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Packing a punch 

by Sheri Boggs

The Met is home to many productions over the course of the year, including ballet, comedy, music and film. It is not usually the site of book burnings, nor the place where one would find a flame-thrower or even miked actors interacting with video segments onstage. And yet, when the new theatrical group High Impact Theatre presents Fahrenheit 451 this Saturday night, based on the unforgettable and pivotal novel by Ray Bradbury, all the aforementioned unlikely elements will be present.

"All of this helps create the illusion, the atmosphere of the theater," says James Quinn, director and founder of High Impact Theatre. "And that's what I want to go for because I really enjoy a good quality show. I want to create something no one has really done before."

The less-than-utopian vision of a future society benumbed by television and tranquilizers in Bradbury's novel reveals itself in chilling scenes where books are burned and those who read them are persecuted. Based on Bradbury's own script for the dramatization of his novel, Fahrenheit 451 proved to be an intriguing first choice for High Impact Theatre.

"I chose it for the marketability," admits Quinn. "It's got great name recognition, it's sci-fi, and it has a lot of political undertones that I think are really relevant in this political year. It made a good choice."

While Fahrenheit 451 is instantly familiar to generations of high school and college students who read it in school, the High Impact Theatre production, which stars Ron Varela, Brad Picard, Tracy Biegenwald and Pamela Stark, is anything but predictable.

"The way I see it is that theater should be made like they make movies," says Quinn. "It should be flawlessly polished and have the highest production quality so that you can be drawn into it, which is especially important in live shows. You have to be able to be drawn into it or you lose 'em completely."

So what does this mean in terms of keeping Fahrenheit 451's audiences riveted to their seats?

"One of the things I'm trying to incorporate into the shows is a multimedia aspect," explains Quinn. "For instance, I'll have an original soundtrack like you would have for a movie, which will play alongside the production. There's also going to be video sequences that the characters are not only going to interact with, but there's some entire scenes out of the script that I'm doing entirely on video, the outdoor scenes for example."

What we really want to know is how are they going to handle the novel's many instances of book burning and other acts of incendiary unrest?

"We're incorporating some very effective, though low-budget special effects," Quinn says. "I don't want to give too much away because we have real high standards for what we consider special effects. One of those things I can tell you about is that we have a real flame thrower for example, and we're going to be firing flames into the house and it's gonna be a lot of fun."

Going about things in an unexpected manner is at the heart of Quinn's -- and consequently High Impact Theatre's -- philosophy. Quinn says that he has been involved in some form of theater ever since he was 12 and has given considerable thought to other people's productions.

"It got boring for me, and I started questioning things, even when I was about 13 or 14," says Quinn. "Why is everyone doing this? They're not making any money, so why are they doing it? It's not original and for me the beauty of live entertainment, of theater, is the creation of something new, doing something no one else has done."

Quinn did theater while still a student at East Valley High School, founding a Monty Python-esque team of players that in spite of their relative youth, was rather successful in Spokane. "It was pretty fun, but it sold out every night," says Quinn. "I had a blast, and I knew I wanted to keep on directing."

In addition to Fahrenheit 451, High Impact Theatre has a remarkable lineup of everything from comedy to thriller to midget wrestling.

Wait. Midget wrestling?

"It is for real, and it's only brought to you by High Impact Theatre," laughs Quinn. "And we've got the guts to do it." Isn't he worried about what people think?

"These guys love getting on stage, and they're having a blast," says Quinn. "I think it's horrible that a lot of people kinda want to shove them in a closet and forget about them, and they claim I'm exploiting them. Whatever. It's really not that at all. It's all theater is, it's about how you look and how you can feel onstage, and if you've got the look, you've got the part."

Also up on the High Impact Theatre roster is Spank You, a battle-of-the-sexes game show that will be on the same bill as the midget wrestling; The Blood's Warmth, a thriller will be at The Met on Halloween; and Richard Seltzer's "romantic science fiction tragedy" Without a Myth, which will show on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Quinn has even put so much thought into future productions, he has created the VAL ratings system for them. V means violence, A, adult situations and L, of course, language. Using the same system that works for traffic lights, red, green and yellow signify whether the show is appropriate -- or not much so -- in any given area. Fahrenheit 451 has a rating of V-red, A-green and L-yellow.

"It's a responsible way for me to put things up there that might be objectionable to people," says Quinn. "That way, people won't bring little kids into a show with like a red violence rating. I don't think that's right."

High Impact Theatre presents Fahrenheit 451 at 8 pm, Saturday, Sept. 16, at The Met. Tickets: $5. Call: 891-4953. Midget wrestling is at 9 pm, Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Bayou Brewery. Call: 484-4818.

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