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NKU Grads Introduce New Theatre Collective, New Work at Fringe

One of the things that’s most fun about Cincinnati Fringe is it’s a great place for new ideas.

Sometimes, the idea is a theater collaborative.

Meet Tongue of the Mind, a collaborative by four Northern Kentucky University new and recent grads: playwrights Robert Macke and Alexx Rouse, and directors Nate Netzley and Victoria Hawley.

It’s very much a work-in-progress, with ideas that include “unconventional spaces,” Macke says, but what is concrete is the quartet’s focus – using “the collaboration between playwright and director as the model. Our goal is to present new works of local, up-and-coming playwrights as directed by promising young directors in the Cincinnati area and to foster the creative process between the two.”

That starts with their debut effort, Golconda, which imagines Magritte, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Warhol in today’s world of online dating and how the artists “would explore the freedoms and restrictions of this contemporary world.” Macke wrote it, Netzley directs.

Macke and Netzley have been collaborating since fall 2014, often on Know Theatre’s episodic and massively popular “Serials!” series. Netzley was the first apprentice with Clifton Performance Theatre during its 2014-2015 season.

Macke points to “professor and friend” Brian Robertson as their inspiration. “He pushes young artists like us to go out there and not just find opportunities but create opportunities.”

The collective, Macke says, “has been an idea that Brian Robertson has been ruminating over for a while now. He shared this idea with us, we loved it, and have grabbed on to it and are trying to make it a reality.”

Robertson knows about theater collectives – he’s a founding member of Performance Gallery, which came to life in 2002 and holds the record for Cincinnati Fringe – the troupe has produced a show every year since Fringe debuted 13 years ago. (For the last few years, Fringe has been the company’s sole annual production.)

Robertson gets credit for the name, too. He gave the young artists the Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra line, "The pen is the tongue of the mind."

“We found the quotation appropriate,” Macke says, “and it stuck.”

Like so many start-ups, Tongue of the Mind has to be creative with fundraising and its inaugural production is financed through crowd-sourcing. The request was for $350 (hey – it’s Fringe) and they raised it in a couple of days.

“A lot of our donors ended up being family and friends,” Macke acknowledged. “Mostly family. I'm not saying it's going to work every time with everyone, but if you’ve got people that believe in you and your cause, they’ll support you, and that’s the case with us. We cannot thank everyone enough for donating to this campaign.” 

The money went to props, (wax fruit, a fake cake, and five -- “COUNT THEM, FIVE!”) canvases printed with masterpieces. And five actors had to be costumed.

“Do you know what our actors also need? Script and nifty devices to hold those script – binders.” And of course posters, ads, graphic design…

“Our funding for this project may not have come together so quickly if it was just one of us fundraising,” Macke says. “It was a team effort getting the word out. 

“No theatre can fund itself on box office alone. Established theatres have grants and donor drives. As a new collective, we ask those who know and love our art to support our endeavors.”

What’s next? To be determined. Macke heads for the University of Idaho in fall to pursue an MFA in Playwriting. And gives another shout-out to Robertson. “He saw my potential as a playwright back when I was still pursuing a degree in acting at Northern Kentucky University. Over the course of a few semesters, I began that transition and I cannot be more grateful for all that he has done for me. He helped us all find our footing as directors and playwrights and we are eternally grateful for everything he does.”

Goloconda, Tongue of the Mind, Cincinnati Fringe, Art Academy. 8:45 June 1, 6:30 p.m. June 4, 7:15 p.m. June 6, 6:30 p.m. June 10 and 7:40 p.m.  June 11. Tickets $15. 513-300-5669 and know.tixato.com/buy/golconda

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts