Riddled with countless bags of Funyuns and molting feather hats, An Alleged Theatre Company brought the renowned Greek play "The Birds" into the 21st century last weekend, but with their own twist.
As audience members filed into the snug Phoenix Theater, Danylo Loutchko and Jake Mierva got ready to perform their company’s latest show, “The Birds; or Pete and Earl Want WiFi.” In the show, two stoners desperately try to get access to the internet by manipulating birds to help them in their quest.
Founded in 2016 by recent University of Minnesota graduates Loutchko and Mierva, An Alleged Theatre Company is here to take risks and have fun.
“The effort of live performance is something that is inherent to all theater,” Loutchko said. “So our step further is that we kind of make it meta. [ ... ] The characters acknowledge the audience, they interact with the audience, [they play] with the structurality within the play.”
As co-owners, co-writers, co-directors and co-leads of "The Birds," Mierva and Loutchko defy theater norms both on and off stage.
“A lot of theater plays it safe,” said co-assistant director Sam Norum, who met Mierva and Loutchko at the University as a freshman. “I think what Alleged Theatre does and succeeds at is that they have entirely novel ideas and just pump them full of absurdity and risks. [They approach their work] with a great professionalism around comedy.”
In An Alleged Theatre Company's plays, characters often break the fourth wall. Mierva and Loutchko sometimes cast the audience themselves to play the role of the “studio audience” in a scene, too.
Offstage, Mierva and Loutchko work to promote cast cohesion. Every rehearsal is initiated by a ‘Pow, Wow, Chow,’ where cast members relay the positives and negatives of their day as well as some good food they ate.
“There’s the mentality for some circles to leave your baggage at the door, but we kind of want to invite it in,” Norum said. “To talk about it and get a sense of where people are at, so we can kind of negotiate what needs to be done and how to care for them in that space.”
Although shows are scripted, cast and crew have leeway to modify lines and even improv during performances.
Norum said this creative openness eliminates some power dynamics that can exist between directors and cast members, ultimately promoting collaboration.
The company is small and close-knit. Loutchko said this gives him and Mierva the artistic freedom to pursue concepts that other larger companies may not have the opportunity to.
“You’re taking a lot of risks because you don’t really have much to lose, which is kinda fun,” said University alum and co-assistant director Alexandra Nedved. “With a lot of bigger companies it’s not quite as free because there are higher stakes. It’s been nice to work at a small company and get your feet wet and just go for it.”
Luverne Seifert, a theater professor at the University and a former teacher and mentor to Mierva and Loutchko, said taking the risk to create and share one’s work with the world can be difficult, but is ultimately rewarding.
“[It] requires a strong imagination and a willingness to go forward and fail. [Mierva and Loutchko] both have that, and I think that’s extremely important as an artist, said Seifert.”
Editor’s note: Danylo Loutchko is a former Minnesota Daily employee.