Production Blog

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

A word with director Harry Parker about the seriously funny

Q: This highly comedic and fun play is chock-full of laughs and hilarity, but also has some interesting things to say. What do you find most intriguing about the script, and what excites you most about directing this production?

A: For me, the most interesting thing about David Javerbaum’s An Act of God is the way he seasons what is largely a comic spin on God and the Ten Commandments, with moments of serious insight and some thoughtful ideas for the audience to ponder. Javerbaum has carefully modulated these two disparate elements into a carefully balanced evening that is designed to primarily entertain, but also to challenge. There are so many wild, hilarious, and controversial positions espoused by God in this play, that I seriously doubt that An Act of God will line up exactly with any single audience member’s individual theology. But that really isn’t the point. Javerbaum’s quest is to create a hilarious commentary on our concept of God, and he’s happy to provoke the audience along the way to accomplish this. Audiences will enjoy the play most thoroughly if they are able to laugh at religion a bit, and also at themselves.

A chat with Kally Duncan about the audience and the process

Q: This play, like the rest of Posner’s Chekhov cycle, asks that the audience have a unique role to play in the telling of the story - they are not only spectators but participants that the characters need in order to proceed in their story. And each character has their own specific relationship with the audience. What do you find most interesting about this conceit, and what most excited you about this play?

A: Having audience participation makes this show so unique because no two shows will ever be the same! It is set up kind of like a melodrama from the beginning so you know you’re going to have a good time. Whats interesting is that the audience pushes the characters toward different destinations, they guide us to new ideas. And we have no idea how the audience is going to respond! So its like an improv show at times, which can be extremely fun for us and the audience. 

I was so excited to join this cast, not only because the people involved are amazingly talented, but because I have a real love for Chekhov. I fell in love with Anton Chekhov’s plays in college and having the opportunity to bring Sonia to life in such a new and modern way is just incredible. Plus Aaron Posner’s writing is hysterical and so real! I have never laughed so much during a rehearsal process as I have with this show. The excitement of getting to work with such amazing artists was palpable, including the nervous butterflies, and as soon as I sat down at our table read I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime show not to be missed.

 

A word with LIFE SUCKS. director Emily Scott Banks

Q: Having worked on last season’s production of Stupid F*cking Bird must have been highly informative in regards to approaching this season’s production of Life Sucks., both being a part of Aaron Posner’s Chekhov cycle. In your experience of directing both, what do you find are the similarities between these two productions, and what differences can audiences expect?

A: Both Stupid F*cking Bird and Life Sucks take place in the same world - in fact we even decided for our purposes, they were on the same lake, and the characters were likely neighbors or acquaintances. Both plays very much have the same voice and specific sense of rhythm that Aaron Posner brings to his writing. That said, the overall storyline of Bird lived in the element of the air, and was a bit more about youth and early adulthood; whereas Life Sucks is more of the earth, and deals more with the places in middle life. Both very much blend absurdity and heartbreak in a delicious cocktail, and both works invite and include the audience in writing the journey of the show - which makes the audience both necessary and culpable. We also made the conscious choice to not only include Easter eggs in both for those who know the Chekhov source material well, but to carry over little touches from Bird to Life Sucks - not essential for full enjoyment, but a little delight for those who have seen both.

A chat with Grace Montie about the feel

Q: This play is unique, and interestingly contradictory, not only in its setting, but also in elements of its tone, mood, genre, and structure. It is a highly contemporary play that also has an antiquated feel to it – there is a classical three act structure, but the play is completely modern. It’s set at the bottom of the world, but has an innate warmth. How would you describe this play, and, in your experience, what aspects of it seem most unique to you?

 

A: The Royal Society of Antarctica (by the incomparable Mat Smart) is interesting & complex for a myriad of reasons; the main one (in my opinion) being that it centers more on the emotional journeys of certain characters rather than being completely plot-driven. It focuses on the emotional arc of my character, Dee, however the multifaceted people she meets at the bottom of the world begin to reveal authentic sides of themselves that in turn affect Dee’s mentality & attitude in a huge way.

Dee begins the play with a certain attitude & approach that has been forming her entire life, and by Act 3 we see a stark change in her and what she finds important. This shift is completely in response to the quirky people she has met in Antarctica, and the different things she has absorbed while learning their stories.

In addition to the structure, the play is also unique in its’ use of silences. While the majority of the show moves rather furiously, there are certain moments written in the script that require everything to halt, perhaps to emphasize the importance of certain moments. This allows the audience to make the realizations & follow alongside the emotional journeys of specific characters.

This unique play juxtaposes the idea of living in the harshest climate on Earth where death is just one wrong footstep away, with the warmth and charisma these very genuine characters bring to their relationships with each other.

A word with playwright Mat Smart about the inspiration

Q: The bottom of the world is an exciting and unfamiliar place to write about. It is certainly clear that your time in Antarctica influenced the setting and texture of your play The Royal Society of Antarctica, but what about your time there inspired the story you settled on telling and the characters that you wrote to inhabit your version of McMurdo Station?

A: One of the buildings I had to clean as a janitor at McMurdo Station was the Science Support Center.  From the second floor of that building, there was a stunning view of the Royal Societies – the majestic mountain range across the sound from the base.  At the SSC, they had great maps on the walls, and so I often looked at the names of the different peaks.  Also, a woman named Pam worked in the building – who had been coming to the Ice for twenty-something years.  I once asked her if anyone had been born at McMurdo and she said no, but there had been a close call one winter.  I believe all of these things came together to form a curiosity in me of: what would it be like to be born in the most inhospitable place on Earth?  

The Dead Seal, the dance move in the play, was inspired by two things I experienced at MacTown.  The dance that summer that took the base by storm was the Cat Puke.  Picture what a cat’s body does before it pukes – that’s pretty much the dance move.  But I wanted to come up with something very Antarctic-themed, so I meshed that idea together with the fact that there’s dead seals out on the mountaintops in the Dry Valleys.  

Tamara is based on a real life legendary jano that I was there with.  I got to share the play with her during a workshop at Portland Center Stage.  Before the reading, I explained to her that she was the inspiration with one big exception – that the character has a big problem with lying whereas my friend was incredibly honest (perhaps too honest).  She sat next to me during the reading and it was a blast.  Thankfully, she was honored.  She likes to be the life of the party.  

I interviewed a bunch of the scientists there, trying to find the most fascinating experiment and metaphor.  While so many of the projects are vital to understanding climate change, many of them are pretty dull.  I was amazed when I learned about the diatoms – the unicellular creatures that star in the play.  All of the science described is accurate.  It’s so far-fetched, I couldn’t have made it up.

The Biscuits and Honey Butter were amazing.  The best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Lastly, the Poop Chair was real.  And it was epic.  But thankfully, I didn’t have to clean it up.

Find out more about The Royal Society of Antarctica playwright

 

Stage West + FWISD !

Stage West made a commitment back in January with the Ghostlight Project to increase the ways that we give back to our community, especially those portions of our community that have been historically disadvantaged. We each started planting seeds.

While doing a College and Career Readiness Session with a lovely group of young women at Morningside Middle School back in February, our Marketing Director was approached to see if Stage West would be interested in participating in a similar summer program. Would we? Of course we would! How wonderful!

And finally it's time!

The FWISD IROC program (I’m Ready for the Opportunity of College!) is a summer camp facilitated by the Fort Worth ISD Academic Advisement Department. IROC! helps middle school students investigate their potential for college attendance and career exploration. The program involves visiting a variety of business environments as well as participating in local service projects. It has proven to help keep students on a college track, particularly among minority and first generation college students.

Our IROC! camp will be Thursday, July 6. In these interactive sessions, the staff at Stage West will offer students an overview of potential careers in the performance, technical, and business aspects of theater arts. Executive Producer Dana Schultes, actors Garret Storms and Mark Shum, Stage Manager Tiffany Cromwell, Education Manger Andrea Gonzales, Technical Director Ryan McBride, and Marketing Director Jen Schultes will engage with over 100 8th grade students over the one day event. From Q&A sessions to improv games to branding basics, we have pledged to pull back the curtain on a world of careers in the arts and arts management spheres.

The participating students will be representing Leonard Middle School, Kirkpatrick Middle School, Meacham Middle School, Rosemont Middle School, Rosemont 6th, Daggett Middle School, Morningside Middle School, Forest Oak Middle School, Jacquet Middle School, William James Middle School, Meadowbrook Middle School and Handley Middle School.

We are so excited, We can't wait to share what we have learned in our careers, to help the younger generation achieve their dreams of college and careers, whatever path they take.

 

Some background on Sex With Strangers

Q: Laura Eason’s new script, Sex with Strangers, is one of the most produced plays in the nation at the moment. As Executive Producer, what about it struck you as being a great fit for Stage West? '

A: Balance is everything when planning a season, and I was immediately taken with the current relevance of Sex with Strangers alongside its strength as an interesting, dramatic and fun story. It's a two-actor piece with some nice twists that easily leaves audiences with something to discuss afterwards. Laura Eason's recent prominence as a writer and producer on the hit Netflix show House of Cards has also played a hand in the popularity of the play. She's a great writer, and it is difficult for any producer to resist a well-written play that satisfies audiences eager for a meaty story. On a personal level, I was taken by the character of Olivia Lago and knew I would want to play her. She is smart, sassy, and strong but also full of self-doubt and vulnerability. Furthermore, I knew this would be a perfect piece for former Stage West Artistic Director Jim Covault to rejoin our merry team for a bit as director. And of course, though I didn't know this at the time of season selection, we ended up with a primo team all around with Jake Buchanan playing Ethan Kane opposite me, supported by an outstanding technical and design team. Sex with Strangers is a fun, steamy, intelligent show that exemplifies a classic Stage West play.

A word from the director

Q: One of the over-arching themes in the Sex With Strangers is ambition - and how the relationships we form aid or hinder in achieving one’s goals. In your approach to the script, what do you think the playwright it trying to say about desire and ambition? And what other aspects of the script are you excited to “uncover”?

A: Both characters in Sex with Strangers are indeed ambitious writers, though one (Olivia) initially feels less able to express that ambition. “Why am I not allowed to be ambitious?” she asks. The answer is almost certainly because she is a woman. In a relationship where both people are artists, and each can be useful to the other’s career, layers of desire and affection and ambition begin to bleed into one another, until neither character can say for certain what is driving them. Playwright Laura Eason, who is also a writer for television’s House of Cards, has created an intriguing complication in Sex with Strangers - each character at some point writes under a pen name and develops a public persona to go with the name. Working on the play, it’s fascinating to pursue the various iterations of the question - which is real, the public persona, the person you know from reading their book, or the one next to you in bed? That question becomes fiercely important for both Ethan and Olivia, and uncovering the truth is a life or death issue for their relationship.

The Aliens: Director's Notes

The first thing audiences should know about The Aliens is some background on its playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker. She has an incredible gift for realism and dialogue. She captures life beautifully. One of the devices she uses to do that is silence. Her Playwright's Notes for The Aliens (an Obie Award winning play) state "half of this play should be in silence." Without that silence, the play would be a little under an hour. Ours runs just under two, with intermission included. 

Those silences are not empty. They are filled with life: tension, happiness, longing, need, curiosity... The silences define the rhythm of life as it's lived. For our characters, the set is their playground... a place of ultimate refuge and safety where they can vent, create, experiment and just be.  In this play, we the audience are voyeurs watching events unfold over a couple of weeks one summer behind a coffee shop in Vermont.

So, what is the play about? It's about life. Growing up. Connection, friendship, love, loss, hope. Drugs, rock-in-roll, Bukowski, poetry, disillusionment and fireworks. It is about a teenager who finds himself through the most unlikely of mentors. It is simple and full. It is life. I am so honored to bring this beautiful play to the stage and to share it with audiences.  

One more thing: During casting, I really struggled. Both of my older actors were fully capable of playing either role. They couldn't have had more different takes on the characters but both performances were honest and sublime. About midway through rehearsal, I confessed the casting dilemma I'd had to Jake (Buchanan) and Joey (Folsom), the actors in the roles . Together we decided to let them do one rehearsal in the opposite role. I was sold and they were excited, agreeing to the added work with the pay-off of getting a very rare opportunity for an actor. It's worked out great. Seeing the different performances is a trip. Completely different but fabulous. Audiences will see the original casting on Thursdays and Saturdays and the alternate casting on Fridays and Sundays.

The Aliens (a poem by Charles Bukowski)

you may not believe it 
but there are people 
who go through life with 
very little 
friction or 
distress. 
they dress well, eat 
well, sleep well. 
they are contented with 
their family 
life. 
they have moments of 
grief 
but all in all 
they are undisturbed 
and often feel 
very good. 
and when they die 
it is an easy 
death, usually in their 
sleep. 

you may not believe 
it 
but such people do 
exist. 

but i am not one of 
them. 
oh no, I am not one of them, 
I am not even near 
to being 
one of 
them. 
but they 
are there 

and I am 
here

from The Last Night Of The Earth Poems

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