AAC: From Charity to Company

For much of its history, the charity-focused theater troupe Acting Against Cancer has held the air of a group with a mission, who happens to go about it via labors of love.

While it has put on a repertory of shows most professional playhouses would find ambitious – and been successful beyond the wildest dreams of what most theater artists will likely see in their careers – the method has grown to match the mission. Experience, age and passion have turned its into something its may only now be fully blossoming as: a full-blown theater company.

“For the longest time, since 1999, we did just one show a year,” said Remy Sisk, AAC’s artistic director. “In 2013, we did straight plays with ‘God of Carnage’ and ‘Rabbit Hole.’ We spent the year learning about theater in Louisville: different venues, different material, what sells, what doesn’t sell, what’s important to do, what’s not important to do.”

The former Kids Acting Against Cancer dropped the “K” from their name as they took on more mature material and a return to musical theater in 2014 with “Spring Awakening” and “Rent.” The return to the form that got them started now found them branching out, both in terms of venues and in building a professional network on and offstage.

“After learning about the bigger pool of designers and cast that we can draw from, as well as venues like the Tim Faulkner Gallery (site of “Rent”), we were like, ‘Well, we’re doing this many shows. Let’s do a season. Let’s be a theater company with a season,'” Sisk said.

The company’s 2014-2015 season proper kicked off last weekend with a true name-brand classic: “The Rocky Horror Show,” presented in the campy, spooky spirit of the season at The Henry Clay.

“I’d never seen it, actually, and from what I’d heard of it, I thought it was really dumb,” Sisk said with a chuckle. “But then I saw the potential. We met with our scenic designer and lighting designer, Kathryn Spivey and Jesse Alford, and with the things they started saying, I said ‘I can see this happening. I can see this taking shape.’”

As the company looked to expand its audience base – which had already helped the company raise more than $300,000 to fight cancer in 15 years – as well as find its mature feet in the broad ecosystem of Louisville theater, they formed a strategy with “Rent” and “Rocky:” attract audiences who wouldn’t normally come to an AAC show to instead see a classic they are fanatical about, and learn about the company and its mission in the process.

Past shows have been learning experiences. Where there efforts on one-night-only productions like “Annie” and “High School Musical” had been home-grown, staging epic productions like “Spring Awakening” in a Kentucky Center theater and “Rent” in the performance space at Tim Faulkner Gallery demonstrated the necessity of proper technical expertise.

“We never knew these things when we were working out of a basement,” Sisk said.

So, they readied for “Rocky,” which by July was the most prepared they had ever been to produce a show. Through relationships with theater professionals like Alford, a local freelance lighting designer, they attracted more top-flight industry help on the set, sound, and other nuts-and-bolts aspects.

The producers had one caveat on their recruiting, which they had no problem fulfilling, as the entirety of the technical crew was willing to teach their trades.

“We’ve never encountered anyone, nor would we necessarily hire anyone, who just wants to do their job and be gone,” Sisk said. “Even though we’re old as far as a start-up theater company goes, we want designers who will teach us.”

As the company evolves, so does its goals. Where they used to spread donations around to recipients such as Gilda’s Club and the oncology wing of Kosair Children’s Hospital, starting with “Rocky,” AAC will streamline all support by pledging $100,000 to the art therapy program at the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at Kosair. Sisk foresees all money raised by AAC from now on going to art therapy.

“If I’m going to be honest with myself, how much difference are we going to make in curing cancer?” he said. “Probably not one that we can see, that will be suddenly revolutionary, whereas with art therapy, which is certainly more on the level of what we’re doing, there is a visible difference.”

The kids who started KAAC have certainly been unafraid to grow.

“I hope that people can know that we have grown a lot, and I think this whole ‘We’re growing up’ thing is over,” Sisk said. “We have grown up. I think we’ve reached that point. We have this pledge that’s streamlined. We have a new name, a season, season tickets, a whole new website. It’s just really exciting. If anyone’s been watching us, the final product is now. It’s really cool that we have taken everything we’ve learned and made a theater company out of it.”

“The Rocky Horror Show”
Presented by Acting Against Cancer
At The Henry Clay, 604 S. Third St.
Oct. 3-4 at 8 p.m., Oct. 5 at 2 p.m.
Tickets available at rocky.actingagainstcancer.com

Courtesy Photos.