Akron’s New World Performance Lab: gains attention across the globe

Written by: Lois Elswick

An innovative community of theater artists located in Highland Square is bringing national recognition to Akron.

New World Performance Laboratory (NWPL) hosts a variety of performances and workshops from home at the Balch Street Theatre, located at 220 S. Balch Street in Akron.

“We are an evolving company ensemble of theater actors co-directed by Jairo Cuesta and myself,” Slowiak, University of Akron theater instructor, said. “We have been producing performances here in Northeast Ohio and conducting workshops and touring our performances all over the world for the last 20 years.”

Slowiak also worked on the Akron Colorline Project. It premiered in Feb. 2011 with UA students at EJ Thomas Stage Door. According to Slowiak, the piece was developed over several years from stories in the community about racism, racial conflict and its reverberations here in Akron with stories from the Akron community.

“I really want to bring it back because I think more people need to see that piece,” Slowiak said, citing the election year and current events concerning racism. “I am more determined than ever to bring that back.”

The goal for the return of the Akron Colorline Project is July.

According to Slowiak, a lot of the company’s work is developed out of the rehearsal process. NWPL is “a laboratory, and that’s important because it is in our name and we tend to see rehearsal as an investigation, not just a time to do a script and put it up on its feet,” he said.

“Our work is exploratory and experimental,” Slowiak said. “We like to engage in different types of performance methodology — actor training and equipping actors with vocal and physical skills,” he said.

“We have done some scripted work; we tend to devise our own pieces,” Slowiak said.

NWPL is comprised of an ensemble of members that has evolved over the years. It has ranged from 17 to 20 people to just three or four.

The company also has developed an “international reputation.” According to Slowiak, people have come from Poland, South America, Columbia, Brazil, Australia, Italy and France to work with the company.

The ensemble-based company tries to be “very open and welcoming to other cultures.” There is multi-cultural aspect is present in all their work and they use different languages.

According to the company’s website, “It is the mission of New World Performance Laboratory (NWPL) to create theatre events and pedagogical programs, to research performance techniques from around the world, and to develop a contemporary performance methodology for culturally diverse theatre artists.”

“You are not going to come to a lab performance and see something that is easy to digest,” Slowiak said. “We are very much about challenging the audience to accept and interact with global culture.”

Currently, the company consists of Slowiak; Jairo; Deborah Totti, an Italian actress; Justin Hale, a UA student and his wife, Jamie Hale. NWPL also has an apprentice, Brian Schultis, and designers Chris Hariasz and Inda Blatch-Geib as part of the production staff.

“This has been another inroad to the company,” Slowiak said. “Students who become interested in the work we do will continue to work with the company.”

NWPL is a non-profit organization operating under the umbrella of the Center of Applied Theatre and Active Culture (CATAC). According to Slowiak, NWPL is not a commercial theater. They do not host commercial workshops. The company raises much of its own money through performances and workshops.

According to Slowiak, the secret to the organization’s longevity is that it has to do with “commitment and ethics.”

“We have a very strong work ethic, and we haven’t compromised in 20 years and we haven’t sold out,” he said. “Our shows are not just shows; they have deeper repercussions.”

New World Performance Laboratory has a few plans in the works.

“We would like to host work from all around the country that doesn’t get seen very often, now that we have a space and to engage in exchanges for those groups,” Slowiak said. “Northeast Ohio is a really wonderful area because of all the students, and in terms of the artistic quality of life, it’s a great place to be.”

The company is also doing an open training “to engage a new and younger generation, and out of that we are forming a studio which will be for a younger generation,” Slowiak said.

To learn more about this innovative organization and to view upcoming projects, visit NWPL’s website at www.nwplab.org.