Theater with a View’s latest show is a fire-side intimate experience

Theater with a View
Emily E Garrison in ‘The Grown-Ups’ at Nightdrive.
Julie Fox

For the first time since 2019, Theater with a View will pop back up in Pottstown for a special outdoor production of an immersive experience, ‘The Grown-Ups.’ The professional theater company has hosted outdoor performances since 2014, and always with the mission of providing an artistic home for both the development and production of non-traditional staging of contemporary plays.

“The Theater with a View performance space is in one of my sisters’ backyards,” says Nina Covalesky, Executive Director of Theater with a View. “She and her husband were generous enough to let me stage David Auburn’s ‘Proof’ on the porch of their gorgeous home in 2014—with support from other beloved siblings, family, and friends who did everything from cook for the actors, donate vital funding, spread word about the show, set up seating, and run the lights. It was a bit of a creative lark, an experiment — and it was magical, one of my most fulfilling experiences as an actor and a human. Since then, Theater with a View shows have been well-reviewed and Barrymore-nominated, and that all is fantastic, but our focus is on the artists we work with, our audiences, and our community.”

Theater with a View
Chloe Joy Ivanson and Justin Phillips in THE GROWN-UPS at Nightdrive.Julie Fox

As Covalesky explains, the audience started out hyper-local and has grown predominantly through word of mouth. The space where performances take place is located near the convergence of Berks, Chester, and Montgomery counties, and TWAV has had audience members come from Philadelphia, Reading, New York, and Washington, DC.

And since its inception, bringing the theater experience outdoors has its perks and its challenges. 

“A leaf falling past an actor’s face at a particular moment might be heartbreaking. We’ve had a military helicopter fly over mid-scene. A hawk swooped over us in a tense moment during ‘Rabbit Hole’, hunting its dinner in the lawn. In our inaugural production of ‘Proof’, Hal and Catherine shared their kiss one night under umbrellas when Matthew Dunivan, the wonderful actor playing Hal, grabbed one of our “emergency” umbrellas for the audience and made his entrance as raindrops began falling,” says Covalesky. “All of those moments supercharge that juicy, wonderful feeling specific to theater —that no one else will ever experience precisely what you and the other audience members did. The intimacy of our outdoor space and the specifics of the home lead to something special, too. We’ve heard more than once that audience members feel like they are eavesdropping.”

For ‘The Grown-Ups,’ which opens on Aug. 17, TWAV collaborated with another theater company from Brooklyn—Nightdrive. When looking for a resurgence back to the space after the pandemic, Covalesky reached out to collaborators Leif Meneke and Lara Gagrica, and also the ‘The Grown Ups’ writers and Nightdrive founders Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques. What Covalesky was looking for was a show that mirrored the creative heights of productions the company has put on before, but with keeping in mind the levity of the past few years. 

Theater with a View
Chloe Joy Ivanson in ‘The Grown-Ups’.Julie Fox

“I knew its summer camp setting would be a great fit for Theater with a View and would let our audiences experience our site in an entirely new way, but I really got excited when we all got on Zoom together to meet and talk possibilities. I think we all heard that great cosmic “click” and took the leap to collaborate,” Covalesky explains. 

Simon Henriques, co-creator of ‘The Grown-Ups’ and co-founder of Nightdrive agreed: “Theater with a View has a gorgeous outdoor location that is a perfect fit for the show. We initially produced ‘The Grown-Ups’ in a tiny backyard in Brooklyn along a major truck route, [and] what we used to have to imagine as the “camp” world is going to be so real in Pottstown under the stars. More than that, Theater with a View has a spirit of taking audiences out of their comfort zone to offer experiences they’ve never had before. We can’t wait to be a part of that.”

Henriques and fellow co-founder Skylar Fox set out to make “rigorously irreverent, ambitiously vulnerable, borderline impossible plays that connect with audiences in adventurous ways” with Nightdrive. Meaning, they put on plays that don’t exactly feel like plays. They feel more so like theatrically ambitious projects. 

A year after lockdown, Henriques and Fox got the idea for ‘The Grown-Ups’ when thinking of telling stories around a fire. 

“There was something childlike about it—putting on a show in the yard—but also something elemental, like a return to where all theatre came from. The whole idea was wildly impractical and unlike anything we’d ever done before, and the world of the show grew from there,” Henriques explains. 

‘The Grown-Ups’ is about a group of summer camp counselors. After their kids have gone to bed, the group meets up around the campfire to drink beer, chat about their days, plan the next, and finally look at their phones after having them locked up all day. When something awful starts happening in the world outside of camp, the counselors have to figure out how to keep camp safe and fun as the threat looms closer and closer.

Theater with a View
Simon Henriques in ‘The Grown-Ups’.Julie Fox

“Without giving too much away: The camp counselors have to deal with unwanted realities akin to what we all deal with in the process of growing up, and the way I read the play, akin to what we’ve all been facing in recent years when the world just isn’t what we remember. Or what we thought it was. Or what we would like it to be,” Covalesky says. “I’m deeply impressed by all the energy and love Nightdrive put into this play during a dark time for theatre artists, and it’s a privilege to be in a position to expand their reach and bring’ The Grown-Ups’ to Theater with a View and share it with our audiences.”

This production is immersive, which adds to the story and the experience for everyone. 

“The cast and audience experience the play together in one big circle around a campfire. The warmth of the fire will be real, the smell of the toasting marshmallows will be real, the cool summer breeze will (fingers crossed) be real. That close to the action, the little breaths the actors take can feel pyrotechnic. Then we have some special surprises in how we use that environment to tell this story, but we don’t want to spoil anything,” says Henriques. 

With the majority of the audience seated around the fire in canvas camp chairs, the cast will still be able to pull off some theater magic as Covalesky says. And because audience members are so close to the actors, TWAV asks that audience members take a COVID test within 12 hours of attending the show. Seating is limited and early ticket sales are strong, there is parking across the street and concessions are available on site. Folks with any accessibility considerations whatsoever can also reach out to company by phone or email so they can do everything possible to make sure they are well accommodated. 

First produced by Nightdrive in July 2021, ‘The Grown-Ups’ received wide critical acclaim, being named as one of Time Out New York’s Top 10 Theater Productions of the year. It will play at Theater with a View until Aug. 27.  

“We say this about all our work, but we hope it makes people feel a little less small and a little less alone,” finishes Henriques. “This show in particular is about how scary it is to be tasked with changing the world that shaped who you are, and why it might be worth doing it anyway. We hope people leave feeling empowered to step into the unknown with a spirit of courage and generosity.”

The show, which takes place around a campfire, will take place at the company’s outdoor performance space at Sycamore Hill (481 Ebelhare Road, Pottstown, PA). All performances are at 7:30 p.m. For more information and tickets ($35), visit theaterwithaview.com

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