For Jeremy Wood, the founder and owner of this Orlando-based theatrical production company, it’s become a labor of love to produce the kind of shows he likes to see.
In fact, on Friday when Howler’s prepared for the start of Howler’s third production, the black comedy “Mr. Marmalade,” Wood acknowledged that some members of the audience were likely to be highly offended by a show that pokes fun at such topics as domestic violence, drug abuse, suicide, infanticide, and child abuse.
“If you’re offended by what you see,” Wood told the audience at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, where the show was being performed, “please call the newspaper and tell them about us, because negative press is great.”
It was back in 2009 when Wood, a veteran actor and director in Central Florida, was looking around with a friend for a good play to see.
“We looked around, and the first theater we found was showing ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” he said. “We went to another and it was doing ‘Our Town,’ ” the Thornton Wilder drama from the 1930s.
Every show being performed locally, Wood said, was a revival of a revival of a revival – all classics that audiences had seen staged in this area so many times in the past.
“We’ve seen all of them 50 million times,” he said.
What Wood wanted was a theater company that produced lesser known shows – but plays that also, like Noah Haidle’s “Mr. Marmalade,” aim to shock the audience, disturb them, rouse them out of teir complacency. Wood wanted to produce shows that challenge the audiences’ conception of what “entertainment” is also about – rather than simply providing a staged version of the kind of sanitized entertainment they can get on television.
So he formed Howler’s Theatre – noting on its Facebook page that “A howl can certainly reach through to the guts.”
And that, Wood said, is exactly the kind of gut level reaction he wants to give audiences through productions like “Mr. Marmalade,” which tells the story of four-year-old Lucy and hher imaginary playmate, an abusive, violent, hot-tempered adult man named Mr. Marmalade – a reflection of the grim reality that her mother, babysitter and other adults have brought into her life.
“I started Howler’s Theatre so we could so shows that nobody else is doing,” Wood told the audience, although the aim wasn’t to pointlessly offend people.
“We don’t do this just for shock value,” he said. “There’s a point to it. I don’t just want to do shock theater.”
Howler’s produced its first show, “Hunter Gatherers,” in February 2010, after te company was formed in December 2009. “Mr. Marmalade” is its third production, done in collaboration with Orlando’s Renegade Theatre.
Howler’s is still looking for a permanent stage to perform on, but Wood said each production has drawn a larger audience – a hopeful sign, he said, that audiences are coming to appreciate his adventurous approach to theater.
“We get bigger and bigger with each show,” Wood said. “It’s great.”
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