Production Blog

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

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.

A chat with Delaney Milbourn about being the first

Delaney Milbourn, Actor in LIKE A BILLION LIKES

Q: This exciting world premiere has got to be a thrilling project to be a part of - to be the first to bring this story to life in a full production. What has been the most exciting part of working on this production and what themes in the play resonate with you most?

A: First of all, it is an honor to be a part of this project. I have enjoyed working with each and every person on this production. Bringing a show to life, building a world with its own set of rules that both the characters and audience get to briefly experience tends to be my favorite part of theatre. It has definitely been the most exciting part of this process for me so far. It can be challenging to find, it takes teamwork from everyone involved, but it usually brings a cast and crew together in such a unique way. I love it. In particular, I have loved building this world with my fellow cast mates and directing team. I find a lot in common with my character (keep in mind, not EVERYTHING, as Misty tends to be a bit naive and rash more often than not) but all she wants is to have a voice of her own in the world, and, really, just to matter. I believe that is one of the most relatable issues for the younger generation, if not everyone. So when social media is practically a free personal microphone, it seems like the place to feel important. But what happens when everyone else has a microphone? When everyone else speaks  just as loud? What do you do then?

There are many themes this play presents, many questions to be explored, but the plight of seeking worth by means of such an ever fleeting, shallow platform is such an intriguing one for me, to say the least.

A word with playwright Erik Forrest Jackson about the inspiration

Q: Your funny, thought-provoking, and deeply human new play deals with some interesting themes from the trials of adolescence and growing up to gender identity to family dynamics to the pressures young people feel and are under in the age of social media. What was the source of inspiration for this play and what has your process bee like writing and developing the exciting piece?

A: First off, I’ve got to state that it’s been a real honor to debut this work with Stage West, which consistently executes such care and intelligence with their productions. Their embrace of challenging theater and insanely high caliber of playwrights I’m in the company of this season thrill me to no end.

So, to answer your question, I began work on Like A Billion Likes about three years ago, but before it was one play, it was two.

In the immediate wake of the Caitlin Jenner media blitz, I was struck by how several camps quickly formed and faced off. Of course, there were the expected passionate detractors and supporters. But I found another camp quite a bit more compelling: those people who were at sea, struggling to comprehend just what was happening, both in Jenner’s life and in the cultural at large.

I was writing two different plays at the time. One was about a Texas teen who was desperate to get noticed. Another was about a gender nonconforming teen who was determined not to. When I developed the character of a floundering high school principal - the type of guy who would be flummoxed by Jenner and also quietly furious at the erosion of his cis male dominance - I had a lightbulb moment and realized he was a bridge that linked the two in-progress plays. I married the plots and started bumping these struggling, deeply flawed characters up agains one another, and things aligned in surprising new ways.

The piece became an exploration of assumptions and appropriation, of relationships forged out of opportunism and out of a genuine yearning to connect in a rapidly fragmented world - all amplified by the clumsy, inescapable bullhorn of social media.

I hope the play will shake up perceptions, pop some preconceptions, and maybe even make audiences laugh as they hopefully recognize in these characters aspects of their neighbors and maybe even themselves.

 

A chat with BJ Cleveland about putting on the halo

Q: What a role - the Almighty! You certainly have immeasurable experience performing for DFW audiences as one of the premiere talents in our region, and have a long history of fantastic roles and brilliant performances. For you, what is different about this play from others you’ve done, and what most excites you about performing this critically acclaimed new script for the DFW audiences who know and love you so well?

A: Well, THAT was certainly a wonderful intro - It makes God happy! I think it is every actor's dream (and sometimes greatest fear) to work towards a one-man show format – quite a marathon of storytelling on our part. Although I am blessed to have two other wonderful actors, Doug Fowler and Parker Gray, as my "Wingmen" to share the experience, I cover about 93.5% of the lines. It's hard to imagine a role that would come with so much history (infinity), thought, reverence, and pre-conceived notions as the Almighty himself. So, no pressure there, right?

I'm a very physical actor, so the fact that I'm in the Heavenly Lounge sitting and visiting with the audience and not relying on a lot of physicality to tell my stories (or remember them) is a challenge for me (although, there is some hilarious physical comedy and even a song and dance!).

But the script by David Javerbaum (of The Daily Show) is funny, thought-inducing, irreverent, and surprisingly sentimental; I relish the words and re-telling the stories we grew up with in Sunday School from an original perspective. And specifically, talking about Junior (Jesus Christ to you) from a parent's point of view. It's hard not to get choked up. It's new, fresh, and funny. 

So come with an open mind, open heart and exposed funny bone - it will be tickled. 

Of course, GOD has taken over the body of B.J. Cleveland for the night, (and THANK GOD I'm available), so no there's NO telling what HE will say or do!

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