“We’re not porn stars. We’re not cage fighters,” said Tonia Sina, Reduxion Theater Company’s new artistic director.
She drew a distinction between sex or brutality perpetrated as “big-screen” entertainment and simulated intimacy or violence portrayed during live theater.
It’s an important distinction she believes is key to maintaining safe environments for actors and satisfying experiences for audiences. As a movement coach, actor and director, it’s a distinction she teaches theater performers.
Stage actors, unlike two-dimensional characters on a movie screen, are in closer physical proximity to those viewing their art, which changes the dynamic.
During live theater, audiences are more comfortable with sensitive subjects when they’re clearly, confidently, accurately and safely portrayed by actors and the director, Sina said. That makes careful, skilled coaching a necessity.
Sina recently directed Reduxion’s In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), which ran four weekends and ended last week.
She has more than a decade of professional experience as a movement teacher focused on intimacy for the stage without creating emotionally precarious situations for actors, a subject in which she also published a book, Safe Sex: A Look at the Intimacy Choreographer.
She joins Reduxion with her husband, Matthew Ellis, who was hired as the theater company’s artistic associate. He brings extensive experience as a fight choreographer, educator, director and actor.
Her background served her as she directed The Vibrator Play because of its sensitive subject matter.
The play is set in the late 1800s, when social and medical ignorance of female sexuality caused a number of women emotional complications from a lack of sexual fulfillment. Medicine’s response was to have doctors manually stimulate women. Later in the century, physicians turned to electric devices.
Because of the conservative nature of the surrounding culture, Reduxion asked playwright Sarah Ruhl for compromises in how it is billed simply because the word “vibrator” is in the title.
“I contacted the playwright and I said, ‘We are doing this in the Bible Belt, and we have a lot of issues advertising it,’” Sina said. “But she told me, ‘I understand where you are, and you are very brave.’”
Indeed, a local publication ran a glowing write-up about the play but omitted the second half of the production’s title throughout the piece.
The play itself uses that period in medicine to explore the relationship between a doctor and his wife who works as his assistant during these procedures.
The presentation onstage is not explicit, but the subject is a very adult one.
Sina’s college and graduate school training focused on teaching physical movement onstage to create authentic-looking performances without allowing emotional or physical impact to the actors.
Her experiences as a young actor led her to understand the importance of training and discipline in theater companies.
“I’ve been onstage where my partner suddenly started doing sexual things with me that weren’t built into the choreography, and I had to stand in front of an audience and pretend that it’s OK,” Sina said. “Essentially, you are being assaulted onstage in front of an audience, and you have to be in character.”
If there is no expectation or choreography of intimate or violent scenes, then emotional and physical dangers are real.
“It leaves a very wide-open gap for a lot of inappropriate behavior,” Sina said.
She said that actors are often injured when production companies expect them to simulate violence without specific coaching on how to safely do it.
As Reduxion Theatre Company artistic director, Sina said her goals are to continue to grow the company and provide a strong reputation for presenting enduring themes in innovative ways.
She said she is excited to join a company that often pushes the envelope, especially in Oklahoma.
Sina and Ellis have been friends with Tyler and Erin Woods, who co-founded the company eight years ago.
With Sina and Ellis’ new roles, Tyler Woods can turn his focus and energy to the business and marketing sides of the company.
“Tyler is excellent when it comes to the business of theater, which is unusual for artists,” Sina said.
“I am thrilled to have such a passionate and dedicated artist join our team,” Woods said in an email statement to Oklahoma Gazette. “Having admired her work for many years, it is exciting to see the innovation and fearlessness that she is bringing to the table. We are energized … and we are excited to share it with our patrons.”
“Print Headline”; Movement master, Reduxion Theatre Company’s new artistic director approaches acting in a different way.