A new virtual reality experience in Williamsburg marries wondrous production values with banal narratives.The word “liminality,” which broadly refers to intermediate or transitional spaces, evokes visions of New Age-y women with flowing scarves, armchair psychologists or insidious miracle drugs in Burgess-esque dystopias. There’s a bit of all three in “Liminality” at the Museum of Future Experiences (MoFE), a venue and production studio in Williamsburg for virtual reality and immersive audio storytelling. Meditation meets philosophy meets sound bath meets gaming meets Lululemon yogic retreat in a sprawling, enveloping experience that’s inviting and eye-catching, but too conceptually broad and self-satisfied for its own good.You enter the space through a nondescript doorway off Grand Street, which leads to a lobby that offers a few micro-exhibitions for audiences waiting to embark into the liminal realm. On one side a “Virtual Boy” VR headset sits on display and on another, a chest of drawers invites audience members to explore its contents at their leisure. Issues of old pulp fiction magazines sit on top, along with magnifying glasses, and drawers reveal Rorschach tests and books on psychology and surreal art.A guide who is reminiscent of a flight attendant greets the audience, preparing them for a sojourn into a place of “uncertainty, chaos and metamorphosis.” The room where “Liminality” takes place, with its walls of thick curtains, Ambisonic speakers set in towering obelisks and lounge chairs — each with a VR headset — set up in four rows around a central aisle, feels less like a theater than the antechamber of an Epcot ride.Though is this even theater? Theater is perhaps the closest term to describe the experience, but even that is poorly suited; “Liminality” evades any one category or definition, though what else could we expect from a show that’s all about the in-between spaces in perceptions and realities?So let’s just say it’s a theater of the mind. The 70-minute production is split into different segments, some of which are immersive soundscapes and audio performances, and others that are more guided meditations. These are interrupted by three short films that the audience watches via the VR headsets.Stately gongs and dreamy swells of sound announce an introspective performance tailored by each audience member’s imagination. A narrator talks you through a guided visualization where you’re meant to find a field, trees and your own childhood self before floating off into ethereal realms. Warning: Your mileage may vary. Whether the exercise grants you enlightenment or a short nap depends on your own mental performance (my experience skewed closer to a siesta). Either way, the segment, which bookends “Liminality,” is the most pedantic and least interesting part of the show.That’s more the fault of the script than the technical elements of “Liminality,” which don’t disappoint. The sounds are succulent and otherworldly; even the thunder and rainfall of a storm during an audio segment called “The Doldrums,” about a captain and crew stranded in the ocean, are rendered with such sonic dimension that I was surprised to find myself still perfectly dry and sheltered at the scene’s conclusion. The lighting, from the room’s shifting hues to the soft beams of the Edison bulbs in the overhead lamps to the ultraviolet gleam that gave the lettering of my T-shirt an iridescent nightclub glow, is phantasmagoric.But it’s the VR-based segments that are most transporting. The first VR short film, “Life-Giver,” created by Petter Lindblad and Alexander Rönnberg, follows a family on a journey to catch the last transport ship off a dying, post-apocalyptic Earth. The second, “Mind Palace,” written and directed by Carl Krause and Dominik Stockhausen, is a sensual, impressionistic examination of the end of a relationship. The final VR film is “Conscious Existence,” created by Marc Zimmerman in collaboration with MoFE. It’s a sumptuously illustrated existential journey through earthly landscapes and the far reaches of space.The vibrancy of the visuals, combined with the tactile vibrations of the VR device — rendering crashes and quakes — make for an experience that combines the immediacy of theater, the visual dialect of film and the technological rush of gaming. It all adds up to a strikingly immersive feat of world-building: You can survey a sky full of constellations overhead or turn around to see the rubble of a broken Earth extend toward a horizon. (Audience members who wear glasses, however, along with those prone to vertigo, may find all this Matrix-esque exploration tiring and discombobulating.)The narratives are hit and miss. “Mind Palace” is gorgeously executed, but the elegant scenes don’t provide enough narrative context. A sentient pool of blood that ebbs and gushes around the two men implies violence, but what kind of violence? Literal? Metaphorical? It isn’t clear.The sublime landscapes of “Conscious Existence,” with the purple and pink nebulae, swaying forests and carnivalesque pops and whorls of light, recall the transcendental filmmaking of Terrence Malick. The voice-over narratives are less impressive; the didacticism of the monologues exacerbate the self-consciously meditative style of the performances.For all of the technical originality of “Liminality,” what ends up staying with you is the banality of the stories and themes. “Life-Giver” gave me flashbacks of every post-apocalyptic sci-fi film from the past few decades. An audio segment called “Death of a Cave Allegory,” a modern retelling of Plato’s famous parable, felt like an unremarkable excerpt from an undergraduate philosophy class.That’s also indicative of the larger problem of “Liminality”: It aims to tackle a concept so vast and multifaceted, it has no clear definition of its subject or focus for its intentions. A liminal space can be twilight or purgatory or the realm of dreams. It can be the middle ground between immigration and citizenship, or a trans or nonbinary way of identifying sexuality. “Liminality” is both too large and too narrow, its smattering of narratives and sonic explorations only revealing all the other routes the show could take.Though that’s the problem with liminality, isn’t it? The innate paradox: It can be everything and nothing all at once.LiminalityAt the Museum of Future Experience, Brooklyn; mofe.co More
Author: Everything Theatre
in Features and Interviews, Radio playlist
17 June 2021
Interview with Aaron-Lee Eyles on ‘I Didnt Want This, I Just Wanted You’
You can also find a written interview with Aaron here
Shows, Venues & Theatre Companies mentioned
Beastie Boys – SabotageAudioweb – BankrobberBig Audio Dynamite – Can’t Wait/ LiveFinding Rhythms – Change – available via the charity’s bandcamp page herePeter Doherty & The Puta Madres – Paradise Is Under Your NoseUnkle feat Damon Gough – Nursery Rhyme BreatherFrank Turner – Don’t WorryGoat Girl – P.T.S.TeaBombay Bicycle Club – Carry MeMy Life Story – World CitizenBusdriver – Unemployed Black AstronautThe Streets feat. Idles – None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This AliveYoung Fathers – NestSage Francis – Lie Detector TestDan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip – Beat That My Heart SkippedThe White Stripes – Feel in Love With A GirlMetermaids – Advice I Know You Won’t Follow – check out the video hereImogen Stirling – WhiteKae Tempest – Tunnel VisionThe Beloved – HelloThe National – Nobody Else Will Be There More
As London venues reopen, theatergoers can choose to reckon with works like “The Death of a Black Man” or enjoy frothier fare from George Bernard Shaw.LONDON — Intimations of mortality have weighed heavily on our minds during the pandemic, so what better work to reanimate the National Theater than “After Life,” a play set in a mysterious space between this world and the next?The director Jeremy Herrin’s often startling production, staged in conjunction with the theater company Headlong, is the first in the National’s smallest auditorium, the Dorfman, for some 15 months, and has had its run extended to Aug. 7.The source material is an acclaimed 1998 film of the same name from the Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, here adapted by the prolific Jack Thorne, of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” renown.The play is thematically challenging material to offer audiences recently well acquainted with the possibility of illness, or worse. And yet the abiding achievement of Herrin and his expert design team, headed by the Tony winners Bunny Christie (sets and costumes) and Neil Austin (lighting), is the delicacy they bring to what could be fairly heavy going. You’re aware throughout of the high stakes involved for the so-called “guided,” who are asked to select a single memory to take with them for eternity into the afterlife.The takeaway from an evening at “After Life,” though, is the visual wit and delight of a stage dominated by filing cabinets reaching to the ceiling that allows for a sudden cascade of falling petals and permits one conversation to occur with the characters perched halfway up the back wall.Anoushka Lucas in Jack Thorne’s “After Life,” adapted from the film by Hirokazu Kore-eda and directed by Jeremy Herrin at the National Theater’s smallest auditorium, the Dorfman.Johan PerssonThe cast includes the veteran June Watson in robust form as an anxious woman ceaselessly fretting about her cat and the fast-rising Luke Thallon as a tremulous guide left to navigate a dreamscape that has a fablelike quality, even if the writing feels not quite fully developed and could deliver greater emotional force.The demands placed upon audiences are increased, and so are the rewards, across town at the Hampstead Theater. The north London playhouse has reopened after five months with “The Death of a Black Man,” a play that was originally scheduled last year as part of a 60th-anniversary series of revivals of titles first seen there.Premiered in 1975, the three-character drama offers a rare glimpse of the work of Alfred Fagon, a Jamaican-born writer and actor who died of a heart attack in London in 1986, age 49. Dawn Walton’s expert production, on view through July 10, leaves no doubt as to what was lost with Fagon’s premature death, even as it hints at the resonance for today of a play steeped in the specifics of the 1970s.Mention is made of the film “Last Tango in Paris” and of Princess Anne’s looming marriage to Captain Mark Phillips, and we hear pulsating snatches of “The Harder They Come,” the reggae classic from the 1972 film. But the core of the play, set in a Chelsea flat inhabited by 18-year-old Shakie (Nickcolia King-N’da), lies in what sort of future awaits this budding entrepreneur and the 30-year-old woman, Jackie (the astonishing Natalie Simpson), with whom he has a child and who has arrived back in his life after a two-year absence.From left, Alex Bhat, Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Hara Yannas in “Overruled,” part of the “Shaw Shorts” double bill directed by Paul Miller at the Orange Tree Theater.Richard Davenport/The Other RichardThe pair are joined before long by a political firebrand, Stumpie (a charismatic Toyin Omari-Kinch), who promises a better life for them all in “mother Africa” and doesn’t believe in right or wrong, only the need to “just grab what you can get.” Much of the unabashedly talky proceedings anticipate the Black Lives Matter movement, while the title reaches beyond an explicit reference to the death of Shakie’s father to connect with audiences today who, after the murder of George Floyd and others, understand the reality of such deaths all too well. (A namecheck is given to the divisive politician of the age, Enoch Powell, whose modern-day equivalents are easily found.)The plotting carries distinct echoes of Harold Pinter in its reversals of power and authority, and Simpson wears Jackie’s bravura like a shield, all the while falling to pieces internally. At one point, Walton has her actors stare down the audience directly as if daring them to acknowledge the play’s increasingly nihilistic landscape head-on as something we cannot help but understand and even share. It’s to this fierce production’s credit that you cannot look away.Weightiness, it would seem, is a London theatrical constant just now, even when it misfires, as in the case of Amy Berryman’s “Walden,” a worthy but synthetic sibling-relationship drama set against an ecowarrior backdrop that struggles to sound authentic. (That play finished its limited run at the Harold Pinter Theater on June 12.)Those in search of frothier fare will alight with pleasure on “Shaw Shorts,” two one-acts at the always-inviting Orange Tree Theater in Richmond, west London, that can be booked separately or together through June 26, depending how much time potentially Covid-skittish audiences want to spend in an auditorium.Olatunji Ayofe, center, in “After Life.” Johan PerssonThe pairing of “How He Lied to Her Husband” and “Overruled” reminds us of the subversive morality of a playwright eyeing the amorous goings-on among a sector of society who — guess what? — pass their time going to Shaw plays. In a cheeky nod toward himself, Shaw has the lovers in his 1904 “How He Lied to Her Husband” compare themselves to characters in his earlier and better-known “Candida,” which it seems these adulterers have seen.In the polygamy-minded “Overruled” (1912), the ever-breezy Mrs. Lunn (the able Dorothea Myer-Bennett) as good as offers her husband to another woman, leaving the male half of the other couple (played by Jordan Mifsúd) to expound on the boredom inherent in a happy marriage. The director, Paul Miller, runs the Orange Tree and has long included Shaw in an eclectic lineup of writers that extends to the contemporary as well.The result is a two-part bagatelle that serves for now as a starter in advance of heavier fare to come. These may be difficult times, but there’s room among the thematically fearsome for some fun, too.After Life. Directed by Jeremy Herrin. National Theater, through Aug. 7.The Death of a Black Man. Directed by Dawn Walton. Hampstead Theater, through July 10.Shaw Shorts. Directed by Paul Miller. Orange Tree Theater, through June 26. More
Five works will debut from August to April, including Sarah Silverman’s musical “The Bedwetter” and an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Kimberly Akimbo.”Atlantic Theater Company will spring back to life this summer with an ambitious five-premiere season. The theater’s Off Broadway productions, announced Tuesday, include Sarah Silverman’s musical “The Bedwetter,” an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Kimberly Akimbo” and a new play by Ngozi Anyanwu.Anyanwu, a playwright-actor whose work “The Homecoming Queen” was staged there in 2018, returns in August with “The Last of the Love Letters.” Patricia McGregor will direct. The play is about two people wrestling with “the thing they love most” and questioning “whether to stick it out or to leave it behind,” according to the theater.The musical adaptation of “Kimberly Akimbo,” with music by Jeanine Tesori, will debut 20 years after Lindsay-Abaire’s play was first produced at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif. It tells the story of a teenage girl with a condition that has left her with the health and appearance of a 72-year-old. In his 2003 review of the Manhattan Theater Club production of the dark comedy, Ben Brantley called it “haunting and hilarious.”Silverman’s show, based on her 2010 memoir, will arrive in 2022, nearly two years after it had originally been scheduled to receive its world premiere. The company noted that Adam Schlesinger, who wrote the music and collaborated with Silverman on the lyrics, will not be present when the cast takes its first bows next April. He died in 2020 of Covid-19 complications.The second half of the season will also feature “SHHHHH,” a new play by Clare Barron, which she will direct and perform in, and Sanaz Toossi’s “English,” about four adult students in Iran preparing for a language test.More information about the season is available at atlantictheater.org. More
A mainstay of the New York stage, she also acted in films, including “Gone Girl.” She died 10 days after she was struck by a scooter as she was crossing a street in Manhattan.Lisa Banes, a versatile actress who came to prominence on the New York stage in the 1980s and went on to a busy career that also included roles on television and in the films “Cocktail” and “Gone Girl,” died on Monday of head injuries she sustained 10 days earlier when she was struck by a scooter in Manhattan. She was 65.Her death, at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital, was confirmed by the New York Police Department, which said she had been struck by the scooter on June 4 as she was crossing Amsterdam Avenue near West 64th Street in Manhattan.The operator of the scooter had driven through a red light before crashing into Ms. Banes and then fled, said Sgt. Edward Riley, a police spokesman. Sgt. Riley said on Tuesday that no arrests had been made.Ms. Banes lived in Los Angeles and had been in New York visiting friends, her wife, Kathryn Kranhold, said.Known for her wry humor and confident, elegant presence, Ms. Banes appeared in more than 80 television and film roles, as well as in countless stage productions, including on Broadway.Ms. Banes, as the mother of a missing woman, with Ben Affleck in the 2014 movie “Gone Girl.” Alamy Stock PhotoShe found quick success in the theater after coming east from Colorado Springs in the mid-1970s and studying at the Juilliard School in New York.In 1980, when the Roundabout Theater revived John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger,” with Malcolm McDowell in the lead role as the angry Jimmy Porter, she played his overstressed wife.“Lisa Banes has a remarkably effective final scene,” Walter Kerr wrote in The New York Times, “on her knees in anguish, face stained with failure, arms awkwardly searching for shape and for rest.”The next year, at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn., she was in a production of the James M. Barrie comedy “The Admirable Crichton,” playing a daughter in an upper-crust British family that becomes shipwrecked on a deserted island.“As Lady Mary,” Mel Gussow of The Times wrote in his review, “Lisa Banes has a regal disdain. Gracefully, she plays the grande dame, and with matching agility she becomes a kind of Jane of the jungle, swimming rivers and swinging on vines — a rather far-fetched transformation, brought off with panache by this striking young actress.”Off Broadway roles kept coming. Later in 1981 she and Elizabeth McGovern had the lead roles in Wendy Kesselman’s “My Sister in This House” at Second Stage Theater. In 1982, at Manhattan Theater Club, she was the sister Olga in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” part of a starry cast that included Dianne Wiest, Mia Dillon, Jeff Daniels, Christine Ebersole and Sam Waterston.In 1984, when Ms. Banes was in the midst of a run in Wendy Wasserstein’s comedy “Isn’t It Romantic” at Playwrights Horizons, The Times named her one of 15 stage actresses to watch. She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance in that play. More
This HBO documentary follows Andy Señor Jr. as he directs a production of “Rent” in Cuba.In the ballad “La Vie Boheme,” a colorful cadre of artists raise a toast to “emotion, devotion, to causing a commotion.” After all, Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking musical “Rent” embodies revolution. In the earnest though narratively clumsy HBO documentary “Revolution Rent,” a director unpacks the relevance of this joyously defiant show when it’s translated to a different language, culture and political landscape.“Revolution Rent,” directed by Andy Señor Jr. and Victor Patrick Alvarez, depicts Señor’s rocky road to developing Cuba’s first Broadway musical produced by an American company in decades. The film begins with Señor’s background with “Rent” as a performer and his decision, regardless of his family’s protests, to direct a Cuban adaptation. In addition to confronting technical issues, translation adjustments and disagreements among the cast members, Señor is also forced to consider his own heritage and history. Despite the intriguing premise of the film, its cursory and lopsided narrative approach dilutes its salient themes and messages.The film feels scattered, with the first quarter too heavily reliant on abruptly intercut footage of the original Broadway cast performances, and the rest too shallowly dipping into details of the production’s story before skipping along to the next thing.And so Señor’s personal narrative shifts in and out of focus — his relationship to the musical and to his Cuban heritage are detailed just enough to leave us wanting more history, more background, more reflection and more depth. Similarly, the brief glimpses into the lives of its cast members, some queer and many impoverished, are compelling, but inconsistent and over too soon.For a documentary about a substantial staging of a beloved musical, “Revolution Rent” also skimps on the scenes of the final product itself. The production’s Roger singing an impassioned Spanish translation of “One Song Glory”; Señor pushing a cast member into an emotional reckoning with the meaning of the word freedom; the conversations about performing a queer musical in a country that hasn’t had a great track record for its treatment of L.G.B.T.Q. people: These are the kinds of moments that most resonate but are overshadowed by the film’s sporadic approach.The show “Rent” gave us an onstage revolution, while “Revolution Rent” often gives us an underwhelming translation.Revolution RentNot rated. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. Watch on HBO. More
The gift from the writer and performer will help create an educational hub at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.Harvey Fierstein may be a multiple Tony-winning performer and writer. But he is also the son of a librarian, who still sometimes heads to the reading room when he needs to do homework.In 2005, when he was preparing to play Tevye in a revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” he visited the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to watch a recording of an earlier Broadway revival featuring Zero Mostel, which is included in its famed Theater on Film and Tape Archive.“And don’t tell anyone, but I’ve also used the library,” he said in an interview, dropping his famous Brooklyn molasses-spiked-with-gravel voice, “for pleasure.”Now, Fierstein has donated $2.5 million to create a new “theater lab” at the library’s Lincoln Center campus, a dedicated educational space where students and the general public will be able to attend programs drawing on its vast holdings of photographs, scripts, recordings, set models, costumes and other materials.“Live theater is live theater — you do it and that’s it,” said Fierstein, 67. “Without a library collecting this stuff, our whole history disappears.”The lab, which will be named for Fierstein, is to be built in what is currently a 770-square-foot office space. In a statement, Jennifer Schantz, the library’s director, said it would be “an incubator of creativity” that embodies “the library’s mission to inspire lifelong learning using the theater division’s unparalleled collections.”The performing arts library holds material from shows Fierstein wrote or performed in, including “Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “Kinky Boots” and “Hairspray.” But as it happens, his personal papers are elsewhere.In 2005, before a home renovation, Fierstein placed his personal archive at Yale University. “So I needed to also do something for the performing arts library,” he said.In addition to the $2.5 million donation, the library has been named a beneficiary of the Harvey Fierstein Trust, which will allow it to receive additional support in the future.Fierstein said he hoped the lab would help people reimagine what theater can be after the pandemic, which shuttered the entire industry. He recalled how over the years, every time he did a revival of “Torch Song Trilogy,” for which he won his first two Tonys in 1983, he would call the downtown experimental theater La MaMa to ask if he could use their rehearsal space, which he described as a kind of spiritual home.“I would ask, ‘Can I borrow your basement?’” he said. “I thought of it as a kind of womb. That’s what I think of this space as — a womb for something wonderful. You just don’t know what’s going to be born out of it.” More
The experimental company 600 Highwaymen is back with theater of the most intimate kind, starring you and a stranger at close range.“So once you go inside,” the usher instructed me at the Public Theater on Saturday, “you’re going to walk onto the stage, and you’re going to take the seat farthest from the door.”“Farthest from the door,” I repeated calmly out loud, while my brain blared in silent alarm: “Wait, what? We’re doing this on the stage?”There are people drawn to center stage like blossoms to the sun, and then there is me, their opposite. Participatory theater scares me — even when, as in this case, it deliberately has no audience. Doing it onstage would make it extra intimidating.Still, I had swooned last fall for “A Phone Call,” the participatory, telephonic first part of the triptych “A Thousand Ways,” by the experimental company 600 Highwaymen. Ever since, I had been rooting for the in-person Part Two, “An Encounter,” to hurry up and get to New York so I could do it: just me and a stranger, following its script together. Now here it was. It’s just that, in my mind’s eye, it had all been much lower-key.None of this dramatic business of returning to the Public for the first time since the shutdown to find the lobby — normally a people-watching nirvana — whisper-quiet, then going upstairs to the Martinson Theater, where for a few minutes I was totally, eerily alone. My first encounter in “An Encounter,” then, wasn’t with my partner in this two-hander but with that familiar space, seen from an unfamiliar vantage, with nearly 200 empty seats staring back at me.As for “An Encounter” itself, my worry was unwarranted. It is a joy; even if it scares you, go. This is a work of inquisitive humanity and profound gentleness, which over the course of an hour buffs away the armor that lets us proceed through our days brusque, numb and antagonistic.Running concurrently in several spaces at the Public, it is seemingly as simple as simple can be. Like “A Phone Call,” which brings together two strangers by telephone and prompts them with an automated voice to share stories and memories, it is a private scripted meeting between strangers, both regular people, face to face across a table, masks on, with a glass panel between them.An arrow indicated which participant was to take each card. Maria Baranova(While you do not need to do Part One to do Part Two, the Public is also offering “A Phone Call” through July 18. The planned third part to “A Thousand Ways,” completing the journey through the pandemic, will be a large-group, in-person show.)In the theater, my stranger and I — I still do not know his name, or the bottom of his face — sat at the table under the stage lights and submitted to the script: a neat stack of printed notecards fitted in a small gap at the bottom of the glass. An arrow, pointing my way or his, indicated who was to take each card. On these we read our lines and stage directions.“Hello,” one stranger begins.“Hi,” says the other.“It’s good to see you,” the first responds, and what is striking is that this line of dialogue turns out to be perfectly true. It also hints at what this exercise asks and allows: that we look closely at each other, but kindly; that we take turns speaking and listening; that we try to imagine the contours of each other’s humanity. In this riven culture, when compassion for the stranger can be in much shorter supply than knee-jerk antipathy, these are not small gestures.Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, a.k.a. 600 Highwaymen, give the strangers in “An Encounter” a common goal — to get through the script together.“In silence, look across from you and imagine what keeps them up at night,” one stage direction reads. “In silence, imagine something they’re coping with,” says another.They have us draw pictures on the glass together with our fingertips (my stranger is a better artist than I am), tell each other scripted stories and ask and answer a laundry list of offbeat yes-or-no questions: “Have you ever broken a bone?” “Have you ever broken a heart?” When my stranger answered yes to that one, his dark eyes got so soulful that I felt his anguish and wanted to know more. But that of course is not permitted.“An Encounter” is less about the details of our lives than “A Phone Call” and more about spending time in the physical presence of another human being. I know that my stranger has a passport, can’t drive a stick shift and likes to dance. I know he has neat handwriting. My guess is that he is an actor and that he, like me, grabbed at the chance for this experience out of eagerness for theater’s return.But is this theater? Not really, though the script has a beautifully solid structure and the ending is both startling and powerful. Rather, this piece uses tools of theater — text, storytelling, the agreement to gather at an appointed time to have a collective experience — to achieve goals of theater, foremost the stoking of empathy and compassion. How extraordinarily “An Encounter” does this struck me only afterward.I am not usually the sort of person who walks around with Sondheim tunes as my internal soundtrack, but I was when I left “An Encounter.” Out on the sidewalk, as I headed toward Astor Place, then down 8th Street, I couldn’t stop scanning the weekend crowds. A snatch of “Another Hundred People” played on repeat in my head: the phrase “a city of strangers,” imbued with more warmth than I’d ever heard it.It sounds weird, and it was, but “An Encounter” left me in an altered state, keenly aware of these many people around me whom I did not know, and who seemed so alive with possibility, complexity, depth. Any one of them might have sat across from me at that table and been my stranger.I made my way through the throngs, trying to imagine the contours of their humanity.A Thousand Ways (Part Two): An EncounterThrough Aug. 15 at the Public Theater, Manhattan; publictheater.orgA Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone CallThrough July 18; publictheater.org More
We’re always looking to highlight those interesting little plays that can so easily be overlooked, yet are the lifeblood of fringe theatre. So when Aaron-Lee Eyles contacted us about his upcoming play, based on the real life story of a man who won $31 million on the lottery, we thought it would be great to chat with him to find out just why he decided this was a story to turn into a musical.
Hi Aaron, so first things first, give us a quick synopsis?
The play is about a Home Depot worker and family man Billie-Bob Harrell Jr, who won big on the lottery. The months that followed surely changed his life, but not in the way you might think! What was meant to be a life-changing miracle turned into a tragedy of misery and deceit. The play has been devised by the cast alongside Director/ Composer Rob Hardie and myself as Writer/ Director. A wild, surprising, musical tale that recounts the compelling true story of Billie Bob Harrell and his (mis)fortune.
Many recent shows we’ve seen have been set firmly in the here and now, but it looks like this play is something much more set in make-believe. Or have you really won $31 million?
The play is set in Texas 1997, but our world is a little wild and abstract -but it is a true story, Billie-Bob Harrell Jr. really did win $31 million!
What was the start point for you then?
For some time I’ve been keen on making a play based on a lottery winner and the consequences that come with such sudden financial gain. After researching further I discovered Billie-Bob’s story and was amazed by how it was already so fantastical and tragic, I knew that this was the one.
You said the play is “devised by the cast alongside director and writer” – as the writer, is it an easy thing to watch others change your story?
I’m incredibly excited to work alongside our cast and co-director Rob Hardie on this project. My own ideas going into rehearsals are only going to be refined and improved by collaborating with the group. I’m credited as ‘Writer’ as I will be contributing a large amount to the text and will be responsible for writing up our script as we go but its very much written by all of us!
We haven’t even touched upon the fact it’s also a musical, was that always the plan when you started writing?
Yes! We always planned for this production to have a musical element. Rob and I worked together last year when he wrote original music for my play ‘Freaking Free Mark DeFriest’ – this time we aim for the music to be more lyrical and used to show characters change of emotions and relationships. We also have a fantastic cast with great musical talents, so I can’t wait to see what comes from that.
So what style of music are we going to hear?
We’re going to have a mix of styles- there will certainly be some ‘musical chaos’. Rob Hardie, our musical director, says that you will for sure be hearing a blend of country and folk music with a bit of southern rock.
The show is only playing for a few dates in July, does this mean it’s still a work-in-progress?
This is a brand new play and these performances will be the first! But it will be a complete and finished item- we have a couple of dates next month and we are just so very excited to be working again.
What are your hopes for the show once it’s completed this initial run?
We do hope to bring the show back, if the demand is there of course! We’ll take on any feedback given and are already thinking about a potential return in the winter. A lot of work and commitment is going into this run so we don’t want that to be the end of it for sure!
Our thanks to Aaron for his time. I Didn’t Want This, I Just Wanted You is currently scheduled to play:
Bread and Roses Theatre on 4 July at 2pm and 12 July at 7pm & 9pm. Tickets available here
Guildford Fringe Festival on 8 July at 7.30pm. Tickets available here More