We’re a third of the way through our season-long roll-out of WALKING THE CITY OF SILENCE AND STONE–the site-specific, walking podcast play I’ve developed with Forum Theatre. While each episode is designed to be best listened to in specific areas of the District, you can follow along and enjoy (hopefully) from anywhere.
We’re holding our first listening party this Saturday (January 10. We’ll start at 11:30 a.m. at the Silver Spring Black Box, Metro to the National Mall, then head to Dupont Circle. Then retire somewhere to talk about the experience. (and get back in time to see the Ravens/Patriots game). Everyone’s invited and the experience is free. I should have pictures up on Facebook and on this blog shortly after.
Last week we began and ended recording for WALKING THE CITY OF SILENCE AND STONE. It’s a testament to everyone involved that the process went so smoothly. This is the best cast I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. But this was also the most condensed rehearsal process for a production I’ve ever been a part of. The end of each evening was marked by another artist (or three) finishing their last recording. When it was over I desperately wanted more time with these artists. I’m already plotting how to make that happen.
Here are some glimpses into the make-shift recording studio Thomas Sowers created in the bowels of the Silver Spring Black Box.
You know that scene at the beginning of every new Justice League run where Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman are sitting around a table trying to decide who they want to tap for the team? That’s how I feel every time I cast a new show. So many superpowers to choose from, so few roles. This time there were 21 roles shared by 15 actors, but it was still tough. Thankfully, I had a superb casting director who’s also doubling as the project’s director. Now, may I proudly present our fearless team in absolutely no order whatsoever. You will notice that I’m not saying who’s playing what. Because spoilers.
Jess Jung (Director): This will be her last big project in DC before heading to Fargo to teach directing. The general rule is that when I find a director I communicate well with and trust as a collaborator they move away. The farthest one has gone is Italy. Jess is at least keeping it in the contiguous 48.
Maureen Monterubio (Associate Director): Much like Donna Troy was called upon to strap on Wonder Woman’s bracelets, so shall Maureen take on the mantle of director when Jess travels to the cold land beyond the veil. I mean North Dakota.
Thomas Sowers (Sound Designer): Did you see PLUTO at Forum last year? Do you remember that sound effect that reached down your throat and squeezed your guts with an icy hand? Thomas made that.
Toni Goldberg & Kara Sparling (Co-Stage Managers): Due to our rehearsals coinciding with festival season, our schedule required the use of two stage managers. With two stage managers you get special powers. Like bending space-time. Which comes in handy when you’re trying to squeeze six weeks of rehearsal into three. I’ll let them decide who’s who in this picture.
Hannah Hessel-Ratner (Dramaturg): There is no one I trust more to have my back in crafting this story.
Alina Collins-Maldonado: This photo is from my 10-min play THE MAN IN THE POWDER-BLUE SUIT at the 2013 Source Festival. Did I know Alina was awesome then? Yes. Did I know just how awesome? No. But I do now. And if you take this journey with us, you will too.
Martece Caudle: Jess recruited him for this past summer’s Source Festival and proceeded to drag him right along to our show. The youngest of our group, he’s so perfectly cast it’s ridiculous.
Jessica Lefkow: Actor, director, and recent graduate of Shakespeare Theatre’s Academy for Classical Acting. On behalf of the DC theatre community, I’m more than happy to steal her back from the greedy hands of academia.
Joy Jones: The only reason Joy doesn’t have a larger part in this show is because she’s just too damn busy. You can catch her in Studio Theatre’s BELLEVILLE this fall.
Gwen Grastorf: This photo is from WHEN THE STARS GO OUT in 2011—the last time I got to work with Gwen on an actual production. This is sad and criminal and I’m so happy I’m rectifying it.
Gwydion Suilebhan: Local playwright, social media ninja, and James Gandolfini’s stunt double. As soon as he learned about this project, he said he wanted in. Gwydion’s full CV is longer than this entire post.
Katy Carkuff: Hers is the first and last voice you will hear, and you will be so glad it is. Katy was in the first show I ever saw at Forum Theatre—MARAT/SADE in 2008. Will this show give her the chance to stab another French Revolutionary figure in the bathtub? No spoilers.
Caroline Clay: She is so smart when it comes to character work. Sooooooo smart. By the time this post goes up, you will have missed your chance to see her and Katy in GIDION’S KNOT. But you’ll be able to catch the next leg of the show at NextStop in Herndon, VA. Sleep on this show and you’ll regret it later.
Kimberlee Wolfson: If you haven’t seen her on stage yet, you will soon. Kimberlee is a member of Catholic University’s MFA Acting class, which proves that I will poach CUA graduates for as long as they let me.
J.J. Johnson: I never even met J.J. until our first rehearsal together. Turns out he’s a fantastic actor, surprisingly good singer, and we both giggle at the same adolescent humor. I think I’ll keep him.
Sara Barker: Did you see ORLANDO at WSC Avant Bard? ‘Nuff said.
Jon Odom: Another actor I’d never met before the first rehearsal. I won’t say who he’s playing, but I will say that he pretty much carries the first episode on his back. I want to keep him, too.
Frank Britton: Frank accepted this role in the midst of one of the more painful times in his life and I’m so happy he did. Many words have been written about how fantastic and generous and talented this man is, and I won’t dilute them here. Just Google “Frank, Britton, Awesomesauce.”
Jimmy Whalen: A cohort from my own days as a graduate student at CUA, I’m so excited I get to work with Jimmy again. When we get to his episode, you’ll be excited, too. While I won’t tell you who he’s playing, I’ll say this is the second time I’ve put him in a role where he is…mortality-challenged.
Matt Pauli: Matt is my own personal superhero for stepping into a role (or three) just days before recording. Somebody get this man a cape.
Will they be enough to defeat the Society of Supervillains?
First, a round of initial rehearsals where we do tablework on each of the episodes and make a rough recording with an iPhone. That’s so we can experience a rough version of the text in the space it’s designed to be listened to before final revisions are made. Also so Hannah Hessel, our dramaturg can hear it. She chose this week to honeymoon in Spain—can you believe the nerve?
Then we take the rest of July off and return in August for a second round of rehearsals. Jess Jung will help the actors nail down the characters and the beats. The week after, we record. After which, it’s all in the hands of Thomas Sowers, our sound guru.
Currently, we are deep into the first round of rehearsals. Things are being discovered; characters are coming to life. It’s one of my favorite times in the lifespan of a show. When I am discovering things I’d forgotten, or that I was barely conscious of in the first place. Actors are telling me things I never realized that I can then go and expand on and take all the credit for.
One of the things I’m discovering is where a lot of the inspiration for this project truly lies.
It lies in being a resident of H Street and watching how gentrification is transforming this neighborhood, which still shows scars from the 1968 riots. There’s a friction here between past and present, between one city and another.
It lies in having written about veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan for the last twelve years. I’ve helped document the struggle some soldiers have reintegrating back into civilian life after having suffered severe psychological and physical trauma. I’ve listened to them explain how they don’t feel like there’s a place for them in the civilian world. On more than one occasion I’ve had a veteran tell me they feel like there’s a piece of them missing—something necessary for survival that they left back in the desert.
The inspiration also lies in having written extensively about the homeless and the chronically mentally ill—two populations that so easily overlap. We see them every day, but don’t really see them. They live in the city, but not our city. The city they live in is very different.
I wasn’t conscious of how much these things inspired SILENCE AND STONE until I listened to our actors dig into the script. It seems like everyone in this story is struggling with trauma that has bent or fractured them. They don’t quite fit into their lives anymore. They are out of sync with the world. They’ve been displaced. And they do not live in a city that is designed for them. They have to either make themselves fit, bend the world around them to their will, or live with the always-present discomfort of their displacement.
One of the goals of this project is for listeners to see their environment in a new way. That they will look at the landscape—familiar and safe—and imagine how it might not be what they thought it was. They will imagine that, underneath the world they know, there are other cities—cities that belong to people who are struggling, who are falling through cracks, who are in danger of being ground up beneath the wheels of progress.
Was this goal fully formed in my mind when I started this project? No. Have the actors I’m working with helped clarify it? Absolutely.
Over the next year I’m going to be posting regular updates on WALKING THE CITY OF SILENCE AND STONE–a multi-episode walking podcast play I’m creating with Forum Theatre. Right now we’re in the casting process and I hope to have a cast list (hint: it’s gonna be fierce) soon. If you want more up-to-the-minute details, follow @SilenceAndStone on Twitter. In the meantime, here’s how all this started.
In November 2012, the National New Play Network (NNPN) commissioned me and three other DC playwrights to write walking podcast plays for their annual showcase, which was being held at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Each fifteen-minute play was designed to be listened to on a borrowed iPod Nano while walking in one of the four cardinal directions from Woolly’s front door.
Gleefully, I chose South, which brought our listeners—theatre artists from around the country—out onto the National Mall. My short play, titled ALL THE TALL PLACES, told the story of two women—one a DC native, the other a recently transplanted Iraq War veteran—who met in group therapy and who would take walks across the Mall after each session. As listeners strolled across Constitution with its clear view of the Capitol Dome, they learned how these women became friends. As they made their way through the National Sculpture Garden with its monuments of twisted metal, they heard how they became lovers. As they turned West toward the Washington Monument—that stone needle in the heart of the city—they heard how things began to go terribly, fatally wrong.
To be able to use the wide open grandeur of the National Mall as a set piece was a joy. Even more exciting was the form’s ability to take such a public space and turn it into a private, single-seat theatre, where a very intimate—at times blushingly so—story was piped directing into listeners’ ears.
I wanted to do it again.
Around this time last year I approached Forum Theatre with a proposal: a multi-episode walking podcast play that would tell a single, continuous narrative and would take listeners to sites all around the city. I thought I maybe had a fifty-fifty shot of the project going forward. I was not prepared for how excited everyone—starting with Michael Dove and Hannah Hessel—were when they heard the details of what I wanted to accomplish. Forum signed on almost immediately. And now, after a year of writing, revising, and wandering around the city cherry-picking my set pieces, I finally get to tell you all about it.
Actually, I don’t get to tell you much about it at all.
Not the details.
I can tell you that SILENCE AND STONE is about how a single city is actually many, one existing atop the other. It’s about the hidden machinery that keeps the status quo rumbling forward, and how some people get ground up between the gears. It’s a ghost story, and a hero’s journey, and a coming-of-age story. In some places it’s a love story. In others it’s a tragedy. Frequently it’s a comedy.
But it’s also a mystery—one that spans decades of District history. Which means I will have to keep my mouth shut for another year until the final episode drops and we all discover the final fate of ______________. Did she kill herself? Was she murdered? And just who is the creature known as _______________
Sorry about the blanks. Too soon for spoilers. Just the right time for teasing.
Remember when the summer was considered a dead time for theatre? Yeah, me neither. The District is blessed with an overabundance of summertime theatre, thanks in a large part to the two major theatre festivals that stretch through June and July–The Source Festival and the Capital Fringe Festival.
For me, this summer will in many ways be a mirror of the last. My short play DRESSING BOBBY STRONG will premiere as part of the Source Festival, part of a fantastic line-up of new work. As an added bonus, it will be directed by Annalisa Dias–an incredibly bright theatre artist and great addition to the DC community–who I had the pleasure of teaching last fall at Catholic University.
And, like last year, I have been invited to write the script for Pinky Swear Productions’ CABARET XXX. This will be the fourth installment of the fan-favorite rock cabaret and the Pinky Swear ladies were adamant in their desire to switch things up. Thus the subtitle of this year’s show: EVERYBODY FUCKING DIES. This will also be my first serious attempt at writing some original music for a show, so…cross your fingers.
I’ll update this site with dates and times as soon as I get them. In the meantime, let’s all look forward to the summer. When theatre abounds and we can finally retire our winter coats.
*glances outside. sees cold rainy day. weeps silently*
My latest from Howlround.com. Inspired by my work with the Heyday Players and a thoughtless tweet.
A short while ago, I was in the audience for a play and noticed that I was distinctly younger than many of those around me. It didn’t come as a surprise. This was a theater with a historically older audience base.
Being the wit I am, I pulled out my phone and tweeted something akin to “I’m singlehandedly lowering the average age of the audience by a decade.”
It got a few laughs, a couple questions about what theater I was in, and then went where pithy tweets go to die.
We’ve just started our third weekend of performances for IN THE FOREST, SHE GREW FANGS. For those who still want to catch it, we’ve got 9 more shows before we close November 3. That includes a special Halloween performance on October 31, where audience will be encouraged to come in costume and stay for a post-show party.
The run so far has been fantastic, and heralded by more press than I’ve experienced for a single show. Here’s a round-up of the wonderful words people have been writing about FANGS.
The Washington Post (which made it an Editor’s pick): “part timeless adolescent psychodrama, part harsh truths about growing up in our texting-and-social-media era, and part bloodshot fairy tale.”
DCTheatreScene: “Good theater can sometimes grab you by the throat, but rarely does it drag you from your bed and leave a bloody trail to the open window. Rarer still can this gruesome scene leave you pensive, even laughing.”
DCMetroTheatreArts: “While these teenagers may at first seem typical, they end up being all but average in a thrilling twist that has audience members on the edge of their seats.”
And writing the dissenting opinion is BroadwayWorld (which still praises my performers): “All of the actors were, amidst all the blood and ridiculous prose, impressive to watch.”
I especially love that the reviews gave much-deserved credit to my performers, director and designers, all of whom brought (and are still bringing) their A game. If you haven’t yet, come on down and see what fabulous (and grim and bloody) things they’re doing.