Finding Reality in a Dream: Alison Hoban of the Found Theater Company
Working in the surreal world between dreams and reality, the Found Theater Company presents their eighth original Fringe Festival show this September. The group works as a collective in Philadelphia, and devises works like this year’s Game Show Show around a central theme, such as the televised game show. While the premise is light, it’s used as a vehicle to a comment on the current state of disarray that the United States continues to fall into. “Found always works inside of this kind of in between world, where we straddle reality and a dream state,” says director Alison Hoban. “We’re (hopefully) able to take the audience to heightened, otherworldly places, while also being able to reach them as people with real human experience: heartache, love, success, failure.” Founded under the direction of Felipe Vergara, the company creates their shows by using a theme and building a narrative step-by-step, a process that has evolved over time. Alison Hoban has been with the company through it all, as their elected director after Felipe. I talked with her about her artistic roots, and how this show came to be.
FringeArts: Where did you grow up, and how did you first become involved in the arts?
Alison Hoban: I’m from Wayne, PA, right outside of the city. My family wasn’t involved in the arts, but my parents always encouraged creativity throughout my life. They made it possible for me to take dance classes and be involved in theater from when I was young. I took and taught dance lessons through school. I spent a few summers at Upper Darby Summer Stage. But I really fell in love with theatre at Radnor High School under the direction of Mary Anne Morgan.
FringeArts: Who are some artists that you look up to?
Alison Hoban: Oh man, there are so many! I feel overwhelming lucky to be a part of the Philadelphia theater community. There are some amazing makers creating new works here. I was in the first class of The Headlong Performance Institute in 2008 and met a lot of them there. Headlong Dance Theatre has been a long time favorite. Seeing the care they take of themselves and each other during the creation process was inspiring. That was the year I saw one of Nicole Canuso’s works (Wandering Alice) for the first time too and it blew me away. It remains one of my favorite things I’ve seen in this city. I always look forward to seeing what other makers in the city are into and am always excited to see new works by Lightning Rod Special, Almanac, Sam Tower + Ensemble, the Philadelphia Opera Collective and so, so, so many others.
FringeArts: Where was your training? Did you have other jobs, or currently another job?
Alison Hoban: I went to Temple and have a BA in theater (’09). I concentrated in acting but have fallen into directing with Found Theater and have discovered that that’s where my heart is. I’ve always tried to have a job in the arts in some way. I worked as a camp theater teacher for a few years teaching mask making and shadow puppetry. I worked at the Walnut Street Theatre answering phones for a while—as many of us have! I was even the scene shop management apprentice at the Walnut in 2012. I always wanted to be around the creation of live art whatever the job was. The only thing was that through all of those jobs I was missing something. I was missing the activist part of me. I always struggled with my desire to stay in the field of the arts while also feeling like I was missing something by not being more involved in political, humanitarian, and environmental organizations. Currently, I work full time for The Resource Exchange and have been lucky to have been there for four years now. It’s a nonprofit creative reuse center that diverts creative materials from landfill and processes and resells them at lower costs to artists teacher and makers of all kinds. Reuse is an incredibly important step in limiting our environmental footprint and one that I believe the arts community can do better at. Everything in our store is donated and much of it comes from film and theater sets, a lot of which would just be sitting in a landfill if the RE didn’t exist. It’s incredible to talk to creators every day about how they’re going to reuse these things that come through our doors. I love what I do. And even though the days are long, I’m also lucky I get to go to rehearsal after work and create new work with passionate artists.
FringeArts: Where did the idea for this show come from?
Alison Hoban: We started this show like we’ve started other shows—with an idea of a theme. Game shows came up organically one meeting as kind of a joke at first. The election had just happened. As a group I think we were feeling the weight of society changing around us, the heaviness that most people we know carry inside as our country continues to spiral. And the idea of creating a new work around game shows seemed light. It had the possibility of being fun and funny, while also having the ability to comment on the competitive nature of America and touch on the tension between desperation and hope.Found always works inside of this kind of in between world, where we straddle reality and a dream state. I think this allows us to make devised work, which can sometimes be alienating, be a little more accessible. We’re (hopefully) able to take the audience to heightened, otherworldly places, while also being able to reach them as people with real human experience: heartache, love, success, failure. Every show I’ve directed as a part of Found has been a slightly different process. We are constantly changing the way we create. And it depends so much on who is in the room. But we still always start every rehearsal with a half hour physical ensemble training, leave time to journal and have weekly check ins.
FringeArts: Your show is interdisciplinary. What are the challenges that come with this, and what does it enable you to do that you wouldn’t otherwise?
Alison Hoban: Because we offer work that tries to be both grounded and dreamlike it means that we can use traditional theater devices—scene work, intention, relationships—and try to meld them with more abstract art forms like dance, poetry, and group singing. It is challenging for sure! Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But as a company we’ve always been interested in how these things can meet to communicate to audiences. And the challenge of it is all part of the process.
FringeArts: This is your eighth original Fringe Show! How has the company changed over time?
Alison Hoban: Yeah eight years of Fringe! I mean, we’ve changed as a company so much. We started under the leadership of Felipe Vergara, who directed our first two shows and developed the kind of process we still use to create work, and then moved into operating as a collective in 2011, with the group nominating me as director for our first show without him (Event End.) Since then, we’ve tried to always continue to question and develop our process so that we’re better communicators, more passionate storytellers, stronger artists, and more thoughtful community members. Or at least that’s the hope! We’re ever evolving, and always trying to simultaneously challenge and take care of each other.
Game Show Show
Found Theater Company
The MAAS Building
1325 North Randolph Street
$15 / 90 minutes
Sept 6, 7, 8 at 8pm
Sept 9 at 2pm + 8pm
Sept 10 at 2pm + 8pm
Photos: Harish Pathak