In Conversation with Know Theatre's Tamara Winters

CityBeat's Mackenzie Manley caught up with Know Theatre Associate Artistic Director Tamara Winters to chat about Know Theatre's upcoming season, which kicks off with 'Girl in the Red Corner'

click to enlarge "Girl in the Red Corner" poster art. - Provided by Know Theatre of Cincinnati
Provided by Know Theatre of Cincinnati
"Girl in the Red Corner" poster art.

Know Theatre's previous season lineup was billed with the theme "Fear Itself." Looking past scares, their forthcoming 2019-2020 squares-up with "The Fight." Six mainstage shows — Girl in the Red Corner; The AbsenteePuffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic; In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises); Alabaster; Lasso of Truth — are slated throughout the season and touch on topics ranging from navigating unemployment to parenting kids in a dying world and superheroes doing what they do best: battling evil. 

Kicking things off July 26 is Girl in the Red Corner. Directed by Tamara Winters, it follows the life of a jobless, newly divorced woman named Halo who is searching for a way to gain her life back. When she starts taking mixed martial arts lessons, her trainer says she's a lightweight. And both her mom and sister think the new hobby is weird. As her first match nears, Halo realizes that navigating life inside and outside of the cage is disturbingly similar. 

The show runs through August 17. Before it opens, we caught up with Winters, Know Theatre's associate artistic director, via email to chat about what to expect from the new season. For more info on the individual shows, check out our previous coverage

CityBeat: For you, what does this season's theme — "The Fight" — represent? 

Tamara Winters:  Our seasons at the Know tend to be direct responses to what's happening in our world, in this moment in time, because theatre is a medium that occurs in the here-and-now and cannot help but be in conversation with whatever is coloring our artists' and audiences' world when they experience a show. A couple of years ago, we felt inspired to explore love in all its great variety and diversity and heartache and wonder, in a season we called "Love is Love." Last year, in response to the aftermath of the 2016 election and so many paradigm-shifting current events that have taken place since then, we explored our collective fears in a season we called "Fear Itself."

But we knew when we programmed last season that if we were going to take our audience to probe the depths of fear, we wanted to follow it up with a season that calls us all to action. A season that lights a fire in us and makes us look for ways out of seemingly impossible situations. We wanted to program a season that looks into the eyes of fear itself and says "I see you, but I will not be cowed."

That's the idea behind "The Fight." It's a season all about how we can rediscover, together, what it means to fight back — for your family, for your future, for what is right. It's a season that recognizes the challenges we face but also inspires us to stand together to rage against the dying of the light.

CB: In the press release, Andrew (Hungerford) noted that the season goes beyond what goes onstage — It's also what goes on behind the scenes. Why is it important for Know, especially in 2019, to highlight issues like economic inequality, unemployment, environmental concerns, etc. in their lineup? 

TW: The Know has a well-earned reputation for producing plays that challenge the status quo — old-school Cincinnati arts lovers will likely remember the controversy around our 2003 production of Corpus Christi, which earned us protesters and hate mail! So it's in our blood to look at what is in the political conversation, what is causing conflict and what are we hiding from as a nation when we look at what we want to explore on our stages. Right now, we're at what feels like a tipping point in our country, where complacency no longer feels like an option. Our work has to not just reflect that but respond to that.

CB: You're directing two shows this year: Lasso of Truth and Girl in the Red Corner. What are you looking forward to the most about tackling each production? 

TW: So I'm writing to you from the middle of our technical rehearsals for Girl in the Red Corner, and at this point, I'm most looking forward to our audience perhaps seeing themselves in characters they might not automatically identify with on paper. Though the story centers on women who fight in mixed-martial arts bouts, it's really a story about reigniting your flame — even when family trauma, broken relationships, late-stage capitalist oppression, gender inequality and simple human cruelty break your sense of self and make you forget that you were born a light.

As for Lasso of Truth, it's based on the absolutely fascinating origin story of Wonder Woman comics and the truly unexpected relationships that informed her ascent into pop culture. (Did you know the inventor of the lie detector also invented Wonder Woman? And that she was based on two women with whom he had a polyamorous relationship in the 1930s?) I love bringing light to little-known facets of American cultural history, and when you can throw in some pop-culture love and a bit of BDSM, too -— well, you have a show that is right up Know's alley.

CB: And you mentioned that you worked with both k. Jenny Jones (the show's fight director) and Jeremy Pender (an MMA fighter and trainer) for Girl in the Red Corner — can you talk about that experience/what they bring to the production? 

TW: When I set out to direct a story about MMA fighters, I knew that I would need to bring in backup to help me make sense of the physical world of this play — and to make it both welcoming to fellow newbies to MMA (like me!) as well as people who have a deep love and understanding of the sport. K. Jenny Jones is a legend in the field of stage combat and is known for her "Scrappy Fighting" technique, which made her a perfect fit for this show about a working-class woman who discovers a new sense of self in the MMA cage. But Jenny also knew we would need someone with real-life MMA experience to help us understand the culture, the moves, the style, and the stakes. So when our friend (and producer of the Cindependant Film Festival) Allyson West said she'd connect us with her own MMA trainer, Jeremy Pender from Vision Fitness & MMA in Oakley, we were so excited. Jeremy's contribution to this show has been immeasurable: his expertise in Jiu-Jitsu and grappling has added a whole new dimension to the physical story of this play, and his generous spirit and genuine love for what he does has been totally infectious.

For more info visit knowtheatre.com

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