Loud Fridge Theatre Group staged one play in 2019 before the pandemic sidelined the young company. But this week it kicks off its first full season with the San Diego premiere of "Ripped," about a campus sexual assault.
Loud Fridge's backstory
But back in 2019, John Wells had no idea what to call his new theater company.
"I remembered running through names in my head and there was a refrigerator buzzing in a different room," Wells said. "And I remember thinking 'Loud Fridge Theater Group. That's a name that will get people's attention.'"
Plus it reflected the fact that he wanted to be a constant noise in the community.
"We wanted to be a theater group that nourished our community, that made noise and elevated voices that had a history of being denied a platform," he said.
The pandemic tried to silence Loud Fridge but it continued to buzz with poetry slams, burlesque shows, and the hit San Diego International Fringe show "Pandemusical Diaries."
Staging a San Diego premiere
Now it’s launching it first full season with "Ripped," written by former San Diegan Rachel Bublitz. Loud Fridge co-founder Kate Rose Reynolds discovered the play in 2017 when she directed a reading of it.
"It deals with a campus sexual assault, and it really explores the gray areas of consent," Reynolds said. "It's a play that just stayed with me."
Loud Fridge tried to mount a production in 2020 but decided it was not the right time. But now, they feel, is the perfect time.
"Especially with the conversations that are going on about sexual assault on college campuses here in San Diego," Wells said. "I think that now is the time to really start talking about what consent means and to foster a healthy conversation about sex. And it's a show that really dives into the topic of consent, what that means and how that how the nature of consent can shift from moment to moment."
Amira Temple plays Lucy, a college freshman leaving an ex-boyfriend back home and finding a new partner at UC Berkeley.
"I never leave the stage," Temple explained. "The story is not told in chronological order so we're going from a moment of great desperation and darkness to very lighthearted date, that's just one example of what we're jumping back and forth here in time with. So it's been a really exciting challenge to kind of deal with that and know that there's not ever going to be a break."
The audience will not get a break either as the 80-minute play is performed without intermission.
"I hope that people get caught up in it and sort of fall into this whirlwind of Lucy's experience," Reynolds said. "Because of that identification with her experience (they can) develop empathy for everyone in the show to see a lot of different perspectives."
One of those perspectives comes from Gerard, the Berkeley student played by Marcel Ferrin.
"From my point of view, he's a nice guy," Ferrin said. "I was once 19 and would get into partying and drinking. And that's when your decision making process kind of goes out the window and your young hormonal teenager. Things happen in the play, maybe things that don't go his way, miscommunications, blurred boundaries and he ends up in a pretty bad predicament. But I feel for the character."
Examining the gray zone of consent
"Ripped" doesn’t want to define anything in black and white terms.
"You so rarely get to see a piece of theater that is so nuanced and so comfortable living in the gray area and so comfortable asking questions and not giving the audience an answer," Reynolds said. "Not giving anyone kind of a clear way out, but just forcing you to think about where you stand and what you believe and forcing people to talk about these things."
And consent is a conversation that is too often ignored.
"I think it is a really important conversation to have, especially with young people," Temple added. "So you don't put yourself in a situation where you have been or have assaulted someone and you just didn't really understand the bounds of what that looks like."
In order to tackles these issues Loud Fridge had to address them as a theater company. So they hired Kandace Crystal as an intimacy director.
"She was here every step of the way to make sure that we were putting policies in place so that the actors were safe and protected while they were doing this work and while they were exploring what they needed to artistically to make this story work," Reynolds explained.
Devin Wade plays Lucy’s ex-boyfriend Bradley. Crystal helped him navigate sensitive scenes by thinking of the action as choreography.
"If we can choreograph this much similar to a dance, we're very comfortable with the movements," Wade said. "We know what to expect, when to expect it."
"It makes it so that it's all repeatable actions," Temple added. "So there's no surprises on stage. My scene partners are never going to just pull something out of the bag and tell me afterwards, 'I thought it would be fun' which makes for a very safe environment. I know what lies ahead of me, and I know the bounds in which we can create, given everyone's comfortability."
At this point in time Loud Fridge does not have a permanent home. "Ripped" will be performed at OnStage Playhouse and its next production, Charlayne Woodard’s “Neat,” will be co-produced with Scripps Ranch Theatre in March.
"There are certainly challenges to not having a home base," Reynolds said. "We spend a lot of time trying to figure out where the next show is going to be. But if you're constantly moving spaces, you can't get used to a single space, so you learn to be very inventive in what you're doing."
The company is proving not only inventive but provocative.
"I hope people come with an open mind leave with an even more open mind," Temple said. "Don't judge yourself or us too harshly. It'll definitely leave you with a lot of questions, so be ready for that."
And be ready for anything as Loud Fridge Theater Group makes some noise in its first full season of plays.
“Ripped” runs Jan. 21 through Feb. 5 at OnStage Playhouse (291 Third Ave., Chula Vista). Tickets are available online.
Loud Fridge also has a special offer for community college students. They can attend any Friday performance of "Ripped" for free (a sponsor is covering ticket costs). Details are here.