Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Partial Comfort Production's reading series begins with Fluid Love by Anton Dudley

PCP began their Welcome Mat Series this week and not only is it a great way to start the new year , it's a great way to start Theaterspeak. I talked with co-founder Chad Beckim, director Victor Maog and playwright Anton Dudley about tonight's reading of his new play Fluid Love.

M: Tell me a little bit about the Welcome Mat series.

CB: This is our sixth reading series. Basically it's the audition for the season. We take between five and eight plays that include company members, meaning that half of the cast must be from the company, the writers must be from the company and we try to use directors from the company. Those are all prerequisites. Either they are directly affiliated or advisory board members or long-standing artistic associates. Molly (Pearson, co-founder) and I basically see everything at our summer retreat upstate which is five days and three plays a day which we workshop during the day and then at night, we read them back to back to back. Then from that we narrow it down to our selection for this.
M: Was this patterned after LAByrinth's summer retreat?

CB: Our big influence was Steppenwolf and Naked Angels because we didn't know LAB that well at the beginning. They really exploded our first year but we share a lot of members with them. The set-up of the season is very similar because I think we are two of the bigger, LAByrinth is the biggest, but we are two of the bigger, older membership rep companies left in the city. There aren't a lot left.

M: Why do you think that is?

CB: The trick is if you have forty actors, directors and writers that are giving their time and energy to a company, the question that comes up is 'what's in it for me?'. It's a really hard thing. It's a delicate balance. Otherwise, what's the point? They raise money for the company but what's the point? What am I getting out of it?

M: How many members do you have?

CB: We have forty-eight members. We bring in between five and seven members a year, from scouting plays, reading plays, going to see readings. A lot of our company members will say, 'hey, I saw this great play, I saw this great director or I met this great actor you should see' and we go from there. And then we also bring new members to the retreat as a very informal audition just to see how well they work with the members because when you're up with people in the woods for five days obviously you find little things. You know, Molly is my best friend. All these people came to Molly's wedding. If I ever get married, everybody is going to come to mine. We're very tight.

M: So tonight's reading of Anton Dudley's play Fluid Love was workshopped at last summer's retreat. What stage was it at then?

CB: He's done a lot of work on it. The basic plot was still there but there were a lot of places tonight where I thought, 'oh I don't remember that'. And also Anton's somebody that we've been watching for awhile and for two or three years, we've been trying to get him up to the retreat and he came up this summer and was blown away by the company we're growing and we asked him to join and he, thankfully, came in.

M: So what's next?

CB: We're doing one play this year. Usually we do two, but the economy is so bad we're being cautious with our money because we don't want to get into tremendous debt, obviously, so we'll do the reading series and then talk to the membership and see what play best suits the mission and the feeling for the year and, also, what do Molly and I think will best forward and maintain our momentum because this year we had a big hit with The Bereaved and that was with all company members so how many of our people: writers, directors, designers can we incorporate in it. I worked with Thomas Bradshaw at Brooklyn College and his work just spoke to the company and he brought a play up that was done at PS122 for the retreat two years ago, and then from that, we gave our first commission. It was just the right time, and it really helped his career and helped our momentum as a company, so whatever we end up choosing will speak to our mission and to the pulse of the company.

Next I spoke to the director of the reading, Victor Maog.

M: How do you approach directing a reading?

VM: The way that I approach the reading of a new play is that I make space at the table for the author to really be authorial. So in a way part of my real job is to be a facilitator, to create undulations in the work and not be a micro-manager because I think that will destroy any reverberations that can happen in the play, if I nitpick too many moments, it will simply suffocate the - like, the bell of moments won't ring so what I try to do is get great actors who can sort of split hairs in essentially three to six hours worth of rehearsal time. When you work at great theaters like New York Theater Workshop, you still have only four hours to prepare for a reading so you have to have nimble actors who are able to create action and, at the same time, be dramaturgical. So you want to be able to present a work but also advance the knowledge of the play and those things are what I'm most interested in. I'm trying to create an event that creates its own waves. What I'm also curious about, is creating an experience for the audience that makes them see it in a three-dimensional form. I'm not trying to solve all the elements of the play or make everything equal to something else. What I'm trying to do is actually, on some level, whether it's the idea of rhythm or suspense, I'm going to pick a few things that are going to make people compelled to see it at the next level.

MA: How did you come to this project?

VM: I think one of the interesting things about this project is I've known Anton's work - a great thing is to know a writer for many years, right? And I met him when he was an NYU MFA student and I was one of the resident directors in the dramatic writing program so what I bring to the table is years of knowing Anton and his catalogue of work and how he actually plays many things at one time, both the surface work, but also, the deeply emotional work. I often talked about someone trying to survive - in this play that has to do with alcoholism, the idea of drowning, so we're playing the two opposites, in this sense of how to find happiness though your life or your history drowns you time and again. I can only do a few things in a reading. It's like a general pass with great actors and the writer, Anton, at my side and give it a go and make a big enough choice, ask a big enough question that the play wakes up. If I don't do that then I feel I haven't done my job in a reading.

M: There seems to be a theme of security and identity in the play, as well. Can you talk a little about that?

VM: I think there's an idea of security, of trying to create a framework for yourself. That's what I mean when I talk about the idea of opposition: the thing that you need versus the thing that you want, right? You want to walk some sort of steady ground but the ground is actually quicksand, thats why I need great actors in a reading of a writer like Anton, who's very complicated on many, many levels and how do you crack that open? How do you take a seemingly simple story of a guy that's trying to stop alcoholism and then, each moment, a closet full of skeletons comes bursting open and so the idea of here's who I am, and here's who I want to be, and here's what my pursuit of happiness is, right? And all these triggers and all these landmines are things that I hope the actor's craftmanship and understanding of human foibles, that's the dirt they have to bring into the rehearsal room. In four hours time, they're going to have to have as many tricks up their sleeves to be able to relate to those events of a lifetime and I think that's what makes a reading incredibly hard.

M: When a playwright is coming in, to what is basically a developmental process, what is your approach? Are there specific questions you have and how do you facilitate their process?

VM: Often times a playwright will have a certain section of the play, depending on which level of the draft it's in, that they're trying to ask. Sometimes, it's just in vomiting up language the night before and how do you clear that up and tell them that this piece that you came up with at five o'clock in the morning is actually the gem of the play or completely useless? So what I try to do is actually figure out where they are in the process and then also, the most important thing. is to create for them a framework of actors and rehearsal process where they can absolutely fumble and have actors in there who are not narcissists. Actors that can actually create action in the play without derailing the motivation or the intent of the writer.

M: So they clarify in a sense what's going on in the play for the writer and the writer can see if he's accomplishing his goals.

VM: Right and that's not always every actor out there. Some people are great with language and know how to create combustible moments but they don't know how to ask the question that can unravel the lifetime of the play. That's why I'm very blessed with the cast of Fluid Love tonight. These actors are both nimble but also like surgeons of what does it mean to live in this world and they're curious about Anton's world very much.

Finally, the playwright Anton Dudley.

M: What inspired the play?

AD: I usually just start with a title. I write fairly quickly so this one had a title which actually was different from this. (pauses) I'm just trying to think. I wrote the first draft before the summer retreat. It was an impulsive thing. I guess, I was sort of interested in impossible loves. People that should be together but can't, and I think there's such a fine line between passion, and destruction, and love, and hate. They are all extreme emotions so they're all very, very similar, so you could be sitting a plate on a teeter totter and that's the plate of extreme emotions and they could tip one way or another and it could easily go from blissful love to absolute insanity to absolute destruction to absolute creation very easily. I guess, I was sort of interested in what makes some loves tragic or impossible is that they're at the level of intensity that doesn't ebb and flow. It's just this sustained intensity and sometimes that's blissful and sometimes that's unhealthy.

M: It sounds similar to addiction. Did you know that addiction was going to be part of the play and when did that come up?

AD: It came up in the play, not to sound to hocus pocus about it, but I was writing it and I know I liked this idea that this guy had an intense relationship with alcohol and this woman, and then, in the third scene, when Carla says, 'do you know he was in rehab?' and I was like. 'Oh, he was?' (laughs).

M: I wondered about that, because it was a great moment, and you could hear the audience respond to it.

AD: And the same was when Carla admits she was in AA. That also came up in the writing of it and I tend to write chronologically, so that happens.

M: You had the first draft when you went up to the retreat and then what happened there that moved you along?

AD: We had a rehearsal and a reading and it was the first time I heard it out loud, and then I had a reading in October at MCC theater and I had done some changes with that. I think I cut two scene and developed something else. And then from that, we had rehearsal for this and I made a few changes today so this is sort of a second or third draft.

M: And where do you see it going from here?

AD: I don't know. I'll process what happened today (laughs). I'm a little too close to it right now to talk about it.

M: How long does it generally take for you to process it?

AD: I think I'll probably wake up at four in the morning and have ideas. I usually write really early in the morning or really late at night. I like to write in transitional states. I'll probably wake up at four in the morning and have a great idea and change it. (Laughs)

M: Did you do rewrites during rehearsal for this reading?

AD: I did. We had rehearsal yesterday and I rewrote the last scene this morning so that was sort of the first time they were reading this.

M: I read in an interview that you are also working on two musicals. How is it for you to work on multiple projects at once?

AD: I find that I work better when I work on multiple projects. I actually was working on one musical for a while just because of the level of production of where it was. I found it difficult and frustrating and then I started this play and started the other musical and I've been working on something else and I just said to my partner this week, 'Wow, I've been just churning pages out this week' and I think it's because I have more things going on simultaneously, so I find what's nice is you're never distracted from your process because when you're working on one thing, you have to step away from it, so if you can go to something else immediately and then come back to it, then you're always creating, or you're always thinking, or you're always being theatrical so it doesn't dip, because I think that's what's hard. It's an engine. Also, I went to grad school at NYU where you have multiple projects constantly and I think that's sort of how I learned to write so I feel more comfortable doing that. And they're better when they're like that.

The next reading of Partial Comfort Production's Welcome to the Mat series will be Greg Keller's The Seduction Community, directed by Kip Fagan. The readings are at 7pm, free of charge and located at The Wild Project located at 195 East 3rd Street (between Avenues A & B).

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