Production Blog

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

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...

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