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Even today some of Nodler's favorite actors have no formal training. Cooper, for instance, studied only dance at the University of Houston and HSPVA. The only experience Andy Nelson had in theater was with a comedy improv troupe. But as more actors joined, more "had all their chops," as Nodler puts it. Some, in fact, have gone away to graduate school and come back. Amy Bruce, for instance, worked with the company, starring in Cowboy Mouth, before she went off to school. She returned and was promptly cast as the whore in Fucking A. Another IBP alumnus, Jim Parsons, is now off at the Old Globe in San Diego studying theater, but "he's always got a home with IBP," says Nodler.
"I think there's something slightly wrong with our actors," the artistic director says. "I think my actors, well, they bring the truth to the stage. And that's why you're able to see there's something wrong with them. They're not faking it."
Nodler has created an aesthetic identity by choosing bizarre spaces in which to mount shows; it's partly the function of a company without its own theatrical home, and partly the natural result of a creative and wildly resourceful artistic director. IBP has produced plays in bars (Catal Hüyük and Rudyard's), parking lots (the Zocalo Theatre's), in metal barns (Zocalo proper), in a warehouse (Commerce Street), in a dilapidated shopping mall (Westbury Square) and in the shadows of Interstate 10 behind Last Concert Cafe.
Only in the past couple of years has the company started working steadily in theaters around town. Stages Repertory Theatre, Atomic Cafe and DiverseWorks have hosted most of the company's recent shows. Truth be told, Cooper can't imagine going back to the bugs and sweat and grime of parking lot productions. (Nodler, who is afraid of dogs, still shivers at the memory of all the stray mutts running through many of the outdoor performances.)
As IBP's performance spaces became increasingly legitimate, so did the company itself. In 1996 the group formed a board of directors made up exclusively of its company members. Nodler asked his actors to sign a cocktail napkin that said simply, "IBP '96-'97," thus turning his collection of friends into an official company of sorts. Many of the cast members from Fucking A signed that original scrap of paper, including Cooper, Nelson, Scott and Troy Schulze.
The company was granted official nonprofit status in April 1997; naturally the board expanded to include non-theatrical members (the board now includes former Press writer Shaila Dewan). A year later this expanded board realized IBP needed a full-time employee to operate the group. Nodler was the obvious choice. After all, the whole thing had been "Nodler's vision," says longtime board member Leo Boucher.
Around the same time, IBP also received its first major grant. Until that point, the company had, remarkably enough, stayed in the black just on ticket sales, two small donations from Smirnoff and a gift from the Goethe Institute. The company has since received a CACHH grant, the Rockefeller grant and $27,000 from an anonymous private donor.
Nodler's success in the theater community has come from a strange combination of rugged, ragged individualism and polite cooperation. Little about his upbringing prepared him for his position. The middle-class boy grew up in southwest Houston until he was 12 years old, when his parents moved to West University after the family home burned down. Though he has always been interested in theater (he started taking drama classes at the Jewish Community Center when just a boy), he didn't seem to acquire his passion from his folks. They are true civilians. His dad was a CPA before becoming an insurance salesman, and his mom "does real estate." Yet it was in this crucible that Nodler developed his dark outsider instincts.
Nodler's rebel aesthetic probably would have gone nowhere, however, if not for Bradley and DiverseWorks, which have had a huge impact on the development of IBP. In 1996 Bradley witnessed the company's production of Georg B¨chner's Woyzeck. "It was a really incredibly staged piece," says Bradley. "I started talking to Jason because they were producing a number of wonderful shows each year, but they were a homeless company." Several months later Bradley asked Nodler if IBP would be interested in collaborating on a piece with another artist. Would he ever.
Bradley and Nodler ultimately agreed on a three-year commitment for three shows. Then they made up a wish list and narrowed it down to Brian Jucha, a highly experimental director with his own company in New York City. In 1997 Jucha and IBP put on the very dark and funny Last Rites, an avant-garde piece about sex, dating and everything in between. Next up was King Ubu Is King, written by Nodler himself. Parks's Fucking A is the last project in the commitment, although Bradley looks forward to working with Nodler again, saying the two will "probably take a year off and then go back" to collaborating.
No matter what the future brings, it's hard to imagine anything topping the blind serendipity that made Fucking A a reality. Two years ago Bradley showed up at IBP's fifth anniversary party at the Hogg Grill. Nodler tells the story this way: It was late in the night, and everyone was tipsy when Bradley approached Nodler. "Hey, there's this grant, and it's due in a week," Nodler recalls Bradley's pitch. "Do you want to go for it? We don't really have time. It's about finding collaborative artists. Do you want to try to do it?" Nodler "was drunk enough to say sure."
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