Versus the Volcano

Downstage Left goes local with ‘Volcanic’ script

Thom Fountain

Above: a stage on the verge of eruption.
Above: a stage on the verge of eruption.

In their first show last year, Downstage Left hoped to bring a little depth to the Chippewa Valley theater scene. The new company’s first production was The Shape Of Things – a heady play dealing with themes of identity and love. When director Jake Lindgren went in search of the second script Downstage Left would produce, he came up not finding much. Lindgren said all the plays he was finding that would fit his actor’s age ranges – all of whom are in their early-to-mid-twenties – were angsty or just not interesting enough.

So, Lindgren decided to turn his eyes inward and commissioned local writer CJ Krueger to pen a play for the group. Downstage Left will premiere Krueger’s Volcanic June 26-28 at the Grand Theatre.

The script follows a group of old friends who gather for a wedding after having lost touch over the last few years. The characters struggle reacquainting themselves and navigating the line between where they came from and who they are now. It’s a struggle Lindgren said he, Krueger, the actors and really anyone in that age can relate to, which made it such a perfect topic to tackle.

"In the cast’s first read-through the actors were bouncing around ideas and collectively figuring out the characters, a process that made its way back to (writer CJ) Krueger as he tweaked and added to the script."

“It’s interesting to explore how you gracefully inhabit both worlds,” Lindgren said.

Working with a local playwright has been both a blessing and a challenge for Lindgren. He’s able to work closely with Krueger to develop the characters and the storyline, but he also has no roadmap of what’s been done before, as he might with an established script he’s seen staged before.

“I do feel like I have a sense of ownership – well, you always have a sense of ownership – but there’s a bigger responsibility (when working with a writer),” Lindgren said. He said in the cast’s first read-through the actors were bouncing around ideas and collectively figuring out the characters, a process that made its way back to Krueger as he tweaked and added to the script.

The cast of Volcanic is comprised of five UW-Eau Claire theater students and recent grads, including a few familiar faces. Natalie Leighton and Jake Pritchard starred in The Shape Of Things and are back in Volcanic, and joining them are three more young actors: Sean Porton, Molly Wilson, and Ryan Buechner.

“We’re all locking in on what we went to school for,” Lindgren said. Giving these actors an opportunity to work outside of university and community theater gives them stronger professional experience to build on.

Volcanic runs June 26-28 at 7:30pm at the Grand Theatre, 102 W. Grand Ave., Eau Claire. The show is for mature audiences.

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