Theater Ninjas Evolve As Maelstrom Collaborative Arts
Theater Ninjas haven’t vanished. Instead, they have a new name and a changing mission.
Since Jeremy Paul founded the acting troupe in 2006, the Ninjas, who didn’t have a permanent space until 2017, traveled throughout Cleveland presenting their boundary-pushing pieces in spaces ranging from the atrium at the Cleveland Museum of Art to a coffee-roasting facility.
As the years went on, Paul began noticing something that caused him to rethink the company’s direction.
“Our work even when we were a ‘theater company’ was never very traditional. It was immersive, site-specific, interactive and usually encompassed artists from a lot of other disciplines. We started meeting other artists from different disciplines who were operating on the borders of their art forms. We met dancers who were incorporating visual art and musicians who were incorporating narrative. They were really inspiring to us. Those were the artists we wanted to keep working with, so we really realized our mission had changed. The kind of work we wanted to pursue were projects where artists from these different disciplines were working on something that was a truly new hybrid piece,” Paul said.
In order to reflect this change in direction, in 2018, the Theater Ninjas became Maelstrom Collaborative Arts.
The kind of work across disciplines that is now Maelstrom’s focus is on view this week in “Rising Tide,” which is the latest installment in their ongoing series “Mixed Media.”
“We have teams of artists that have been assembled by our cadre producer Meredith L. King. These teams incorporate two artists from a similar background and then a ‘third eye.’ This is someone from a different background that is there to help them translate their way of working or their type of art form via the lens of another discipline. One of our groups has two musicians who are working with a movement artist on taking their work and adding a physical dimension to it. We also have two visual artists who are working with a theater-maker on how they can add time and a clearly developing narrative to their work, “Paul said.
Finding artists with whom to work hasn’t been a challenge for Maelstrom.
“The thing that has been maybe not the most surprising but really quite delightful was how many artists jump at the chance to collaborate and try something new. We always encouraged it, but early on we realized that we don’t need to push artists too far. They see this as an opportunity to experiment, to try out a new tool or process or just to get a new perspective on their work. A lot of the work that has come out of the “Mixed Media” series has been completely original projects. They are hybrid works, where you can’t even identify what the original artist’s background might have been. It has truly been a lot of new, interesting innovative stuff,” Paul said.
Paul has been pleased with how audiences have embraced these artistic blends.
“Audiences have really enthusiastically responded to this work. A lot of times, we are bringing in people who are already fans of the artists involved in these shows, but don’t know that all these other art forms are out there and other artists who are doing that kind of work. That’s true of the artists as well. Most of these artists have never met before we put them together to collaborate. A lot of time it results in them collaborating on future projects and developing lifelong friendships. It has really been an incredible response from both the artists who are collaborating and the audiences who share in the process, “ Paul said.