New group invites the community to participate

Laura Covault and Layla Perez are dedicated to reworking traditional theater.

by Jill Forman

Laura Covault and Layla Perez are the founders and co-owners of this new theater company, Unity Theatre Collective and hope to inspire Ventura to support, attend and take part in their productions. “We are looking for people to join our merry band of players.”

Their first offering, a gender-bending take on Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” just completed its run at the NAMBA center in downtown Ventura. A unique interpretation: some of the characters changed gender in the second act, couples re-assorted, and it all came to a riotous happy ending. Tea was served to the audience at small tables, and the actors brought audience members into the production by chatting with them and running through the area. The troupe of young players brought energy and novelty to their portrayals, and the full house (on the night I went) enjoyed it as much as the performers.

Covault and Perez see this working of the play as a good way to look at gender role expectations, “…to get across messages without being preachy.” They admit laughingly to always having “big ideas” and being excited about them.

They are dedicated to “…reworking traditional theater to make people rethink assumptions about gender, race, age, and culture.” And they want the citizens of Ventura to join them. “Our mission is to embrace the community, for them to be a part of our company: act, write, be technicians, give us ideas, bring forth issues to be addressed.” Hence the “Collective” in their name.

When asked why they decided to take on the difficult and quixotic task of starting a new theater group, there is more laughter. They feel Ventura is appreciative of art and creativity and they wanted to do more to help foster that appreciation. “There is a pool of talent in the area, people who have the ability to do theater but no ‘home’ to do it. We want them to have the ability to put themselves out there and fulfill their passion.” The core values of Unity are social change, insight, empathy; the plan is “… to be there for the community, to have fun and find a way to be creative.” They are open to new ideas from community members.

They feel fortunate to be involved in the educational aspect of theater. Covault is a Professor of Performing Arts at CSUCI; Perez is a stage manager there. Perez works at Salzers, which she says helped inspire her.

They initially raised money with one-night presentations, and with the help of friends and family generated enough to put on their initial offering. They will need to fundraise again and are working on plans for that. Also, they are planning to become an official nonprofit and then can apply for grants. They want to create opportunity for those who would not normally attend theater, who see it as elitist or too expensive – free plays? a touring company? coordinate with local schools? Whatever will engage more people and make them want to join in the fun and work.

Upcoming productions will be announced in the next month. Website: Facebook: Unity Theatre Collective. Instagram: #theatreforallpeople.

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