Monday, September 22, 2014

Jane the Plain

Jane the Plain
By August Schulenburg
Directed by Kelly O’Donnell
Produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble

Nominations: Janie Bullard is nominated for Outstanding Sound Design; Kelly O'Donnell is nominated for Outstanding Director; Kia Rogers is nominated for Outstanding Lighting Design

              Photos by Deborah Alexander

About this Production
Football, popularity and the clash of the gods: it's all going down at Plainview High School's homecoming game in the comic fairy tale Jane the Plain. Jane's status takes a sudden rise after she saves the mysterious Glowing Girl and is given the gift of beauty. Everyone starts falling for her: quarterback Scotty the Hotty, second-stringer Lesson the Decent, even the most popular girl in school, Lexi the Sexy. As the jealous Betty the Pretty seeks to eliminate her newfound rival, Leonard the Awkward tries to win his best friend Jane back. But when another mysterious god, the Mirror Man, starts haunting Scotty, this battle of love and social status takes a dangerous turn of cosmic proportions. What if the wrong choice in high school really could end the world?

Producers Heather Cohn and  Rachael Hip-Flores, Lighting Designer Kia Rogers, Set Designer Will Lowy, Playwright Agust Schulenburg, Director Kelly O'Donnell, and Actors: Becky Byers, Chinaza, Sol Crespo, IsaiahTanenbaum, Alisha Spielmann share their experiences of working on this collaborative process about beauty, humanity and the nature of the universe.


What attracted you to this project?

Kia: The play, Jane the Plain, really resonated with me. The feelings of not fitting in, all the crazy things we do as teenagers to try to fit in, and that everything is the MOST important thing, EVER. It's been 20+ years and August Schulenburg put me right back into the hallways of my youth. That's powerful writing, and I wanted to support it creatively, with honesty and beauty. Lighting it was fun, challenging and rewarding.

Heather: About a year ago, Flux expanded our ensemble rather significantly, bringing on five new Creative Partners all at once. These five new CPs (Alisha, Becky, Chinaza, Rachael & Sol) are all actors and Jane the Plain seemed like to perfect show to do to honor our new CPs with great roles for four out of five. Alisha had helped developed the role of title character Jane since the early days. It's also a very ensemble-y show and for that reason too it seemed like a great choice.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Becky (Betty the Pretty): My favorite part of working on this production was the true ensemble nature of it all.  Bouncing ideas off one another, trying different things out, being malleable and open toward one's not something you get with most productions.  With Kelly at the helm, this show was something we truly created together, like we were all responsible for our own individual ingredients in making this delicious theater stew.  I felt as though this process brought together us as friends, colleagues, and artists by the art we were creating, manifesting in an honest sense of kinship. Also, there was a confetti cannon. It's mostly the confetti cannon.

Chinaza (Scotty the Hotty): Becky, already said it best... Every face in the room was an artist we loved and respected. The play is about old friends coming back together - to remember one of their own. To look back on this magical moment of time they shared together. And to take that theatrical journey with that group of people brought a special kind of resonance to the piece.

Kelly: My favorite part was to be given the opportunity to work with such a dynamic cast and creative team. It felt like a true team effort. The process was everything I could hope for as a director: everyone involved believed in the show, gave it 100% commitment, and together we created a wonderful production. It was a privilege to be the leader of so many talented artists who trusted me to guide the show to fruition.

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

Sol (Lexi the Sexy): Not having enough time in the space before opening. This play was very physical, had many moving parts- literally- we moved the bleachers around to create a new scene and with such a tech heavy show, for example, confetti cannon precision, it would've been great to have more time to iron those details out. I know a huge challenge of many indie theatre companies is not having enough in the budget to facilitate this extra time. Flux is a very movement oriented company and a lot of us have training to supplement that so I am very confident that we rallied and did the very best we could during our load-in and tech and I'm very proud of our work in JTP. Also, carrying a star drop that requires 6-8 full grown adults is part workout, part teamwork, all fun!

Will: As the set designer, I'm tempted to say the design process itself. With this particular show we needed to create a recognizable high school environment that not only had to flip between locations quickly but had to encompass various levels of our reality, from the everyday to the nostalgic to the mythic. However, that's admittedly just my job when it comes down to it -- every show has its own world that has to be developed and hammered out choice by choice. So to choose something much more specific, I'd have to say the confetti cannon, as every part of its journey sketchpage to stage took an incredible amount of brainpower. Our early research phase was extensive as we determined what would suit our needs theatrically; the cannon itself appeared like it would be unaffordable until Red Mountain Theatre Company loaned us theirs; there were some delivery issues getting the supplies in by tech; due to the manual trigger it took the clever craftsmanship of Friend of Flux Mike Mihm to rig the special effect in a way that the stage manager could trigger it from the back of the house; and then we encountered several consistency issues as we ran the effect in tech that had to be individually solved. Ultimately, we overcame the obstacles, and I was ecstatic that we were able to pull off that particular theatrical exclamation point.

Kelly: A great deal of the play was devised with very little indication, in the script, on how things should be staged. A majority of the final product came out of the rehearsal room and we discovered the vocabulary of the play as an ensemble.

What was the most memorable moment for you during the creation of this production?

Kelly: Flux used wordbuilding marketing strategies to bring the show out of the theatre as much as possible. For example, each character in the show had his or her own Facebook page which the actors in the show maintained and updated on a regular basis.

Isaiah (Leonard the Awkward):  Flux heads out to Little Pond, PA every summer for a week-long retreat, where we workshop plays, talk about the future of the company, and just hang out with some of our nearest and dearest fellow artists. It's magical and invigorating, like the theater camp I never got to go to as a kid. We staged Jane the Plain in its entirety for the first time at the especially magical 7th Retreat in 2012, and for Jane's run through the rain to the edge of the highway we made the rain sounds using whatever was at hand (a design choice that was translated to the staged version two years later) and then had the audience run with her around the back of the converted barn that serves as our staging area as we named all her names for rain. Then Ryan Andes delivered Scotty the Hotty's showstopping "young girl" monologue leaning against his motorcycle, and the Spirit of Beauty was a tree that we puppetted, which drew Jane into its branches before sending her rolling down the actual hill next to the road and back to mundane reality, whereupon we returned to the barn to stage the rest of the play. The way that we physically broke out of the space for that supernatural moment was so powerful that it propelled the rest of the play forward, and that shift has stuck with me through all the subsequent iterations of the show as not only a favorite Jane the Plain development moment, but also a favorite Flux moment, and a favorite theater career moment.

Rachael: Dude, let me tell you about the thing that, like, literally made me believe in God. So, we had a costuming mishap. Our take-no-prisoners-talented costume designer, Stephanie Levin, ordered a custom-made varsity jacket for the character Scotty "The Hotty" Johnson, from a vendor off Etsy whose house I may or may not have burned down several days after this all took place. Of course, the jacket never showed up. The vendor waits until I think it was actually the day before previews to say, "Oh, BTdubs, totally not gonna be able to do this, sorry, don't burn my house down, byeeeee."

So, we're out a very specific, rather important, and pretty damn iconic costume piece (Scotty "the Hotty" Johnson is jock, after all) with maaaybe 24 hours to replace it? So Stephanie is like, "Go to these stores - we're looking for a heavy-weight letterman's jacket in purple or teal" (because ps- our kick-ass set designer, Will Lowry, has made the school colors purple and teal and designed the entire set in those colors) "but seriously, if it's a neutral, grab it because we need something and we're not gonna get anything. Whatever name is on it is fine. Hopefully it's something generic, but whatever." So I set off on a trek which takes me through the bowels of Brooklyn, into second hand stores housing objects which - you know, probably haunted. Also, it's May? And even if someone were willing to part with his/her somewhat expensive and probably sentimentally valuable high school varsity jacket, remarkably few places sell winter coats at the beginning of summer.

I went to...I think it was 7 different stores. The last store. In the back. I'm pawing through all manner of tweedy nonsense...And I see...this heavy-weight letterman's purple!...the right size!...with the name JOHNSON embroidered in enormous letters right across the big, broad back. AND it was half the price of what we had anticipated. I just stood there, looking at it and laughing.

For, like, an uncomfortably long time.

I saw Jane the Plain a bunch of times, and every time that jacket came out, there was a part of me (the face part, mostly, with some help from the lungs and the soul) that could still not stop giggling.

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

Alisha (Jane the Plain): "And what I think is, and this is the great secret: I think that happens all the time. Every day, the glowing girl against the mirror-man, every night, beauty and death, every hour the world almost ending, then going on instead." I think what I want people to come away with after watching this story is that there is magic all over the place if you are open enough to see it, and that at the end of the day you need to be true to who you are, to yourself.  That's your truth, your inner beauty. It's easy to forget though. Jane never actually changed her physical appearance, it was how people saw her that changed. People will say things and try to do things and crazy things happen all the time every day but the more you stay true to who you are the more your beauty, your true inner beauty will shine.  Your job is to let that shine by just being and embracing who you are.  Jane realized who she was in all of this, and her walk at the end in my opinion is the most powerful of them all because of everything she had been though. She came out of this knowing herself a little better, and that knowledge is strength that can last a lifetime. That is life.

Heather: Questions about how we define beauty and what it means to be human.

August: I suppose I wanted the audience that followed the adventures of the Plainview Jaguars to walk away with the same thing I myself hope for: More life.

As artists, we are advocates for life as it really is: complex, evolving, difficult, beautiful, interconnected, precious, dangerous, and as far as we know, unlike anything else in our universe. We create work in opposition to forces that seek to simplify, commodify, categorize, deaden and cheapen life for their own self-interests, turning each unique human life into an expendable statistic. These are powerful forces, and we work on little stages, but their size is part of our declaration of what matters: not a huge viewership of interchangeable consumers, but these irreplaceable humans in the here and now.

When I see a great play, I feel the people around me become irreplaceable again, instead of adversaries walking too slow on the sidewalk; and I become aware of just how much we are capable of, for better and for worse. I’m given more life, and it’s just irresistible when it happens, and so I keep coming back and back, in spite of all the flailing absurdities in this calling called theatre. And if I can give some measure of that to someone else, it’s all worth it. That sounds lofty or overreaching, but I don’t mean it or experience it that way. I think it’s actually an everyday kind of magic, as Alisha says, if we can just let go or hold on enough to see it.

But honestly, one of our audience members said it way better than all of that listing verbiage above. One night, as the applause died down and the actors exited into the house, they heard one person say with great energy and sincerity: “Damn. Go Jaguars.”

And, really, that’s what we all want, right? To throw the best we have on the stage or field and afterward, for someone to say, “Damn. Go Jaguars.”

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