Pig Iron Revels in Offbeat Theater

“I don’t like theater, but I like what you do.” Pig Iron Theatre Company’s co-artistic director Dan Rothenberg has heard this statement countless times, and, claims it is one of the best compliments that the group ever receives.

The titular “pig iron” refers to the raw crude iron rendered useless for anything except balance, often used in theater fly and pulley systems—and fits nicely with Pig Iron’s self-professed title, the “Theater of Not Lying.”

Founded in 1995 by recent Swarthmore graduates, Pig Iron has since been creating their own brand of theater, drawing on inspirations like the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Wooster Group, and the Open Theater. It is based in Philadelphia and patronized by audiences in the 18-25 range. Rothenberg notes, “It’s not the usual theater subscriber audience and that’s the way we like it.”

This past week, the group visited Harvard through the Peter Ivers Learning From Performers Initiative at the Office for the Arts (OFA) in collaboration with the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club.

Company members taught three acting workshops—“The Neutral Mask,” “The Chorus,” and “Introduction to Clown”—in addition to a tech workshop.

“We really see actors as co-authors and creators of the work,” Rothenberg says. Student performers “find their own answers to whatever questions that they think are compelling in the world of performance.”

For the tech workshop, Pig Iron’s professionals discussed the rigorous load-in/strike process of touring professional companies.

To cap off their residency, Pig Iron will perform Adriano Shaplin’s “Hell Meets Henry Halfway”, a dark comedy centering on nihilism which is adapted from Witold Gombrowicz’s 1939 novel Possessed.

The collaboration of the hyper-verbal playwright Shaplin and the movement-oriented theater company is a union of diametric opposites. Though the play does have some very physical moments, “we also have this really intense nouveau-Shakespearean language which mixes a lot of high poetry with vicious insults; you have to take a big breath before you start talking.”

The unconventional collaboration has already been well-received by critics from Variety, The Village Voice, and The New York Times, who referred to the company as “one of the few groups successfully taking theater in new directions.”

Pig Iron Theatre Company proves the possibilities of non-traditional careers in the arts. As OFA coordinator Thomas Lee says, “Pig Iron created itself and created its own work for itself…it’s a wonderful testament to the power of theater in this day and age.”

If non-theatergoers stand any chance of being converted, this would be the group to do it.

The show will play at the Loeb Experimental Theater on 64 Brattle St. tonight at 7 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., with a question-and-answer by dramaturg Dr. Allen Kuharski after the matinee performance. Tickets are free at the Loeb Box Office.