Red Emma and the Mad Monk
Created by Katie Lindsay
& Alexis Roblan
Written by Alexis Roblan
Directed by Katie Lindsay
Music by Teresa Lotz
Produced by Emma Orme, The Tank
, Alexis Roblan, Katie Lindsay Productions, and Teresa Lotz
Starring Maybe Burke, Fernando Gonzalez*, Drita Kabashi, Imani Pearl Williams, Jonathan Randell Silver*
Assistant Director: Liza Couser
Musical Director: Cassie Willson
Music Supervisor & Arranger: Isaac Alter
Sound Design: John Salutz
Costume Design: Glenna Ryer
Wardrobe Supervisor: Shannon O'Donnell
Lighting Design: Luther Frank
Scenic Design: Diggle
Associate Scenic Design: Jocelyn Girgorie
Props Master: Alex Wylie
Choreography: Yael Nachajon
Production Manager: Mac Whiting
Production Stage Manager: Dara Swisher
Graphic Design: Jonny Ag Design
*Denotes member of Actors' Equity Association
ASK THE ARTISTS
What attracted you to working on this project?
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, director Katie Lindsay and I were in conversation about the work we wanted to make together, and we kept coming back to the idea of political action -- what is it, exactly? Is a Facebook post a political action? Is attendance at a protest? What makes action effective and how far should it go? As we were circling these questions, a history-buff friend told me a story about Emma Goldman running an ice cream shop in Massachusetts while plotting to assassinate a Pennsylvania robber baron, and I instantly knew this had to be in our piece. I also wanted to include Rasputin, who I'd been obsessed with when I was 12. Katie insisted that if Rasputin was in the piece, the 12 year old me who was obsessed with him probably needed to be as well.
From the first scene I read for my audition, I was in love with this character and this show. Addison is quirky, smart, funny, and just starting to figure things out. She is an anxious and curious 12 year old anarchist ready to take on the world. Add in Rasputin as her imaginary best friend, what could be more enticing for an actor?
Alexis Roblan, the playwright, and I sat down together in the spring of 2016 and started talking about making a show together. This was, of course, during the lead up to the 2016 when all of our friends were channelling their political rage into posting on Facebook. We wanted to investigate the meaning of political action, from a Facebook post, to a protest, to the other end of the extreme-- assassination. RED EMMA & THE MAD MONK came out of our need to understand our changing political landscape and what, if anything, we could possibly do about it.
When I was twelve I was obsessed with the kind of things I wasn't supposed to be into... just like Addison. So I felt an immediate connection. Plus, I loved Alexis' and Katie's work and wanted to jump on that bandwagon as soon as possible.
What was your favorite part of working on this production? And why?
The heart that every single person working on this show brought to the production. The collaboration started with me and Alexis, saying yes to each other's crazy ideas and building off of each other to create the container for this story. The production was scrappy, and everyone went above and beyond to bring our collective vision to life. From producing team, to our lighting designer who begged and borrowed to get the instruments we needed, to our friends who showed up to help build the set at midnight because the shop had built the wrong measurements, to our actors who really shone in their roles. There's nothing like leading a team who so deeply believes in the vision that they will do whatever it takes to make the show what we all dream it can be.
The team, the team, the team. From each of our designers to each member of the cast, our producer Emma Orme, and the amazing collaborative relationships I found with director Katie Lindsay and composer Teresa Lotz -- this was hands down the best experience of collaboration I have experienced thus far. And that experience felt important to the thematic content of the show as well. RED EMMA AND THE MAD MONK is very much about the inability to create cohesive narratives, and the struggle to make the world you want, in the face of forces that are constantly derailing it. But the joy that we were all able to consistently find in creating this world together was the clearest and most hopeful counterpoint possible.
The community and energy we crafted within and around this piece. It was extremely vibrant and positive. It was clear that we all had tremendous creative respect for one another and wanted to make the piece the best it could be.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?
Playing a preteen in my 20s was for sure challenging. I mean, energy and personality wise, Addison and I are not all that different. But for me, as a baritone, to play a pre-pubescent cis girl in a musical was at times rather dysphoric. I would get in my head about certain ways that I looked or sounded and had a hard time focusing. Luckily I could confide in our director, Katie Lindsay, who talked things out with me and helped me work towards comfort.
It was my very first experience writing lyrics for musical theatre, and while that was incredibly exciting and I found an insanely generous collaborator in my composer, Teresa Lotz, there were also quite a few challenging moments, trying to restructure songs in the middle of rehearsal or find the dramaturgical purpose for song choices that were initially made on impulse.
I've never seen a show like Red Emma and the Mad Monk
-- we were creating our own framework, our own aesthetic, our own world in making this show. We had to go on instinct that all the pieces would fit together. That is terrifying!! It wasn't until a run just before tech that we really cracked the heart of what the play wanted to be, which was absolutely thrilling.
It was a very ambitious production! Especially scenically, especially at a place like The Tank, that is accustomed to a set that can be struck every night after the show. We upped the ante on what could live in that space and it was totally thrilling but also a massive undertaking.
What is the best thing about working with this company and/or these artists?
As Addison sings, "You have to surround yourself with people like the person that you want to be." All of the people on this team pushed me and inspired me to be the best version of myself at every step of this process. All of my struggles to bring this character to life were coming from me. Never did any of my dysphoria or doubt come from something that was said or done in the room. It was really very beautiful to have a room full of people see me and believe me to be playing a 12-year old girl without question. It really made me think, if more trans and non-binary people got to play roles that were right for them and didn't have to make excuses or explanations for their identities, maybe people would be able to see us more.
Everyone gave 150% at all times. I've never worked with a harder working or more dedicated team. I was inspired every day to work harder.
The willingness of our team to take on such an ambitious project, how deeply collaborative every person was in creating the show, their belief in the importance of what we were trying to say even when we were in the complicated muck of trying to figure out how all the pieces would come together. We built a community-- diverse, loving, investigative, passionate-- that stands in opposition to the politics of rendering truth meaningless.
This entire process was so infused with fun and joy, in the midst of a high level of artistic commitment. That's a credit to the talents and personalities of the entire team, but also the tone set by Katie Lindsay as an intensely collaborative director who allows for and actively cultivates that joy.
Was there anything odd, quirky, innovative, funny or otherwise noteworthy about your experience with this production?
Did you see the show? Every step of Red Emma and the Mad Monk
can be described as odd, quirky, innovative, funny, and noteworthy.
The show is prescient. Alexis wrote the play in 2017, before we really understood the depths of Russian interference in the 2016 election. No one understood the Surkov character and what he was doing in the play when we did a workshop production at Ars Nova in 2017. By the time we did the show in 2018, Russian interference was widely known. The Surkov through line took on new depths and made complete sense in the world of the play. Also, our set came built with the wrong dimensions, so that was a hilarious late night call to my friend who is a set designer and former carp, who worked all hours of the morning to get the set built. That the show went up was in so many ways a miracle.
As a playwright working primarily in downtown indie theatre, this was the first time I got to see something I'd written fully designed. I'm pretty sure I started crying the first time I saw a rendering of Diggle's set design. I cannot express how fortunate I feel to have worked with him, Luther Frank (lights / projections), John Salutz (sound), and Glenna Ryer (costumes). These designers brought a level of creativity, vision, and totally insane execution to this production that awed me every single day.
Most musicals take 5-8 years. We worked on this guy for about 2. Many songs were written in the room and we still haven't had the time to fully flesh out how music works in the show. Regardless, I'm pumped about how it turned out and excited for the future of the show.
Did you learn anything or discover anything new while working on this project? If so, what?
I had an incredible time collaborating with composer Teresa Lotz on the songs. As a playwright, I am always looking for new ways to theatricalize moments and ideas on stage, and it turns out a song is a hell of a way to do that. Shout out to our crazy talented choreographer Yael Nachajon for finding the exact levels of dance and stylized movement needed for those moments as well.
What does this nomination mean to you?
Maybe Burke: Red Emma and the Mad Monk
was such a pivotal show for my career. I didn't pursue acting for a long time, and even then didn't take it very seriously until this production. To see myself be cast and celebrated in a role like Addison really gave me a reason to claim space as an actor. To be nominated for this award, that is complete validation of the space I am holding. As a non-binary trans feminine person, to be nominated in a category for actresses is not being taken lightly. I am honored and touched to be seen by this opportunity, and hope it can be part of a larger conversation about representation and accountability for actors outside of the binary.
It's an honor to be recognized. This play was such a labor of love and was completely out of my comfort zone. We created it out of a real need to make sense of the chaos around us. To know that our play was meaningful to others makes my heart so incredibly full. To know that I did justice to Alexis's words, and was able to create a meaningful container for her play, means the world to me.
I haven't been nominated for an award in NYC before... so this is really exciting for me to be recognized for my work as a composer!
One of the most fulfilling aspects of this production was the community it built while we were doing it -- including every single member of the cast and production team, and eventually including the audience. So it's remarkably nourishing to receive recognition from the larger New York indie theatre community, which feels like a continuation of what we got to make together.