Rogue preview: Animal Crossing meets summer camp with a twist in Aurelia Grierson’s ‘Cabin 12’
By Juana Lozano
Aurelia Grierson’s show “Cabin 12” at this year’s virtual Rogue Festival (7 p.m. Friday, March 12) had to make the transition from live to virtual. Grierson found a distinctive way to do it: This show about summer camp is set in the universe of the popular Animal Crossing video game.
Then again, Grierson is no stranger to challenges as a theater artist.
The fringe-festival stalwart (who uses the pronouns they/their/them) fell in love with theater and started acting in elementary school in Ashland, Oregon. At 18, Grierson wanted to be a “musical theater girl.” They went to New York after high school to pursue theater dreams.
However, New York turned out to be harder than expected.
“I think part of it is that I didn’t really know who I was,” Grierson says. “When I was in New York, the biggest challenge was not knowing myself and having expectations about how much of a breeze it was going to be, when it really wasn’t. It was so much harder than I thought it was going to be, for many different reasons. But without that base of self knowledge, I think it was harder.”
Grierson got the opportunity to study abroad in Ireland — and fell in love with the country and the school they attended. Grierson talks about how it was a very challenging experience, but it was the most beneficial thing possible. The training in Ireland was more holistic and expansive than in New York. Grierson wouldn’t have pursued directing, acting, and writing without the training in Ireland.
Grierson learned how to communicate ideas in a way that felt more active and connected to who they wanted to be as a theater artist, and not just an actor.
Returning home, Grierson and some of her friends founded Juvenilia Collective. The company primarily produces works of theater, podcasts and multimedia projects that focus on queer/femme/BIPOC coming-of-age stories. Juvenilia Collective aims to reconnect adult audiences within their inner child. The company performs adaptations and original works.
Grierson adapted “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” by Judy Bloom for the 2018 Oregon Fringe Festival. It was the first full-length work that Grierson ever directed. In their adaptation, Grierson decided to make the male character gay, and come out to a girl in that moment.
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Grierson wants to focus on making theater that is more diverse than just stories of average straight white boys coming of age. Everyone grows up. Everyone has a coming of age. Grierson wants to branch out and diversify those narratives.
“Our target audience is in our mission statement. We’re looking for people who are adults, who are trying to reconnect with their inner child. I know that for me, when I was in college, it really felt like theater that was about and for younger women, and nonbinary and queer people, felt really lacking.”
Grierson created “Cabin 12” with a small group of actors. Grierson wanted to write a play about personal experiences at Girl Scout camp. The creative process started out with Grierson taking the time to talk about summer camp, puberty and improvising camp skits with a group of actors. The stories were built from characters the actors essentially improvised. Grierson wrote it and became a full audience interactive show at the Oregon Fringe Festival in 2019.
A lot changed from taking that show from a live performance to being in a digital platform in Animal Crossing.
Grierson had to sit down with the script and figure out how to present the show. Even though it is a pre-recorded performance, Grierson thinks the most surprising thing is how real — and alive — it feels to watch.
The fringe festival world means a lot to Grierson.
“I fell out of love with commercial theater when I was living in New York,” Grierson said. “There was a disenchantment with that. But I think fringe gives the platform to artists who you wouldn’t normally get to see and don’t have access to the funding that bigger companies have. Artists get to really speak truths that you wouldn’t really get to hear in other places. They get to experiment in ways we don’t see on mainstream stages for a lot of reasons. Fringe, overall, is really necessary to give opportunities to the fold who are experimenting and figuring things out. My entire career has been fringe and I wouldn’t want it another way.”
Juana Lozano is a Fresno State student majoring in anthropology. She wrote this article for Donald Munro’s media-writing class.