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Out of Hand Theater takes actress’s autobiographical show around town

Atlanta actress Minka Wiltz is taking her show on the road — without ever leaving the greater metro area.

Developed under the auspices of Out of Hand Theater, her solo performance piece “Shaking the Wind” is the latest in the company’s series of “salon” productions (also including 2014’s “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” and 2016’s “The Magic Chamber”), which are presented for groups of 30 or so people at a time. The groups gather in different private living rooms around town for each show.

“Shaking the Wind” is writer/actress Minka Wiltz’s autobiographical one-woman show. CONTRIBUTED BY MICHAEL BOATRIGHT (For the AJC)

Wiltz, 41, is a classically trained singer and a highly experienced actress, most widely regarded for a number of hits at Horizon: “Black Pearl Sings,” “Every Tongue Confess,”“Right On,”“’da Kink in My Hair.” In other words, she’s no stranger to performing on local stages, and in a more conventional theater setting.

In the Out of Hand approach to “Shaking the Wind,” Wiltz says, the intimate environment and communal atmosphere that go with performing it in someone’s home add an extra layer and dimension to the personal, confessional tone of her autobiographical play with music.

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She jokes that she was prompted to write and tell her story “because I couldn’t afford to pay for therapy.” Seriously, though, “There were things I needed to deal with about my upbringing, in order to move forward in my life, both emotionally and creatively,” the actress recalls.

The play is partly about Wiltz’s coming of age, and the obstacles she overcame growing up in Atlanta as the lonely and subjugated daughter of a controlling single mother, a former pharmacist-turned-fundamentalist street preacher. It’s also about Wiltz’s coming to terms with some of the “life choices” she made as a result of her past.

As she explains, “That’s probably been my biggest challenge in this whole experience (of writing and performing the play), just facing my own actions and choices in life.”

But that’s also been one of the rewards. “What I’ve learned from looking back at certain moments in my life is what a gift it is to have survived,” she says.

“Shaking the Wind” evolved over several years following the death of Wiltz’s mother in 2014. “She had already essentially left me long before she actually passed away,” she acknowledges, “and I couldn’t have even thought about addressing or delving into any of this before that.”

Theater Emory presented a staged reading of the play the following year, and Wiltz eventually enlisted artistic input from two of her frequent Horizon collaborators. She and S. Renee Clark, one of the theater scene’s busiest musical directors, co-wrote a few songs to help embellish the story or enhance the mood. And Thomas W. Jones II, who has cast Wiltz in a number of other shows, provided a directorial perspective to the script.

Over the course of Wiltz’s alternately funny and poignant extended monologue, she doesn’t only portray herself, but various members of her “idiosyncratic” family, as well — 10 characters in all.

“The show really captures and demonstrates Minka’s strength and versatility as a performer,” notes Jones. “Besides her powerful singing voice, she has a wide vocabulary and a broad palate as an actress. There’s nothing you can throw at her that she can’t accomplish.”

Although Wiltz describes the play as “very specific to my own life,” she also says, “It’s universal, too, because everyone has a family and has had to deal with their own issues about that. In the end, the story’s all about healing and moving on, something we all have to do, sooner or later.”

THEATER PREVIEW

“Shaking the Wind”

Through Nov. 17. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 4 only); 6 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 11 only). $25.75-$34.66. Locations vary with each performance. 404-462-8836, outofhandtheater.com.

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