In the dark
Restless Artists’ Theatre Company
As a kid, Doug Mishler hated theater. He’d squirm in his seat, waiting for a high-school actor to forget a line.
As a doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Reno in the early ’90s, while writing a dissertation on the history of the American circus, he met Clay Jenkinson, from Reno’s annual Chautauqua event, in which scholars and actors play characters from history. Soon, Mishler found himself playing P.T. Barnum in the Chautauqua. Performing suited him, so he enrolled in classes at UNR, first in acting, later in directing.
Mishler—who teaches history and core humanities at UNR—is prone to speaking with the type of polished enunciation and exuberant gestures that might make people want to raise a pinky and say “theeee-ah-ter.” He said he fell in love with the creative challenges of directing and the process of getting all the moving parts of a production to work in harmony.
“I tell my students, ’I’m an egotistical maniac, and I love yelling at people,’” he added with a laugh.
In 2004, he began working with Reno Little Theater as a director. Now, 40 plays later, Mishler is chair and managing director of the new Restless Artists’ Theatre Company.
RAT, as company members—who’ve nicknamed themselves “The RAT Pack”—like to call it, opened in August in a one-storefront strip mall in Sparks, a former zumba studio. The cinder-block facade is magenta and primary blue. The interior includes rat prints painted on the lobby floor and a 60-seat performance space.
“It was very intimate and up close—and frightening,” said actor Terri Rondulait, about performing in such a compact space. She played Claire, “a 70-year-old artificial consciousness developer” in RAT’s inaugural production, Uncanny Valley. Until performing here, she’d only performed on stages such as the one at Hug High School, where, she said, “The audience is quite removed.” She called her experience performing at RAT “incredible” and reported positive feedback from audience members about how intimate the play felt.
Mishler said RAT will specialize in plays that are “stranger, more modern things that are not done as much. We wouldn’t mind doing shows that people come out and go, ’That was close to offensive,’ because it’ll make people think.”
While he said he would consider creative adaptations of older works—for example, he gave high marks to a New Orleans company that re-set Waiting for Godot on a flooded stage, post-Katrina—he intends to focus mostly on new works.
“We’ll do a lot of dark comedies,” he said. The fall season includes The Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh, who wrote the script of the film In Bruges. It’s about a man who tortures two people in a hotel room because he believes they’ve taken his hand.
Also coming up are Grand Concourse, a tragicomedy set in a soup kitchen, and November, a David Mamet play set in the Oval Office and timed for election season, which opens with a terribly unpopular president asking, “Why don’t we have any money?” to which a staffer replies, “Everybody hates you, sir.”
As for the future, Mishler said, “I just want us to get better all the time. We want to put ourselves under tremendous pressure to be the best artists we can be.”