TRAVERSE CITY — Devising an entire performance from scratch is much different than re-imagining a pre-existing piece with a history of success.

It takes a lot of smart minds in the room and a lot of trust among ensemble members, said Noah Fried, Parallel 45 Theatre’s creative director. There’s brainstorming, experimenting, scrapping and revisions, he said.

“A lot of the material is personal to the actors and it’s coming from them,” Fried said. “It’s such a unique way to work. It means everyone is really driven and connected because they are part of the show, they are part of the thing that was created.”

Fried is co-directing Parallel 45’s upcoming production, “The Alphabet Experience” — a devised, hour-long show that features 26 mini-plays inspired by the letters of the alphabet.

The plays average 2 minutes in length and the performance order is determined by the audience, so no two shows are the same, Fried said.

“You might see a play that is just someone dancing to the love of their life and the love of their life is a big piece of chocolate cake,” Fried said. “You might see a play that is the actors sharing real truths about their lives, so really personally heartfelt things the actors want to share with the audience.

“And you might see some fun chaos pieces that explode the City Opera House and create a fun spectacle,” he said.

This is the second time Parallel 45 Theatre has put on a devised show — the rest have been adapted versions of familiar stories, Fried said.

Rehearsals began in September, with cast and crew practicing basically five days a week, he said.

Putting together a devised play takes a lot longer because of the sheer amount of work they have to create, actor Ben Whiting said. Time constraints for practice also provide a challenge, he said.

“The real way we get through it is just having a tight ensemble and persistence,” Whiting said. “We have a project here that everyone here is passionate about, so they’ll work until 9:30 p.m., during the day writing pieces.”

They’ve come up with between 30 and 35 plays so far, Whiting said.

“You end up just producing so much and really picking through and crafting and workshopping as many ideas as possible, then cherry-picking the cream of the crop you come up with,” actress Stacia Sexton said.

“The Alphabet Experience” isn’t just for children — pieces are designed to appeal to all ages, Fried said. A 5-year-old will love it as much as their grandmother, he said.

Sexton agreed, saying the show has morphed “so much further” than the team expected. Sexton also is Parallel 45’s director of education.

At the start, they expected “The Alphabet Experience” to be geared toward kids, but now there’s a layer for everyone in each micro play, she said. It’s phenomenal that the directing team is able to achieve that, Sexton said.

“There are interactive elements in it which I think are really fun for an audience, regardless of age,” she said. “I think people will be really surprised to enjoy it as much as their kids.”

“You might see a play that is just someone dancing to the love of their life
and the love of their life is a big piece of chocolate cake.” Noah Fried, Parallel 45 Theatre’s creative director

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