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DIY séance party: Amphibian Stage kicks off 25th annual Main Stage season in Fort Worth

By Rebecca ChristophersonMarch 5, 2024No Comments

Séance Party

By Charlotte Settle
Photo courtesy of Amphibian Stage

Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage kicked off its 25th annual Main Stage season with a “DIY séance party”

Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage continues to excel in its mission to produce boundary-breaking theater, kicking off its 25th annual Main Stage season with a “DIY séance party.”

In her world premiere play, “Instructions for a Séance,” which closed its 10-day run Feb. 11 at the Near Southside theater, Katie Bender, the play’s creator and performer, invited audiences to help her summon the spirit of famous escape artist Harry Houdini. Reality and illusion converge as Bender questions, “What are we trying to escape?”

From Austin, Bender is an award-winning theatermaker who produces new work all over the country. She spent her early career as an actor in New York before shifting her focus to writing when she got pregnant with her daughter. “Becoming a playwright was really about becoming a mother and taking more creative agency over the work I was in,” Bender says.

Bender earned an MFA in playwriting from The University of Texas at Austin, where one of her professors recommended she visit the university’s Houdini archives. Around the same time, Bender observed her single, childless grad school colleagues traveling and writing freely, unencumbered by the responsibilities of motherhood and marriage. “I was so jealous of their time and carefree attitude,” Bender says. “Staring at pictures of Houdini escaping sort of helped me escape my own life structures, and ‘Séance’ comes from that place.”

Bender recruited the prolific director, dramaturg and new play-enthusiast Lily Wolff to direct “Séance.” The pair met at UT Austin and bonded over shared experiences of new motherhood during the pandemic.

“It has been an incredible honor and privilege to explore this séance together as artists and mothers,” Bender says. “To see the ways in which parenthood and the pandemic have gotten into the piece makes it even more exciting for me,” Wolff adds. “We’re learning something new about it every time we touch it.”

Unlike a traditional play, “Séance” involves light engagement with the audience. Attendees have equally as much influence over the outcome of the experiment as Bender does, which meant no two shows were alike.

“It’s not an experience that can be even remotely replicated by sitting alone on the couch watching Netflix,” Wolff says. “It’s about being present in space with other people, and I think all the guests will leave feeling less alone.”

Bender and Wolff recruited the magician and illusion designer Brett Schneider to bring various elements of magic to the show and evoke the mysteriousness of Houdini. “Brett is incredibly tapped into the dynamics between performer and audience,” Wolff says. “He’s an absolutely key storytelling player.”

The remainder of Amphibian’s 2024 season promises even more riveting, important stories. Hitting the Main Stage in April is George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta,” a musical celebration that highlights the legacy of two black women and largely uncredited heroes of Rock N’ Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight. Harley Elias’s “The Handless King,” coming this summer, is inspired by real artifacts from 728 BCE and chronicles a zany “coworker dispute turned deadly” in the wake of revolution during the Assyrian Empire.

The Main Stage season will close out this fall with “The Amazing, Fabulous, and Spectacular Untruths of Juan Garcia,” written by Amphibian’s artistic director, Kathleen Culebro, and directed by Amphibian’s marketing director, Evan Woods. The play is an homage to Juan Ruiz De Alarcón’s “La Verdad Sospechosa” [The Suspicious Truth] — a 17th-century play that seldom received credit for inspiring subsequent acclaimed comedies written by white men.

This summer, Amphibian’s 4th annual SparkFest will celebrate artists from the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community. Featuring new play developments, a variety of performances and workshops and a Van Cliburn-inspired National Acting Competition, the two-week festival is a beacon for artists from across the globe and is open to the public.

Whether it’s conjuring spirits, witnessing new work in development, or everything in between, there’s something for everyone this season at Amphibian.