Move over, Netflix

“Reasons to Be Pretty” with the Playground Theatre

By Joyell Nevins

Millennials, is your idea of theatre that it’s pretentious or over the top? Then it may be time to “Stop Netflixing and come hang out at the Playground.”

That’s one of the taglines for the burgeoning Playground Theatre, co-founded by lovers of theatre and long-standing couple Christopher Hahn and Jenna Burnette. Their show, “Reasons to be Pretty,” will be performed March 24-26 at the Mathile Theatre.

Just as the playground when you were kids was a place to play pretend and a place for self-discovery, their theatre playground is looking to achieve the same effect—but through much edgier means.

“It’s realistic, raw and gritty,” Hahn says.

Hahn and Burnette met in an acting class at Sinclair Community College in 2011. Their passion for theatre developed into a passion for each other. They moved to Chicago a year later together to study theatre at Columbia College and DuPaul University. There, they discovered a different type of theatre scene.

“There were a lot of younger people—young professionals actively engaged in going to see theatre,” Hahn says.

The shows they were seeing were more intimate, edgier and more akin to the 21st century young adult experience.

“We thought, why don’t we take our experiences in Chicago and bring it to Dayton?” Hahn says. “We noticed there was a big gap.”

Burnette continues, “We made the decision that we weren’t searching for fame. We care about making good art.”

But when the couple got back to their native Dayton, it wasn’t all roses and cheerleaders. Many around them were skeptical of their vision.

“We had a lot of negativity,” Hahn says.

Burnette adds, “I don’t think people thought we were serious. We got a lot of that ‘oh, you kids’ attitude.”

But they were—and are—serious.

Last fall, the Playground produced “Really, Really” in the Mathile Theatre. The show broached the topic of college rape, and the sometimes tunnel vision and selfishness millenials can get in pursuing their own goals.

“We really like stories that show the reality or ugly side of human nature,” Hahn says.

By then, much of the skepticism and negativity had been proven wrong.

“It’s been cool watching people come around,” Hahn says.

And more than just theatre experts or their elders are coming. Hahn and Burnette have had several people from younger generations attend their shows who had never been to theatre before.

“Feedback we’ve gotten is like, ‘Man, I didn’t know theatre could be this cool,’” Hahn says.

Comments like that help make all the extra work worth it. Hahn and Burnette both have full-time jobs as a lead web developer and Victoria house manager, respectively, and are acting in the show along with doing all the promotional and administrative side of Playground.

“It gets difficult,” Hahn admits. “When you get through a 50 hour work week and you are completely exhausted and you have to learn lines, it sucks sometimes. But the payoff is totally worth it.”

That’s on top of maintaining their personal relationship—they just celebrated their four-year anniversary March 7.

“I feel like if we can get through this, we can get through anything,” Hahn declares.

“We try to look at each other sometimes and remind ourselves, ‘We love this, we love this,’” Burnette laughs. “It really is our passion.”

The Playground’s upcoming show focuses on society’s obsession with physical appearance, and the communication breakdown between men and women. The Tony-nominated play “Reasons to Be Pretty” centers around two working class couples and how an off-handed remark exposes darker feelings and insecurities.

The play is written by Neil LaBute, who also wrote “The Shape of Things” and “Fat Pig.” LaBute is a resident artist at the Profiles Theatre, where Burnette interned while living in Chicago. Both Hahn and Burnette had the opportunity to see several of his shows while they lived in the Windy City, and were blown away.

“It’s like watching more of a film [then a play],” Burnette says. “It’s less over the top.”

Their artistic talent pulls from University of Dayton and open community auditions. Both Hahn and Burnette acknowledge “really great talent” in the Dayton area. They are both acting in “Reasons” along with Brett Hill and Kaleigh-Brooke Dillingham.

Auditions for next season will be coming soon. The Playground Theatre is also looking for volunteers to help with photography and video production.

Their goal is to establish themselves as “something to do” for their generation and others in the Dayton area and develop a reputation for thought-provoking and enjoyable theatre.

“In 10 to 20 years, we want to be where Human Race is,” Burnette says.

“Reasons to be Pretty” will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 24, 8 p.m. Friday, March 25, and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26 in the Mathile Theatre at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in Dayton. Tickets are $20. For more information or to purchase tickets please visit theplaygroundtheatre.org or call 397.228.3630.

Joyell Nevins believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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