Backyard Renaissance to bring magic to La Jolla Playhouse’s Shank Theatre
by Samantha Webster
Published - 07/22/19 - 03:00 PM | 2923 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The cast of Stephenson’s “An Experiment with an Air Pump.” Backyard Renaissance’s co-founder and executive director, Jessica John, is pictured in the center.
The cast of Stephenson’s “An Experiment with an Air Pump.” Backyard Renaissance’s co-founder and executive director, Jessica John, is pictured in the center.
Backyard Renaissance returns to the La Jolla Playhouse’s Shank Theatre to perform Shelagh Stephenson’s “An Experiment with an Air Pump.” The small, young company was appointed as the Playhouse’s resident theater company in 2018, and the Playhouse extended them this opportunity again this year. 


Founded by husband and wife Francis Gercke and Jessica John, Backyard Renaissance is a theater company that is committed to making “art to the gut,” or art that hits you in the gut whether it is with laughter or a deep, emotional connection. Currently in its fourth season, Backyard Renaissance produces three mainstage shows per season that are paired with three “unleashed events.” The unleashed events are unique, one-night theater experiences, such as live musical mad libs or live lip-sync face offs, which are designed to be inclusive and fun for all audiences.  


Backyard Renaissance aims to make their audiences feel as if are a part of the theatrical experiences they offer. “We wanted to create a space much more like when you come home and your dogs greet you,” says Jessica John, executive director of the theater group whose mascot is a bulldog donning a Shakespearean ruff. 


The La Jolla Playhouse’s Resident Theatre Program is the pet project of Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley. He created this opportunity so that the Playhouse could mentor small and promising theater companies and provide them with more resources and visibility. “We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity. It’s certainly a wonderful growing experience for our company,” says John.  


Next month, Backyard Renaissance’s production of Shelagh’s Stephenson’s “An Experiment with an Air Pump” will open at the Playhouse’s Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre. An ode to Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” Stephenson’s play toggles between the years 1799 and 1999 as it explores questions around scientific discovery, human subject research, and cloning. 


In addition to her role as Backyard Renaissance’s executive director, John will also take on the role of the Scottish maid, Isobel, in the Stephenson play. John looks forward to using the Shank as a performance space. “This play deserves a space where you can create some magic. We switch back and forth and go from moment to magical moment, and the Shank really provides us a beautiful venue to do that.” 


While Backyard Renaissance makes magic onstage, John anticipates that the play’s morals will resonate with the audience, “This piece is very tangible. Anybody could come and experience these scientific questions, like the characters, and feel a part of the dynamic. There’s something for everybody to enjoy.” 


“An Experiment with an Air Pump” opens Aug. 8 in the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre and runs until Aug. 25. Also at the Shank Theatre, Backyard Renaissance will hold its unleashed event on Aug. 12, which is a camp B-movie staged reading of the film “Queen of Outer Space.” To learn more about Backyard Renaissance and their upcoming events, visit
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