Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Natural Life

Written by Eduardo Ivan Lopez
Directed by Jake Turner
Produced by T. Schreiber Studio

Nominated for: Outstanding Innovative Design, Andy Evan Cohen; Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role, Joseph D. Giardina; Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role, Noelle McGrath; Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role, Holly Heiser; and Outstanding Premier Production of a Play


About the Production
T. Schreiber Studio creates an environment for artists to rigorously test their skills. The company focuses on emotional and character-driven works that encourages their members to reach their potential. Eduardo Lopez's, script Natural Life provided a robust framework for the actors and designers to challenge themselves. A visually spare, multi media production, that puts on trial our assumptions of guilt and innocence, nature versus nurture, and the freedom to choose our own fate.

Producing Director Halle Morse, Designer Andy Evan Cohen, and Actors Joseph Giardina, Noelle McGrath, and Holly Heiser weight in on creating this emotional and compelling play.


What attracted you to this production?

Andy: I had worked on many shows with T. Schreiber Studios as sound designer (including the NYIt award-winning Balm in Gilead), so I was very excited to see the script and see something new for me: a show which specifically called for video elements. T. Schreiber doesn't do a lot of work with video, so when we decided to do the full production, I was very eager to take on the responsibilities to do the video design as well as the music and sound!

Joseph: I enjoy working on new plays. Virgil is a very violent and complicated character and I enjoy exploring that.

Noelle: I had worked with Jake Turner the director, and was eager to create something with him again. Also that it was a new play, and that the playwright, Eduardo Ivan Lopez, would be there with us. 

Holly: Natural Life is an original play with a challenging lead role. I have always been drawn to helping create a character from the beginnings stages of a work and taking on roles with extreme depth. 

Halle: The power of the story about a woman who in spite of the most terrible odds, survives and must ultimately fight to win her right to end her life.

What did you want the audience to come away with after watching this production?

Halle: A deeper understanding of our human condition and empathy for the less fortunate.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Andy: What started out as my least-favorite part of the production quickly became one of my favorite ones: the hours spent troubleshooting all the video equipment (4 different monitors, 2 live cameras, 2 playback computers, and a video mixer, plus all those converters, cables, and adapters!). The hours spent on a ladder trying to figure out why the camera image was distorted, only to finally find that hidden switch that made the camera properly communicate with the adapter box to make everything look good. Because now I know some neat hidden tricks if I ever want to intentionally make an image distorted in an unconventional way!

Joseph: I really enjoyed all aspects of the process but if I had to name one thing it would be working with Holly Heiser who played opposite me. Terrific, giving actress.

Noelle: The atmosphere at T. Schreiber is so supportive of the actors, you are always at home. The playwright of Natural Life, Eduardo Ivan Lopez, watched my work in rehearsal and molded the role to that, tweaking and adding things for me to do. What an honor! A great experience indeed.

Holly: I loved working with Jake Turner, our amazing director. He provided me a lot of room for exploration. I also fell in love with the cast, as a whole. There was always extreme love and support in the room and on stage. I will forever be grateful for that.

Halle: Working in collaboration with the writer, actors and designers to create a totally unique experience both in the story told and the way it's told. (Why) ? I'm a sucker for the challenge of creating a compelling, visually interesting and unique experience from scratch.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Andy: Aside from the technical challenges of setting up the video and getting everything consistently working, the biggest challenge was in reading the emotional mood of the play. The characters all need to be sympathetic to some degree, but so many of them were violent, abusive, and hard to relate to. How do you underscore a scene - both sonically and visually - of a young woman who kills her child rather than risking that the child be abused by her uncle? I came up with some wonderful and powerful sounds and images for the scene - only to see in previews that the less I did, the better it would be. Her actions needed to speak for themselves.

Joseph: The violence. Going to that place every night was difficult. Discovering those aspects of myself.

Noelle: Being a new play with a hard subject, Death Row, there were many unknowns. Sometimes we were all flying blind. The cast and director and playwright persevered to create something unforgettable.

Holly: It was a challenge to play Claire at such extremely different ages from scene to scene.

Halle: Finding choices for the lead actress to play that would illicit empathy and understanding from the audience. I was in fear of the audience rejecting the character of Claire because of her poor and often deadly choices in life.

What was the most unique aspect of this production?

Andy: If you ever really want to get to know NYC, try doing an image hunt for just the right shots for a show! The play took place in the suburbs, so shooting in Manhattan was mostly out, but I got everything I needed from a cemetery in Queens near LGA; from some houses in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; from a mall in the Bronx; and from a friend in Jamaica, QNS who happened to own the exact color (and nearly the exact year!) of pickup truck which was so crucial to the play.

Noelle: Jake Turner was inspired to put all of the ensemble onstage throughout, like an observing Grand Jury. We were all surprised by this, but quickly found it indispensable for creating a fluid action that never wavered.

Halle: Their was nothing more satisfying than having the actual woman who is the subject of the play, and remains in prison to this day, send word that she approved of our production. Apparently, the actual reporter who covered her story so many years ago and had given us a surprise visit one night reported back to her.
So many great things happened in rehearsal its hard to pick one but, the business of the flying chair entrances from one of the characters came completely out of improvising and the necessity of getting set pieces on and off quickly. We just happened to have a chair on wheels one day and Don, the actor, was messing around and it was obvious that it was genius.

What was it like working with T. Schreiber Studio?

Andy: Of all the theater companies I have worked with in NYC, T. Schreiber is most like my home and family. I have designed over 20 different shows with them going over 6 seasons, and every show has been both fun and challenging. Terry Schreiber and his colleagues do great work there on a consistent basis, and it is an honor to be nominated for my work with them.

Joseph: The supportive atmosphere is unparalleled. Many were actors I had worked with in class.

Noelle: T. Schreiber has a high standard and an impressive body of theatrical works. You are always aware of this, but also at home with your fellow artists. Terry Schreiber has created a great legacy that we all are privileged to contribute to.

Holly: The love and support from this cast and creative team was beyond compare. As I said before, I appreciate everyone involved in the project and hope to work with them again someday.

What was it like working with Andy, Joseph, and Noelle?

Halle: They were totally committed and focused on telling a complex and difficult story. It made the production "fly" and riveted the audience. Oh, and they all happen to be extremely talented, smart and fearless.

You can follow these artists on Twitter

T. Schreiber Studio - @TSStudio
Andy - @AndyEvanCohen

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