Directed by Jay Stull
Produced by The Amoralists
Nominated for: Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role, Alex Grubbs; Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role, Vanessa Vaché; Outstanding Original Full-Length Script, Emily Schwend; & Outstanding Premier Production of a Play
|Photo by Russ Rowland|
About the Production
The Amoralists endeavor to explore “characters of moral ambiguity, plumbing the depths of the social, political, spiritual and sexual characteristics of human nature.” Emily Schwend’s play Utility provided a rich platform for this ensemble to delve into complexities of the human condition. This play follows an exhausted mother of two, who is barely keeping her oppressive despair at bay while managing the day-to-day struggles of a dysfunctional family.
Actors Alex Grubbs and Vanessa Vaché, and playwright Emily Schwend discuss their process while working on this domestic drama.
What attracted you to this production?
Alex: Emily's script grabbed me right away. I felt a visceral reaction to the world and the story. I'm from the South, so it felt familiar and accurate--without any judgement. I've never connected to a character in a new play as much as 'Jim.'
Vanessa: I was intensely drawn to Emily Schwend's writing. I loved the language of her story, her characters, and the world she created. The character of Amber was such a uniquely honest and compelling heroine. It was a story of feminism that was immediately familiar to me, but one I had yet to see portrayed on stage at that point.
What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Vanessa: I always looked forward to the time I spent with the cast and crew on this production. Jay Stull is an absolute dream of a director, James Kautz, Alex Grubbs, and Melissa Hurst created characters that you couldn't help but fall in love with, and everyone at the Rattlestick provided an incredible amount of support. Every day I came in to work on this show felt like coming home.
Emily: My favorite part was working with my two main theater collaborators -- Jay Stull and James Kautz -- who have had a hand in nearly all of my recent work in one way or another.
Alex: The cast and creative team became a family. That’s the kind of bond you want in a show. We laughed together and pushed each other. Each night the actors took a moment to center together backstage and just revel in how fortunate we were to be working on this show.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Alex: The biggest challenge was dialing it in, and my hats off to our amazing director, Jay Stull, who directed with surgical precision. So much of the play was stillness and tension on multiple levels, and it was hard to know early on what exactly was working, but trusting Jay and Emily's text never failed.
Vanessa: This show was far and away the most challenging I have faced on stage so far. The role of Amber was my first experience as a lead in a professional production. 90 minutes on stage is no joke. Every word, every gesture, every expression is open and available to the audience and it requires you to be completely open and vulnerable night after night. But that vulnerability is exactly what a show like Utility requires in order to make the story resonate with every audience. At a certain point I had to learn to give in to the fear of being that visible. On top of the demands of rehearsing, studying the text, and the physical work that went into the role, I was constantly aware of the fact that my role was the driving force of the story.
What was the oddest thing that happened during the production?
Emily: This is a play about Texas, where I am from, and during the process of making this play we discovered many people on our team had ties to the state. Our sound designer, Jeanne Travis, actually read the play out loud to her mother in her childhood kitchen in Texas over the holidays.
Vanessa: Some of my favorite moments during the run of Utility happened in the dressing room before shows. One moment I'll always remember was when the four of us were sitting backstage and telling corny jokes. One joke in particular about a lobster and a bus stop made me absolutely lose my mind. I don't know if it was fatigue or anxiety or what exactly, but I could not stop laughing for at least five minutes. The whole thing was recorded on someone's phone and I'm so thankful that it was. Now I get to go back and watch it whenever I need a good laugh.
Alex: The play was produced at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre -- one of my favorites in town--but there's not much of a backstage area, so every inch you moved was magnified 100X. Every night, James Kautz and I would have to quietly apply a bunch of drywall dust to ourselves (baby powder) and it was hard not to laugh. Also, James would aways come offstage with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made by Vanessa on stage for me!
What was it like working with The Amoralists?
Vanessa: I started working with The Amoralists only a few months after I finished school in New York. I was a fan of theirs before I came to work with them and consider myself extremely lucky to have been brought into the fold so early on. This was my sixth production with the company over the past five years and it has always felt like family.
Alex: The Amoralists have a reputation for being talented artists who aren't afraid to do work that pushes boundaries, but doing a production like Utility showed that they can also accomplish that intensity in a quiet way. James Kautz is a committed and generous collaborator and a great friend. I look forward to the next chance I get to work with them.
Emily: Working with the Amoralists on this show felt like going home again. Jay and James produced my first play in New York in 2014, and they are my theater family. I would make a million plays with them, forever.
You can follow these artists on Twitter
The Amoralists - @TheAmoralists
Alex Grubbs - @alexgrubbs
Emily Schwend - @emilyschwend