For those who have attended NoExit Performance’s take on the Christmas standard The Nutcracker
— something the theatrical organization has been performing most holiday seasons since 2010 — chances are the egotistical clown Wolfgang Drosselmeyer stands out more than anyone or anything else in that show.
Perhaps those same audiences thought they were safe from interacting with him outside of that world, only to see him out and about in Indianapolis, including at First Friday events, last year’s holiday cabaret show various magic shows, an IndyFringe show, or pop-up appearances around town.
Love him or loathe him, Drosselmeyer is back. Only this time it won’t be in The Nutcracker
Drosselmeyer’s alter ego — and NoExit Performance’s newly named Artistic Director Ryan Mullins and Executive Director Lukas Schooler — won’t say what the show will be until opening
weekend. It could be ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Brave Tin Soldier, How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol
Regardless of which show they produce at Big Car’s Tube Factory artspace, Mullins and Schooler will say there are only 40 seats available per show. Some of the characters from past iterations of The Nutcracker
will either be referenced or make appearances, but those who are unfamiliar with past shows will be able to keep up, and audiences can still expect the show will be anything but standard holiday fare.
“It’s still relevant [to the holidays], but the moral you get away from our story is not the happy-go-lucky good vibes you might feel when leaving the other Christmas shows,” says Schooler. “It’s a little more raw, a little more real to the season. It balances the other holiday theater offerings.”
Even though it is set in the Land of Sweets, says Mullins, “It’s the kind of candy that makes you a little sick; the sugar is a little unrefined and there is a sour element there.”
Also unlike traditional holiday shows, this one is somewhat improvised and set in the present, making each performance slightly different than the rest.
“The moment you come to see the show is when the show is set,” says Mullins.
“There’s no direct references to any current political standings, but you can’t help but watch it and not think of familiar things from the past six months.”
Drosselmeyer will also directly interact with the audience.
“The fourth wall was never built in this show,” says Schooler.
“It’s very adaptable,” says Mullins. “As a performer, my favorite part is tailoring it to the audience without forcing them to be involved just by reading their energy and reactions. They might think something is hilarious; you can push that further. If they are not into something, you can move right along. That’s a big luxury of the show.”
Audrey Stonerock, who has performed as a member NoExit’s The Nutcracker
ensemble since the first show in 2010, is looking forward to the interaction. “A smaller space means we can really play with the audience. In a larger venue, those in the back might miss out on the magic,” she says.
Which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how audience members feel about the emcee.
“Drosselmeyer is not a nice character,” says Schooler. “Mullins trained
in buffoonery, a type of clowning where the audience is drawn into the complete ugliness of the buffoon,” which is depicted in what the character says and does. “At the end, it’s flipped on them, and they learn what they’ve fed into. It’s like looking into a mirror.”
“It’s definitely gotten to the point of building Drosselmeyer that there’s a whole lot of me that’s put into that character,” says Mullins. “Some of that I’m ashamed to admit, but a lot of it comes from things I don’t want to be that I funnel into him. … Because of the way that he responds to what is around him, it’s always something new and interesting. It’s very much a reflection and a comment on what’s happening in the world, so that’s something that continuously draws me to it as an actor.”
Following the holiday show, Mullins and Schooler say they will continue to strengthen NoExit’s status in the arts community, including their longstanding relationship with Big Car, their 2016 stint with House Life Project and educational opportunities with Arts for Learning. They will announce the 2017 season in January.
“Now more than ever, we have so much fuel to keep creating for our audiences,” says Mullins. “Whether it’s a response or a distraction, both are necessary. I think in my lifetime, there’s been no more important time to be a theater artist, and there’s also never been a more important time to be a theater supporter and audience member. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the news cycle and forget to see what’s being interpreted from that or to get a break from that.”