Tag Archives: World Premiere

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.

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Interview with Debbie Lamedman

Playwright Debbie Lamedman

I met Debbie working on the World Premiere of her play Triangle Logic in December of 2009 directed by Earl Weaver. I was lucky to have the opportunity to play Claire. Debbie came to Orlando for the last week or so of the rehearsal process and stayed through the run of the show for talk-back discussions.

Brooke M. Haney (BMH):  Tell me a little about your process as a playwright.

Debbie Lamedman (DL): My process is a little hard to define.  It changes from one project to the next.  For example, “Triangle Logic” began as a short story told from a female character’s point of view. The short story was a snapshot moment in the lives of two friends.  I liked the characters and felt there was much more story to be told, so I expanded it into a full-length play.

For other pieces, I have started with an idea of theme or character.  Sometimes I do an outline to determine where the arc is, but sometimes, I simply sit down and start writing dialogue and let the characters decide where they want to go.  That can be the most fun!

BMH: For you, as a Playwright, what is the most valuable part of the new works process? Reading, Workshop, or World Premiere? Why?

Trent Fucci and Brooke M. Haney in the World Premiere of "Triangle Logic"

DL: I think all 3 aspects are equally valuable.  Every layer of the process will hopefully enrich the work.  Readings are terrific, because it’s usually the first time I hear the work outside of my own head.  I hear the rhythm of the piece and what is working and what isn’t.  Workshops are amazing, because now it becomes collaborative between the playwright, director and actor.  I love this part!  I love seeing what an actor and director can bring to the work and often, I have seen them discover things in rehearsal that would be impossible for me to come up with during the writing process.  Workshops are probably my favorite thing of all.  Finally, World Premieres?  Well, in addition to being incredibly nerve-racking, it’s what I imagine it would be like sending your child off to school for the very first time.  Nervous, but proud to send the work out into the world.

BMH: When you go into rehearsal for one of your shows in one of these capacities, what is the best thing an actor can do to help you?

Brooke M. Haney and Mason Criswell in the World Premiere of "Triangle Logic"

DL: What I’m about to say may sound like a contradiction, but I think it’s best if the actor can both embody the character and also be open and flexible to change.  If the actor is able to embody the character, discoveries are bound to be made both for the actor and for me as the playwright.  But also, if something isn’t working, or if it seems I’ve written the character too flat or two-dimensional, I need the actor to be flexible enough to make the change, and be willing to go deeper and not be afraid of exploring new ideas.

BMH: How much does one of your plays tend to change from before a reading to the world premiere?

DL: Again, it depends on the project.  My most recent piece “Ignorance is Bliss” changed significantly from first reading to World Premiere (which will take place on April 21, 2010.)  The ending for “Triangle Logic” changed several times prior to its World Premiere, and as you remember in our rehearsal process, you had originally thought the play had one ending until I got there and told you it was changed.  I would like to think that if the cast and the director of TL vehemently opposed the newer ending, I certainly would have considered changing it back.  I find writing endings to be the most challenging…I want to serve the play and the characters as best I can.  I’m not necessarily looking to wrap things up in a tidy little way unless that is actually the best way to end things.  I learned early on as a writer, that you cannot be so in love with your own words, that you are reluctant to let anything go.  Change is good!  Good writing comes from good rewriting, but that is also the most challenging thing about writing…the rewriting.

Brooke M. Haney and Trent Fucci in the World Premiere of "Triangle Logic"

BMH: What do you see as the actor’s role in developing new plays?

DL: I believe it all comes down to trust.  I think it’s imperative for the actor to trust the playwright and to trust the play as it is written.  I’m a natural collaborator, and I am open to hearing the actor’s thoughts regarding the character, and I am very open to changing something if I believe it is not working.  As I stated previously, there is nothing like watching an actor take on a role and make discoveries about that character in the rehearsal process.  So I think the actor’s role in developing new work is to be an open, communicative and collaborative part of the creative team, all the while respecting the boundaries of the playwright and her work.

Debbie Lamedman is a playwright, author and editor of eight acting books published by Smith & Kraus, Inc. Debbie’s produced plays include phat girls, Triangle Logic, Mind Control, Eating in the Dark, and Just Add Love. phat girls is featured in the Smith & Kraus anthology, New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2003.

Debbie is the co-bookwriter for the  musical How the Nurse Feels, which has had staged readings at both the ASCAP/Disney Workshop in Los Angeles, and New World Stages in New York City. Debbie’s newest work, Ignorance is Bliss: a Global Warning will have its world premiere in April 2010.

Additionally, Debbie writes for the blog Confessions of a Cluttered Mind. She received her MFA from Brandeis University and is a proud member of The Dramatist Guild.