n actor, a dancer, a painter, or even a writer, you will most likely graduate college without a next step. Furthermore, you will be so worried as graduation day draws near that you will be unable to find work and will instantly be lost in the sea of out-of-work artists. But, one group of UW students and alumni have decided that instead of waiting to find jobs, they will create the jobs themselves.
REBATE, which stands for “Recession Era Broke Ass Theater Ensemble” is the brain-child of Tom Dang, a drama major and dance minor who graduated from the University of Washington last spring. He is a barista at Café on the Ave and a lounge singer on the weekends. He is what every artist hopes to be: confident, talented, and making waves. He has decided that success doesn’t come to those who wait.
Dang came from a high school in Kent, Washington, where he dabbled in almost every extracurricular activity. When he began his journey at the University of Washington, he was originally working toward a business degree. It wasn’t until junior year that he decided to focus on his love for acting. “The only real passion [for me] is drama,” Dang said.
Although he praises the UW theater program, he was left searching for more.
“I found that, even though the drama program was really flexible, it only offered acting specific things, and I was really more interested in more avant-garde,” Dang said. “What I felt was a little bit missing was encouragement for independent production.”
So, seeing a need, Dang decided to fill it. With the help of UW curriculum and students, Tom began BAT, or “Broke Ass Theater,” the ensemble destined to become REBATE.
BAT’s first production was a post-modern interpretation of “Hamlet” entitled “Hamletmachine.” Next, although half the ensemble had departed, Dang found new recruits and put on a production of “Richard III,” which was a morphed production of Shakespeare’s original work that Dang created with the help of a UW professor.
“I want to do shows that no one’s doing. And since no one’s doing them, I guess I’ll do them,” Dang said.
Now, with even newer members and a new name, Dang has decided to take his independent productions a step farther with “Café Dante.”
“Café Dante” is an original script written collaboratively by REBATE and based on Dante’s quintessential work “Inferno.”
“‘Café Dante’ was written by us, but it was written in a very devised way,” Dang said. “We just sat together and we talked about what kind of story we all wanted to tell.”
The ensemble went through roughly 250 pages of draft work, and continually tweaked the script until they finally found their stride. The story they decided on is one of love, personal hardship, and of the metaphysical world of performance.
But despite the fact that the script of “Café Dante” is innovative, possibly the most unconventional aspect of the show is the fact that instead of being performed on a stage, it will be performed among customers at Café on the Ave.
“Right now, I’m really into taking theater to the people,” Dang said. “I’m also very tired of theater set in theater space.”
é Dante” tells the story of Diana (Esther Hafner), a college student who is writing short fiction as a form of therapy. As she writes, the scenes come to life before our eyes. In this way, the audience is constantly ferried between the reality of Diana’s present day and the fantasy of her written stories. The lines of reality are blurred, however, by acting out scenes of a play in a cafe, which is being used as stage but also fully functioning as a cafe.
The entire concept is a bit complicated, but members of REBATE are not worried. Their plan involves working with the space around them, staging actors as customers and employees of the cafe. When people enter the cafe they will be asked if their intention is to watch the show or enjoy the cafe, but either way they will be welcomed. The show is free (with a suggested donation of $5), so the only price people must pay is that of silence and cooperation.
“I’m more interested in making art visible than making art profitable, at the moment,” Dang said.
And, thanks to the help of Kickstarter and the community, REBATE has been able to produce “Café Dante” at no cost. The $600 needed to put on the show was all donated, so every penny of donations received at the box office will go straight into the pockets of the ensemble. Dang, who believes actors should be properly compensated for their work, is planning to split all the proceeds throughout the ensemble, between actors, directors, and designers. This is a stance he has taken with previous productions, including “Richard III” which was produced on a budget of $80 and made a profit of approximately $600. This is enough to prove to any nonbeliever that dreams can be achieved even with no funding.
But, it is the teamwork and balance within REBATE which has promised it so much success. While the ensemble was spurred by one man, it is truly the hard work of every individual that turned Dang’s dream into reality.
“These people that I work with believe in my vision, and they believe in themselves,” Dang said. “And these guys were ready to go when I dropped this project on them.”
The process, however, does not seem like an easy one. Even three days before opening night, actors are still pinning down their lines and remembering their cues. This is most likely a side effect of the script having changed countless times in the last 5 weeks. However, each member is happy to be a participant and is grateful to be able to work on a production with their peers.
“I get to collaborate with all the people I want to work with. It’s like a dream come true,” Dang said.
To see whether or not REBATE can pull off its ambitious project, be at Café on the Ave by 7 p.m. this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Reach reporter Danielle Palmer-Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DanyellPF