Arts Desk

dog & pony Needs Your Help Making Toast

According to Merriam-Webster, "to incubate" means "to maintain (as an embryo or a chemically active system) under conditions favorable for hatching, development or reaction."

But mad-scientist theater collective dog & pony is less technical about language. While “incubation” certainly applies to their newest endeavor, the Incubator Series—in the sense that it will help grow their latest play project, the vaguely defined Toast—it’s hard to put a finger on what exactly the series is.

Rachel Grossman, dog & pony's "head ring leader" and the company's only full-time staff member as of January, is the first to admit that her company’s process is pretty fluid. The sessions are characterized on the company's website as casual book club gatherings, conversation groups, and/or TED-talk inspired events, but Grossman says, "I could have just as easily called them 'kumquats and pickles' as 'salons and seminars.'"

Two weeks ago, this kumquat pickle salad took place at Round House Theatre's educational space in Silver Spring, and it involved more than two hours of chatting about everything from Kandinsky to the space program. The sessions are free and open to the public, so just about anything might hatch at this week's session, which begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the same place. According to the schedule on dog & pony's website, the group will pick back up with Jon Gertner's The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, or move on to Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From.

Grossman says that rather than facilitating and keeping people on topic, the company just wants to sit back and let people add their voices. Someone takes careful notes, another may take pictures, someone might handle the live-tweeting (#ToastdpDC), and the core 12 dog & pony members will later sort through everything to see if anything sticks.

Dog & pony sets out to make plays not through improvisation, but with more of a scientific approach, like experimental lab work. Let's call it playmation. Or as Grossman puts it, "a lot more sitty and talky than getty up and do-y." From idea to premiere, the playmation process usually takes from 10 months to two years. The incubator series also offers a connecting thread through D.C.’s different theaters: Sessions are held at Woolly Mammoth, Round House, the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, and possibly other locations not yet announced.

"Lest it seem like we have a plan, we don’t," she says. "We just know where we’re starting from."

The sessions are held Wednesday evenings at 7:30 to May 18. For more about dog & pony’s unique working method, read Sophia Bushong's November City Paper feature about the company. Dog & pony celebrates its fifth anniversary April 1 at Board Room.

Photo by Justin Schneider

The original version of this post inaccurately said that Round House Theatre's educational space is in Bethesda. It is in Silver Spring.

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