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Arts Eclectic turns the spotlight on happenings in the arts and culture scene in and around the Austin area. Through interviews with local musicians, dancers, singers, and artists, Arts Eclectic aims to bring locals to the forefront and highlight community cultural events.Support for Arts Eclectic comes from Broadway Bank.

'It moves quickly': Beyond August Productions presents 'Exit Strategy'

Beyond August Productions

"Beyond August Productions – which is the production company that is producing the show – I think was drawn to it thematically, but also because the show itself is a lot of fun,” director Rodolfo Robles Cruz says of the play Exit Strategy, currently onstage at the Rosette Theater. “It moves quickly, it's contemporary. It reaches a diverse… audience. And I think that's what they were drawn to. And the reason I applied to direct it is because I feel like that also represents a lot of what I want to do as a director.”

Exit Strategy, by playwright Ike Holter, was written a decade ago and was first produced in Chicago; it was later staged off-Broadway and in a handful of other theaters across the U.S.

“[It] takes place in Chicago,” Cruz says. “It's about this school that is kind of set to be closed down and all the teachers… band together – inspired by this one student – to see what they can do to avoid it. And this school has, you know, horrible test scores, low graduation rates... the city is kind of marking that off. And then we kind of just explore that theme throughout the whole show. Will it be shut down? Will it not? And at the end we find out.”

Cruz says that while the themes of the play are grounded in the sometimes-bleak realities of the public school system, it’s also just funny. “It's so funny and it's so ridiculous and it moves so, so fast,” he says. “And I think any audience can come and watch it, laugh really hard with us, but then leave with a deeper message, thinking about what they can do [and] what they've experienced with the same topic.”

It's an ensemble piece, letting all the cast members have their time to shine. “There's some really good ensemble moments,” says actor Ismael Soto III, “and I think this show really thrives… in the smaller scenes with just one or two people, but those ensemble scenes really are a lot of fun to do. And I think it's important for audiences to see performers on stage having fun. And I think that makes it a fun show when you can tell that the performers are getting along and having a good time.”

Soto says he can easily relate to Luce, the character he plays in Exit Strategy. “He's everyone's best friend,” Soto says. “He's always on your side. He's probably that, you know, that big older brother that you never had or that cool tio that you always wanted. He's definitely a safe space for the staff and students to come and talk to and vent to. And he's very big and bold. He's an ex-frat guy. Proud Latino. So [I’m] very excited to play him.”

Payton Trahan, who plays Ricky, doesn’t have quite as much in common with his character. “He is the vice principal of Tumbldn [High School]. He is way in over his head. And yeah, he's just trying his best but not really trying at all,” Trahan says, adding with a laugh, “It's a fine line. I don't know if I necessarily relate to him in the way that he acts. [But] one thing that I think about acting is you can't think that your character is the bad guy.”

“I feel like I'm director in title, but truly, I've just been facilitating a lot of the actors’ ideas that form naturally when we're in the scene,” Cruz says. “And it came together so quickly and so smoothly. It was really interesting, actually – Adriana, who's one of the cast members, brought something up that was really interesting and it was that every audience has been so, like, specifically different. And I think it's a combination of the actors going on stage and finding the rhythm with the audience – because that is kind of the relationship that we share in live theater – but also it's that the show is about this kind of very specific experience that a lot of people – specifically people of color, of lower income communities, have really faced. And so we're trying to figure out the line and I think we've been nailing it. And like, how do we invite the audience in to laugh with us about these very serious topics? And then sometimes the audience is just so locked in and they're feeling a lot for the characters on stage. And so it's been an interesting balance.”

'Exit Strategy' is running through July 14 at the Rosette.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces and hosts This Is My Thing and Arts Eclectic, and also produces Get Involved and the Sonic ID project. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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