For 12 seasons, one of Idyllwild’s premiere theater companies has served the community with varied and ambitious theatrical fare under the name Isis Theatre Company. Company founder Suzanne Avalon chose the name 12 years ago because the Egyptian goddess Isis represented power and wisdom, and the theater company was formed with an all-women board.
Unfortunately and untimely for Avalon’s company, another entity not devoted to culture and education has cast a pall over the company’s use of its long-held name. ISIS, the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is an extremist terrorist group now controlling territory in Iraq and Syria and expanding into Lebanon, Libya and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. And new among Islamic extremist groups, ISIS uses social media to promote its agenda, using beheadings to frighten and intimidate
opponents. That use of social media has pushed the ISIS name into the forefront of world news and effectively branded the name as one associated with terror.
“We thought about changing the name several months ago,” said Avalon, “but after researching how many worldwide organizations or works of art shared the name we decided to hold firm.” Others using the name Isis include a French opera, the second track on a Bob Dylan album “Desire,” a post-metal band in Los Angeles and a creative integrative arts therapy training program in Canada.
But as questions over using the name surfaced, and licensing companies holding the rights to plays also raised eyebrows, Avalon said her board began to rethink its position. Then a producing organization in Indio, the Indio Performing Arts Center, said they could not move forward on a proposed contract if “Isis” were in the name. “With the coming on board of a new executive director at the Indio Performing Arts Center, we were told that they would keep the contract but they could not use ‘Isis’ in any advertising or promotion,” said Avalon.
And with that, Avalon and board bowed to the inevitable — that a terrorist group thousands of miles away had so co-opted and branded the word ISIS, that the name could no longer serve the company’s interests and, in fact, could stand in the way of potential business and contracts.
“It’s a shame after 12 successful seasons to have to change the name,” she said. The company has nearly 60 productions under the name. She said highlights from those seasons include plays directed toward young audiences. “Being able to get kids involved with theater, maybe even seeing their first play, was very satisfying,” she said. “Also, we have grown so much professionally during these 12 years. Having Howard Shangraw as our artistic director has made a big difference.”
Avalon said the challenge facing not just her company, but others in Idyllwild, is not having a permanent theater. “It’s so difficult to have to load in sound, lights and stage when we produce a play,” she noted. Avalon said a company in Joshua Tree, where she and Shangraw performed “Love Letters,” has its own black-box theater, something that all actors and directors in Idyllwild would very much like to have — a goal for the future.
Now, said Avalon, it’s moving forward under a new name, one incorporating “Idyllwild.” The first production as Idyllwild Actors Theatre will be “Seminar’ by Theresa Rebeck, May 22 and 23 at The Rainbow Inn.