Rude Mechs Theater Residency

A Visiting Artist Grant from the Council for the Arts brought the celebrated Austin, Texas theater collective Rude Mechs to Duke this past September. Their ten-day residency culminated in eight sold-out performances of Now Now Oh Now, an intimate, immersive theatrical experience presented by Duke Performances in Sheafer Lab Theater. Rude Mechs treated each audience of thirty to a show that combined serious scientific content with the nerdy pleasures of interactive gaming and the undeniable satisfaction of Murder Mystery Theatre.

According to CVNC reviewer Kate Dobbs Ariail, Now Now Oh Now “shows and tells the importance of plays and playing in the great game of life.” In its final section, she wrote, the actors “engage the audience in a meditation on choice and chance and make a crystalline argument for beauty’s crucial role in natural selection.”

While on campus, Rude Mechs worked with students in several acting and production classes in the Theater Studies department. They also visited Legal Issues for the Performing Arts, a class taught by Dan Ellison, a local attorney, arts advocate, and Duke alum. They joined scientists at the Durham-based National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) for a lunchtime conversation about evolution and theater and they toured Erich Jarvis’s Neurobiology of Vocal Communication Lab.

Duke student Jon Payne has had just enough acting experience to be intrigued by the ethics of the craft. A visit by the Texas-based theater company Rude Mechs to his Introduction to Acting class was just what he needed.

“In the back of my head I have always debated the truthfulness of acting—whether or not what we’re doing on stage, pretending to be other people, is honest,” said Payne, a second-year student. “I’ve never heard anyone debate that in my classes but it was one of the first things the Rude Mechs wanted to discuss. It was a very eye-opening approach to the art and one I might not have heard without their class visit.”

The visiting artist program brings compelling artists in all genres to Duke not only to show their work but also to share the concept, technique and process behind it. According to Eric Oberstein, associate director of Duke Performances, artists are chosen because they are “comfortable engaging with students, good speakers, curious and interested in a deeper conversation.” Their formal and informal exchanges with students and the community complement and extend the work already being done on campus. As Jon Payne testified, those exchanges can be eye-opening.