Directed by Bree Bridger
by Elizabeth A.M. Keel
September 5-29, 2019
A MESSAGE FROM LANDING EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DAVID RAINEY ON NEW WORKS
I was in a conversation recently with a fellow Artistic Director about the challenges of producing theatre, and I was told, “We would love to do more new works, but every time we do we take a hit at the box office.” That reality is understandably common for new works, because new works are unknown commodities for audiences. As a company, we’ve realized that since so much of the Landing’s focus is on new works, we need to create more ways to help our audiences in to the new works process.
So now that we’re working on our new commission, OVERRIDE by Elizabeth A.M. Keel, we’re providing our audiences with more insights into the world of the play and the play making process than we have ever before. Our hope is that this will give you better access to the story before you see the play, and as a result, greater investment in that which is being created.
Why Micro Theatre?
That is a constant question. Not because the answer is complicated. But because people too often assume that they know the answer, since it sounds like something they’ve encountered before. I’ve often come across new people who say, “Oh yeah, you guys are the ones that do shows in houses,” which can 1) seem to imply that that’s all we do, and 2) seem like it’s just a gimmick. And neither of these are correct.
The real answer is simple. It’s for the playwrights. For local playwrights. To develop new work, and have meaningful challenges that we can commit to producing. When I asked Brendan Bourque-Sheil to join the Landing as a Literary Associate, it was because I wanted to expand the success we’ve had nationally with the New American Voices, and turn some attention specifically to our local community. So we created Landing Local to develop programs that expand the opportunities for local playwrights. The micro theatre concept was one of the ways we sought to do that. And we created a variation of the micro idea, in this long-form, that is uniquely ours. All of these new micro-plays are commissions, and the entire process is to help the playwright to do their best work in a format that gives them the most opportunity to do so.
That is one of the things that make these projects somewhat different from most, even other new works experiences. Most productions focus on getting the play to its finished product, so that all the creative team is focused on the play. While our process with micro theater projects also involves getting the play to its finished state, the focus of the process is on the playwright, not the play. Everyone—director, actors, designers—are there to assist and support the playwright in developing a work that is precise and effective.
This does several important things. It creates a dynamic environment for new work, where the playwright has a central place in the production process, which too often is not the experience that many playwrights have. At its extreme, playwrights can feel like unwanted guests at their own party. It is always surprising, and somewhat satisfying to me, to see the expression on a playwright’s face when they realize that this project is all about them. There’s a bit of confusion at first, and then a mild sense of “…wow…”. After that there is generally a mix of true appreciation and an increased sense of responsibility.
The playwright is the dramatic architect who has to lay the groundwork that will take care of everyone else. On these, the playwright is often in the room throughout the rehearsal process, to see the actors and director examine and reexamine the work. Questions are not left for the actor and director to solve, but are asked of the playwright, who is tasked to find answers. And the playwright gets to see the issues in practice and understand the complications they create for actors, or the director. Everyone’s goal is to collaboratively help the playwright to do their best work through the process, and that challenge is empowering and can lead to personal excellence in a way that few other projects do.
The other great thing about this process is the microscopic nature of the entire concept. For the actor and director there is the challenge of telling a story in a real place. The immersive environment forces the work to either be tempered and believable, or it is strangely out of place. I have continually encouraged directors to move away from “theatrical” choices, that say, “We’re doing a play now.” Why go through the trouble of having a playwright create a play for a real environment if we’re just going to invite the audience to see a play in a house? That is its own thing, and a concept wonderfully executed recently by Matt Hune with his Livingroom Series. That idea is more along the lines of seeing a house concert, but not the experience we’re after. The audience is not to simply watch a play, but be inside it. I keep going back to the image of a fly on a wall. We just happen to be in the room when all this stuff goes down. And as a result, we are privy to an arms-length view of private moments that are not normally shared with a group. Not simply looking at it, but being in it.
This kind of microscopic inspection by an audience requires an authenticity that is precise and real. It has to be both luminous in its size and natural to the environment. It’s a huge challenge to all of our creative artists, who find the experience invigorating. Actors often say that this forces them to re-examine how they approach their own work, and makes them check their process in ways that they aren’t use to. Directors often feel the frustration of working in a tight space, with only two characters for 90 minutes, but also have great satisfaction when solving the problems that the environment creates for them. And playwrights are tasked with telling a compelling story born of an environment that they must authentically use.
So if you haven’t yet experienced one of our micro theatre projects, be sure to see OVERRIDE. Elizabeth Keel has crafted a wonderfully titillating, and humorously affectionate story about why we need human contact. It’s sure to make an engaging night of intimate theatre.
Executive Artistic Director
The Landing Theatre Company