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Thinking outside the black box: Binary Theatre's nontraditional performance space brings new possibilities

Anya Hernandez and Evan Carson, the new leadership team of Binary Theater, pose for a photo on Sept. 20, 2016.

Anya Hernandez and Evan Carson, the new leadership team of Binary Theater, pose for a photo on Sept. 20, 2016.

It's a rather unassuming office building, right behind the Galvin Playhouse. 

Tucked away between an art gallery and a sandwich shop called Sack's is the home of Binary Theatre Company, a student-run performing arts organization that puts on brand-new plays every semester. The empty office space, with a kitchenette off to one side and three small rooms around a central open area, each with a door, makes you wonder: How could anyone perform a play in this unadorned room?

ASU gave Binary Theatre Company this office space, the "TCE," to work with, and said Anya Hernandez, Binary president and theatre senior, it's a wonderful challenge. 

"The scenic and lighting designs that have come out of this space are just incredible," she said. "It almost does a better job of creating an immersive space for the audience because it's not a traditional theater." 

Vice President of Operations Evan Carson also spoke highly of his experience of working in the new space.

"The students have really risen to the challenge and have shined with flying colors," he said. "Anyone who walks out of doing a show in this space leaves feeling more confident in their ability to adapt."

Carson noted that this year, they've seen an influx of freshmen and non-theater majors expressing interest in getting involved, which is exactly what they're looking for. 

"We want to have a sense of accessibility and have a place for students to make their own work," he said. "If someone is interested in making theater and they feel apprehensive — come and create with us. Come and grow as an artist and as a person."

Just as this performance space is new for Binary, so is the leadership team of Hernandez and Carson. Both have been performing with Binary since they were freshmen, and now as seniors, it's their turn to take the wheel.

Hernandez said she wants to reimagine Binary as "a safe place for artists to risk."

"We want to streamline the training process and give apprentices more opportunities to put on shows in a safe environment", Hernandez said of their new vision for Binary. "In the past, Binary has been a presenting house. This semester, we've begun to put effort into engaging the community, not just within the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre, but also reaching out to people with no theater experience, who just want to come create with us, and we're focusing on engaging the community of Tempe as a whole."

Binary's current season consists of two new plays: "The Mountain," which runs from Oct. 6 to 9, and "Wild Rumpus," which runs from Nov. 17 to 20. Their season will be housed entirely in this new nontraditional space.

"The Mountain" follows a young girl who leaves home to climb a mountain she's admired since she was a child. 

"I view the mountain as metaphorical; it's about discovering what you want to do with your life," said AndrĂ© Johnson, who wrote and directed the play.

He and his team have all risen to the challenge of the TCE space, utilizing light cues, having chorus members play different parts, and even incorporating moving platforms to create an immersive narrative that spans from the young heroine's small village to the peak of the mountain she is determined to conquer.

This season will prove to be a journey of self discovery on many fronts. Binary's new leadership team and their new commitment to engaging the community fits perfectly with family-oriented shows like "The Mountain."

"The Mountain" runs from Oct. 6 to 9. All performances are in the TCE space, located at 951 S Mill Ave., right next to Sack's. For more information, visit the show's event page.

Reach the reporter at or follow him on Twitter @ben_vining.

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