Production Blog

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

A chat with Evan Michael Woods about art and truth

Q: There are plenty of stories that cross artistic mediums: books become television shows and movies, short stories are turned into musicals, Shakespeare gets adapted to ballet, fashion designers are inspired by visual art and architecture. But when the basis for the art is real-life, things might get a little sticky if permissions with artistic license are taken too far. To your mind, how does this play discuss the responsibility that art has to truth, when the art is directly inspired by real-life facts?

A: Art has had a complex relationship with "real-life" since inception. Henry VIII was dismayed when his "to-be" Anne of Cleaves didn't quite resemble the beautiful portrait he had been sent. Patrons of the art exhibit at The Grand Central Palace were in arms about whether Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (an ordinary urinal signed by the artist) could even be considered art. In 2019, podcasts like My Favorite Murder have to issue "corrections" every week as their fast and loose comedic style often comes at the expense of journalistic precision or even accurate pronunciation of names and places.

The Lifespan of a Fact doesn't try to resolve this complex relationship in one hour traffic on the stage. The Lifespan of a Fact allows its characters to try and paint boundaries around fact and art without giving the audience an easily packaged answer. Rather than a sermon, it's much more of a debate....a debate that includes slamming doors, traffic diagrams, and strangulation.

A moment with Director Marianne Galloway about the balance

Q: In a time when facts seem to be something you can choose believe in or not and in a time when art is, at its core, a medium for truth-telling, The Lifespan of a Fact brings up a lot of interesting notions and ideas to wrestle with. In bringing this regional premiere comedy to Stage West, how do you balance the hilarious tone of this play with the very timely conflict it’s exploring? And what do you think the play is offering us in terms of a way forward?

A: One of the many fun things about a play like Lifespan of a Fact is that it allows us to laugh as we wade into some very deep and treacherous waters: What constitutes a Fact? Does the sum of a collection of Facts equal The Truth? Is Truth is more powerful than Fact? 

What starts as a simple splash in the colorful, fun, shallow end becomes a struggle against a maelstrom.  Our very notions of “right” and “wrong” swirl in on themselves, ultimately blurring into a Gordian Knot of logical fallacies and drowning our equilibrium.

The balance in this type of play comes from the storytellers, and we are fortunate to have three magnificent actors taking us on the journey. Dana Schultes, Chris Hury, and Evan Michael Woods are masterful and nuanced in their ability to elicit laughter in one moment, then drive home a core truth in the next. They are an extraordinary ensemble.

As both a society and individuals, we live in a constant battle of Fact versus Truth in both a macro and micro sense. While current events certainly put that battle in the foreground of our collective consciousness on a daily basis, this isn’t a new struggle. What the play offers us in the way of moving forward is evident in it’s key active example: Keep listening and talking to and with one another. Acknowledge the validity and value of another’s perspective. Stay open to what you don’t understand in the hope that growth towards understanding can occur. It may not happen today, but there is hope for tomorrow.


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.