Chat with Jeanne Calvit

Interact Theater is part of Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating art and challenging society’s view of disability. I recently talked with Interact’s artistic director and founder, Jeanne Calvit, and here is what she had to say:

Q: What makes Interact different?

Calvit: There is an intimacy and freshness in the performance that isn’t always present with other artists. With Interact, there is not a wall between actors and audience. It’s a different type of theater, like the Commedia dell’Arte (Calvit studied in Europe before starting Interact). Reviews often point out that there is more honesty in these actors; it’s why I chose to work with them.

Q: How does Interact develop its shows?

Calvit: This show [“Cloud Cuckooland”] started with an idea to adapt Aristophanes’ “The Birds.” We read it, and did training on Greek mythology. We brainstormed. We gave it a written treatment. Each day we would improve and write the ideas and sort through for discoveries.

Q: Does this process work every time?

Calvit: I’m a big picture person; I have a picture in my brain of how the show will turn out. I generally know it will work, I have a belief. One time we did six months of clowning to develop a show; we even wrote a few songs. Then the company got tired of the clowns, and it became a cabaret.

Q: What makes this company work?

Calvit: It’s up to me to get the company excited.

Q: How did Cuckooland happen?

Calvit: The national and international news was crazy all year, so we had tons of material. We’d come in and someone would say, “Did you hear that news conference today!” Cuckooland was more political (than other Interact shows), even though we always have a side that is satire. After 9/11 artists had to grapple with something serious. It was time to do Greek. In its day, Greek theater made fun of people in power. That’s why we went on this journey.

Q: What’s ahead for Interact Theater?Calvit:

1. Modify “Cloud Cuckooland” for a tour of England in September. Still need to raise $5,000. To make a contribution, mail to Interact, 212 Third Ave N., Ste. 140, Minneapolis, MN 55401; or call Jeanne Calvit at (612) 339-5145.

2. Will start now to develop the next show, this one on the theme of spirituality, which will open the week after Thanksgiving.

Meet the Interact Theater company in the August issue of Access Press.