Thursday, July 27, 2017

In the Room

Written by Lawrence Dial
Directed by Adam Knight
Produced by Kelli Giddish with SLANTheatre Project, in association with Wheelhouse Theater Company

Nominations: Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play; Adam Knight for Outstanding Director; Lawrence Dial for Outstanding Original Full-Length Script; Jacob Perkins for Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role; Outstanding Ensemble: Susan Neuffer, Jacob Perkins, Suzy Jane Hunt, Chelsea Melone, Matt Harrington, Reuben Barsky, Rob Karma Robinson

About the Companies: Slant Theatre Project is a group of artists that thrive on the danger of building the plane in flight. We do visceral work. We tailor each process to the artists and performance space, and are committed to creating a playground for emerging theatre artists.

Wheelhouse Theater Company is an ensemble driven by collective inquiry and curiosity that deepens our sense of trust and abandon, which allows our audience to delight in the risks that are complicit in the telling of bold stories. Born from a shared enthusiasm for playful collaboration, we are a company of theater artists committed to producing joyful, transformative and highly physical productions.

About the Production: In the Room finds seven disparate characters in a playwriting workshop. The classroom takes on a life of its own, as alliances are formed and broken, and each writer confronts his or her “unresolved issue.” How do you close that door once it’s been opened?

The artists talk to us about creating this intimate performance about creating theatre, when there is no place to hide.


What attracted you to this project?
Adam: Slant had worked with playwright Lawrence Dial in 2008 on BEEF. I’ve know him for a long time and have directed three of his plays. We often meet up and he’ll hand me a stack of pages and a glass of wine and go from there. This play was one of those stacks, and the more we talked about it, the more we realized it was the right project for this moment in our lives and careers. In many ways it captures this moment in the industry, with the economics of holding workshops and renting our rehearsal space trumping the economics of putting on a new production and the risk that entails. And it's about people at all stages of their life in the theatre: some hopeful, some jaded, some hobbyists -- and all of those are valid. This play of hearkened back to an earlier period of Slant Theatre Project’s history where we’d stage plays in comedy clubs or the hulls of ships, anywhere but a theatre. We performed this play in a rehearsal room – which is where the action of this play would actually take place – allowing the audience to experience the piece from an intimate vantage point.

Susan: I had worked with director Adam Knight previously on a production of Lend Me A Tenor, and I adored him. I was delighted at the prospect of working with him again.

Jacob: The playwright, Lawrence Dial.

Suzy: The script and the people working on it

Lawrence: Exposing the unseen toils of amateur playwrights.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Adam: This play had an ensemble that was off the charts. Some of them I'd worked with for years, and some I'd just met, but there was an intimacy in the room that was palpable and that translated into the nuanced performances. It really was theatre without a net, with the audience literally inches away from actors who seemed to be truly living these characters. Collaborating with co-producers Kelli Giddish and Wheelhouse Theater Company was for us a very rewarding experience. These are artists we respect immensely, and the work never would have found such richness and depth without their input from the early periods into techs. Kelli is such an impressive actor and she was able to illuminate Lawrence's characters in a unique way. And Jeff Wise of Wheelhouse lent his signature artistry to the transitions in the piece: a dance of tables and folding chairs!

Jacob: The ensemble with whom I shared the story every night was my favorite part of this experience. Everyone led with tremendous heart and generosity.

Suzy: The challenging intimacy of the space we worked in and definitely the people involved.

Lawrence: Definitely the ensemble of actors and crew that came together to make the show a success.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Adam: The play takes place in a rehearsal room, mostly around a table. I chose to stage the play in a deep thrust configuration, and that creates about a million variables and sight-lines to consider, especially when many of the scenes are static. Every little gesture was ultimately choreographed down to head turns and glances... The result was outstanding -- a play that felt unique and personal from every vantage point.

With any Off-Off Broadway production, there's the need for press and audience, and how to balance that with the artistic needs of the piece. For this play, we really felt that the play needed to be staged in a rehearsal room -- but those rooms aren't really conducive to the audience experience: sitting in a cramped room in a third-floor walk-up. I'm very proud that we stuck to our artistic guns and that the audience and the critics went along for the ride.

Susan: The play was staged in the round as if we were "in the room,"  -- in the playwriting class. And the theatre was a very intimate space. So you could look up from your notebook and be looking right into an audience member's face. It took a little getting used to.

Jacob: The intimacy between audience and actors was a challenge. There was no opportunity to hide a false note in our storytelling. This was also the greatest reward.

Suzy: The intimate and vulnerable nature of the text and translating that to a theatrical experience.

Lawrence: Transitions, transitions, transitions. (We had to figure out a way to breakdown and then moments later rebuild a playwrighting workshop every fifteen minutes without annoying our audience.)

What was the audiences' reaction to the work?
Adam: Usually when working on a play, you move from the rehearsal room into the theatre, and that transition is when the illusion starts to better take hold. This play took place IN a rehearsal room, so we didn't have that luxury. Instead, we had to ask ourselves to more fully see the space around us, and to unearth the reality of these rooms and all their quirks. There's a scene where noise is coming from a loud rehearsal next door and how the characters respond to that is instantly recognizable to anyone who's been in that situation. Our production really placed the audience as a fly on the wall of an artistic process: the chairs literally lined the perimeter of the space. I hope that they really felt like they experienced, not only the seldom-seen world of a writers' workshop, but also saw real lives unfolding before their eyes. It was incredibly close proximity, which I think is something that Off-Off-Broadway can deliver better than any other medium. It's theatre without a net.

What was the quirkiest part of the production?
Adam: Our production took place in a rehearsal room, and there are ALWAYS pianos in rehearsal rooms. We had one of our actors (Jacob Perkins) open up the piano and perform a song he wrote. I think that was very satisfying, to finally use one of those pianos!

Jacob: I played an originally composed piano piece while wearing a dress and lipstick -- that was a highlight.

What insight did you gain while working on this production? 
Adam: I learned that an audience will be willing to walk up two flights of stairs and sit in a crowded space if the art is worth it!

Suzy: Folding tables are the devil.

Lawrence: It became obvious early on, that less is more was really key to the success of the actor's performances with this play. It was surprising how much fun it was just to watch the actors do nothing. Previously, I had been self-conscious that there wasn't enough happening in this play, but by the end of the production we were doing less and less with bigger results.

What made this team's work stand out?
Adam: Our cast and team are BRAVE BRAVE BRAVE. This was a show performed literally inches from the audience in a room that left nothing to the imagination. There was nowhere to hide, and our cast found thrilling moments of vulnerability, nuance, anger, and passion. And it was funny.

What was it like working with this company?
Susan: What a fantastic, talented group of actors. Also, the production team was lovely and generous and treated us like we were stars!

Jacob: The support provided by Mat Smart, Matt Dellapina, et al. just by showing up again and again with positive attitudes and patient humility.

Adam: They were brave! And they made it personal. It's so difficult to fully "be" onstage when you're inches away from the audience. Especially without the illusion of wings or a fourth wall. I tip my hat the ensemble.

Suzy: The company was terrific and showed unfettered support of all involved.

Lawrence: Slant Theatre Project and Wheelhouse Theatre Company are both very 'hands on' collectives that like get down and dirty when working on a project. Nothing is precious; trial and error reigns supreme.

Make sure to check out these artists on Twitter:
SLANTheatre - @SLANTheatre
Wheelhouse Theater Company - @wheelhousetcnyc 
Kelli Giddish - @KelliGiddish
Susan Neuffer - @sneuffer
Adam Knight - @adamknightnyc
Suzy Jane Hunt - @swoozyjane

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