For most of us, our daily lives are full to the brim with the stress of our “daily grind.” Our world is overwhelmingly focused on meeting our work, family and financial obligations and keeping up with everyone else on our shared societal treadmill. Dare to slow down and take a breath while the world continues running? Unheard of.
Such was the case two years ago when Strange Attractor Theatre Company members Rebecca Noon and her husband, Jed Hancock-Brainerd, experienced firsthand a life-changing event that was the inception for (and resonates throughout) their new theatrical project Before We Begin, being performed at 95 Empire Street nightly at 8pm until June 12.
Described as a “playful, personal, immersive theatrical experience,” Before We Begin features Noon & Hancock-Brainerd as they take the audience through a scripted “ritual.” An introductory video by Xander Marro outlines the rules of the piece. “We want to make sure by the time you enter into the space with us you actually want to be there.”
The space in question is a mysterious room within the room at 95 Empire’s black box theater, a safe space they have created where the audience can feel free to press pause on their daily treadmill, slow down and really look around for a few hours.
If this intro scares you – and it’s totally fine with them if it does – there are plenty of opportunities to step away from the group or leave the theater entirely.
According to Noon, the piece is over two years in the making. Having been married for almost 10 years at the time, they had never created anything just for the two of them to perform. They landed on the idea of creating a dance piece together, but not showing it to people until another 10 years had passed. As they were planning the piece, Noon was diagnosed with cancer.
The couple set things aside and were soon absorbed with the immediate needs of her diagnosis. “At various points we thought, ‘Maybe we are never going to make theater again,’” explains Noon, adding, “The act of making theater seems pretty stupid when you are going through an illness.”
Months later, a colleague’s offer for use of a dance studio gave them the nudge they needed to start thinking about creating again. Noon had finished chemotherapy and was starting radiation treatments and the couple planned for two days a week in the studio. While they intended to challenge each other athletically to dance, it was soon obvious that her energy levels were just not the same.
Noon explains, “We got to the studio and instead we literally would just warm up – essentially for four hours.” Their life had been so demanding, it was an unexpected opportunity to slow down and simply give themselves time to breathe. She adds, “For Jed and I, it was a really sweet time, amid a very difficult time.”
The soon discussed that this healing process “ritual” should be shared as the basis of their next show. “We were calling it a ritual more as a joke,“ says Noon with a laugh. “But putting on a play is its own kind of ritual – essentially it’s the same thing every time.”
As summer ended, her health improved and Noon found herself “jumping back into the pool with the rest of humanity… life and death were no longer a daily obsession.”
It was a full two years after she finished treatment that the duo finally had the chance to revisit their project through the new Community Live Arts residency program at AS220. “It still seemed important for us to make something to acknowledge that time in our lives and what we learned from it – and are still learning from it. “
“The piece definitely acknowledges that hard things happen,” says Noon. “Having gone through it, you have to find a way to recover from them. I mean, if we don’t know how to recover from them, how can we go through this world?”
Before We Begin will be done nightly at 8pm at AS220 Black Box, 95 Empire, Providence through Sunday, June 12. Seating is very limited. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations. Requirement: Wear sweatpants & bring $1 coin.