Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Four 20-somethings walk into a bar. They order a million drinks, argue about anything and everything, they black out, and upon waking up, they find that they’ve formed a theater troupe. They go on to produce three wholly original plays that tackle adult themes and challenge their audiences to stop and think about the parts of life we tend to ignore.
This is the story of the 5 to 1 Theatre Company, a roguish band of young theater folk with lofty aspirations.
While the origin story described above may have taken a few creative liberties, it isn’t that far from the truth. In 2014, a group of Oregon State theater students became fast friends, studying the intricacies of the stage by day and the various brews of the town by night.
As time drew on, this bundle of friends realized that their chemistry was just too great to leave alone.
“For most of us, college was coming to an end and we really wanted to keep working together, because we all worked really well together in shows and in our directing class,” explained founding member Ricky Zipp. “We had a lot of ideas about theater that we felt weren’t being done appropriately, or at least not in the way that we wanted to do them, and we came up with the idea to just start a theater company. It seemed really natural.”
Zipp is just one of a few members at the core of this fledgling company. He serves as one of the company’s writers, taking the lead on each of their three big productions with his writing partner, Chris Peterman.
At Zipp’s side are Anna Mahaffey, Bryanna Rainwater, and Tall Sam Thompson. Each share equal standing in the company and they wear a variety of hats when it comes to producing their plays. Acting, managing, writing, directing, general business work. Nothing is out of their reach. Beyond those four are a pool of actors about 10 to 12 strong that they regularly source from for their shows.
5 to 1 Theatre Company started out with Kill the Mic, a drama about a failed stand-up comedian, while most of them were still finishing up their degrees. It found decent success and gave them their first taste of the legitimate theater life. From there, they joined forces with the rejuvenated Majestic Theatre and produced Those Scary Reds, a political satire about the scare of communism, which found even more success than the first show and furthered their status as a major player in the local theater scene.
Their next show, No Direction Home, a drama that observes a small town’s reaction to tragedy, looks to continue the trend of success and important discussion. Even the play coming after this one, which is currently being written, looks to explore the very serious topic of homeless transgender youth and to promote discussion about that.
If there is one thing clear about this group, it’s that they are not aiming to be controversial for controversy’s sake. The company genuinely wants to have people think and feel uncomfortable about things they should be feeling uncomfortable about instead of refusing to face these things.
“What we’re doing as a company: telling hard stories, talking about things that people don’t want to talk about, talking about things that are political—we embrace that as the identity of 5 to 1,” said Zipp. “You’re not gonna come and see some love story. You’re not gonna come and see some stoner comedy. There are places for that and people do that really well, but what we try to create together are things that are a little more cutthroat that make people think.”
To produce work that could even attempt such lofty goals, 5 to 1 Theatre Company relies on the collective mindset. Their creative process is entirely collaborative and evolving, calling for constant edits and work from all involved to tighten and enhance the performance in the lead up to the show’s opening night. Zipp and Peterman write initial drafts for their productions before releasing them into the wild of the company, where it’s torn apart and put back together through a night of drinks, pizza, and heated conversation. What comes out of these “parties” is a production worth working on that continues to evolve up until showtime.
Zipp finds the process to be one of the best parts of the collective they’ve assembled.
“[The process] is why 5 to 1 works in general. Every member of the team, every member of the company, and every member of the production gets some essence of ownership in the story being told, and they can really get behind that,” Zipp said.
Thompson recalled one of those moments of ownership that he experienced with Those Scary Reds.
“That’s the unique thing,” Thompson started, “Ricky and Chris are fine with giving up complete control of the script. It’s a living script. So one day, we were running long and Ricky told us to go out in the hallway and fix it. We cut a couple monologues, came back in, we ran it once, and he said, ‘That’s great.’ He didn’t ask what was cut because it didn’t matter.”
Despite all their success locally, 5 to 1 isn’t long for Corvallis. To expand the business and to further legitimize themselves, 5 to 1 looks to grow bigger and better so that they can help to promote the arts as a viable career choice.
“A big goal of ours is, we want to pay actors,” Zipp said. “We want to create a culture where art isn’t just a charity, it is a viable option for human beings. If there’s some punk kid who has this great idea for a play, but doesn’t pursue it because it won’t make money, we don’t think that should be an option.”
In five years’ time, the company may uproot and find a new home, but with names like Portland and Ashland tossed around as viable locations for a thriving theater company, 5 to 1 may stay within throwing distance of our humble town. And even if they leave, we can always claim to be the company’s birthplace and reap the benefits if they make it big.
Jim Morrison got it right with The Doors song that inspired the company’s name, 5 to 1.
“The old get old and the young get stronger. May take a week, and it may take longer. They got the guns, but we got the numbers. Gonna win yeah, we’re takin’ over.”
This young theater company is fighting against the odds, taking theater by storm, and their infectious dedication to their craft bodes well that this collective will be kickin’ a*s and takin’ names for years to come.
Next Production Opens Now
No Direction Home follows a small town’s turmoil when faced with the murder of a beloved local pastor. A mother and father struggle to understand their daughter’s life choices. A widow stands confused against loss of life.
Generally, the characters are sad and conflicted and that makes audiences sad and conflicted. And that’s what 5 to 1 Theatre wants. They want audiences to think about the complicated and darker parts of life instead of avoiding them, as many of the characters in the play try to do.
“Some people will like it and some people will hate it, and that’s okay,” said Bryanna Rainwater, a member of the 5 to 1 Theatre Company. “The people who hate it will talk about why, and that’s what we want,” added Zipp, co-writer and director of the play.
Cathartic experiences abound! Discussions about life, death, and struggles with faith! 5 to 1 Theatre Company will set you up to have thrilling (or awkward) dinner conversations afterward, and what more could you possibly ask for?
Performances are on Nov. 5, 6, 7, 13, and 14 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. at the Majestic. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for members, students, and seniors. For more info, visit www.majestic.org.
By Nathan Hermanson