Ixion Ensemble explores conflict in new works showcase


Lansing locals might know Rose Jangmi Cooper as the woman who sings on her motorcycle or as a member of the spoken-word and gospel music group Voices of the Revolution. But singing isn’t her only artistic passion. Seven years ago, Ixion Ensemble Theatre founder and artistic director Jeff Croff invited her to participate in the small, experimental theater troupe, where she quickly learned the ins and outs of acting and stagecraft before moving into directorial roles.

This month, Cooper directs Ixion’s new works showcase “Let’s Fight,” a series of short plays focused on conflict. This collaborative show is designed to bring bolder, underrepresented voices to Lansing’s theater community.

“What keeps me coming back is what’s at the heart of Ixion: We want to tell stories that don’t normally get heard,” Cooper said.

In addition to the unique voices showcased in the scripts, Cooper noted that her direction adds an important point of view to the show.

“I’m a Black female director,” she said. “There are a couple of us in town, but you don’t see a lot of our stories. When there are Black actors and directors, it’s usually a trauma story or a random Black person playing a best friend. We are not just trauma stories.”

Although the theme of the show is conflict, Cooper said it’s filled with laugh-out-loud moments and intensely relatable characters.

“You’ll sit back and think, ‘Oh yeah, that looks like me.’ Some shows will have trigger warnings because they push that envelope, but there will be raucous laughter, too. It’s a good mix of actors and storylines,” she said.

The 60-something-year-old has played her fair share of tough characters and wanted to do something lighter for this series of one-acts.

“This is just about having fun and enjoying the theater again, what actors can bring to the stage, and what our crew has added,” she said.

The show’s fight choreographer, Rich Kopitsch, minored in acting at Lansing Community College while earning a degree in fire science. He participates in theater in the evenings while working full-time as a firefighter/EMT. He described the crossover between his two worlds as “a special kind of crazy.”

“Being a firefighter, you have to give the person your best and have a good bedside manner. Even if you might be having a tough day, it’s their worst day. I’m glad I can combine both of my passions in a way that’s beneficial,” he said.

As a choreographer, Kopitsch said he’s been “incredibly lucky” with the cast of “Let’s Fight.”

“Things always pop up in local theater. I come in with a rough draft, knowing full well it’s going to change. But working with the actors has been incredible,” he said. “Ann Carlson has a background in martial arts, and Quinn Kelly is physically funny and bold. He’s a longtime wrestling fan, and he’s brought new ideas that I never would’ve thought of. There’s one move in particular that’s amazing.”

One of the nine short plays is titled “Kortal Mombat,” written by playwright and Riverwalk Theatre custodian Adam Carlson. It’s based on “Mortal Kombat,” a fighting video game series in which characters battle to the death.

“One guy has become an avatar for the video game, and another character is able to control him. While this is going on, the video game player is having a hard time getting the controller to work,” Carlson explained.

He said his plays “tend to be silly and dark,” which sets “Kortal Mombat” apart from some of the other scripts in the show.

“The other ones are much more lighthearted, and conflicts are resolved, but mine has a serious fight and ends in tragedy,” he said.

Carlson worked with Cooper to rewrite parts of the script for the production.

“Originally, there was a cord coming out of a character’s pants, but they were worried about how that was going to work,” he said. As far as the actual fighting, he said he “left the stage directions vague on purpose so they can adapt it to whatever actors and abilities they have.”

This is Carlson’s third play to be produced by Ixion. He credits the troupe’s pandemic writing group, Ixion’s Wheel, with helping him to polish his scripts and apply for production opportunities.

This year, Ixion joined forces with Sycamore Creek Church’s Eastwood campus to produce its shows at the church’s Stage One Performing Arts Center. Cooper noted that “moving to Stage One is like going to the penthouse for us.”

“We’re a small company. Other places might have more infrastructure, like larger sets or a bigger venue. Last year, we staged our shows at the Lansing Mall, and we were at the Robin Theatre in 2017. We’re kind of nomadic, and we’ve been trying to find a place that would fit us,” she said.

In describing the value that Ixion brings to the local community, Carlson said, “Riverwalk tends to do more classic shows that you’ve heard about before. They have a black box where they have more experimental shows, but they do the big family musicals, too. Peppermint Creek always does the newest thing. Ixion does more experimental and newer shows. They’re more likely to do a play that’s never been produced before or something that’s been written by a local playwright. Almost every year, they do this collection of plays on a theme. No other local theater is doing that.”


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