PURE Theatre plans to stay outside of the black box 

Pushing the Boundaries

With PURE's Nomads and Fools season firmly in the past, the theater is finally prepared for Coming Home. That's the name of their ninth season, the first one they've hosted in a permanent space since losing their Cigar Factory theater in 2007. Since then, they've been hopping around between temporary venues, yet they've continued to thrive. Now settling into their new space on King Street, PURE is kicking off their new season with Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still, a play that, appropriately, explores the idea of coming home from the perspective of two combat journalists.

PURE co-founder Sharon Graci thinks this is one of the company's strongest seasons to date. "What I've learned as an artistic director is that what you put in your season and how you compile a season is part of the experience of what works with an audience," she says. "The other part is what stories do you want to tell and how do we continue to present PURE as an organization? The other part is instinct and gut. I think that the new space is going to help fuel the exceptional company that PURE is and the exceptional work we have done for eight years to a very quiet, crazy loyal audience." Graci says they've managed to retain well over 90 percent of subscribers year after year, despite having to "think outside of the black box." That phrase is featured on the company's new logo, both a nod to their past as well as a commitment to continue producing boundary-pushing theater.

Graci says that most of the changes to the King Street space, formerly home of the Charleston Ballet Theatre, have been cosmetic, including fresh coats of paint and rearranging the configuration of the theater. "Our proximity and closeness to the audience is a paramount component of the PURE experience," she says. "So we can't get further than four rows away from the audience. It's very, very close."

Like many other PURE productions, Time Stands Still is a thoughtful, intimate show. It's Randy Neale's first time directing at PURE, though he's been a core ensemble member of the company for seven years. Most recently, he's appeared in Superior Donuts, Fool's Lear (which Neale also wrote), and one-man show Kicking a Dead Horse. Neale is trading roles with Graci, who tends to stay in the director's chair these days. She'll be playing the role of Sarah, a photojournalist who is injured overseas. "I don't get on stage too often anymore, so there's not a lot of people I will readily get on stage for," Graci says. "My core ensemble members are some that I will willingly feel like I can take off that artistic director hat while they're at the helm as directors, which is one of the most challenging things. Being the artistic leader of the organization of the company is not always functioning in that role. It's being able to say, 'I trust you, I trust your vision, and I trust your eyes.' And we are absolutely about that symbiotic relationship between a director and a cast, and a cast being able to place their trust in the director, ultimately to tell that story. And I trust Randy."

Joining Graci on stage are two other core members, Mark Landis and David Mandel. Landis plays Sarah's foreign correspondent friend who has a nervous breakdown in Iraq, but when he hears that Sarah is injured, he returns overseas to bring her home. Back in the States, their lives are contrasted with those of their close friend Richard (Mandel) and his new, much younger girlfriend Mandy (Katie Smith, making her PURE debut).

Neale says, "It leads to some questions about her profession and what good it does and her place in the world. Her career is a huge part of her identity and the idea that someone has to be there to record the story. ... Whether they're a television crew or a photographer, or even a writer, they're not there to be involved in it but to record it so that the world sees it, to be the eyes of the world in the story. That changes for her."

Graci adds, "In this play they literally are coming home back to the U.S. And again within that theme of coming home, it's how do we define it. We talk about family and we talk about this idea of hearth, and ask can I make my hearth and where do I assemble as a family, as a unit, this idea of coming home."


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