Yoga and Butoh classes, a traveling mimed staging of old radio shows in retirement homes, one of the scariest Halloween spectacles in town, and an aggressive and experimental incorporation all kinds of media into staged productions. This could easily sound like the work of at least four different young companies, but all of it comes out of the same little Lakeview storefront. Oracle Productions was established in 2004 in the typical Chicago style by a handful college friends fresh out of school and set on producing shows the way they wanted.
But unlike a lot of storefront stories where the creators are stymied by finances or pigeon-holed by genres, Oracle has found a unique facility to grow with its interests. A 2006 revival of Stephen Belber's Tape was directed by Ben Fuchsen, who would be appointed Artistic Director of the company two years later. In an email interview Fuchsen recounts that this show "gave Oracle's founders a bit more vision as to what Chicago needed from another young theatre." In other words, "it taught us what we were capable of." Specifically, this capability was to incorporate additional media into the theatrical experience. Actors interacting with and lip-synching recorded voices, and a concerted use of film and video projections may seem surprising to some playgoers, but to Fuchsen they are a natural compliment to theater, "Digital projection is a source of light, so that's very theatrical."
Elaborating, Fuchsen explains, "We use video and projection like any other design medium at Oracle. It must be integral to the story, and it must have a larger concept behind it." Additionally, he admits, they "are also fun to play with."
Oracle is a company that takes its non-profit status seriously, which means they are dedicated to providing a real service to their community. Expanding on a technique they developed for their 2008 hit Termen Vox Machina in which actors performed by lip-synching a 1930s radio show style recording (which, in a 21 st century twist, writer M. Deegan originally recorded for a serialized webcasts), the company members of Oracle travel to senior communities around Chicagoland performing 30-minute classic radio plays for residents.
If the telescoping timeliness of this mixed media theater making seems dizzying, Fuchsen sees it simply, "it's what happens while they're watching the piece, when they have that 'I get what their doing' moment, and then interact with the performers for the 1/2 hour after the show that is the true experience." What's next? More change, "At Oracle, we believe cultural institutions must observe the mutability of cultural tastes and question the state of culture." He adds, "still waiting for the holograms..."
You can read more of Theatre In Chicago contributor Benno Nelson's writing at The@er (http://the-at-er.blogspot.com)
Read the other articles in Benno Nelson's "Full Storefrontal" series that focuses on small theatre companies around Chicago on the Full Storefrontal page.