The first Representatives Show I saw, The Rakes: An Introduction, was in 2012. I was hooked. I’ve seen every show of theirs since and even had the extreme pleasure of acting in their Summer 2015 show, Cut The Shit. Stan Richardson is the playwright of this collaborative team which includes actor Matt Steiner and often involves productions in unique spaces, like apartments, churches or a nail salon. Their current production, The Rakes Die, opens Thursday March 24th and runs through April 3rd.
Brooke M. Haney (BMH): How did you and Steiner start working together, and what was it about Steiner that drew you to think “he is the actor that I’m going to write for, for years?
Stan Richardson (SR): He auditioned for a play of mine at Dixon Place. He came in and read like a five second scene and the way that the words came out of his mouth, his cadence’s, just perfectly matched the sort of everyman cadence of my plays. I don’t know how to characterize it, but there’s a standard way, that’s maybe just how I speak, and then a bunch of deviations, but they all come back to this way of speaking that is effortless to me. I hadn’t had this experience before of this perfect match. It wasn’t that he was exactly what I had expected, but that he did something more interesting than what I had expected.
BMH: In my personal experience with The Reps, there are two different ways you work on play:: Workshop Pages and World Premieres. Is there anything else you deal with or are those the two main things?
SR: Veritas would be the only exception to that, with a remount.
BMH: What’s the best thing an actor can do in the “workshopping pages” part of the process?
SR: I guess they can relax. We ask people to come in usually because we already know they are talented and interesting. Part of the experience of workshopping pages, is people being willing to share their experience of those pages and how they relate to the World as they see it. I have a hard time when actors seem “on” in a professional sense. Because I sort of immediately feel that I don’t know how to help them, because really we are just a bunch of people sitting around drinking wine with these very uneven pages. So when people come in with a professionalism that is above and beyond what you would do when you are visiting someone’s house – what I really want people to do is come over as if they are coming to dinner. You can just read in the moment and don’t worry about how you are coming across. Yes, I generated this but I am not the authority behind it, and you are not the authority behind it, none of us are the authority. Basically, until the play is fully written, people are both the artists interpreting this and witnesses to it. But then for the bulk of the rehearsal process they are collaborators.
BMH: What type of feedback do you like to hear from the actors in the discussion part of the workshopping pages process?
SR: I really enjoy when people are both actors and storytellers. So, there’s the double awareness of the fact that you have to simulate this experience, but you are also a storyteller so you can’t get lost in your performance. You have to always be in a private moment and a public moment at the same time. And, I think that can be hard; people a lot of the time are much more drawn to performance or pain. There’s something really nice about somebody coming in and both inhabiting this character, but also bringing themselves. Come in with all of your talents and limitations, don’t try to hide it.
BMH: What are the most useful things an actor can do in the rehearsal process for the World Premiere?
SR: (Have) a sense of humor. Because, I go into any production assuming there will be a lot that goes wrong, that won’t be ideal. And so for people to go into accepting every complication, and having the grace to say “Okay now we’re doing this instead” that’s great because I’m not always that way so it’s a really great thing to have others be more chilled out than I am. I call it a sense of humor, but maybe it’s flexibility.
A self-possession is also a really important thing, to not be afraid to speak up, but also realizing that most of the time if we can not process too much, that’s probably better.
BMH: The rehearsal process for Reps show are very brief.
SR: There’s something I really like about being in front of an audience before we’re ready. The technical elements should obviously be worked out before, whether they be sound cues or knowing your lines. But in terms of choices being calcified or blocking being fully set, it works to present before assumptions are made.
BMH: There are a couple of times during Cut The Shit where a line that I was attached to would be cut and I would ask for it back. How many times can an actor ask for a line back before you tell them to back off?
SR: If someone remembers a line from a previous version that’s usually a really good thing. So I take that very seriously and usually I will reinstate it. Usually people remember things because it was valuable somehow. Maybe that line wasn’t 1000% essential in the dramaturgy in some sense, but it is useful for the actor and becomes a step for them. Usually the actors I work with are very smart about the lines they want to bring back. They usually want lines because they are useful, they provide a build, or because they are just fucking funny, which I might have forgotten about. I don’t often have someone say “My character wouldn’t do this” because I think that’s something we’ve learned not to say very early on.
Hannah Herbert-Hunt (HHH): When you are hearing an actor read the lines for the first time and you encounter them saying a line different from the way you had envisioned it when you wrote it, do you most often find yourself wanting to correct them or liking their interpretation better?
SR: I encounter my own personal difficulty with how someone interprets the line less and less. Because if it’s not a matter of just making sense, then it’s a piece of the actor’s interpretation of the role. Usually their choice is more interesting than what I would have imagined. I like the idea that even after I’ve watched somebody with the “perfect” performance in this role, I also know that somebody else will pick it up later and do something different with that. I used to guide a lot more with my punctuation and/or italicizing but I don’t do that as much now because I think there is always a compelling argument for why a line could be said differently.
BMH: What advice do you have for an actor going through the casting process?
SR: The reasons you might be right for something can be really weird and the reasons you might be wrong for something can be completely arbitrary, but there’s so much that factors into casting that has nothing to do with talent. Part of what works really well with Steiner is that he can be an everyman when I want him to be, but he changes as a person a lot, and since he’s my best friend I witness those changes and the things that obsess him. When I’m writing for people who I know are going to be in the show, in some ways I’m writing for our shadow-selves. It’s very personal and obviously I want the roles to be repeated by others. I’m the sole author of the plays, but they are all touched by human hands, nothing that I do comes out of nowhere.
STAN RICHARSON is a Playwright and Director from St. Louis. A graduate of Tisch School of the Arts and Edward Albee’s Playwrights Workshop in Houston, TX, Stan’s plays, which include Veritas, The Children (with composer Hal Goldberg), wHormone, and The Tale of the Good Whistleblower of Chaillot’s Caucasian Mother and Her Other Children of a Lesser Marriage Chalk Circle (with composer Rachel Peters), have been developed at such venues as Second Stage, Ars Nova, Classic Stage Company, Dixon Place, PS122, The Brick Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.