‘Sincerity Project’ begins 24 years of theater vérité

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“Are you guys really wrestling, or are you just making the sounds of really wrestling?”

Director Alex Torra, stopped rehearsal in the Fringe Arts Building in Philadelphia to check on two actors who seem to be hurting each other. Mark McCloughan and Makoto Hirano were locked in wrestling holds during what was supposed to be a less-intense, three-quarter energy practice.

“I was not at three-quarter energy,” said McCloughan, panting.

Team Sunshine Performance Corporation is experimenting with honesty, being as physically and emotionally real as possible onstage. “The Sincerity Project,” a series of improvised monologues, physical actions, and narrative pieces, express the current state of the performer and the ensemble, at that moment.

Torra, who trained in the devised-theater techniques of Pig Iron Theater, says it’s a reaction to how theater is normally made.

“You have this fake fiction. The artist is trying to figure out how to put something real inside that fake thing. That makes me crazy,” said Torra.

“Can we just skip to the real stuff? Can we jump to the things that are actually happening? Can we make things happen onstage that feel very real, without having to serve a construction or a fiction?”

Team Sunshine work-shopped the Sincerity Project for a year, developing onstage activities that satisfy its need to be both honest and satisfying to an audience. While the show is of themselves, it is not for themselves.

“The Sincerity Project” will be performed eight times from Wednesday through Dec. 13, but that is just the beginning. Every two years, the seven-member cast intends to reunite and run through those same stage activities, for the next 24 years.

The lives of the seven cast members, now in their 20s and 30s, will undoubtedly change. From careers and families, success and heartache, their bodies and their perspectives will bend to time. (There is and will be onstage nudity.) The 13 iterations of The Sincerity Project will change according to the lives of the performers. If anyone should drop out for whatever reason, he or she will not be replaced; the ensemble will work around the hole in the group.

It’s a profound commitment to a group and to a process, in an industry where performers normally spend just six to 10 weeks on any particular project.

“It probably comes from the desire of being a not-so-young person starting to search for stability, something to hold onto as life shifts us around,” said Torra, 35. “There’s something magical in making something predictable.”

Torra was influenced by the “Up Series,” a documentary film project begun in 1964 following the lives of a group of British children, who were 7 when filming began, every seven years. The latest iteration of that project, “56 Up,” was released in 2012.

“It seemed like a movie thing – a documentary thing – but not something we would do in the theater,” said Torra. “Every time we make a show it just goes away. It’s temporary. So we’re making the show for 24 years.”

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