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Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell

READY TO ENTERTAIN: The cast of the North American Cultural Laboratory in Highland Lake (inside this circa-1924 church) include, in no particular order, Lidy Lopez-Gonzalez, Benedetta Ferrario, Tannis Kowalchuk, Brad Krumholz, Allison Waters, Randall Kent Kohn, Megan Wyler, Jill Samuels and Pamela Samuelson.

Artistic Imagination
Runs Wild in Highland Lake

By Ted Waddell
HIGHLAND LAKE — August 4, 2000 – “We have a deep commitment to commitment,” said Tannis Kowalchuk, general manager/actress of the North American Cultural Laboratory (NaCl), the fledgling not-for-profit “Theatre of Experiment” in Highland Lake.
“For us, the theatre is a place where we can really put down roots, both for the artistic work of the company and also in relationship to this community,” she added. “I have a lot of confidence and warm feelings here.”
The folks at NaCl, an experimental theatre troupe of permanent artists, came to their summer theatre and artists’ residence in Sullivan County from NYC after the group was founded in Toronto, Canada in 1997 by the husband and wife team of Brad Krumholz and Tannis Kowalchuk. In 1998, Allison Waters, the third core member of the troupe, joined the theatre company. In September, Randall Kent Cohn will hook up with the NaCl as an apprentice.
Other troupe members for the current season include Aaron Bloom, Benedetta Ferrario, Carolyn Gray, Lidy Lopez-Gonzalez, Jill Samuels, Pamela Samuelson and Megan Wyler.
On Friday, the North American Cultural Laboratory raises the curtain on what is billed as the “The First Ever Catskills Experimental Theatre Festival,” which runs through August 13. The festival features nine experimental theatre performances, each of which is followed by an eclectic cabaret showcasing local and visiting talent. On Saturday, August 12, NaCl will host “Phyxadelica,” a dance party at the conclusion of “ASPHYXIA and Other Promises,” their ’99 hit featuring actresses Kowalchuk and Waters.
“The festival is our effort to bring together some of the most innovative contemporary theatre creators and ensembles from across North America to share their unique theatre work with a wide range of audiences,” said Kowalchuk.
In describing the evolutionary and formulative process of group creation and individual artistic expression, Kowalchuk said that experimental theatre “can make a lot of people either very interested or very scared.”
“For us, the idea of experimental theatre is that we are always in a way on a search, both for how to create a performance and also how to keep developing as actors,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s the ‘experimental.’ The art is in the unknown.”
According to Kowalchuk, the permanent NaCl ensemble will eventually offer week-long residencies and intensive workshops at their summer quarters in Highland Lake. During the “off-season,” NaCl calls Times Square Station in New York City home.
“We’re still very young and very poor,” she added.
NaCl is supported by the Goldfarb Foundation, the Jewish Foundation of MetroWest, the Nancy Quinn Fund of the A.R.T./NY, City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs/ Materials for the Arts and contributions of individual patrons.
In July, with the assistance of a generous patron, the NaCl ensemble moved into St. Bernadette’s Church. For about eight seasons prior to the arrival of NaCl Catskills, the former Catholic church had witnessed productions staged by the Catskills Actors Theatre.
“Not many people have a church/theatre,” said Kowalchuk. “It’s a place to grow and develop. In a space like this, it has a resonance even today as a place where there was ritual and worship. We’re on a spiritual search with our work.
“It’s beautiful space, [because] your environment affects your work,” she said, adding that the festival will present troupes and artists who practice actor training and their own unique theatre creation techniques.
According to Brad Krumholz, NaCl’s co-founder and artistic director, experimental theatre is the possibility of rediscovering what theatre as an art form can be.
“Experimental theatre is a valid and necessary exploration in order to further the art form,” he said. “It explores the relationship between the actors and the audience, and the possibility of the actor as a creator.”
Tannis Kowalchuk said that NaCl feels part of a diverse, multi-layered community.
“NaCl Catskills is a very beautiful theatre and artists’ retreat,” she said. “It is a place for the community of Sullivan County to feel welcome, to see and engage in a new world of performance. It is here that NaCl hopes to engage with its community as fully as possible.
“Over the coming years, with NaCl Catskills and our activities in New York City, we wish to create a company model that serves NaCl’s artistic core, its collaborators, students, colleagues, and our present and future audiences, neighbors and friends.”
For information about the North American Cultural Laboratory (NaCl) and their August 4-13 “First Ever Catskills Experimental Theatre Festival,” call 557-0694 (NaCl Catskills of Highland Lake), 212-946-5734 in NYC or visit their website at

NaCl’s Schedule of Events

* “Arca Nova,” a world premiere by the resident company, NaCl Theatre. An epic, song-filled ensemble performance, set inside an ark that carries the audience along a tempestuous passage. Friday, August 4 and Saturday, August 5 at 8 p.m.

* “Chariot of the Sun,” a young people’s show based on Greek mythology and the ancient world which is brought to life with stories, poetry and mask. It includes the story of Phaethon, the boy who attempts to drive his father’s chariot across the sky. Sunday, August 6 at 3 p.m.

* “The Sibyl,” a performance by Cleveland’s Theatre Labyrinth. It is adapted from the brooding novel by Nobel Laureate Pat Lagerkvist, and is told by an excommunicated monk who questions the idea of a benevolent divinity. Sunday, August 6 at 8 p.m.

* “The End and Back Again, My Friend.” Using the Greek mythological characters Odysseus and Penelope, the performance investigates longing for home and the desire for adventure, comparing the obsession with consumerism in America with the economic struggles of former Yugoslavia. Wednesday, August 9 at 8 p.m.

* “Brightness Falls,” the sophisticated tale of one woman’s childhood, adolescence and adulthood growing up with an eccentric and brillant father in Canada’s eastern Maritimes. Thursday, August 10 at 8 p.m.

* “It’s a Small House and We’ve Lived in It Always,” a new work by NYC’s most respected and loved lesbian theatre troupe, Split Britches Theater Company. It is a performance about boundaries in a relationship. Friday, August 11 at 8 p.m.

* “Think On Her,” a performance structured as a seance which tells the story of one woman’s life and death. The voices and stories are “channeled” by the artist in this spooky theatrical experience. Friday, August 11 at 10 p.m.

* “ASPHYXIA and Other Promises,” NaCl’s 1999 hit, featuring NaCl actresses Tannis Kowalchuk and Allison Waters. It tells the story of a young woman who is captured by a cruel nun and led from her oppression by Asphyxia, a chaos-embracing fairy godmother on stilts. Saturday, August 12 at 8 p.m.

* “Me@sure 3.1,” a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” Using video, music samples, explosive dance, puppetry and fragments of the Bard’s text, it is a modern morality play with humor, attitude and creative multi-media technique. Sunday, August 13 at 8 p.m.

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