Duo keep the energy pure with Theatre Dojo
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
Algernon D’Ammassa is an actor, director, playwright and teacher who started the Zen Buddhist Center in Deming, where he lives with his wife and two sons.
Randy Granger is a Las Cruces musician, storyteller and Native American clergyman whose ancestry includes the Maya and Apache.
Together, they are the latest incarnation of Theatre Dojo, a project founded a decade ago that has become a “community for developing interdisciplinary, collaborative theatre on social and spiritual themes.”
D’Ammassa and Granger have performed “An Iliad” by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare (co-founders of Theatre Dojo along with D’Ammassa in Los Angeles in 2006) and “Killing Buddha,” written by D’Ammassa, in Las Cruces and elsewhere in New Mexico and in five other states in the past three years.
They plan to write and begin performing a new show – “Songs of Uncreation” – this summer.
‘Path to perfect yourself’
Originally started as a way to train theater artists in “traditional western scene study techniques” with the addition of yoga, martial arts and meditation, Theatre Dojo “didn’t work out very well as a business,” D’Ammassa said. So, it has evolved into “performing and creative theatre.”
“Theatre is about more than performing and making money,” said D’Ammassa, who travels to Las Cruces almost daily to act and direct and to teach classes at New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute. “It’s a path to perfect yourself as a human being and also to engage in the world.”
‘We’re just able to connect’
The partnership between D’Ammassa and Granger began in 2013 when D’Ammassa wanted to perform “An Iliad” and started looking for a “musician who was inventive” to join him on stage. The two met for coffee and conversation at Spirit Winds Coffee Bar and within an hour, had decided to work together.
D’Ammassa trained at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island and was a resident member of the theater company there and at Company of Angels in Los Angeles. In 2012, he was a visiting artist and teacher with the Fiesta Theatre in Florence, Italy. D’Ammassa has appeared on stages and toured across the United States and has acted in and directed shows at NMSU, the Black Box Theatre, Las Cruces Community Theatre and Rio Grande Theatre.
Granger, a life-long musician, arranger and songwriter, has toured as a solo artist and with jazz and rock groups as a percussionist. He has performed professionally in operas, musicals and a chorus and has taught drums and guitar for 15 years. He also plays mariachi and cowboy music, along with jazz.
Granger also is master of many woodwind instruments, including the wooden flute that gives many Theatre Dojo performances a Southwestern flavor.
“Randy can play such a wide pallet of instruments,” D’Ammassa said. “If you hand it to him, he’ll play it.”
And that fits so well with “the whole ethos of Theatre Dojo,” he said. “Whatever is at hand: Can you use that to tell your story?”
Granger has no lines of dialogue in either “An Iliad” or “Killing Buddha.” But his music is “a storyteller in its own right,” D’Ammassa said. Granger will get a chance to act again in “Songs of Uncreation” when it opens this summer in Las Cruces.
In addition to living 60 miles apart, D’Ammassa and Granger are both busy with their own work, so they don’t get a chance to rehearse together often. “We’re just able to connect,” D’Ammassa said.
‘Keep the energy level pure’
The two also bring their personal faiths and philosophies to their collaborations. “Like any good artists, who we are finds its way into our work,” Granger said.
“I have a reverence for all nature, for all things for your ancestors,” he said.
There is an “intimate bond between my religion and my art,” D’Ammassa said.
As a result, no two of their performances of any show are the same. Very comfortable with each other, the two “improvise a whole lot” on stage, Granger said.
“It’s what you do in the moment,” D’Ammassa said. “You take a breath in and breathe out and the work does itself.”
“I know how music affects people,” said Granger, who has played as a volunteer for Mesilla Valley Hospice for 11 years. “You have to dig deep for the stuff we’re doing. You have to keep the energy level pure,” he said.
‘It’s just us’
Their stories are “time capsules, packets of wisdom,” D’Ammassa said. They are “letters from our ancestors … warning us about pride, waste, rage,” he said.
“We’ve told stories more than we’ve written stories as a species,” Granger said. Our ancestors “gathered around the campfire; they looked at the stars and they made up even more stories.”
On stage, D’Ammassa and Granger are homeless storytellers. They use rags for costumes, broom handles for props and Home Depot buckets and tequila bottles for instruments. “There’s no flash, no sets. It’s just us,” Granger said.
“We show up anywhere,” D’Ammassa said. “We can move some tables and chairs and do story lore. We are trying to create an experience as opposed to just putting on a show.”
Audience response to all their performances “shows there is a strong hunger for this kind of theatre,” D’Ammassa said. “When we change people and make them more creative, that’s the magic,” he said.
Losing “that sense of time and space, that’s what’s cool,” Granger said. “We can do it along with the audience.”
For more information, visit http://www.theatre-dojo.org/
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