the audience plenty to talk about.
Blondell specializes in breeding hybrids like The Wedding, which infuses his own Montecito-grown, kitchen-sink postmodernism with the radical spirit of Jacek Glomb’s historically conscious and site-specific Balkan theater festivals. Culling such talent as actors Finlayson and Stanley Hoffmann from Santa Barbara and Erin Brehm and Kate Paulsen from the Westmont College drama program that he chairs, along with designer Yevgenia Nayberg from the international theatrical world, Blondell creates his work in an atmosphere of total collaboration and intense creative ferment. According to Glomb, the goal of his obsession with “true stories told in real places” is not simply to produce theater in otherwise abandoned or neglected parts of Poland, but rather to achieve “the absolute relation of a chosen place with a story being told by us.”
With this lofty vision firmly in mind, Blondell and Lit Moon chose to stage the first production of The Wedding in the former Summer Theatre in the Park in Legnica. Converted to a disco in the 1970s, the theater had been closed due to a murder there and the arrest of its former proprietor-in other words, a place with a heavy dose of atmosphere and possibly even some ghosts. Whether or not Center Stage Theater in Paseo Nuevo can equal the Summer Theatre in the Park’s ambiance, it has been the scene of many triumphant Lit Moon productions in the past.
Talking with Blondell about the entire tour, which began in Poland and extended to Podgorica, Montenegro, and Skopje, Macedonia-where the company played to a wide range of people at two more major festivals-it’s hard to ignore the sheer audacity of this theatrical pilgrim, so willing, young family in tow, to forsake the comforts of home in pursuit of such a difficult vision. Not everything was easy, by any means. Montenegro in particular could be harsh, and there were several of those long periods of tension and uncertainty familiar to any traveler who has ever wandered outside the pale of Europe’s beaten tourist track. When they reached Skopje in Macedonia, frequent collaborator and old friend Lilia Abadjieva, a director based in Sofia, was there to meet them. The Young Open Theatre Festival was a group favorite, primarily on account of its deeply communal and interdisciplinary approach. To Lit Moon, which now, after hosting several successful international theater festivals here in Santa Barbara, functions as a major node in a truly vast network of creative theater artists, Skopje was what it is all about-several days of continuous contact with the most interesting companies from London, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and : Santa Barbara.
In the coming years, Santa Barbara will witness the next chapter in this extraordinary version of pilgrim’s progress. In the face of its own daunting precedent, Lit Moon will continue to expand, partnering and innovating its way deeper into the 21st century. In the fall, there will be another International Shakespeare Festival, with a new Lit Moon Julius Caesar, a version of The Tempest by the Tbilisi State Theatre, and an all-male Shakespeare production directed by Abadjieva (of all-male Romeo and Juliet fame) featuring a cast of men from Santa Barbara. Lit Moon will cycle into 2009 in tandem with another Santa Barbara theatrical legend, Boxtales, when they take joint possession of the 2009 Festival of Fools. That’s right: Eastern and central European fools will be coming here-lots of them, and soon-thanks to Lit Moon. And don’t worry about telling the kids. They already know.
The Wedding will be performed May 16, 17, and 23, at 8 p.m. and on May 24 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo). For tickets or more information, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.