Reflections on APL’s World Premiere Tour of Crime + Punishment
by Artistic Associate Tyler J. Polumsky


“I went back to Ohio… But my city was gone…”


Entrance to The Balch Street Theatre, home of New World Performance Laboratory (Akron OH) | Photo: Joseph Lavy

Entrance to The Balch Street Theatre, home of New World Performance Laboratory (Akron OH) | Photo: Joseph Lavy

Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders sang that way back in October 1982, on a B side, in lament for her hometown – Akron – and the changes that had turned the serene beauty of her childhood home into something unrecognizable.

Three and a half decades on, I also went [back] to Ohio, but my city was not gone. I went [back] to Ohio, but my family was not gone. No, no. My city was found, my family was there with me, and it just kept growing. For me, nothing was unrecognizable. It was, in fact, as if it was just waiting to be discovered.

There in Akron, you see, just west of downtown, is a little place on Balch Street.* Maybe a little run down. Maybe a little dusty. More than perfect for a theatre company to have as its own home.

A home is a vital thing for making our art. Not to be scoffed at. And this home is far more than most companies I know have.

“Ay… oh… way to go…”

Tyler Polumsky as Raskolnikov in the world premiere of Crime + Punishment | Balch Street Theatre, Akron OH | Photo: Margaretta Campagna

Enter New World Performance Lab.

NWPL is the kind of company you would expect to find in Europe. They are a well-established company. They have been cultivating and culturing their own audience for 25 years. Most of the core ensemble members have been working together for decades. They have their own space. They make art. They do not seem to care much for many of the fancy follies that theatre companies in big metros break themselves on. They have their own terms and direction, and it is Art. They are an intellectual and spiritual pillar of a community. Ten minutes with any of them is enough to make that clear.

Imagine designers who can take a pile of urban waste and turn it into minimalist stagecraft confection. Imagine a board op who prefers to run the light board manually because “The operator needs to be following and working with the actors, live, as a partner, on any given night.” Imagine actors who will let themselves be eaten alive by mosquitos before they will stop their training. The kind of folks who would jump on an actual boat with a pocket full of change, third class, en route to Europe, with dreams of working with Jerzy Grotowski unannounced — not only doing it but going on to become among his closest collaborators.

Imagine leaders who throw the doors open for you so you can premiere your show, who share their wine and guest rooms at home when it’s time to rest, and who put coffee on the next morning so you can get back to it.

 “Ay, oh, way to go…”

So here, naturally, we from Akropolis Performance Lab, tired and road weary, jolly as ever, in this old community hall, in a beautiful and versatile space, surrounded by some excellent brothers and sisters in art, dug right in and premiered our adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Crime + Punishment to an audience hungry for theatre built on sweat, blood, and dynamic creativity rather than popped out of a can.

Tyler J. Polumksy as Raskolnikov | Crime + Punishment (92017-18) | Balch Street Theatre, Akron OH | Photo: Margaretta Campagna

Tyler J. Polumksy as Raskolnikov in the world premiere of Crime + Punishment | Balch Street Theatre, Akron OH | Photo: Margaretta Campagna

in the world premiere of Crime + Punishment

in the world premiere of Crime + Punishment

It went well. How could it have gone otherwise, really, in such an inspired place, among inspired people?

APL and NWPL felt to me like long-lost siblings. This surprised me even though I knew APL’s co-founders were founding members of NWPL before moving to Seattle. The reunion of such things is profound, marked by joy and a mutual curiosity peppered with excitement.

We know ourselves by knowing each other, it seems.

And when you have an audience that has been cultivated, educated, and prepped for all of your experiments — an open audience, hungry for the resonating thought and questions your work will provoke — well, that is when theatre is really ready to happen.

And it did.

“…All my favorite places…”

Shortly before we went, a friend joked to me that going to Ohio to tour a show would be like going to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where I had spent 10 years with the Ilkholm Theatre. I understood the dig: it’s not New York. Very clever.

“…My city had been pulled down… reduced to parking spaces…”

The thing is, he was right. He just wasn’t right in the way he intended.

“…I was stunned and amazed…”

What I found [back] in Ohio — what I have found in my artistic home with APL and recognized as equally potent in NWPL — is a little thing called inspiration (a little, ilkhom, if you are up on your Uzbek). The main ingredient for true Art. Actual artists who are busy being humans … not people just busy trying to be “Artists.” A space that is begging for a life and roaring back in unexpected places. A theatre that functions as a human institution rather than merely a civic or historical one.

So, yeah — a little like going [back] to Tashkent.

And why shouldn’t a place like this be found in America’s heartland? All roads lead to Ohio. Check a map. Follow any national election. Read the history. Ohio is at the center — “The Heart of It All!” as the state slogan goes.

What a setting! Deep in the heart of the American Beast, at a historically dire and dark time, APL was making some bone-biting theatre. Right there in Ohio.

I went back to Ohio, and my city was right there.

I went back to Ohio, and my family was right there with me, and growing.

And I’ll go back to Ohio, my pretty countryside.

“Ay… Oh… Way to go… OHIO”

* Built in 1929 as Akron’s Jewish Center, this once thriving building was essentially deserted by 1985. Over the next 25 years it changed hands several times but amid the recession and other complications became more and more run down until, in 2011, Akron Beacon Journal columnist Bob Dyer published an article calling it a “wreck.” Shortly thereafter, the City of Akron forged an agreement with New World Performance Lab and the Center for Applied Theatre & Active Culture to take over the theatre portion of the building. Since then, NWPL/CATAC have been cleaning up and caring for the space, pursuing strategic repairs, and fostering a new, vibrant community of artists and audiences.
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Call for Submissions: New Plays

(L-R) Playwright Stacy Flood takes notes on the discussion about his new play, The Pleasure & Sorrow of Your Company, as fellow playwrights Olivia Pi-Sunyer and Ina Chang listen. | Photo: Zhenya Lavy

(L-R) Stacy Flood and fellow playwrights Olivia Pi-Sunyer and Ina Chang absorbing the group discussion of Flood’s “The Pleasure & Sorrow of Your Company.” | January 2015 Sunday Salon | Photo: Zhenya Lavy

APL invites submissions of new plays for a developmental reading at our New Year New Play Sunday Salon in February.

This call is for new plays that have not yet had a developmental reading. While we are most interested in a full-length piece, we are open to other synergies and ask current or former PNW playwrights (emerging or established) to submit their long- or short-form plays for consideration.

The play(s) will be read by local actors at our February 11 Sunday Salon, and the reading will be followed by lively, lightly moderated discussion among the artists and intellectuals attending. There will not be a rehearsal, but APL’s artistic directors will provide guidance to the actors for their preparation, as needed. We also will confer with the playwright both before and after the reading, provide limited dramaturgical assistance, and offer the playwright the opportunity to frame questions for the discussion.

This Salon will be an invited event focused on bringing an optimal mix of people into the space to focus on your play. Although we cannot offer a stipend or travel funds, we promise a rich and productive experience for the playwright. And, as with all APL Salons, the gathering includes great community, food, and drinks.

DEADLINE TO SUBMIT: Sunday, December 10, 2017.

NOTIFICATIONS: January 14, 2018. Please note that our selection committee  provides feedback to all playwrights about their submissions. We view this as a service to fellow artists in the future evolution of their work, regardless of whether it has been selected for our Salon. If you prefer not to receive any feedback from our selection committee, please indicate this on your cover sheet.


  • Send PDF or DOC files to ensemble@akropolisperformancelab.com, and write “Submission: [Title]” in the subject line.
  • Along with the complete script, submit a cover sheet with your full contact information, short bio, brief synopsis of script, development history (as applicable), character breakdown, a brief statement of your hopes for how this reading might help further the play’s development, and indication of your feedback preference.
  • NO FEE.


FANGS by Jim Moran | January 2014 Sunday Salon | Photo: Zhenya Lavy

FANGS by Jim Moran | Inaugural New Year New Play Salon | January 2014 | Photo: Zhenya Lavy



20 Principles for APL Design (2017)



Visual design is a critical factor in the composition of every Akropolis Performance Lab piece. We are very deliberate in the selection of each element brought in to enhance both the work of the actors and the experience of the spectators, with particular attention not only to cohesion within the production itself, but consistency to the aesthetic principles we’ve developed over nearly 20 years and which form a foundational, minimalist through-line for our entire body of work.

The Glas Nocturne at CATAC Balch Street Theatre Akron OH (Photo: Annie Paladino, 2015)

For the last 10 years or so – in addition to directing – I have acted as scenographer for our productions, in collaboration with our Artistic Associates; determining the scenic, lighting, and costume designs. This throws off some people, who question why no designers are credited, and who wonder if that means we just pull these things together with less emphasis than we place on the acting and dramaturgy. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Every detail of an APL production is a carefully considered aspect of the dramaturgy, approached with equal importance.

This year, we are bringing in designers once again for 730 Steps, prompting me to put into writing those guiding aesthetic principles, so they can be shared and understood by our new partners. And while they are specifically geared toward design in this form, these are the same fundamental principles which guide all aspects of our creative work.

Ecce Faustus at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Ballard WA (Photo: Mark Zufelt 2016)

20 Principles for APL Design

  1. Use as little as possible, but of the best quality possible
    •  based on money, availability, & time
  2. The space is always what it is. The design happens within and in relationship to the-space-itself
  3. Exploit the difficulties and flaws, don’t try to hide them
  4. Don’t provide the spectator with answers. Give them just enough to recognize the questions and draw their own conclusions
  5. Use Real Objects, unless unobtainable
    • Fabricated Objects should be made with the highest degree of craftsmanship and “real world” permanence
    • Theatrical Facsimiles are not acceptable
  6. Everything on stage should be practical. Question anything that is purely decorative
    • Everything should be able to serve multiple functions
      • As it is
      • As it could be
      • As it has never been before
  7. No electronic or recorded sound effects. All sound created by the performers
  8. No Technical Special Effects (fog, strobe, video projection, etc). Whenever possible “stage magic” should be created by the actor or the architecture

    The Glas Nocturne at APL Downstairs Studio, Lake Forest Park WA (Photo: Joe Patrick Kane 2015)

  9. Shadow is at least as valuable as Light
  10. Before using gobos or other effects, determine whether the same result can be produced by an actor or the architecture interacting with the light
    • If not, What is the intent?
    • is it indispensable?
  11. Use unusual angles
  12. Use color sparingly, to maximum effect
  13. Use everything sparingly, to maximum effect
  14. Costumes should never dictate what an actor cannot do
  15. Actor insight is crucial regarding costumes
  16. Light, set, and costumes should stimulate the spectator to develop an understanding of people, place, and atmosphere
  17. Light, set, and costumes should stimulate the actors toward always greater awareness and precision
  18. Light, set, and costumes should provoke the actor, not solve their problems for them
  19. No principle is inviolate
  20. Once conceived, question everything

Seneca’s Oedipus at WSFGC Garden House, Seattle WA (Photo Julia Salamonik 2006)


Theatre Journal publishes Glas Nocturne Review

Theatre Journal TGN ScreenshotWe are so proud to share this performance review of The Glas Nocturne, which is published in the current issue (68.1) of Theatre Journal!

Thank you to Jeanmarie Higgins and ‪#‎theatrejournal‬ for venturing out to our corner of the country and giving APL’s work critical consideration as part of the international theatre conversation.

From the author: “What started as a quick trip to Seattle to see some friends and some theatre turned into a Theatre Journal performance review of Joseph and Zhenya Lavy’s The Glas Nocturne. I love writing about Akropolis Performance Lab; the work is always virtuosic, irrefutable, and strangely joyful.”


An Actor’s Early Thoughts on Ecce Faustus

"But you others, what do I see? You are all sitting there with lusting eyes: you free souls, where is your freedom gone?" | Tyler Polumsky as The Bad Angel | Ecce Faustus (2016) | Photo: Mark Jared Zufelt, Aether Images

“You are all sitting there with lusting eyes: you free souls, where is your freedom gone?” | Tyler Polumsky as The Bad Angel | Ecce Faustus (2016) | Photo: Mark Jared Zufelt, Aether Images

This message was written to Joseph and Zhenya early in the rehearsal process for Ecce Faustus. As APL prepares to remount the piece for video and a special one-night-only showing for audience, it seemed like a good opportunity to share these thoughts.

I am a bit sleepless. Working on text, and stepping through sequences in my mind.

So, I am writing to tell you how genuinely enamored I am with our work.

Ecce Faustus cuts deep. It is a complicated text; based on tried and true classical literature, neither profane nor vulgar in content–though the message is one that strikes straight to the bone of the profanity and vulgarity of the human condition in our time (perhaps throughout all of time).

Sitting and listening/reading the text, observing the shapes of the action, I begin to see what amount of devastating efficacy we can bring to this story.

I know we have a long way to go before these themes begin to sound out and resonate with the intended genuine depth, but I have no doubts that this group of artists will get there.

As I lay my head to sleep, I am grateful for the opportunity to endeavor with you all on something of this calibre and in which I can find a great worldly meaning and value. Faust is a story to be told, again and again, now more than ever.

Indeed we are all Faust: selfish, self absorbed, and self centered. It would almost be a cruel joke were it not disappointingly true….

I have always believed the theatre to be a spiritual endeavor first and foremost. I am glad to not be alone in this and overjoyed at an opportunity to convey a deeply meaningful story to anyone that would hear it–and with a group of artists who are not afraid to delve so deeply for the sake of spiritual wealth.

Thank you,

1-night only! See Ecce Faustus April 4

The Invocation of Mephistopheles | Ecce Faustus (2016) | Photo: Mark Jared Zufelt, Aether Images

The Invocation of Mephistopheles | Ecce Faustus (2016) | Photo: Mark Jared Zufelt, Aether Images

Dear Friends,

If you missed the February premiere of Ecce Faustus or just want to see it again, you are in luck: We are remounting it to shoot video and are inviting friends to enjoy a free showing — one night only — on April 4. That’s next Monday, and this is short notice, but we hope you can join us!

Seating is capped at 50 and first-come, first-served, so  reserve yours here now!

While this event is free to attend, there are expenses associated with this remount that we would appreciate your support in helping cover. Please consider making a donation to APL as you are able.

~ The APL Ensemble

Ken Griffey Jr & the Aesthetics of Function

Ken Griffey Jr - August 27, 2008

Ken Griffey Jr – August 27, 2008

The Kid.

Baseball legend. Seattle’s defining superstar. Generational talent. All of these terms are routinely used to describe Ken Griffey Jr, one of the greatest sports players of the ’90s. For baseball aficionados, watching Griffey play baseball is akin to listening to Montserrat Caballé sing Ave Maria. But why is this so? And more importantly, why should theatre artists care?

Sure, there were the layout game-saving catches. The singles he turned into triples with speed, guile, and vision. The bullet-like, perfectly timed throws from across the field. More than all this, though, it was the swing.

In an era drunk on steroids and raw power, of McGwire and Sosa hitting 60, Griffey was right there, keeping pace alongside them. The fluidity of that bat’s passing through the strike zone could just as easily turn a low and outside two-seamer into a home run as turn a high change-up into a line-drive single. Griffey had a swing that Bobby Valentine (one of the most infamously irascible coaches in history) famously called “perfect” (Stone). Jay Buhner, his teammate with the Mariners, said Griffey would “…call his shots all the friggin’ time. We’d all shake our heads” (Stone).

That swing was magic, more than just effective; it was beautiful.

Kant argues that our judgment of beauty emerging from an object of perception – or in this case an action “ . . . arises on the achievement of a purpose, or at least the recognition of a purposiveness” (Burnham). For Kant, purpose “is the concept according to which it was made” (Burnham). Purposiveness however has an “intrinsic purpose” whereby “a thing embodies its own purpose” (Burnham). There is a particular and mischievous delight in thinking that because the “universality and necessity” of artistic judgments “are in fact a product of features of the human mind” (Burnham), we could just as easily apply our idea of beauty to actions as something like Kant’s sunset or a painting by J.M.W. Turner.

Griffey’s swing didn’t dazzle Bobby Valentine because it was so effective. In fact, I’m sure it would have been the opposite when he coached for the Rangers. Griffey’s swing stood out since there is “pleasure in something because we judge it beautiful, rather than judging it beautiful because we find it pleasurable” (Burnham).

The act of hitting a baseball is a functional movement. It serves a very real world purpose. While this feat can be described as impressive on its own, there are all sorts of examples of other people (Nelson Cruz) hitting balls very far without the action’s being particularly beautiful. So why is Griffey’s swing so beautiful? Bobby Valentine again: “Once you start your swing, people talk about transferring your weight. I always thought his transfer was impeccable, the way he was able to stride, and have a good stride, and yet stop his weight as he was going forward so he could transfer all that weight to his front foot, get off his back foot, and stay balanced as he translated all that energy to the bat” (Stone). All of this boils down to being able to do something extremely well with style, a little bit of “extra” that adds something not essential, yet not extraneous to the basic action. “Griffey got into the box, and it almost looked like he was dancing” (Stone).

I remember going to see Pina Bausch’s final piece of choreography at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010 entitled “ . . . como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si …” and being dazzled by the dancers’ simply walking around the stage. It was just walking. There wasn’t even a particular aberration of the movement, but it mutated from sensual to unnerving in an instant, yet never deviated from the essential action of needing to carry each individual dancer’s body across the stage. Bausch’s dancers floated with, like Griffey’s swing, “ . . . this dance of balance that performers reveal in fundamental principles common to all scenic forms” (Barba). The shift of balance is not done simply for itself. It is a functional movement—a functional movement that is nevertheless enacted with a certain style and specificity, a little something extra that transforms it from basic action into beautiful action.

Theatre is constantly faced with a tension between establishing something real, while simultaneously establishing something beautiful. In day-to-day existence, people strive to “ . . . follow the principle of minimum effort, that is, obtaining a maximum result with a minimum expenditure of energy” (Barba). In performance, the performer is faced with the particular problem of making actions “ . . . which do not respect the habitual conditionings of the use of the body” (Barba). The audience wants to see something real, as in action that accomplishes something verifiable, and yet is also something that has a little flair. Flair that isn’t added on or layered but that is central to the action. There is a subtle shift of focus by the actor not only from the effective and skilled execution of the action but towards something greater.

Whatever that greater thing is can be left open, maybe even unknown explicitly to person performing the action. Étienne Decroux, the father of corporeal mime, is described as having a “ . . . lion inside him and his technique kept it at bay” (Barba). When we see truly incredible performance on the scale of Griffey’s willfully distributing balls about the field, or Bausch’s dancers gliding across a stage, we see not just the action itself, but what they are pointing towards: the lion in the quote about Decroux.

Such mastery over technique hints at a different aesthetic experience that is called by Kant the Sublime, which “names experiences like violent storms or huge buildings which seem to overwhelm us; that is, we feel we ‘cannot get our head around them’ ” (Burnham). People find these actions awe-inspiring because they relate beyond the actions themselves towards a rational idea that is absolute in some way: “Extra-daily techniques . . . lead to information” (Barba). True expression of genius can be called “beautiful, but in addition is an expression of the state of mind which is generated by an aesthetic idea” (Burnham). Information that gets communicated from functional movement at the scale of Griffey seems to relate less to a quotidian idea and more towards something that has a capital letter in front of it.

For years that bat gliding through the strike zone enraptured millions. But it wasn’t just how good Griffey was at swinging that bat; it was the way that he was good at it that made it so special. The real trick is to be able to do that on stage when the performer only has to pick up a teacup.

Trevor Young Marston was an Akropolis Performance Lab Artistic Associate from 2014 to 2016, appearing in Pomegranate & Ash.

Works Cited

Barba, Eugenio. The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology. Trans. Richard Fowler. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Burnham, Douglas. “Immanuel Kant: Aesthetics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2016.

Stone, Larry. “For Hall of Fame-bound Ken Griffey Jr., it all started with the swing.” 5.1.2016. Seattle Times.

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885 / published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Plates. The plates printed by the Photo-Gravure Company. Philadelphia, 1887 / USC Digital Library, 2010.

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885 / published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Plates. The plates printed by the Photo-Gravure Company. Philadelphia, 1887 / USC Digital Library, 2010.

Je Suis le Fils de Quelqu’un

Je Suis le Fils de Quelqu’un:
A reflection on touring The Glas Nocturne to Akron OH, November 2015

By Joseph Lavy

“You have the song. You must ask yourself where this song began.” ~J. Grotowski


I can’t seem to write the post I want to write.

I want to write a long meditation on heritage and homecomings;
about artistic fathers and family re-membered
over coffee and broken bread;
how the past and the present converged
over wine and rillettes
and how a bottle of aquavit can almost reach the Hour of the Wolf.

I want to write a treatise about the fallacy of linear time

and a Thanksgiving hymn of gratitude
to my colleagues for their faith, talents, and work,
to our hosts for their hospitality,
for artistic homes;

a cry of deep joy
sprung from meeting the challenges of
transforming our performance from one sort of
intimacy to another,
without loss or sacrifice;

a profound parable
of returning and laying it all on the line
before those people–visible and invisible–
who matter the most
and who prove that you are not a vagabond
but that you come from some country,
some landscape
which is still there
and which is you
near or far.

“The Story of the Girl,” segment from Akropolis Performance Lab’s The Glas Nocturne,  Saturday, November 21, 2015, at The Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture/New World Performance Lab in Akron OH.  L-R: Joseph Lavy,  Emily Jo Testa, Catherine Lavy, Annie Paladino, and Zhenya Lavy.

Tommer Peterson’s play selected for Jan Salon

Playwright Tommer Peterson

Playwright Tommer Peterson

The New Year New Play Salon, held annually since 2014, features the work of a Pacific Northwest playwright and/or Pacific Northwest themes. A team of four evaluated all the submissions for 2016, and we are delighted to announce that out of a very competitive pool of applicants, the play selected to be read at our January 17 New Year New Play Salon is Tommer Peterson’s No One on Board Took Notice.

Perhaps best known for his work as a designer, Peterson also has authored or co-authored several plays, including Va-Va-Va-Voom and (with KJ Sanchez) two documentary plays: Night at the Opera (2012) and Duck Soup (2011).

No One on Board Took Notice starts from a simple yet infinitely complex premise: What we see is largely determined by where we stand…. or perhaps even more by where we choose to gaze and what we choose to remember.

Learn more about Peterson and this exciting new play.

APL Offers Voice Workshop in Ohio

Co-Artistic Director Zhenya Lavy will lead a voice workshop — The Awakened Voice: Vocal Empowerment Through Song — in Akron OH on November 22. In this dynamic, vocal workout, which is hosted by Wandering Aesthetics, Zhenya will share tools and techniques she’s developed through 25 years of practical research to

  • awaken your complete instrument
  • expand your expressive capacity
  • build mindful, engaged, precise strategy for approaching song in the context of theatrical performance that is deeply musical but not musical theatre

Please help us get the word out to everyone interested in taking their vocal expressivity to the next level! We hope to see many of our Ohio friends there! Links of interest:

Click here for complete information, including the online registration form.


*** Reminder: This workshop is scheduled in coordination with Akropolis Performance Lab’s Ohio performances of The Glas Nocturne, Nov 20 (8pm) & Nov 21 (2pm & 8pm), which are presented by Akron’s Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture/New World Performance Lab. Click here to reserve tickets for the performance! ***