Back to Bare Bones

indie theater group is back in action

Andrew Christianson, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

“We wanted to do the plays no one else would put on. Writers like Harold Pinter or Sam Shepard.” Rose Dolan-Neill is talking about the Bare Bones Theatre Group, an organization returning to the stage on April 2 with Steve Martin’s WASP. Founded in 1998 by a number of theater students, the group had been known for its use of modern, non-traditional plays, choosing Sam Shepard’s True West for its first show.

Bare Bones’ goal, beyond experimenting with different plays, was to understand the style of small theater productions. Technical theater students, as well as actors, helped produce every aspect of the shows. Through the early 2000s, their plays had been a regular event for Eau Claire. After graduation, however, most of the group’s members moved on to their future careers, many of them ending up in New York and Los Angeles.

Dolan-Neill was one of the founding members of Bare Bones. When she returned to Eau Claire, with fellow founder and husband Josh Dolan-Neill, she was contacted by another fellow student and group alum, Ben Richgruber, the executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center. “He gave my husband and me a call and asked us if we wanted to start the group up again,” said Dolan-Neill. “He got the ball rolling.”

This isn’t a short-term engagement, however. Bare Bones intends to stay around for a long while. However, since the core members have full time jobs, the focus will be on short, one-act plays.

“It’s easier for us, with our busy schedules, and still make it the best possible,” said Dolan-Neill. They also intend to incorporate as much area art in the shows, from photography to putting on plays from local playwrights. They’re also looking into the possibility of a summer season, but nothing is confirmed yet.

    Bare Bones’ returning play, WASP, is a comedic exploration of 1950s American home life. The title is actually an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and it was chosen because it was a piece they’ve wanted to do since the founding of the group. Martin’s story focuses on the attempt of a Protestant family to maintain their straight-laced life, but have to deal with issues of repressed desires.

Ben Richgruber plays Dad, Rose Dolan-Neill plays Mom, Cassie Serig plays Sis, Mic Sielass plays Son, and Beth Gengenbach plays voice; Josh Dolan-Neill directs, with Matt Rightmire as his assistant director.

In the beginning, Bare Bones usually performed at Racy’s on Eau Claire’s Water Street, taking it over for their first performance. To continue that tradition, they’ve returned, performing WASP on the stage at Racy’s adjacent building, The Nucleus. “We had to return to Racy’s,” Dolan-Neill said, “We’ve always felt it was home.” They’re also trying one performance at the Grand Little Theatre in downtown Eau Claire, in an effort to explore the space.

What has Bare Bones been doing to prepare for this return as a group, and a return to their home? According to Dolan-Neill, “We’re trying to get Steve Martin’s style down, studying up on his movies. ... Yeah, it’s hard work.”

    WASP will play April 2 and 3 at The Nucleus, 405 Water St., Eau Claire, and April 4 at Grand Little Theatre, 102 W Grand Ave. The shows start at 8pm and cost $5 at the door.