Tag Archives: new plays

Interview with Stan Richardson

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Playwright Stan Richardson

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.

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Matt Steiner and John Garret Greer in Veritas. Photo: Joshua Paul Johnson

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.

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Meg McQuillan and Caitrin Kelly in The Rakes: an Introduction. Photo: Dorvit Avganim

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?

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Zachary Clark and Brooke M. Haney in Cut the Shit. Photo: Jan Wandrag

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.

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Interview with Andrew Russell and Sonya Schneider, Director and Playwright of THE THIN PLACE

I was in Seattle for the summer working for Last Leaf Productions on The Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had the wonderful opportunity to see Intiman Theatre’s production of The Thin Place. I was moved by the production and excited about the process that must have occurred in the unique way in which this play was devised.I was thrilled with both Andrew Russell, the Director, and Sonya Schneider, the Playwright, agreed to talk with me.

Brooke M. Haney (BMH): I understand that The Thin Place was conceived from interviews done by Marcie Sillman. How was that different than a regular process?

Andrew Russell (AR): It wasn’t the typical sitting alone at a computer. Sonya really had to do justice to 15 interviews, a set that she knew she had, and an actor she was writing for.

Sonya Schneider (SS): I admitted to Andrew that I was terrified, but instead of considering that an obstacle, he admitted that he was terrified too.

BMH: It sounds like you guys were a great team.

SS: There were so many incredible people working on it. It was amazing.

BMH: I’m curious how Gbenga Akinnagbe, as the actor, influenced the script or your process.

SS: I think he influenced it very much. Everything from his sex, his race, his voice, his background – all of that – I couldn’t help but consider that as I was writing, and as we were shaping the narrative.

Having him in the room for the first of two workshops, I think it was very influential: to see what he jumped into immediately, what seemed foreign to him.

Gbenga Akinnagbe in The Thin Place at Intiman

BMH: What were things Gbenga did that were helpful to you both in your different capacities?

AR: He was intelligently challenging in a really useful way. He would try everything, but if it wasn’t working, he would let you know. Some actors will show you exactly what you want with out anything underneath it, and then some actor’s can’t do it until it really feels genuine, and Gbenga is that kind. So, we could tell pretty quickly what would definitely work and what wouldn’t. This is very useful in a new work.

SS: And he was immediately intrigued by particular characters. He would ask to see more about those characters. So, Andrew and I would examine them further. I’ve never seen an actor grow in the way that he did. Through the whole process, he reinvented himself so much. Also, he came in with so little prejudice around the piece, maybe because there wasn’t a script at the beginning.

Andrew worked with him really, really well. They found a really good vocabulary. And one day, Andrew decided that Gbenga had to take it and it was right around the same time that Gbenga was like, “I have to take it.” The timing felt right. It was great.

AR: And it’s funny how that ownership totally shifted.

SS: I think it was empowering for Gbenga to be there as it was being built. There is something really unique in new work. There are some really deep connections you’re forming with your characters, with your team, your designers, your director. And then the stakes are so high, for everybody, but in theatre that’s a good thing.

BMH: Where is that balance between being the challenging actor? When do I try to make the words work as they are, and when do I say, they aren’t working for me, can we try this instead?

AR: Sometimes the playwright will say, I’m changing that, it’s ju

st not working and the actor will say, just give me some time, I can make that work. And I’ve gone through moments when the actor says this isn’t working, can we change it. I think it comes down to whether or not there is someone who can own it. If the playwright


The Thin Place at Intiman

can say I really believe in this, or if the actor says I’m really behind this moment, you keep it.

But if you encounter a problem and no one really knows why it’s there, then that’s the kind of time that we trust ourselves that it isn’t working. So, you have to kind of give it a chance.

BMH: It seems like such and amazing project to have the opportunity to be a part of.

AR: I was so excited to talk to you, because it was such a personal process.

BMH: And, I think it was pretty personal for the audience too.

AR: One audience member told me she hated it. And I said that was too bad, but okay. Then she said that she hated it, but she talked about it for five hours afterward with her husband. And I thought: “that’s great.” I’d rather you hate it if it means you talk about it afterward!

BMH: Right? Isn’t that what we want good theatre to do?

Interview conducted July 2010.

Interview with Sean Daniels

Sean Daniels Associate Artistic Director of Actor's Theatre of Louisville

Ever since my undergraduate days, I’ve been a bit enamored of Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and their great dedication to new play development. I contacted Sean Daniels, Associate Artistic Director of ATL, because I knew that he has a personal tie to new play development as well.

Brooke M. Haney (BMH): Why Does Actor’s Theatre of Louisville (ATL) have such a commitment to new works, and what does that commitment look like?

Sean Daniels (SD): We support new works by producing new plays. It’s important because Theatre is supposed to be a conversation with the audience about what is going on right. It feels  a little antique and precious when you only produce theatre from the 50’s and 60’s. We’re a culture obsessed with what is new and happening, and these are the writers of out time. ATL chooses to nurture them.

ROCK AND ROLL: THE REUNINON TOUR @ Actor's Theatre of Louisville directed by Sean Daniels (co-creator)

BMH: Why do you think new works are so risky?

SD: Theatre frames it as risky, music frames it as essential. The risk level changes where you live as well. For example, in New York there is a hunger for new things. Of course it is not just marketing, but training the audience. Music has done that, through the decades.

BMH: What is the value of the actor apprentice program at ATL?

SD: It is part of our duty to train the next generation of artists and administrators. We can trade them expertise and experience for work. Also, it’s great to have 40 new young people running around the building; makes a great energy.

MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR @ Cal Shakes directed by Sean Daniels

BMH: What is the actor’s role in developing new works?

SD: In a workshop, you can use a smart actor who might not be perfect for the part. The goal is to find what is working and what is not working. Ii is important not to cover up the flaws. In Production, everything is product oriented. We do what we can do to get this show in the best place possible. Of course, this is just one way. There are lots of different models for doing it.

Sean Daniels is in his 4th year as the Associate Artistic Director of Actors Theater of Louisville He is the former Associate Artistic Director/Resident Director of the California Shakespeare Theater and before that spent a decade as the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Dad’s Garage Theater Company in Atlanta, Ga. He is also an Associate Artist of the Geva Theater Center in Rochester, NY. Has also directed for Cleveland Playhouse, Alliance Theater, Neo-Futurists, Crowded Fire and developed work with the O’Neill,
Playlabs, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Magic Theater, Kennedy Center, and others.

Directing highlights: Brink! (2009 Humana), Hedwig and The Angry Inch, Rock and Roll: The Reunion Tour (also co-creator), 43 Plays for 43 Presidents, All Hail Hurricane Gordo (2008 Humana), O Happy Day and Out Of The Trees (both world premieres by former Monty Python member Graham Chapman), and Cannibal! The Musical (world premiere by “South Park” creator Trey Parker). He was named twice named “Best Director” in Atlanta and the Bay Area. American Theater has named him ““One Of 7 People Reshaping And Revitalizing The American Musical” and “ One of the top fifteen up & coming artists in the U.S., whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come.”

Interview conducted Summer 2009.