Production Blog

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

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 
they dress well, eat 
well, sleep well. 
they are contented with 
their family 
they have moments of 
but all in all 
they are undisturbed 
and often feel 
very good. 
and when they die 
it is an easy 
death, usually in their 

you may not believe 
but such people do 

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

and I am 

from The Last Night Of The Earth Poems

A chat with actor Parker Gray about getting really really real

Q: The playwright of this show, Annie Baker, has become known for her hyper-realistic aesthetic and style. She posits situations, characters, and environments that are true to life in very specifically modern ways. In working on The Aliens, what have been the most exciting and challenging parts of exploring a theatrical style that is (the characters notwithstanding) stripped of much theatricality?

A: I think perhaps the most exciting thing about any hyper-realistic play is (when you’re able to fulfill the requirements of the role) how easy it is to understand where these characters come from, where they are, and where they’re going. And when you have a playwright as talented as Annie Baker creating these stories and characters, it does half of the work for you. Playing around in Evan’s world has been extremely fun and challenging at the same time.

Something exciting to play with is the fact that, because these characters are SO human, every thought that goes through your head completely supports the action of the scene. And what I mean by that is, in other plays it is really easy for an actor to be upset with themselves because they will become distracted and their thoughts will roam if they aren’t listening well, or even if they’re listening “too hard”. You can start to judge your thought process and get in your own way, because you don’t feel connected with your partner, or you haven’t quite figured out your path yet. However, with the help of Annie’s writing and the world she has created, this hyperrealism allows the actor to think SO many thoughts about what’s going on, and it’s almost impossible to lose track of where you are. I’ve found that Evan is an extremely vigilant and observant character, so he is constantly judging the world around him and he’s judging himself through these experiences around him. And because of this, I as the actor, am fully able to jump into that mindset and track my journey through each scene. Evan is always hyperaware of when he is messing up or making too many waves, and so every self-conscious thought an actor could have is mirrored in Evan’s world. No thought is off limits; which is so freeing as an actor. It is so easy to find your way back to the scene or the action if you’re lost. However, this ability isn’t possible without doing the outside rehearsal room work you need to do as an actor, but Annie Baker definitely helps you get to where you need to be.

Now this script isn’t void of challenges by any means. Every night is fun, because you get to play around and try new things, but this play still costs you something. It is a tiring journey to go on. The play is so sweet and endearing, while also being brutal and heartbreaking. And I as the actor feel that every day during and after every rehearsal. These characters are all wounded in some deep, serious place, and in order to fulfill the requirements of this play, you have to go there and it’s tough. Each character is so meaty and full, and any actor would love to be able to sink their teeth into these roles, but it comes at a price. And that’s what good writing and good acting requires: a price to be paid. Annie spends precious time setting these characters so high on a pedestal, only to fall very far very quick. And you have to go there in order to do the play. And because of the brilliant writing and the hyper-realistic style you FEEL that every time. It’s challenging, but in a good way. Acting wouldn’t be fun if it was easy. And I wouldn’t want to do it, if I didn’t have to work. This play makes you work, but it also makes it seem effortless. And with this cast and creative team, it’s impossible not to have fun, to go after each other, and to feel all the things every night.

Theatre Jones spotlights Aaron Mark and the world premiere of "Deer"

Garret and Lisa and John and the rest of us here at Stage West are excited to present the world premiere of Deer to the playwright himself this weekend! Please join us on Sunday March 26 for our matinee performance. Playwright Aaron Mark will be in attendance and will lead the Post-Show Conversation. 

In the meantime, check out this interesting article Work in Progress: Deer - Playwright Aaron Mark talks about the unusual path his play Deer took for its world premiere at Stage West by Shelby-Allison Hibbs over at Theatre Jones (and excerpted below...)

Aaron Mark grew up in Houston, attending theatre and classes at the notable Theatre Under the Stars. Instead of taking the typical route of going to college and majoring in theatre, Mark decided to move directly to New York City after high school to start his career working in the theatre. He began by assistant directing numerous musicals. Mark mused about his past ambitions,  “I was on a path to become a director of musicals.” He’s most known as a director, and has a notable amount of credits in the city.

But something changed as Mark began to take an interest in writing plays… weird plays, as he says. Deer was inspired by real events; a couple of Mark’s friends were driving in a wooded area when they suddenly hit a deer. It completely changed their night because the animal was not quite dead yet—one of them would have to kill it. Mark was fascinated by that situation. “Who is going to do it? What does it reveal about the dynamics of their relationship? What would it catalyze in their relationship? I was intrigued by the intensity of that moment.”

Deer is unusual from a development standpoint… because it has already been published. Even before a single production of the play had occurred. That is interesting…and almost unheard of.

Check out the full article at Theatre Jones to find out the rest of the path Deer took to its world premiere at Stage West.

Hope to see you all on Sunday with your questions and comments for the director.

(photo: Aaron Mark)


A word with director Garret Storms about the feel of "Deer"

Q: With Deer being a world premiere, Stage West audiences will be the very first to see this show produced. It is billed as “a grisly, pitch-black comedy”, but with a bit of a longer word count, how would you describe this script?

A: It’s actually quite difficult to pin this play down into a genre or to choose one main theme. It is boisterously hilarious and snarky, sometimes sad and most times dark, and also gruesome and terrifying, while being strange and whimsical. It encompasses all of the emotions that culminate when you are at the pivotal edge of something - and that edge could be the edge of oblivion or the edge of possibility and what happens when those are the same edge. It’s about being at a breaking point (and we’ve all stumbled upon that point before), and it’s about how beginnings and endings are really the same thing. And it’s about fighting and discovering. It’s about relationships and the work that goes into them. Above all it’s about love, as all things usually are at their core. It’s about all of these things...and a deer. 


"Deer" playwright Aaron Mark about the origin of the show

Aaron Mark:

Back in 2012, a friend of mine had just returned to New York from a weekend away at her house in the Poconos, on the drive to which she’d hit a deer. Or rather, a deer hit her car - I remember her insisting the deer darted out in front of the car out of nowhere, so it was the deer’s fault, obviously - Regardless, the animal was critically injured, groaning helplessly on the road in front of her blood-spattered bumper, and what followed, she said, was a moment of truth for her and the friend who’d been in the car with her. The deer wasn’t going to survive, so shouldn’t one of them put it out of its misery? Isn’t that the humane thing to do? The obligation, even? But which one of them would do it? And how? And what’s revealed about someone who doesn’t mind getting their hands dirty? And about someone who’d rather let it linger in agony? I was obsessed by the idea of this moment, and by the circumstances under which facing such a moment might push someone over the edge. How do we know when and how to put something we’re afraid to lose out of its misery? I don’t have an answer to this question, and that’s why I wrote the play

Find out more


A word with director Emily Scott Banks about the test of time

Working on scenery positioning with cast member Garret Storms, left, Emily Scott Banks is directing her third play for Stage West in Fort Worth.

Q: Stupid F*cking Bird is a contemporary and irreverent riff on Chekhov’s The Seagull - it takes the classic Russian comedy and turns it inside out, bringing it into the modern day. What do you think it is about this story that has stood the test of time and has inspired this provocative, bold new “sort-of” adaptation?

A: Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull has been translated into every major language, and been adapted over 20 times for theatre, film, ballet and opera; yet plot-wise, seemingly little actually happens. The central focus of the work is the prominence of feelings, which in their truthful intensity become the action. Tension between the older and younger generations becomes a metaphor for the war between established and emerging art, vibrancy and death, fame and obscurity. Big stuff, sounds like a possible snooze - and yet the play, both in the original and especially in Aaron Posner’s scatological yet ultimately respectful version, is terribly, darkly funny. Mordant and somehow optimistic, this story has delighted audiences and theater-makers for over 130 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Photo by Paul Moseley pmoseley [at]  "Working on scenery positioning with cast member Garret Storms, left, Emily Scott Banks is directing her third play for Stage West in Fort Worth." The image accompanied the article:

A chat with SFB actor Matthew Grondin about "the meta"

Q: "Stupid F*cking Bird" is a show that is very aware of itself - that is to say that the characters know that they are in a play and, at times, comment to the audience about their role in the story. What do you find interesting or challenging about this conceit and what excites you about this play?

A: I love this play, and the world that Posner has written. One thing that really excites me about doing live theatre, is finding those moments in rehearsal when you, as your character, feel several different emotions about one given circumstance all at the same time. Maybe you’re pissed off about something, but then you feel sad for the other person involved - but then also guilty that you got pissed off. And then maybe even a little satisfied that they feel bad - but then you’re mad at yourself for feeling that way! And that, I think, is what happens in real life. Rarely do I find that I have just one single thought about things. I think there’s often a struggle. And Posner has written characters that really allow you to explore that struggle. And if we as actors have challenged ourselves to dig into this during rehearsals, each performance will have many different colors that pop up and surprise everyone on stage! Maybe one night you’re more upset, and the next night you find that same moment a little more ridiculous. But you’ve explored the world of your character enough to trust all that is correct - and then you are free to just communicate and live with the other actors on stage.

An added layer of this that’s particularly fun in this specific play, is that there are almost several worlds that are all happening at the same time. (I’ve never been in a play where the word “meta” was used so much in rehearsals!) I’m playing the role of Dev - but in a way, I’m also playing myself (Matt) playing the role of Dev - and being able to comment on the circumstances that Dev is finding himself in. And because of that, it adds a whole other level of feelings and emotions that may or may not be perfectly jiving with each other. And that’s messy and complicated. And, for better or worse - that’s how life is. And I think a big reason people go to the theatre is to see others in real-life circumstances, and then get a snapshot into how they deal with it.