EXPERIMENTING WITH NEW AUDIENCES: DIRECTORS IN CONVERSATION

INTERVIEW BY REBECCA BRADSHAW


Rebecca Bradshaw: Emerging America is a launching point to push theatrical boundaries. How does your production do so?

David R. Gammons, THE HOTEL NEPENTHE: The Hotel Nepenthe pushes boundaries through its very form and storytelling. It isn’t a conventional narrative; it’s more like a dream structure. One scene bleeds into the next, characters overlap and split apart, and reality gets twisted inside out.

Maria Silvaggi, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE: It will be a byproduct of us trying to tell this wonderful crime story well. My goal was to create a piece that unfolded all around, and sometimes among the audience drawing them into the story.

Mikhael Tara Garver, EXPERIMENT AMERICA: Well, it is an experiment. Pun entirely intended. I feel like in a traditional theater, we BELIEVE we know what to expect from the relationship between audience and performance. I want to make work that always allows everyone in the room to feel that this is a structured and cared- for experiment. Whether I am exploring work in a rock club or a train station or a traditional theater, I acknowledge each brings a new relationship with the audience. It’s not exactly pushing boundaries. I am just not entirely sure where they begin.

Rebecca: How do you tell your story?

MARIA: Given the status of this piece — considered by many to be one of the best crime novels of all time, and since it is such a beloved piece of Boston literature, my first goal was to honor and respect all parts of the piece - the accents, the locations, and of course, the people. Yes, they are bad guys, but they’re Boston-bred bad guys, and it was important to do that unique element justice.

DAVID: We try to use multiple languages of the stage—words, movement, light, music, dance, space, color, objects, video, and so on—to tell stories, create relationships, and connect with all of the audiences’ senses. The play has no single meaning or possible interpretation.

MIKHAEL: Experiment is a live collision between a party, the art on the walls, the performers hidden in a crowd who are discovered through technology, the spaces hidden in the museum that are discovered through the journey of the audience. I am exploring the stories that are hidden all around us.

Rebecca: As directors, all of you tend to utilize your audience in a different way. How do you create your unique experience for your audience?

MARIA: The idea is to tell a good story – and that involves moving. The show takes place in over a dozen locations – the characters are constantly traveling. A proscenium stage presentation would not have allowed for the movement that the piece demanded.

DAVID: That’s the key word, isn’t it: “experience.” Each audience member should expect a personal experience: what they see, what they hear, and what they imagine triggering all sorts of associations, sensations, memories, and emotional responses. And the miracle is that we all have our own individual experience, but we share it communally as a collective event!

MIKHAEL: I fundamentally believe that we can craft an ever-changing relationship with the audience as carefully as the relationship between two actors on a stage. And so then the audience is inside the story as opposed to just seeing the story. They are experiencing it from their own changing, directed perspective.

Rebecca: You each tend to gravitate towards unique spaces to stage your productions. How do you incorporate the space into your conversation for the piece?

MIKHAEL: It’s everything. Space tells story. Think about the way we move and function and tell our stories differently in different cities. The way we live is shaped by the space we live in.

MARIA: OBERON with its catwalks, alcoves and open space to me was the perfect place for this story to unfold. Ironically, the standing room tickets that place the audience by the bar, have been the most fun way to watch the show—the bar crowd becomes part of the set.

DAVID: I believe that the entire environment is part of the work. The Hotel Nepenthe was conceived site- specifically: an abandoned storefront in Davis Square. So it is very interesting to transplant the show to an actual theater! We are working to re-create the look and feel of the original venue, right down to the ugly drop ceiling tiles. A new layer of meta-theatricality is introduced: the audience sits on stage with the actors and sees the empty theatre seats on the other side of the action!

Rebecca: Are there themes within your production that can speak to the Emerging America Festival and artists?

DAVID: The Hotel Nepenthe is, in many ways, a theatrical meditation on possibility. It explores and celebrates the idea that everything that happens is somehow, cosmically, interconnected. So it is a wonderful piece to have in conversation with other experimental works, because it opens doors and asks questions. It’s a multi-directional system. It’s part of an ongoing exchange of ideas, images, and theatrical possibilities.

MIKHAEL: It seems like all of these pieces are looking at our community and our interconnectedness in different ways. We are all experimenting with form, but all pointing at an interconnected sense of story.

Rebecca: What is one thing you hope your audiences walk away with after seeing your production?

MARIA: We’re very focused on a simple but ambitious goal: that they enjoyed a good story and had a good time.

MIKHAEL: Something personal that I will never know.

Rebecca: What is one thing you hope audiences walk away with after experiencing the Festival?

DAVID: A renewed appetite for bold, challenging, interactive art experiences.

MIKHAEL: A desire to see more performance.

Rebecca: Why Boston?

MARIA: We have a great amount of amazing theater talent in Boston, and a live theatrical performance is a unique and worthwhile way to spend your time.

DAVID: The Boston area has some of the most sophisticated, intelligent, and demanding audiences in America! We should be giving those audiences the work that they crave and deserve: art that pushes boundaries and wakes us up to see the world in exciting new ways.

MIKHAEL: Boston/Cambridge has such a rigorous and inquisitive nature. I love that and feel like a festival of emerging performance fits right in.


Rebecca Bradshaw is the Stone Artistic Producing Professional Intern at the Huntington Theatre Company.