By Anabel Milton ’18
Photos by Ziggy Schulting ’18
The third studio lab of the semester is comprised of four individual ten-minute plays: The Levee by Taylor Mac Bowyer, A Second of Pleasure by Neil LaBute, 508 by Amy Herzog, and The Date by John Lipkin. Director Nina Slowinski ’19 has chosen to interconnect the four episodes, each of which zeros in on a romantic relationship facing a different obstacle or conflict, to form one collective piece examining the diversity and relativity of human connection. I had a chance to sit down with director Slowinski ’19, actor Philip Merrick ’19, as well as stage manager and light/sound designer Miranda Coble ’19, to discuss the collaborative, and sometimes unconventional, rehearsal process thus far.
Slowinski expressed her original curiosity about putting the four pieces side by side the way you might arrange short stories in a collection. She chose these plays specifically because she saw a “coherent, linear story throughout all of them.” She spoke, too, of “how much the original conception of the idea has changed” since the beginning of the rehearsal process. Slowinski explains how during their very first rehearsal she had the actors simply “say what they were thinking” between each short play. She came to the astute realization “that there’s no way to mask those interruptions.” From then on, it became a matter of working these transitional moments into the piece instead of taking them out and making them separate.
Actor Philip Merrick ’19 says that it’s been exciting to trust in the unfamiliarity and changing nature of the rehearsals as the stories continue to be shaped. “I’ve definitely learned to try new things,” he says. He goes on to explain; “we’ve done a few different things in this rehearsal process that I had not done before and a couple things that I had done before but not in the same ways. Learning to go with it and see what happens and see how that changes the characters has been really fun.” Coble also reveled in the excitement of accessing different parts of her creativity when experiencing rehearsals as a lighting and sound designer rather than as an actor or director. She says, “new things arise by seeing everything happening onstage. Someone will say a line differently and I have no part in that, but it elicits a new response and that’s really cool.”
Each miniature play deals with a romantic relationship; we see a snapshot of each at various stages of development or aftermath. Slowinski also touched upon the idea that each story deals with heartbreak in one way or another and expressed wanting to explore “how we choose to deal with it and what it means.” Her approach to this has consisted of establishing a strong connection between not only the characters, but the actors themselves. She is confident these connections will only change and grow when an audience adds yet another dimension. Stage manager Coble adds that the four plays are about the “potential of each person; we all have the possibility to experience so many different relationships and so many different connections at different levels. Maybe.”
We also discussed the importance of producing theater about human connection during a day and age that seems to be ubiquitously losing track of what it means. Coble imploringly expressed that “we so need to make human connections right now. [The piece] is focusing on personal, romantic relationships, but I think that seeing so many different people form connections is exactly what we need today. I feel like we like to push things off as ‘other,’ or just not to listen, as you see with the political climate. Everyone [is] on opposite ends of the aisles…we’re not making those connections that are so deeply human.”
The rehearsal process thus far certainly sounds as though it is driven by this determination to find and maintain humanity and to share that humanity with one another. Coble described one particular exercise in which the actors worked to blur the lines between themselves and their characters in order to move toward increasingly genuine narratives. She explains how the actors “made lists of 51 things. They first had to list 51 things about themselves, and they chose things from that list to give to each character. Then, they made a list of 51 things about the character that they don’t have. It’s been about finding a mix of themselves with this other human being.” Both Slowinski and Coble expressed their immense appreciation for their trio of actors and their distinguishable energies and identities, which make the pieces authentically human. “Individually, they’re all talented in their own ways, and it’s nice to see the differences between them,” says Slowinski. “But I mean, to be entirely honest, I think that a lot of the emotions that we go through in the show are very universal and anyone could tap into them,” she adds. Coble remarks that while the actors are making character choices and making “clear separations,” the actual drama of the piece happens when “each of them brings themselves…it’s them playing the characters, it’s them with the characters. I think that’s why it works.”
Both Slowinski and Coble credit “patience and flexibility” as the most important virtues to maintain throughout collaborative processes like this one. These qualities are a must, given the process involves as much discussion and devising as it does hard and fast decisions. Both director and stage manager feel confident that they will walk away from this experience having learned a multitude of lessons about creativity and group dynamics.
Four Ten Minute Plays runs from April 11-13 at 7PM in the JKB Studio A. Admission is free. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations.
Anabel Milton is a junior and a staff writer at STLN