Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

A chat with Amber Flores about the character types

Q: In stories like this one, many of the characters are a “type” or variation of a stock character - the nerd, the punk, the quirky friend, the overbearing parent, the girl-next-door, etc. As actors is it important to make these “types” as three-dimensional and human as possible?
 

A: In life, it’s only to be expected that we try to categorize ourselves. Are we outgoing? Introverted? An INFJ? An enneagram type 7 wing 8? We try to make sense of who we are CONSTANTLY — sometimes to our own detriment. In First Date, I find that Casey Clark is no different. Yes, she definitely falls under the umbrella of a “stock character” and that’s an easy thing to see when reading the play, but as an actor, it’s important for me to know and explore the things that make her more than that.

When facing the task of fleshing out a “type” character, I always take a moment to acknowledge the stereotype at large. Whether that be “the nerd,””the punk,” or the “girl next door,” it is important to find your characters’ category and then proceed to point out the acting traps that inevitably come with each. In this case, playing the “jaded hot chick” comes with its own slew of traps that I must avoid in order to give her a three dimensional life on stage. For example, it may be easy to just play angry or apathetic in a moment because a character is labeled as jaded. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if that character, when everyone expected her to be angry or apathetic, surprised us all with something different? Not for the sake of shocking everyone, but because another reaction was actually truer to her inner self than to the stereotype slapped on her.

Once I’ve explored the trappings of a type, I do something that sounds a bit contradictory to the first step: I try not to think of them as their stereotype. I find that this frees me up to dive deeper into their background, releasing me from any norms that I feel obligated to play because of a stereotype. This is by far my favorite part of the process. I often feel like my character’s therapist at times as I write down my opinions about why they are the way they are and maybe even explore the reasons why they feel they can’t change. In Casey’s case, there’s a lot in the dialogue that tells you her past is cluttered with “bad boy” types who didn’t treat her well. But why can’t she break the streak and find someone who is “nice” for once? Is it because she just doesn’t like “nice guys” or is there something deeper there? It’s questions like these that lead me to examine a character’s relationships. As we all know, a person’s life, and the lens through which they view that life is greatly informed by the relationships — good or bad— that surround them. These can be romantic, platonic, or familial. I tend to explore all three types. This has allowed me the opportunity to find some of my characters’ triggers. These don’t always have to be negative, they can also be very positive and even surprising if your character isn’t aware of their own trigger points.

Q: This leads me to another question that I find is important to ask of your character: Are they AWARE of themselves and their issues/shortcomings?

The answer to this question can be a very crucial determining factor in how a character is played. Casey is VERY aware of herself and her issues. She doesn’t need anyone pointing them out to her because she is constantly examining her shortcomings. So this leads me to dive even deeper into what Casey thinks about herself and what behaviors manifest in her life because of this self opinion. Ultimately, I know I’m getting close to fully realizing a character when I start to manifest physical behaviors that are contrary to my own. This happens late in the process for me and relatively unconsciously. I find it to be one of the most rewarding things as an actor, because it shows me that my character is thinking, breathing and reacting.

It seems that each question begets another question in this process of character evaluation. An endless psychological playground awaits anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort to go there.I guess when it’s all said and done, a stereotyped character shouldn’t be treated any differently than one that appears super complex. Because deep down every character has some sort of issue that needs to be examined, wants to be listened to, and quirks that long to be found. I know, I know, it sounds super complicated and layered, but that’s only because that’s how actual humans are, and characters — even the typed ones— are no different.

A moment with Director Harry Parker about the genre

Q: It is fact universally acknowledged that rom-coms are here to stay - it is a genre that has been around for decades. Audiences love this charming and relatable type of story - the meet-cute, the butterflies, the goodnight kiss. What do you think keeps this genre so prominent?

A: Romantic comedies are indeed one of the most popular and prolific story structures in theatre, film, and television, and it’s pretty simple to figure out why this is so.  Romance and laughter are two of the most life-affirming experiences the human condition has to offer.  Our own lives may or may not include a significant other, and they may or may not contain plenty of hilarity, but while watching a romantic comedy for a couple of hours we can enjoy the work of storytellers who have manipulated the fictive universe in such a way so as to remind us that the good feelings created by loving and laughing are extremely helpful in living a rich and satisfying life.

First Date is a unique and clever variation on the RomCom theme, because while it uses the tried-and-true device of a blind date which starts pretty badly, its convention of using the “others” in attendance at the restaurant where the date is occurring (the waiter and other dinner patrons) as the voices in the heads of our protagonists, is original and alternately hilarious and moving.  All of us carry around these invisible commentators in our head, but rarely have they been so effectively dramatized as they are in First Date.

This particular production of First Date has been a special pleasure to help create because of the powerful alchemy of working with Theatre TCU faculty and students, along with some of the finest theatre professionals in DFW.  It’s been exciting to see new professional friendships and camaraderie develop, and to watch those collaborations bear fruit on stage as we’ve rehearsed and polished the show.  It’s our sincere hope that audiences will have at least as much at First Date as we have had in working on it.

This musical had a modest Broadway run in 2013, with Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez as Aaron and Casey.  Subsequent professional productions have been mounted in Japan, Argentina and Australia – a testimony to the universality of this kind of story: two hopeful romantics who yearn for a satisfying relationship but are hemmed in by extremely identifiable hang-ups: a fear of vulnerability and  commitment, and the lingering wounds of failed romances in their past. If First Date has a familiar and comfortable story arc (and it does), there’s no need to apologize for an evening that deals honestly with common human frailties, and does so in such a lively and entertaining way.  On the contrary, those are theatrical treats worth celebrating, so… Hooray for Romantic Comedies!  Hooray for Musical Theatre!  And Hooray for Stage West and Theatre TCU!

A moment with Director Carson McCain about the movement in LUNGS

Q:  This story is one that moves through time in an interesting way, with specific rhythms. Early on, you’d mentioned that you see the play in your mind’s eye as a dance. Can you talk a little bit about your vision?

A: The playwright, Duncan Macmillan, has a note on the first page of the script that has made this play the most challenging piece I’ve ever directed. He mandates that the play be performed with no set, no props, no mime and no lighting or sound that suggests space and time. He strips away everything except the actor’s bodies in space. There are no activities I can give them to help them know what to do with their hands. There aren’t even any chairs I can sit them in. It is two human beings tasked with creating not only their characters, but also these characters’ entire world. I have held tight to the vision of this play as a dance, not because we are pirouetting and box stepping, but because the movement doesn’t have to be literal. We cannot drink gin, because there are no cups. We cannot drive a car, or show you what the inside of IKEA looks like. We can only use their bodies, their movement to convey the truth of their relationship. Sometimes that looks like an actual tug-of-war game, because that’s how big the argument feels. Sometimes this looks like walking in a maze because that’s the visual representation of what’s happening in the character’s mind. And sometimes these two people stand next to each other and don’t look in each other’s eyes because it’s too painful. As challenging as it is to strip away all of the usual theatrical elements, it’s also freeing. Because we didn’t have those cups, that car, we weren’t beholden to using them. We could do truly anything we wanted to do. And so we have.

I hope that audiences watch this play and think about how our lives are often like a dance. We move through space in a particular way to communicate who we are or what we’re about. We breathe differently in different spaces, with different intentions, just as these characters do. Sometimes we feel like we’re walking on a tightrope, trying not to offend someone. Sometimes just making it through a conversation feels like an athletic feat. I believe our ‘dance’ has gotten us closer to the truth of these characters’ experience, and I hope the audience can see a bit of their own truth as well.

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A chat with actor Dani Nelson about the chemistry in LUNGS

Q: This script is quite demanding - it requires precision, levity, and gravitas, among many other “asks” of its two performers, not the least of which is creating an intimate relationship with your fellow actor/actress. How do you go about building these kinds of relationships in the rehearsal process - what tools do you use to create trust and closeness with the actor/actress playing your partner?

A: Coming into this process, I had not met Ruben in person. And Lungs, as a play, is so reliant on the connection between the actors themselves. I think for me, that chemistry comes from being absolutely attentive on stage; really listening to your acting partner with everything at your disposal, and then responding honestly. What’s wonderful about acting is that I have this living, breathing human being in front of me who is infinitely interesting and complex. And if I have the courage to really take him in, and let myself be affected by what he’s doing, then the chemistry between us is there. I’m fortunate that Ruben in particular is an extremely talented, generous actor.

It has been an absolute joy to work on this stunning play with him, with Carson and Caroline, and the entire Stage West team.

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A moment with Director Susan Sargeant about the Holmesian legacy

Q: In Holmes and Watson, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has crafted a completely new story for the Sherlock cannon - a supposition as to what actually happened that fateful day at Reichenbach Falls between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, and the events that followed. In working with this text and building this production, what elements have you found make a Sherlock Holmes story a Sherlock Holmes story, and why do you think that we are still so fascinated with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson today?

A: A Sherlock Holmes story is an elaborate game framed around the solving of a mystery. Jeffrey Hatcher, the playwright of Holmes and Watson, is well acquainted with the canon of short stories and novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Jeffrey Hatcher has created an elaborate Sherlockian game that gives his play all the key ingredients of a great Sherlock Holmes story: intrigue, mystery, suspense, plot twists and turns, wit and intelligence. The paramount ingredient in any Sherlock Holmes adventure, is the unrelenting desire of Sherlock Holmes along with his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, to solve the crime and unearth the truth.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote great stories and was able to capture magic on the page with the relationship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Some say, the friendship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson is the greatest male friendship ever penned in literature. This is the heart of what continues to resonate and captivate us today and onward to future generations.

A chat with Ashley Wood about the thriller genre

Q: As in every Sherlock Holmes story, mystery and intrigue abound, and things might not always be as they seem. As an actor, what are the differences and/or similarities in your approach when you are acting in a suspenseful thriller like this versus another genre, like a kitchen sink drama or a farce? How does being in a mystery (as opposed to another genre) affect or inform your process as an actor?

One of the main differences in approaching a mystery is how we handle the presentation and processing of information. As an ensemble, we’re layering a lot of story elements. For these elements to emerge cohesively for the audience, they must each be presented precisely. While that’s always true in theatre, no matter the genre, it’s heightened in a mystery. We’re laying out puzzle pieces for the audience and for ourselves. Every word that’s said, everything that happens…it’s almost all italicized to some degree. This presents a few challenges, one of which is negotiating those degrees so the experience doesn’t all sound and feel like the same note being played over and over. All of this careful laying out of the puzzle still has to come from a very human place for it to be engaging. But it sure is fun to tackle!

Read 'The Final Problem' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem"

Read The Final Problem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Final Problem sets the scene for where we find ourselves at the beginning of Holmes & Watson. It is by no means necessary to read this prior to seeing the play, except for your own enhanced enjoyment. 

"It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished. In an incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion, I have endeavored to give some account of my strange experiences in his company from the chance which first brought us together at the period of the “Study in Scarlet,” up to the time of his interference in the matter of the “Naval Treaty”—an interference which had the unquestionable effect of preventing a serious international complication. It was my intention to have stopped there, and to have said nothing of that event which has created a void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to fill. My hand has been forced, however, by the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother, and I have no choice but to lay the facts before the public exactly as they occurred. I alone know the absolute truth of the matter, and I am satisfied that the time has come when no good purpose is to be served by its suppression. As far as I know, there have been only three accounts in the public press: that in the 'Journal de Geneve' on May 6th, 1891, the Reuter’s despatch in the English papers on May 7th, and finally the recent letters to which I have alluded. Of these the first and second were extremely condensed, while the last is, as I shall now show, an absolute perversion of the facts. It lies with me to tell for the first time what really took place between Professor Moriarty and Mr. Sherlock Holmes."  

A chat with David Coffee about playing THE FATHER

Q: Although this script is relatively recent, the role of André has become a role of note, a role that marks an achievement - like Vanya or Lear or Willy Loman. What is it about the role and the script that you find puts it among the greats?

A: The role of Andre, I find, is very much like King Lear. Here is a man who starts out very much in charge. (At least, that's his viewpoint.) As the play progresses, however, we see him starting to falter in his confidence. We, as an audience, also begin to doubt our own confidence in what we perceive to be reality. The audience literally experiences what Andre is going through.

To me, it reminds me of Jaques' famous speech from "As You Like It": the Seven Ages of Man. During the course of the play, we see Andre in all seven stages of life.

There lies the great challenge of Andre: to show a full lifetime on stage, to keep trying to find out what is real (and what is not) and, finally, to find the humor in the whole situation so as not to make the experience one big depressing evening.

As the title reads: "The Father" - a tragic farce. I look forward to our audiences joining us on the journey.

A moment with Director Tina Parker about THE FATHER

Q: This relatively new script has already received many prestigious awards and recognitions across the globe in its many incarnations and productions over the last few years. Without giving too much away, why do you think this story was crafted for the theatre, rather than a film or an opera or a ballet? What excites you theatrically about this script?

A: As Co-Artistic Director of Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, I read A LOT of plays every year. Very few surprise me any more in the way that THE FATHER did. It's brutally real and heartbreakingly hilarious--sometimes even in the same scene, with echoes of King Lear, Harold Pinter and All in the Family. The audience experiences the play through the eyes of Andre, who's navigating his way in the ever-shifting and often tricky landscape of old age and family and all that comes with that. Just when you think you've figured out the play, something will shift and send you down a different rabbit hole. And you, much like Andre, will struggle to find your footing and figure out what is going on. But I'm telling you, once the plays lands, without giving too much away here, the payoff is pretty tremendous. I can't wait to experience this wild beautiful ride with a live audience.

A moment with Director vickie washington about then and now

Q: While the events of this script took place over 65 years ago, there is a very contemporary and topical air to the piece that draws interesting parallels between the past and the present. This play deals with ideas like censorship, the relationship between art and politics, civil rights, in addition to many other things. In your examination and exploration of this play and in this production, what aspects of the script have been most important for you in telling this real-life story?

A: Words. Images. Stories/Storytelling. Music. Memory. Rhythm. Resistance to oppression. History. Courage... These are just some of the aspects that Carlyle Brown has deftly interwoven into this thought provoking and beautiful play. Just as Langston labors through the night to create a new poem, we have labored in rehearsal to birth the play. As director/midwife, I have been very attentive to the ‘breath of the play’ - the aspect of rhythm if you will. The deep breaths, the silences, the exhalations…, all vitally important in the birthing process. There is also another kind of rhythm that we find in the play. With each reading and with every rehearsal, we have all been struck by how contemporary the subject matter feels, and actually is. As Langston struggles to create a new poem on the eve of his appearance before the McCarthy Senate hearings in 1953; our daily news cycles remind us that history repeats, there are cycles...there is rhythm. Come breathe with us…

photo: Can Turkyilmaz

A chat with Djoré Nance about portraying “the Poet Laureate of Harlem”

Q: In this show, you are portraying one of America’s most important writers, Langston Hughes. There must be a different element of preparation that goes into portraying a real person. What has been similar and different in your preparation process for this show and this role in regards to playing such an iconic figure?

A: Preparing to be Langston Hughes in ‘Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been” has been truly the most rewarding experience of my life as an actor thus far. The preparation has been a noteworthy process, mostly because I’ve never played a historical figure before! There is a bevy of information on Langston Hughes, and many many still-living people who have intimate first-hand experience with the genius himself. Another welcome surprise has been some of the eerie similarities between us, even down to our looks! The way he speaks, his love and passion for music and art, his political leanings, his commitment to freedom and justice for all people, his solidarity with black people, are all deeply resonant for me. However, because of our similarities, it has created challenges as well. As actors, we must always serve the story and the piece, and the character within that framework. Carlyle Brown has created a richly hued and brilliantly nuanced character in Langston Hughes. It has been a challenge for me to get “Djoré” out of the way because Langston Hughes and I bear so many similarities. Being true to Langston for me begins with the voice, one of the places where words are made manifest. His voice and being as clear with my vocal choices as an actor ground me in Langston being Langston. I have enjoyed this work so much, I am absolutely over the moon to be back at Stage West and to be working with my FAVORITE director, the inimitable Mommy, otherwise known as vickie washington. She is a brilliant artist and I am thrilled to be birthing this iteration of “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been” with her at the helm of a wonderful team!

A chat with Megan Haratine about playing Everybody and everyone

Q: For this show, a handful of the cast (including you) discover which roles they will be playing at any given performance during the show - what a thrill!! How do you prepare for a process like that, where you must know all of the roles, but only learn which role you will be playing each night during the show?

A: During the course of our rehearsals for Everybody, I have had to begin considering this show almost as a one person show in order to prepare for any possibility. In developing each character, I have leaned heavily into physical centers and differing vocal qualities and speech patterns, much of which is inherent in Jacobs-Jenkins’s vivid text and in each character’s actions. In doing so, I am hoping to be able to tap in more quickly not only to each character but also to the unique aspect of the story that they each represent.

In addition, we are working to build a strong foundation of trust among the “Somebodies” since we will need to have one another’s backs during the production no matter what configuration we may be in. Unlike some runs of shows, I will not be focusing as much on coining it fresh each time – since most likely, it will already be fresh based on a new set of who is play who – but rather I will need to stay grounded and flexible to ride whatever wave of possibility comes my way. 

I think this show is the epitome of what is exciting about live theatre – and also life itself! Anything can happen. All I can do is my best to prepare for anything and then live fully in the moment as it is handed to me.  

 

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A moment with EVERYBODY Director Jake Nice

photo Robert W. Hart/Special Contributor

Q: Everybody is a contemporary adaptation of the medieval morality play entitled Everyman. In your interpretation of the script, what about this adaptation is timeless in regards to its source material, and what do you think is “right-now” about it?

A: Everybody and Everyman explore some of life’s biggest questions--why are we here, what happens after death, how ought we to live our lives, etcetera. Those themes are timeless and apply to all people, past and present. Both plays also portray universal concepts like Death, Strength, Beauty, and Knowledge/Understanding as personified figures who interact with their namesake characters as if they were human. Although our relationships with those concepts may change over time, they too are timeless and immortal.

The major difference between the plays is in their delivery. When writing Everybody, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins completely contemporised the antiquated language of Everyman by incorporating phrases like “homey,” “Society and the Media,” and “various streaming accounts.” He also made slight adjustments to the original play’s structure, making it more relatable for a modern audience while simultaneously challenging our 21st century expectations of the theatre. 

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Director Garret Storms on the world of the Jacob Marley

Q: This script has very little to offer in terms of suggestions for staging and scenic elements, leaving much of that up to the director’s vision. What influenced you to stage this production of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol the way that you have?

A: Much of what influenced my vision for the show stemmed from the wonderful Emily Scott Banks. She is a magical and enchanting artist and actress, and allowing her to inhabit a space that she could literally bring to life felt like the right move. We have kept things relatively simple - wooden platforms, exposed practical lights, suspended fabrics, and a odd collection of objects, all coming together to create a space that looks a bit like it has been lost to time. Something about it might resemble a cluttered old attic that hasn’t been touched in a good long while. But when inhabited by Emily, it comes to life as she creates new and imaginative functions for everyday objects. There is an element of imagination and childlike magic that permeates the production, similar to the imagination and childlike magic that tends to well up in us around this time of year - an air of possibility, of hope, of reflection as we stand in the present looking at both the past and the future. It was important to me that Emily be able to bring the space to life and allow it to breathe, making both the story and the storyteller the featured aspects of the production.

For those who saw the 2015 production at Stage West, you can anticipate many of the same elements that made that production so wonderful and well received. However, now that the Studio is in quite a different shape, there is a little something new and fresh about the production. Magic, mischief, memories, and more await you this holiday season at Stage West!

A chat with Emily Scott Banks about the adaptation and the solo journey

Q: A Christmas Carol is probably one of the most iconic stories ever written. In taking on this script again this holiday season, what are the most exciting aspects of this adaptation of the story and also the challenges of doing a one-person show?

A: As when we first did Marley three years ago, the most exciting aspects of this show for me are still how Garret has envisioned the magical world of this production from just objects found in the attic of Stage West (on nearly no budget), and how the Narrator, a female (and I have been told by the playwright the only one to do a one-actor version so far) has her own reasons for going on this journey telling the story of these men and spirits. The meta-layers in these two elements, both personally and theatrically, I adore.

As for the challenges of doing a one-person show, well, it’s more tiring in the rehearsal process! Since there aren’t any other actors the five hours can feel like a marathon, but at full-speed. I’m so lucky, both this time and the last, to share the show with a stage manager who is also an actor – this makes it feel as if I actually have a scene partner (beyond a pocket flash light!) and one who helps tell the story in their own Behind-the-Curtain, Oz-like way. When the audience shows up, however, it always feels like we’re all kind of discovering the story together each time, so it never really feels like it’s just me – because it definitely isn’t. There’s an amazing team that’s gone into making this Marley journey magical.

A chat with actor Shannon McGrann about the rebirth of an icon

Q: Nora Helmer may well be one of the most important characters ever written. In taking on this new incarnation of her, how do you think she is different from the original play, and how to you think that affects how A Doll’s House, Part 2 is different from A Doll’s House?

 

A: Nora in A Doll’s House, Part 2 has evolved into an individual with agency and her own means, as opposed to Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House who is merely being an extension of her domestic situation. By Part 2, she has realized she has the power to make her own choices and knows she has to and can live with the consequences of those choices, whatever they may be. 

Here we are, over 100 years later, and we’re still holding men and women to different standards, even when they make similar sacrifices, similar transgressions, and have similar aspirations. Right now, the subject of equality is one of the most talked about things in our culture. We’re talking about it more frequently and openly. 

A moment with A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 Director Clare Shaffer

Tom Fox/DMN Staff Photographer

Q: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is probably one of the most important and iconic pieces of literature in the world canon. In what ways do you think that this new sequel is in dialogue with the original? And what do you think this sequel has to say that is different from the original?

A: A Doll’s House Part 2 is a modern continuation of the conversation about gender roles that Nora began just minutes before she walked out the door in 1879. In the original, Nora had just begun to understand the implications of the patriarchy—in Part 2, her views have matured and expanded beyond a critique of traditional marital values to include thoughts on subjects including polyamory, the epidemic of mansplaining, and gender performativity. She has progressed from discovering gender inequality to understanding and trying to combat it, giving the sequel a bolder and far more grounded protagonist. Ibsen’s Nora left home in search of her voice in a time when women were legally and socially considered inferior to their male counterparts—and in this sequel, we get to hear that strikingly relevant voice loud and clear. 

image: Tom Fox, DMN Staff photographer

A chat with OCTOROON actor Ryan Woods

Q: An Octoroon is a demanding script, while also funny and entertaining. It examines identity and race in a melodramatic style through a contemporary lens. It has a meta-theatrical play-within-a-play structure. What are the most exciting and challenging aspects of working on this script?

A: An Octoroon is definitely a beast of a play. What excites me about working on such a challenging script is the relevancy it has in regards to the current social and political climate. Through its meta-theatrical structure of a ‘play within a play,’ it examines aspects of racism through the lens of melodrama (an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon) which allows Jacobs-Jenkins to utilize broad racial stereotypes and tropes found in melodrama to shine a light on issues of racism. Examining racism in our society through humor and stereotypes is an effective way to get people to think and reconsider their own views.

What I find the most challenging is figuring out how to juggle portraying three different characters within the same story (which I found early on is no easy feat!). There’s the role of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins himself, who we see struggling with the fact that he’s not just a playwright, but a “black” playwright, and what it means to always have the qualifier of race put upon anything he chooses to do. This is something I think every person of color can relate to. Then we have George (the “protagonist”) and M’Closky (the “villain”) who are larger than life with their broad characterizations, but both highlight the complicated image of a racist. Trying to wrap my head around these three roles and their purpose in delivering the message of the story has been truly humbling.

But all of these things are what make working on this play so exciting! The audience is bombarded by a multitude of stereotypes and tropes, and through the lens of humor and melodrama, they are forced to examine how this adaptation of Boucicault’s play alludes to the many racial and societal problems that we struggle with today (especially in our current political climate). People will find themselves laughing, crying, and feeling immensely uncomfortable (sometimes all at the same time) which is what makes An Octoroon such a powerful piece of theatre. Audience members will leave the theatre reeling from the experience, but more importantly, they will leave reexamining their own beliefs concerning racial identity and politics, and what all of that really means in our “progressive” American society right now.

Drinking for Diversity

Nancy Churnin writes "Stage West's 'An Octoroon' underscores how far we've come — and still have to go — with racial equity in theater".  (You should click and read her piece. Lots of good stuff in there, plus it's the only way to keep getting arts reporting funded by our local news media...) We explored diversity on stage at our Happy Hour event the week before opening with artist Christopher Blay.

For each show this season, we had an opening event or happy hour to introduce folks to the show. At our An Octoroon Happy Hour we experienced artist Christopher Blay's relational aesthetics art experience Drinking for Diversity.

Here are the instructions:

And here's the pour chart, illustrating the casting breakdown by ethnicity for New York City theatres.

Some of our written and drawn responses to questions 2 & 3 above. 

We also got to hear director Akin Babatunde and the cast of An Octoroon discuss the show. 

A chat with DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER actor Catherine DuBord about farces

Q: Farces are know for quick rhythms, eccentric characters in extreme situations, and lots of entrances and exits. What do you find to be most exciting and challenging aspects of performing in a farce?

A: As actors in DFW, we don’t get many opportunities to do a full-blown farce. As modern actors, we tend to get grounded in naturalism. A Farce develops its comedy through physical humor and deliberate use of nonsense. The trick is to stay committed to the heightened importance of every single conversation or interaction. All of these characters are larger than life – very Shakespearean even. Each objective must be gone after with extreme vigor and the flexibility to turn on a dime. The fun part is getting comfortable in these people’s shoes, who live every moment larger than life. They love harder, cry louder and get angry more passionately than what contemporary society would deem acceptable. You have to be willing to strap yourself into this obscene roller coaster, keep your eyes open at all costs and take the ride every night. The hardest part is to remember to trust the work that we have put in as a company and know that we have built a fantastic, terrifying ride.

A moment with DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER Director Christie Vela about the update


Q: This play is normally set in the 1960's, but in this production you are pulling it forward into the 1980's. What inspired this decision and how do you feel that this adjustment of decade informs the direction you are taking with the show?

A: When I read this play the first time, I immediately thought to set it in the 1980s. I was reminded, transported, to the movies and television shows then; in particular, the romantic comedies in which the women are clearly smarter than the men. I thought back on the “breaking the glass ceiling” elements of Working Girl, or Who’s That Girl, in which the “fish out of water” woman outsmarts the people who think they’re smarter than her. What fascinates me about these stories is that they are attempts to empower women that, all the same, take part in a culture of female objectification. And I believe that that’s something that we can observe to this day: how often do we quote Mean Girls? How much nostalgia do we and our kids have for other “girly” movies from the 2000s that, despite having only come out ten to fifteen years ago, played undeniable roles in our personal and cultural development? 
I think that it’s necessary that we confront these cultural, historical specifics. And, when you’re given a script like this--which is by turns hilarious and frustrating, just like any good farce--I think it’s important that we have fun when we do it.

A chat with HIR actor Zander Pryor about the attachments

Q: There are so many aspects of this play to grapple with and be entertained by. What excites you most about this play and why do you think that it is one of the most produced scripts in the nation right now?

A: It's hard to identify what excites me most about Hir. So many different aspects of it excite me but I think the part that makes me the most happy might be the inclusion of Max as a character. As cliche and predictable that might be, it makes me so happy to see a character like Max. What I specifically love about Max is that ze has a personality outside of being the "token trans" and an interesting, engaging personality at that. Max is openly trans and proud of that fact, which makes ze such a fun character to play. I can't express how much it meant to me that Taylor Mac specifies that Max should be played by a trans individual.

My own personal theory as to why this play has been produced so much relates to how it's simultaneously new and old. It's written in a genre that is quintessentially American and is quite familiar to theatergoers but it also addresses those who are normally left out of these narratives. It's telling the same story from the perspective of characters we have not heard from yet in this genre. In this fashion, Hir is both foreign and familiar. 

 

Show:

A selection from an interview with playwright Halley Feiffer about laughing through tears

Q: What inspired the play and how do you explore the relationship between laughter and grief?

A: The play is not inspired by true events. Nothing in the play ever happened. I wish I’d had a steamy sex scene in a bathroom. That has yet to happen to me, but it’s on the bucket list. Basically what happened was my mother, who is in wonderful health today, did have a hysterectomy to treat ovarian cancer a little over ten years ago. I was a college student at the time, and while I was in the hospital caring for her, I remember thinking, “I don’t know how to show up for my mother the way that I want to.” I was 20 years old, drinking really heavily, and just a profoundly selfish young person.

I remember looking at the curtain that separated her side of the room from her roommate’s and thinking, “God, wouldn’t it be great if there were some cute family member of her roommate, say her son, who I could flirt with and that would help make all this pain and fear go away.” And then because I’m not a 100% sociopath, I realized it was a very fucked up thought. But I filed it away to write about, because I did think it was a funny premise for a play.

In a way, that situation perfectly captured what that experience is like; that you at once want to show up and be useful for your loved one and, because we’re human beings, we’re filled with selfishness – we also want to escape.

It’s really interesting as you get older and meet more people and have more in-depth conversations, you realize that your way of going through the world might not be the way that everyone does. I’ve always chosen humor to cope with anything really. It just comes naturally to me; both my parents are incredibly funny people. That’s how I was raised and it’s in my blood. So I’ve found myself making jokes at the most inappropriate moments. I’ve also found it rather pleasantly surprising how healing it can be – and how responsive others may be to it too, in ways that you might not expect. Even in the most painful of circumstances, it really is, in my experience, the most effective tool to move through with compassion and lightness.

*full interview (conducted by Clare Drobot, Director of New Play Development at City Theatre) at http://www.citytheatrecompany.org/a-conversation-with-a-funny-thing-play...

A chat with actor Janielle Kastner

Q: You, like your character Karla in A Funny Thing... are both writers - she is an aspiring stand up comedian and comedy writer while you yourself are a playwright. In the rehearsal process, are you finding any other striking similarities between you and Karla? And conversely, in what ways to you think you are quite different from your character?

A: The first moment of the play is maybe my favorite, when Karla is workshopping a new “dirty” joke. Partly because as an actor it’s fun to say the word “vibrator” that many times onstage, but also because as a writer I know how exhilarating it is to circle a scary-funny-honest-taboo idea, finally hone in on the exact right words for it, then launch it at an audience and make them deal. One of the biggest differences between Karla and myself is how, while we both like watching people squirm in response to our creative work, I am not great at watching people squirm socially. There are so many moments in the play where I would jump in and fix something that Karla doesn’t, whether preemptively letting someone off the hook when they’re trying to apologize, or even just simply listening to someone tell a story without actively nodding and affirming them the whole time. While Karla has her own grab-bag full of emotional dysfunctions, I’m sure she wouldn’t find herself politely held hostage by a stranger telling a story in line at CVS as often as I. We also both have single moms that mean the world to us, though Karla’s crass/”my artist daughter is selfish”/social worker mom is kind of exact upside-down to my devout/”everyone should come to my daughter’s new play”/special education teacher mom.

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