Synetic Theater welcomes new voices with trip to Oz

The company’s production of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ is the first in a New Voice series, spotlighting new talent behind the scenes.

Photo courtesy of Synetic Theater

The man behind the curtain at Synetic Theater, founder Paata Tsikurishvili, is yielding the stage as part of a new program, the New Voice series. The first production in this series, an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the original L. Frank Baum text, not the Judy Garland musical), is being led by a pair of Synetic company veterans, Ryan Sellers and Tori Bertocci, who are crafting a main stage production for the first time.

Tsikurishvili came to the United States from Georgia in 1995, bringing a style of European physical theater with the founding of Synetic in 2001, and has had a heavy influence on what he estimates to be 97 percent of the shows produced. And he is now ready to pay it forward with the New Voice series.

“This country really offered [me] an opportunity to do my best and find myself,” Tsikurishvili says. “So I want to produce the directors, choreographers, playwrights, creators for physical theater so they can serve not only Synetic Theater but the community and perhaps the nation.”

First to get that chance is Sellers and Bertocci. Sellers came to Tsikurishvili with a pitch for a production of Oz with the expectation that Tsikurishvili would direct it. Sellers, unaware of the theater’s plans for the New Voice series, was shocked to be given the reins of his first main stage show. “I was like, ‘wait, what?'” he remembers.

Tsikurishvili paired Sellers with Bertocci, who served as co-adaptor and choreographer for the show. The collaboration has been a fruitful one, according to Sellers. “It’s an amazing combination where both of us are reading each other’s minds and picking up on what the other one needs,” Sellers says.

The production, in traditional Synetic style, will mix verbal and nonverbal communication, with the worlds of Dorothy and Oz having to figure out how to communicate with each other. Sellers compares it to Synetic’s past production of Peter Pan and believes it could be a story that speaks to audiences, from kids to grandparents.

After the production of Oz, Tsikurishvili intends to adjust the New Voice series. Instead of doing a main stage production like Sellers and Bertocci, Tsikurisvhili wants to open the program to all interested parties, those who have worked with Synetic or not, and have them grow their abilities with smaller productions. Tsikurishvili will later determine if and when any are ready to take a production to the main stage.

“That’s my plan and the goal, the step by step by step by step,” he says. “Give those performers an opportunity and [at] the same time guide them, mentor them and then push them for success.”

Sellers knows just what it means to get that seal of approval from Tsikurishvili and the opportunity it affords him, as well as the community at large.

“It’s unbelievable,” Sellers says. “I don’t know a whole lot of artists in any community who get to feel included and supported over feeling excluded and exploited.

“To give new storytellers a venue and an opportunity to offer a new perspective and to offer a new style and to offer a new voice into the community changes how the community can grow forward. It doesn’t just change it, it gives the community a future where there might not be one otherwise.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be performed at the Devine Theater in the Davis Performing Arts Center on the Georgetown University campus. The production will run from July 11-Aug. 12.

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