By Jamie Swinnerton
The Ithaca area has a lot to offer theatergoers of many persuasions, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for growth. A new kind of theater company is coming to Ithaca hoping to fill a niche in the scene: dark commentary theater that explores the horrors of life we all face. Even the name, House of Ithaqua (HOI), plays into this niche, as Ithaqua is a fictional character from the Cthulhu Mythos of the famous writer and creator of works of horror, H.P. Lovecraft.
HOI doesn’t want to be only a theater company. Eventually, the founding members of HOI also want to turn this venture into a film production house and host of a horror-themed film festival. Founding member Christopher Teitelbaum, a long-time resident of the local theater scene and a graduate of the Park School of Communication at Ithaca College in film production, has always loved the genre of horror and has wanted to create something like HOI for years. Finally, after finishing work on another short film, he approached his friends Jeff Hodges and Alek Osinski, who he had met while teaching the Meisner Technique at the Actors Workshop of Ithaca. They rounded out the group of founders with the addition of Alya Cline, who is now HOI’s Chief Operations Officer.
Beyond putting on shows within the horror niche, Teitelbaum also wanted HOI to be a place where local actors looking for work who may not have the typical resume for some of the more established theaters could find a place on stage.
“I think we really wanted something that would be quality but where we could offer a stage, or a film experience for people who were committed to the craft, and doing it, but couldn’t yet get into some of those higher tier productions,” Teitelbaum said. "A critical part of our mission at House of Ithaqua is to work with top notch, experienced actors while at the same time discovering less experienced, untapped talent the community hasn't had the benefit of seeing light up the stage yet, and giving them a chance to work with more seasoned actors."
He has always wanted to put on a production of A Christmas Carol, a story he sees as much darker than typically portrayed. While he is eager to explore the dark side of consumerism and the unequal class structure formed by capitalism that the character of Ebenezer Scrooge represents, that is not the show that HOI will be debuting with. Starting Sept. 13, the House of Ithaqua will present Bug, a play by Tracy Letts. The show explores “a descent into madness fueled by conspiracy, loneliness, and loss,” according to the website, and will star one of the co-founders, Jeff Hodges, as the character of Peter, and Elissa Klie, another Ithaca College grad, as the character of Agnus.
“I think especially today when you have stuff like Fake News, and a lot of that other stuff, a lot of us are like ‘Wait, we’re constantly being prodded by these outside forces. Do we actually have control or are we just consuming?’” Teitelbaum said, describing why he finds the show so interesting. “So, for that, it really, really spoke to me.”
Teitelbaum made the leap into theater when he was still in college and a friend of his suggested (or possible “dared”) that he take a class at the AWI. Initially, he told himself that he would take the classes to work with actors. He ended up as a teacher’s assistant for several years and then moved into coaching with Eliza VanCort, AWI founder. Now he wants to combine his love of film, theater, and stories about the dark, twisted underbelly of society that don’t often make it onto the stage.
Looking forward, he said he wants to see HOI putting on about two or three shows a year, as well as an annual horror film festival. With the right infrastructure in place, he wants to get beyond a theater company and add in a film production element. While Teitelbaum said they are happy with only a four-person decision-making group, the company is hoping to grow their network of collaborators.
Staying in the community, and pulling from the community talent, is important to HOI.
“If you’re not contributing to your community, or considered to be a vital part of your community, you’re f***ed,” Teitelbaum explained. As a man of color, it’s important to him that a diverse number of parts are being cast in the performing arts around the area. He sees a lot of artists in the area who want to contribute and he wants to give them that chance.
So, why horror? Because art reflects life.
“I think so much of the human experience is horror,” Teitelbaum said. “I think we live in a horrifying world and we find all these very interesting ways to self-medicate and ignore it, and it’s terrifying.”
Exploring that horror not simply for the goal of scaring people, but to find the human element that we can all identify with, is where the complexity of horror becomes interesting to him. But that doesn’t mean HOI doesn’t want to find and showcase the beautiful moments of humanity as well. The beautiful and the fun, because Teitelbaum doesn’t want HOI to be without fun.
Find more information about Ithaca’s newest theater company and its upcoming show, Bug, on the House of Ithaqua website at houseofithaqua.com.
This story was edited to clarify a quote from Christopher Teitelbaum about HOI's mission to find untapped talent in the area.
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