2015 Best Sound Design Nominee: Patrick Greene for Wax Wings Productions' "Eyes Shut. Door Open"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you are nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: EVE Photography

Photo Credit: EVE Photography

Patrick Greene was the Sound Designer for the hauntingly beautiful production of the new play, Eyes Shut. Door Open.  This modern Cain and Abel story integrated sound and lights to transport the audience into the psyche of some of the main characters at integral moments in the production.  Patrick's deft use of the soundscapes and music was a remarkable feat in the audio storytelling, and made the production feel even more visceral. 

In his Interview, Patrick explains some of his techniques for creating this unique sound design, movie night at the Greene house, and his most embarrassing moment.  We're glad that it didn't happen to us!

Hi, Patrick, and thank you for interviewing with us!  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks! It’s an honor to be nominated. My path to theatrical sound design is a bit of a curvy one: I started off as an actor/singer, became a composer, and just now (over the past couple of years) have been returning to stagecraft as a sound designer (who also composes).

My wife (Micah) and I met while performing together in a musical, actually: a 2008 production of Birds of Paradise, in Rhode Island. Our two-year-old boy, Jude, is currently working on his belting technique.

What inspired you to work on Eyes Shut. Door Open?  What excited you about the project?

As soon as Cassie Seinuk (the playwright) asked, I agreed to do it. I’d recently seen another of her plays (Boston Public Works’ production of From the Deep), and I found it remarkable.

Eyes Shut. Door Open (ESDO) is a truly special play, and it was clear from the script that sound was an enormously important part of the fabric of the thing. The director (Christopher Randolph) agreed, and we met early in the process to talk through some ideas. I quickly realized we were operating on the same wavelength, and that I was going to have a wonderfully expressive sandbox in which to play.

Talk to us about your concept for the production.  From what other media did you draw your ideas?

About 80% of the sound design for ESDO occurs in the eight “hauntings” scattered throughout. The hauntings – which are distorted, horrifying trips into the protagonist’s psyche – are both “real” (based in memory) and “imagined” (distorted by time, distance, and fear). I wanted to find a simple object that could bridge the two worlds together: something totemic, something pliable, something unique. What I decided upon was a thunder tube – a simple percussion instrument that generates some tremendous overtones by resonating a vibrating spring in a narrow chamber. It’s identifiably “real,” but it also doesn’t quite sound like anything else you’re likely to have heard before. It’s like a fuzzy memory.

Thunder Tube used in  Eyes Shut. Door Open  by Sound Designer Patrick Greene (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene).

Thunder Tube used in Eyes Shut. Door Open by Sound Designer Patrick Greene (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene).

The thunder tube’s complex, dark sound informed the textures of the hauntings, which embedded ‘found’ sounds (air raid sirens, radio transmissions, glass shattering inside a box, helicopter blades, etc.) in dense percussion textures using obscure instruments (other than the thunder tube, the most prominent one is probably the Aboriginal bullroarer).

There is also quite a bit of dialogue embedded in the sound mix throughout (wonderfully performed by Michael Underhill and Victor Shopov). I sought to emulate an effect I heard in the Australian horror film The Babadook, where a “haunted” character’s voice is split into multiple, parallel incarnations. The non-manipulated, original voice is still present in the mix, but it’s surrounded by pitch-shifted, distorted reflections of itself. I thought it was a terrifically evocative sound composition, so I tried to do something similar with the various haunting characters. 

You are also a composer!  Talk to us about what kind of music you composed and how you got started.  How does this influence your sound design?

I am indeed! I compose contemporary classical music for ensembles of all shapes and sizes, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some truly amazing musicians from around the world. I think my sound design is deeply, fundamentally influenced by my work as a composer. Outside of the usual technical cross-proficiencies (digital audio workstations, sound mixing, that sort of thing), there’s a strong crossover artistically and instinctively. I really approach sound design as a compositional activity; even when it’s just a foley-type artifact corresponding to something happening onstage, it needs to subtly reinforce the acoustic profile of the whole show.

When I’m able to craft complex sound design elements (like I did throughout ESDO), I’m really in my happy place.

My acting background helps quite a bit, too. I treat the sound design as another character in the piece, making sure that it grows and changes over time in service of a narrative arc.  

Of what are you most proud?

I think I’m most proud that my wife and I are both still committed to having fulfilling artistic careers while devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to raising our child. It means we have to make some tough sacrifices (especially since we both have office jobs as well), and it means we have to be very careful about how much we commit to, but it also means we can, from time to time, have our cakes and eat them too.

It’s movie night at the Greene house!  What are we watching and on what are we snacking?  Who’s invited?

Large group of good friends: we’re watching The Empire Strikes Back, and we’re eating Micah’s chili.

Small group of very close friends: we’re watching anything by Paul Thomas Anderson or Denis Villeneuve, and we’re eating Indian takeout.

Me, alone: I’m watching Alien and eating my fear.

Sound design is an evolving form in the theatre world.  How has it changed recently?  How do you see it changing in the future?

Since I’ve only been designing theatrical sound for the past two years or so, it’s hard for me to say how it’s been changing recently. As to where it’s headed, though, I think technological advancements in other sectors of society will likely continue to bleed into and guide the development of the art form. The ubiquity of DRM-free sounds on the internet will continue to shift the bulk of design effort from the production (recording) end to the post-production (editing) end of things. I still try to record what sounds I can, but the fact that I can find a Soviet military radio transmission on the internet and embed it into a sound mix in two minutes is tremendously liberating.

Production mapping for  Eyes Shut. Door Open  for sound design. (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene)

Production mapping for Eyes Shut. Door Open for sound design. (Photo Credit: Patrick Greene)

Live-audio technology will continue to improve and mutate, too. In an effort to pull audiences away from their sophisticated home theaters and into cinemas, movie houses are investing lots of money into cutting-edge sound and video systems (IMAX, etc.). As those technologies become more frequently used and competitively priced, they’ll start showing up more in live theater, and that’s tremendously exciting.

If you could design a production element for any show, what show would it be and what element?  Why?

I love working on new plays by emerging playwrights; I always assume the show I most want to work on is still waiting to be written.

The production element would be sound, of course, but I also love collaborating with other designers (projection, set, costume, makeup, etc.) and allowing our ideas to hybridize.

What excites you most about the Greater Boston theatre scene and community?

There’s a great deal to be excited about! We have a tremendous mix of opportunities at all levels, and we’re a small enough community that we’re all able to stay pretty consistently engaged in projects that really excite and motivate us. We have the arts scene of a much more populous city, and we have a huge talent pool, so there’s always exciting stuff going on.

Tell us an embarrassing story!  Make us laugh. Make us cry!

It was the final semester of my undergraduate career, and I’d just pulled an all-nighter studying for a psych exam, and I looked like a crazy person, and the most exotically beautiful woman in my graduating class said “Hi, Patrick!” to me. I got so flustered that two things happened simultaneously: my voice cracked while I tried to say “Hi!” back to her, and I tripped and fell.

And then I farted.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I do indeed! I’m currently composing a song cycle on erasure poetry by Jenni Baker created from my favorite book (David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest), which will be premiered later this year, in Chicago, by Joelle Kross. I’m working on an as-yet-unannounced symphonic work that will premiere this summer at the Hatch Shell (stay tuned). I’m writing another movement of a song cycle I composed for the NYC-based loadbang ensemble last year on the poetry of W.S. Di Piero (Come soon, you feral cats). I’m also working on solo pieces with musicians in New York and Alabama. And there’s some very cool stuff brewing for the second half of 2016, too.

Lastly, I’m returning to Eyes Shut. Door Open! We’re mounting another production in May, at Warehouse XI (Somerville, Massachusetts).

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Check out my website (www.patrickgreenemusic.com), and thanks for supporting Boston’s art scene!

2015 Best New Work Nominee: "Eyes Shut. Door Open" by Cassie M. Seinuk (Wax Wings Productions)

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

Note: If you are nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Rachel Kurnos Photography

Photo Credit: Rachel Kurnos Photography

Eyes Shut. Door Open ("ESDO") was a surprisingly delightful and brilliant script by Cassie M. Seinuk.  The play explores the Cain and Abel story in a new and haunting environment, captivating audiences and keeping them spell-bound long after the performance ended.  The play's form and clever exploration of our guilt, demons, and grief made the play an easy Nominee for Best New Work.

In her Interview, Playwright Cassie M. Seinuk explains her intense writing and rewriting process for the play, with whom she would love to share a meal (I think that's a play waiting to be written), and her exciting new projects for 2016.

Cassie, thank you so much for interviewing with us.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure thing! I’m a Jewish-Cuban lady, hailing from a little place called North Woodmere, NY, but I’ve been in Boston for just over ten years and am so glad to have made this place my home.

Let’s see, I’m married to a music producer/engineer, we met online, and our first conversation was, yes, about the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I currently live in Brighton with two cats and a rescue dog, Haddie Snoo. When I’m not being a playwright, I’m an AEA stage manager and I also teach Hebrew, Drama, and Judaics in Newton.

Mostly, though, I love ice cream.

Tell us about your process for writing (and rewriting) Eyes Shut. Door Open.  What were some of your inspirations?

Oh golly, what question! Eyes Shut. Door Open, or ESDO as we fondly call it, began as a short story I wrote during my undergrad at Brandeis University. I was particularly interested in combining my love of East of Eden and the Cain and Abel story, and The Sandman, a short story by E. T. A. Hoffmann.

In grad school, at Lesley University, I adapted it into a 25-minute play, and from there into a full-length. After three years of workshopping and various readings, Wax Wings Productions offered me a production. Two months before we started rehearsal we did a weeklong workshop with director Christopher Randolph and our killer cast, and, during that process, I rewrote the entire play three times, and when I say “rewrote” I mean, scrapped hundreds of pages and began again. Then within the first week of rehearsal I rewrote about 73 pages again, and finally landed on a play we all felt confident in. I will be making additional edits and changes for the May 2016 production.

I don’t usually know how to describe my process, but yesterday in an email, a mentor of mine told me that I’m not precious about my plays, and I’d like to maintain that. Sometimes you have to make big, big cuts, and just trust the skin will scab over.

What are some of the challenges of writing for the modern theatre audience?  What are some of the more rewarding aspects?

ESDO is 100 minutes in length with no intermission, and is actually my first play without an intermission . . . it’s also my first play with just three characters.

Palmer (Michael Underhill) begs for forgiveness in this modern Cain and Abel play,  Eyes Shut. Door Open  (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

Palmer (Michael Underhill) begs for forgiveness in this modern Cain and Abel play, Eyes Shut. Door Open (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

There is a weird juxtaposition between what an audience wants these days and their attention spans alongside what Artistic Directors (on smaller budgets) want to see, few locations, few actors, and minimal tricks. I think ESDO appeals to both worlds, but also can get very big if someone has the $$$ to let it. There are magical elements to the show that can be done on a small budget and, I think, still stay affective, but they can also grow to fit a bigger space and budget.

I do however find it really rewarding to write for intimate spaces, and you really get a chance to hone in on that in a play like ESDO with just three characters and, mostly, one location. I also feel there is a drive to find new spaces to do theatre, and one of the cool things about ESDO’s Wax Wings production and the remount in May 2016, we used/will use found non-theatre spaces.

If you could change one thing about the Greater Boston theatre community in 2016, what would it be, and why?

More slots for new plays by local artists.

If you could get breakfast with two people, alive or dead, who would they be and why?  Where would you go?  What would you discuss?  What would you eat?

Wow. OK. Samuel Beckett and Kermit The Frog.

We’d go to this little French hole-in-the-wall brunch place in Hell’s Kitchen and I’d get their Eggs Benedict with spinach and avocado. Samuel Beckett would just drink black coffee. Kermit would come with his own meal of swampy delights. We would talk about Post-modernism and the fact that talking about post-modernism is post-modern.

Samuel Beckett because he is my favorite playwright and he is dark and creepy and I just love everything about that. And Kermit The Frog because that frog knows how to put up with difficult people and I’d want to pick his muppet-y green brain.

If one of your plays could be performed anywhere, which play would it be and where?

From the Deep ("FTD") in Israel, probably Haifa. I’d be very curious about how that would turn out and what it would mean to tell that story in a country that understands so much of the sadness and violence that haunts the characters in FTD.

Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.  Tell us something that you wish people knew about you.

I used to be sort of an athlete. I was a gymnast from three to sixteen years old, and then taught gymnastics into my early twenties. I was a (short-lived) member of the Brandeis University Fencing Team. I’ve been skiing in Australia and New Zealand. And I used to go to ice skating camp. But throw me a basketball and watch me fail!

I wish people knew that I’m a really slow reader. Oh! And that the M in my name really matters to me.

How do you reward yourself?  How do you inspire yourself?

Yoga, Reiki, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream. I watch a lot of Netflix, I read, listen to music, and talk to myself in the shower. But mostly I listen to people on the train and in public, and I people watch.

Do you read reviews of your plays?  Why or why not?

Yes. At this point in my career, I am still learning so much, and I feel like reviews are another place for me, right now, to learn how people are receiving my work… not the quality of it, whether it was “good” or “bad,” but how it is hitting people. I look forward to the day when I don’t read reviews anymore.

What advice would you give to young(er) playwrights?  What advice do you wish that you had received?

Advice: Go to grad school or find your people, or both.

I wish someone had told me earlier on to stop caring about produciblity and just write from my heart, that’s what of the hardest things to allow myself to do.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am currently a fellow of Next Voices at New Rep and developing my new family drama, Dream House. There will be a reading of this play in June.

Joanna (Melissa deJesus) and Palmer (Michael Underhill) observe the masterpieces of Palmer's brother, Turner (Victor Shopov, unseen) (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

Joanna (Melissa deJesus) and Palmer (Michael Underhill) observe the masterpieces of Palmer's brother, Turner (Victor Shopov, unseen) (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

I am also remounting Eyes Shut. Door Open as a self-producer along with co-producers Wax Wings Productions. The show will feature the same cast, Victor Shopov, Michael James Underhill, and Melissa deJesus, as well as the same director Christopher Randolph, and many of the same designers. The show will run May 12-27, 2016, at Warehouse XI in Somerville MA.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

You can learn more about my work at www.cassiemseinuk.com and more about ESDO at www.eyesshutdooropen.com.

2015 Best New Work Nominee: "The Draft" by Peter Snoad (Hibernian Hall)

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

Note: If you are nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

The Draft was a monumentally important new play for 2015, as our government and society explore some of the effects of the Vietnam War.  Onstage, The Draft explores and faces over 90 different characters, based on thirty collected stories of true life accounts, involved in the Vietnam War.  More importantly, the play illuminates the war's complexity, humanity, and far-reaching effects in a unique and dramatic way. The play's potential to reach history classrooms and new generations while bridging veterans and current soldiers create palpable effects for theatre's place in the twenty-first century.

Photo Credit: Carter Judkins

Photo Credit: Carter Judkins

In his Interview, Playwright Peter Snoad illuminates the writing process of The Draft, discusses the play and production's complexities, and lists some of his own top productions in 2015.  Read all the way to the end to find how The Draft's legacy is continuing and how you can be a part of it.

Hi, Peter, and thank you for joining us for our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a transatlantic hybrid. My parents were British, and I was born and raised in the U.K. My East London birthplace technically makes me a Cockney (although I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never been able to do a decent Michael Caine imitation). I’ve lived in the U.S. for the last 39 years – nearly 30 of those years in Jamaica Plain.

I’m a recovering actor. I did a bunch of theater in Vermont and in Boston after I moved here, including a couple of shows at the old Lyric Stage on Charles Street (which really dates me!). I began writing plays because I had a crisis of confidence as an actor. I was having terrible difficulty retaining lines, and doing a play became more of an endurance test than a joy. (Although it was a great diet plan – I was shedding 5-7 pounds a show from sheer stress). So, I thought to myself: “I love the theater, but this sucks. What else can I do?” “Well, you’ve always made your living as a writer, so, duh, maybe you could write plays?”

And that’s what I did. I wrote my first play when I was 50 years old, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have my stuff produced throughout the U.S. and internationally. Have faith, people, it’s never too late.

What is The Draft?  How would you describe the play and the production at Hibernian Hall?

Nurse Penny Rock (Marge Dunn) cared for the wounded and dying in a military field hospital trauma unit in Vietnam. “They’re just young kids – that’s the thing. I’m only twenty-one myself. But after three weeks, I feel ancient. Part of the ancient earth.” (Photo Credit: Roberto Mighty).

Nurse Penny Rock (Marge Dunn) cared for the wounded and dying in a military field hospital trauma unit in Vietnam. “They’re just young kids – that’s the thing. I’m only twenty-one myself. But after three weeks, I feel ancient. Part of the ancient earth.” (Photo Credit: Roberto Mighty).

The Draft is an interweaving of the real-life stories of 10 young Americans – eight men and two women – and their experiences with the military draft during the Vietnam War. They variously fought in Vietnam, went to jail for draft resistance, organized against the war, won a medical exemption from the draft with a bogus X-ray, and chose self-exile in Canada.  One of the two women dreamed of being an opera singer, joined the army as a nurse for the economic security, and ended up working in a trauma unit in a field hospital in Vietnam.

We had an amazing cast and crew for this production, including our visionary director, Diego Arciniegas. From the get-go, Diego saw The Draft as a movement piece, and he came up with this simple and arresting design: a bare stage and a series of 12 fabric-covered mobile frames – garment racks on castors, actually – that the actors moved around and manipulated. These became props (an airplane wing, a table); they were flats, defining a room or a porch or a judge’s dais; and they served as screens for shadow puppetry. The spare nature of the staging put the focus on the actors and the powerful and moving stories their characters were telling.

Tell us more about what inspired The Draft. What else has or does inspire you to write?

The Draft was literally handed to me. My friend, Tom Gardner, gave me Tom Weiner’s wonderful book, Called To Serve: Stories of Men and Women Confronted by The Vietnam War Draft, as a holiday gift. Tom Gardner’s own story is one of the 30 stories in the book. He jokingly said to me: “Go on, then, make a play out of that.” Well, after being captivated by the incredibly rich and compelling material in the book, I told Tom, “You know what? I just might.”

One of the things that drew me in was the core issue of moral choice. You’re eighteen, nineteen years old, and you’re going to be sent halfway across the world to a country you’ve never heard of to kill people and maybe be killed. What do you do? There are no easy choices, and whatever choice you do make will change your life forever. From a dramatic standpoint, of course, this central dilemma and its associated conflicts are rich with possibility.

The subject matter also allowed me to illuminate the devastating impacts of war, including the racism and white supremacism at the heart of all war-making by the U.S. and other Western powers. Themes of race, culture and identity are present in all my plays, including the three other plays that Hibernian Hall generously produced during my tenure there as Visiting Playwright (Raising David Walker, Identity Crisis, and Guided Tour). 

What was challenging about writing this play?  What was most fulfilling?

I wanted to represent the full spectrum of people’s experience with the draft, as well as provide contextual information about the war and the movement to stop it. That meant a big cast: 12 actors play more than 90 characters between them. It was ridiculously ambitious, a real beast! Making it all work was, as they say, a process. We even made cuts and reworked the final scene in the last week of rehearsal. Somehow, it all came together. I was also determined to do justice to the real-life stories that had been entrusted to me, and for a while that was kind of paralyzing; I wouldn’t allow myself to follow my instincts as a dramatist. I also felt a particular burden of responsibility because 10 of the 11 principal characters whose stories are featured in the play are still alive. Nine of them came to see the show and got to meet the actors who had portrayed them on stage. It was quite emotional for all concerned. Lots of tears and hugs of mutual gratitude and appreciation.

Twelve actors play more than 90 roles between them in The Draft. The student protesters in this scene are portrayed (from left) by Stewart Evan Smith, Trinidad Ramkissoon, and Jacob Athyal. (Photo Credit: Roberto Mighty).

Twelve actors play more than 90 roles between them in The Draft. The student protesters in this scene are portrayed (from left) by Stewart Evan Smith, Trinidad Ramkissoon, and Jacob Athyal. (Photo Credit: Roberto Mighty).

Writing The Draft was at once inspiring and grueling. It was also incredibly satisfying because the play brings to life a divisive and defining period of our national history that many people would prefer to forget but is still extraordinarily relevant. And the play asks some provocative questions – for example, about the meaning of patriotism and the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy -- that continue to challenge us all today.    

What are some of the noteworthy performances that you saw in 2015?

Bedlam’s Saint Joan at Central Square Theatre tops my lists. Stellar acting, deft control of language, simple and ingenious use of space.

I also loved Appropriate at SpeakEasy Stage Company, the great ensemble work in Saturday Night/Sunday Morning at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, and the creative outdoor staging of Blood Wedding by Apollinaire. 

How do you fill your days?  What is something new that you will do in 2016?

I have a full-time job directing a grant-making program for a foundation. I’m also active with a project called “Abolition Acre” that aims to establish a commemorative and educational installation on City Hall Plaza honoring the abolitionist movement. Oh, and I’m working on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Feel The Bern!

How do you think that the Greater Boston theatre community can improve in 2016?  What changes would you like to see?

There’s some vibrant new work being written and produced in Boston. I hope we see much more of that, and more diversity in every sphere of theatre-making through the intentional planning and actions of producers.

In that regard, I believe that bloggers and critics have an important educational and advocacy role to play. 

If you could rewrite any story, what would it be, and why?  What would you change or adapt?

Pass! After my experience with The Draft, I think I’ll stick with inventing my own stories. At least for now.     

What is one thing that most people do not know about you?

I had my first movie role at aged five in A Town Like Alice, starring Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch. It’s based on a Nevil Shute novel about a romance between an English nanny and an Australian prisoner-of-war in Japanese-occupied Malaya (Malaysia) during World War Two. I played an orphaned refugee.

Do you have any advice for young theatre artists and/or playwrights?

Every playwright has a different way of working. Personally, I’ve found Edward Albee’s advice especially useful:  “Don’t write until the last possible moment.” In other words, take the time to prepare.

For me, that means knowing as much as I can about why I’m writing this play and what I’m trying to say; who the characters are and their functions in the play; whose play it is (my protagonist) and how s/he will be changed; and the broad arc of the play from start to finish. I’ve also come to value the elements of surprise and silence. Surprise keeps the audience alert (and awake). Silence can speak volumes. See/read any Annie Baker play.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I plan to start work soon on a new (small cast!) play that’s been marinating in my brain for the past year. It’s set in Vermont and involves stargazing and musings on mortality. I think. I’m a long way from Albee’s last possible moment . . .

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Vietnamese-American student Trinh Nguyen (Helen Swanson) reads a poem by the Vietnamese poet Y Nhi. The play is structured around a fictional study tour of Vietnam by a group of contemporary U.S. college students. As part of their preparation for the trip, the students are given an assignment to interview people about their experiences with the Vietnam War draft. (Photo Credit: Roberto Mighty).

Vietnamese-American student Trinh Nguyen (Helen Swanson) reads a poem by the Vietnamese poet Y Nhi. The play is structured around a fictional study tour of Vietnam by a group of contemporary U.S. college students. As part of their preparation for the trip, the students are given an assignment to interview people about their experiences with the Vietnam War draft. (Photo Credit: Roberto Mighty).

My ambition for The Draft was that it could be more than a compelling piece of theater; that it could also be a useful educational tool on issues of war and militarism. To that end, some friends and I collaborated on a successful Indiegogo campaign. We raised enough money to finance a tour of the play after its Hibernian Hall premiere – with performances at Westfield State University in Westfield, MA, Northampton’s Academy of Music, and Trinity College in Hartford – and to hire a filmmaker to videotape a live performance of the play. The footage is now being edited.  We plan to combine the completed video with the script and a teacher’s guide and promote the package to colleges and high schools around the country. If you’d like to be on the mailing list, please let me know: psnoad@yahoo.com 

I asked a class of students at Westfield State University – who had read The Draft together before it was performed there – how many of them had learned about the Vietnam War in high school. Three out of twenty students raised their hands. The sad fact is that most young people in the U.S. today know next to nothing about the war because it is rarely covered in their history classes and their older family members with firsthand experience of the war are often reluctant to talk about it. Yet, many of the personal wounds the war inflicted have yet to heal, and its impact on our national psyche, not to mention our foreign policy, is still profound.

Witness the invocation of the “Vietnam Syndrome” – a reluctance to commit American ground troops to foreign wars based on the disastrous experience of quagmire and defeat in Vietnam – in the current debate about how to combat ISIS. I myself learned a lot in researching and writing The Draft.  And some of what I learned literally made me gasp. One example: While 58,000 Americans lost their lives in the war, between three and four million Vietnamese died. If our country had lost the same proportion of its population, we’d have over 17 million grieving families here in the United States.

I hope that The Draft can make a modest contribution to bridging the knowledge gap about the Vietnam War – or the American War as the Vietnamese call it – that exists among younger Americans. 

2014 Best New Work: Argos Production's "The Haberdasher! A Tale of Derring-Do" by Walt McGough

Although we have announced our 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Winners, we continue our Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Walt McGough is a playwright to see.  Not only does he fill his plays with the enjoyable tropes of your favorite movies, TV shows, and stories, but he includes clever subtle and overt commentary and reflections on our modern society in each of his plays.  His The Haberdasher! A Tale of Derring-Do was a feast for the mind and eyes.  In his Interview, Walt explains The Haberdasher! and the new play collaborative structure, the best praise that he ever received for his work, and some of his upcoming projects.

Photo by Jonathan L. Green

Photo by Jonathan L. Green

Walt, thank you so much for joining us.  Let’s hear more about who you are, and what brings you to Boston stages.

I’m a playwright, originally from Pittsburgh, PA. I lived in Chicago for a few years, working and starting a company, and then came to Boston to get my MFA at BU. Shortly after that, I started working on staff at SpeakEasy Stage Company, which I’m still doing, and I just kind of fell in love with the city and the theatre here, so the rest is history.

Talk to us about the inspiration for The Haberdasher!  When did you start writing the play?  How did you get the idea?  What other stories inspired you?

The Haberdasher! started off with me wanting to write a big, fun, high-romance adventure, akin to Princess Bride, Three Musketeers and other stuff in that vein. At the same time, I wanted to write a small, scrappy-feeling piece where a small group of actors played a huge cast of characters, which would really let a production team and cast have a lot of fun (the audience, as well).

How would you describe the play?  Give me a sales pitch like you’re marketing for a spot on a prime-time TV network.

It’s a swashbuckling farce about a young French girl who gets embroiled in a ridiculous plot involving a Duke, a burglar, and stolen locket. It wouldn’t make good TV because part of the fun is its theatrical structure: it’s four actors playing about 14 different characters, and features moments like the final battle, in which the characters all start to intersect and actors are having swordfights with themselves.

What kinds of stories are you drawn to writing?  To seeing?  What kinds of stories have no interest for you?

I’m drawn to stories that have familiar structures and styles, but a central viewpoint/dynamic that’s new and surprising. Often, I get there by telling genre stories with female or minority protagonists, and cast a new light on their tropes. I’m very interested in creating narratives that haven’t been told on stage before, and the sad truth is that often the simplest way to accomplish that is to put a woman at the center of the story and honor her perspective.

As an audience member, I love seeing anything that has had a lot of attention and care put into it, has something to say, and takes its audience into account as a part of the experience.

If you could follow around anyone in the world for a day, who would it be?  What would you want them to do?

Do they know that I’m following them? That seems creepy. I guess an astronaut would be pretty fun, but only if there was an extra spacesuit.

What is the best thing that anyone has ever said about your writing?  What is the worst?

Last year, I did a play called Pattern of Life with New Rep about drone warfare. This past fall, we had the chance to perform a section of it at a Boston College conference on drone warfare, and a number of the audience members were current and former drone pilots. A group of them came up to the actors and I after the performance and told us that we had honestly reflected their experiences. That felt pretty great.

I’ve also been pretty lucky in that I’ve very rarely had someone be overly negative about something I wrote, so nothing really bad or juicy springs to mind.

How did The Haberdasher! change during production?  Why?

Before rehearsals, the director, Brett Marks and I, had a lot of meetings just talking about the structure of the play and different opportunities within it. It’s a farce, so a significant amount of it just comes down to the mathematics of building the machine and letting it run. Those conversations yielded some new or rejiggered scenes, as did a pre-rehearsals workshop that we did before auditions. Once we had a cast locked in and rehearsals started, there were lots of little changes throughout, mostly focused on clarifying intentions or helping the logistics of having four actors playing so many characters at one time (costume changes, fight choreography, etc.). Fortunately, all of the actors, the designers and Brett were ridiculously game to try whatever crazy stuff that I’d written into the play. Especial shout-out to Fight Director Angie Jepson, who took a bunch of vague, absurd stage directions and crafted them into whole symphonies of physical comedy.

With what kinds of theatre companies do you choose to collaborate?  What advice would you give to companies looking to engage talented playwrights?  What advice would you give to the playwrights?

I love working with any group of artists that tries to do their best work on each new project. I’m drawn to anyone that collaborates well and brings their own ideas to the table since I’m a big talker and relish the chance to dig into things around the table.

I’d say that any company working with a playwright on a new script should be sure to be as open, honest and collaborative as possible about their intentions. Don’t commit to producing a script on the assumption that it’ll change, and make sure that you love it for the same reasons that the writer does.

For a playwright, I’d say the same thing in reverse: make sure to only work with collaborators who are genuinely excited about the script, and want to help you make it more of what it is and what you want it to be. Also, join the Dramatists Guild and know your rights as a writer.

What do you eat for breakfast?  What is your morning routine?

I’m a big proponent of cereal.  I know that’s going to be a bit controversial, but deal with it, America. My morning routine is generally focused on trying to find the perfect balance between time required to get to work and time spent sleeping in.

What is one thing that you would like to change about the Greater Boston theatre scene in the next year?  What is one thing that you would like to stay the same?

More space, more space, more space. Rehearsal rooms, black boxes, the basements of bars. We need space in order to keep developing as a community, so that young companies can establish home bases in which to grow their audiences and themselves. The thing that I never want to change is how excited, passionate and supportive this whole community is, at every level.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

My play Chalk, which was produced by Fresh Ink last January, goes up into previews in Chicago at the end of this week. It’s been amazing getting to see the same script as part of two completely different processes. After that, I’m working on a Theatre for Young Audiences play called Advice for Astronauts with the Milken School in LA, and writing a few new projects that are still looking for homes.

Do you have anything else to share with our readers?

Only an acknowledgment that nothing about The Haberdasher! would have happened without the amazing cast, crew, and staff at Argos Productions. Brendan Mulhern, Hannah Husband, Kaitee Tredway, Mark Estano and Erin Eva Butcher all poured their hearts, souls and bodies into this completely ridiculous project, and Brett marshaled a true all-star team of designers to make it happen. It was a distinct honor and privilege to have so much love put into something so wacky, and I’m super indebted to all of them.

2014 Best Supporting Actor in a Play Nominee Interview: Brendan Mulhern as Actor #3 in Argos Productions' "The Haberdasher!"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Brendan Mulhern impressed in his creative physicality and golden comedic timing, standing out in a talented cast in Argos Productions' new play by Walt McGough, The Haberdasher! A Tale of Derring-Do. From the law-abiding but girl-clueless Lucas to the silly thug Bruno, Brendan expanded upon Walt McGough's script with his own comedic touches. In his Interview, Brendan explains The Haberdasher, including the rehearsal process for the new play; his favorite distraction; and what he's doing now (in Chicago!). 

Photo by Jenny Moloney Photography

Photo by Jenny Moloney Photography

Brendan, can you introduce yourself to our readers? What do you do?  Where are you from?  What brings you to the stage?

Hi! I am an actor, improviser, and musician originally from Boston, now living in Chicago. I’ve always enjoyed performing and telling stories. I was a pretty hyperactive child, always coming up with new characters, telling jokes, and doing impressions. I wrote and performed some sketches in high school, and I played in various bands into my 20s. However, I didn’t get into acting until I was 26 and started doing improv. I didn’t work on my first honest play until I was 30.

What is your performing background?  Why do you enjoy acting?

My first love is music. I started playing guitar when I was 14, and I had dreams of being a huge rock star. Despite being a showoff in front of my family, I was pretty shy and insecure at school. The few times that I got on stage, mostly for jazz band in high school, I felt exhilaration, freedom, and a release from my shy, awkward self. I felt like a completely different person on stage, and I liked that. I pursued my rock dreams until I was 25, but my personality is not suited for a rock ‘n’ roll life. When I eventually got into acting, I could harness my attention to detail, my creativity for characters, and my love of performing in a way that is much more personally satisfying.

Talk to us about your characters in The Haberdasher!  How did they fit into the story?

The Haberdsaher! is presented as a story being told by a traveling band of actors. So, officially, my role was Actor #3. Each of the four actors plays multiple roles, which allows for a lot of breathing room when coming up with the physicality and voices of the different characters. I played an actor playing four different characters, so not only could I create the characters in the story, but I could also add the personality of the actor playing them.

The characters I played were: Lucas, the honorable Constable with a crush on a thief; Bruno, the dim-witted yet lovable thug; Claudia, the castle-dwelling crone with a heart of gold; and Auguste, the annoying prat of a customer in the Haberdashery.

What was it like working on a new play?  How much flexibility did you have to create these roles?  What was the most challenging part?  What was the most fun?

I very much enjoy working on new plays. I love the collaborative approach - working with the director and the playwright to dive deep into the minds and motivations of the characters, making discoveries together, and putting up a production that the entire team can be proud of. I have done big Broadway-style musicals and thrillers, and, while they’re also very fun, and challenging for different reasons, I always appreciate the opportunity to be the first to create the character(s).

Brett Marks (the director) and I had worked together a few times before and he gave me a lot of space to do my own thing. In fact, he gave me one the best compliments I could ever imagine when he said he wanted to cast me because he trusted me to take the script and run with it. Brett and I have a great acting nerd synergy. We took an hour here and an hour there to discuss and experiment with details, like Claudia’s physicality, or Bruno’s voice. One downside to living in Chicago now is I don’t get to work with him and I miss that.

The most challenging part and the most fun part were the same thing: the sword fights! I had never once had to wield a sword - in theatre or in life - and I was worried I would look terrible. But Angie Jepson, our fight choreographer, is an amazing stage fighter and excellent teacher. She asked me at our first rehearsal what my training was. I said: “Absolutely none.” She just smiled, said “OK!” and took it from there. Also, Hannah Husband, who played Actor #2, and two characters of her own, is also a very accomplished rapier fighter. Having the two of them coach me - one as choreographer and the other as a scene partner - was a great learning experience.

What was it like to play so many roles?  How did you work to differentiate them and give them each their own “character”?

This kind of thing is right in my wheelhouse and I love it. My dream is to be an excellent character actor and anything that allows me to get better at it is a welcome challenge. In improv comedy, creating big characters is an easy way to ground yourself. Using physicality, accents, and motivations helps inform you where to go even when you have no idea where you’re going. Plus, you always have to be willing to create a brand new character on the spot, and be ready to drop it and create a new one instantly.

When I get the chance to dive into a character and really live through them for a play, I relish the opportunity. The first things I try to find are the walk and the talk. How does this person move and how do they sound? When I get that down, I can live as that character and concentrate on the words they are saying. This opens me up to making new discoveries both in rehearsal and throughout the run.

Getting there, however, requires its own research: Who are they? Where do they come from? What do they believe? What do they want? How do they see themselves? And so it becomes cyclical - you have to learn the words and study the words so you can find your character so you can live the words. It’s fun.

Why do you think that The Haberdasher! was not only a good production, but also a good play?

I still talk about this play, even now over a year later and in a different city. The most important thing about this play is that it is about strong, independent women without treating them as if that is anything out of the ordinary. They just ARE strong, smart, capable, talented women with opinions and desires who don’t need men to save them, protect them, or complete them. This is a very important theme.

We need more of this in the world, quite frankly, and, unfortunately, we artists, who like to think ourselves enlightened and in touch, need to do more to not just treat women fairly, but actively respect their experiences, promote their cause, educate society of their contributions, and demand equality. Our culture and our world will be far richer for it.

If you could have any superpower, which would you have?  Why?

I would have to say teleportation. I love to travel and there are so many places I want to visit, but on a non-union actor’s budget, I don’t get very many opportunities to pick up and ship off. Being able to go somewhere instantaneously (and for free) would be great.

What is your favorite distraction?

Long walks. I love to take a walk and listen to music, usually for an hour or longer. I use it to either clear my head or let my imagination wander. Growing up in Boston, I lived near the Arnold Arboretum and would try to go there once a week during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. When I worked at the Boston Public Library, I would take my lunch breaks by the Charles or in the Public Gardens. In Chicago, I live very close to one of the beaches on Lake Michigan, so I walk around the marina and the beach with views of the city. It’s quite beautiful.

Photo by Brett Marks

Photo by Brett Marks

Which character did you relate with the most in The Haberdasher!?

Lucas the Constable. I didn’t have to go too far to figure him out - except for all the sword training. He believes in justice, the letter of the law, and doing the right thing, and he has a crisis when doing the right thing means breaking the law. He has a hard time comprehending anyone who doesn’t follow the rules so he’s at a complete loss with every other person in the play, especially Vivienne, a thief who eludes his capture and his heart. His difficulty interacting with the woman he likes is also, sadly, very familiar to me.

The audience really responded to Bruno, which made him tremendous fun to play. He’s a big dumb oaf, a hired thug who is scared of the dark. Comedic gold.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

I just wrapped my Chicago theatre debut, another new play called The Impossible Adventures of Supernova Jones. I played Supernova Jones, a ‘50s-style space explorer who, after the Earth’s destruction, has set off to find the True Center of the Universe so he can turn back time and bring it back. However, [SPOILER] he’s actually a grieving man who fell into a psychosis after a terrible trauma. It is a very touching story and our production got good reviews. I was happy for the experience.

After that, though, I don’t have anything planned yet. I began studying Shakespeare in earnest last Fall, so if I don’t book any gigs, I will probably continue with that over the Summer.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

I want to thank ArtsImpulse for the nomination. I’m very honored to share the Best Supporting Actor category with such immense talent. And thanks to everyone who saw The Haberdasher! It was a wonderful experience that I wish I could relive.

Most importantly, though, I want to stress that this play is an ensemble piece and it cannot be done unless each actor looks out for the other. I am forever grateful to have shared this experience with Kaitee Treadway, Hannah Husband, and Mark Estano. We looked out for one another, supported one another, learned from one another, and put on a really good show together. And that spirit was present in everyone involved: Brett Marks, Walt McGough, Ariana Gett, Elizabeth Ramirez, Angie Jepson, Erica Desautels, Luke Sutherland, and Ben Lieberson all brought their great talents, vast knowledge, boundless energy, and, of course, humor to this production and that, to me, is the only way to work. I also want to acknowledge Erin Eva Butcher who was originally suppose to play the title character but got injured and had to bow out. She showed immense courage and fortitude, and I have the utmost respect for her. Thank you all so much. 

2014 Best New Work Nominee Interview: Kevin Cirone for "Creative License"

Photo by David Costa

Photo by David Costa

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Kevin, thank you so much for discussing your new musical, Creative License. Can you start by telling us a bit about your background? Who are you and what have you done on and off-stage?

Well, I've been performing in the Boston area for about 10 years now, and in that time I've pretty much covered the gamut – film, straight plays, sketch comedy, commercial, and of course musicals. Most recently people may have seen me in The Secret Garden at Stoneham Theater.

I've also written a lot of different things, including poetry, sketch comedy, and screenplays, but Creative License is my first fully-realized theatrical work thus far.

How do you spend your days?

Lately my days are spent frantically getting my ducks in a row for the New York International Fringe Festival, which selected Creative License to be produced in NYC in August, which is both hugely exciting and terrifying. Besides that, I've been writing and auditioning a lot when I'm not at my day job as a software engineer. In my (lately rare) downtime I'm home hanging out with my dog and watching Hulu.

Talk to us about the plot for Creative License. Who is the story about? What happens?

Essentially it's the story of two childhood friends, Casey and Bethany, who haven't spoken in a year, brought back together to save Denison's Pub, Casey's family business. Casey, a budding writer, employs the help of Dr. Hardy, Bethany's employer, who has a brilliant original work that Casey and Bethany try to produce. When the play is revealed to be not all it seems, the two have to work together to find a creative solution.

Why did you decide to write Creative License now?

The essence of the story is something that's been floating in my head for kind of a long time. It started as an unfinished screenplay and then evolved into the show it is today. I wanted to tell this story of some small-town dreamers and the struggle to be inspired and create something real, and it's morphed into this tale about lifelong friendships and the power of theater. I think it's pretty cool.

How would you describe the style of the book and the score? Did any other composers inspire or influence you? Did you borrow any motifs or ideas from other works?

I guess the short answer is, it's Sorkin meets Schwartz? Kind of? I write like I talk, so these characters have a very modern cadence and sense of humor, but there are also moments when the action stops and a character is given free reign to say how he feels, musically or not. There are certainly aspects of the music that have roots in rock as well as traditional musical theater (plus a handful of homages), but as it has evolved I think the finished product is pretty fresh and original. Or at least entertaining.

What is your songwriting and playwriting background? I’ll ask the age-old question: what comes first, the words or the music?

I'm pleased? I guess? To say that I have no formal background in songwriting, but I have always loved to write and have a lifelong obsession with coming up with alternate lyrics to existing songs. The thought definitely ran through my head at one point to just make a show with parody versions of existing songs, but then eventually there were tunes coming to my head that had no basis in existing music, so I started writing them down and eventually the whole thing was original. Besides, the Gold Dust Orphans kind of have the market cornered on parody and I doubt I could do it half so well.

The music and lyrics usually come around the same time, although those first few songs the tunes came first. Later on my process became more like writing poetry and thinking up a melody that went with the words and action of the scene.

Photo by Kevin Cirone

Photo by Kevin Cirone

What is the most challenging thing about writing a new musical? What is the most rewarding? What was the biggest surprise for you?

I think with any new work the challenge is that it's never finished. You keep iterating and workshopping and polishing and workshopping some more and you always find new things that could be clearer or funnier or just better. That is very rewarding on its own – getting audiences involved in the process of creation. The biggest surprise to me is that people actually seem to like it!

Why do you think that we don’t have more original musicals in Boston? What would encourage and inspire more original musicals?

There are more than you might think. I think creating anything is hard, to start with. I also think like with most theater there's a sense that New York is where the opportunities are and you have to be there to be inspired and get produced. There might be some truth to that, but I also firmly believe there are small-town dreamers and artists who have stories to tell and it shouldn't matter where you live or where you came from to tell it. I think the passion and resources are there in Boston, you just have to know where to look.

If you could erase one musical or play from ever existing, what would it be? Why?

Yikes. Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've never seen any play or musical that didn't have at least some redeeming qualities. I've seen PRODUCTIONS I'd like erased from my memory, but I have too much respect for people putting their work out there to say it should never have existed.

Are you re-writing any of Creative License since the last performance? What are you changing? Why or why not?

I changed a fair amount of the dialogue since the 2014 workshop for clarity or brevity or because certain jokes didn't work well or relationships weren't well-established. I think the show is much tighter, more cohesive and believable now and the stakes are the level they should have been all along. The opening was revamped to set up the energy of the show right away. Musically, not much has changed except a few lyric tweaks. And hopefully I won't decide to write any new songs during rehearsals like last time.

You’re also a very accomplished actor. How do you think that training and experience helps you as a writer?

It has certainly helped me think through the production aspect of playwrighting. When you have a fast-paced show like this you need to be cognizent of things like “How hard is this going to be to show? Is that set piece going to cause a ridiculously long transition?”. I think my love of improv and sketch comedy has also informed my sense of humor and that translates to the writing. I definitely have a lot of stage directions regarding the pace of the dialogue and even occasionally informing delivery. I love actors to be able to put their own spin on things but at the same time there are certain things the obsessive megalomaniac in me wants done juuuust so.

What is your “bad habit”? What is your biggest pet peeve?

Well, I do chew my nails when I'm nervous, which is always. My biggest pet peeve – I suppose people who are ignorant.

If you could change one thing about Greater Boston theatre, what would it be? Why?

I wish that instead of everyone starting their own theater company there could be more collaboration. Trust me, I fell into the same trap. But imagine instead of six fringe groups of three people you had one group with eighteen. Suddenly you're not fighting for resources or an audience with five other companies. I know everyone has their own ideas and I as much as anyone know how ego plays a part, but when you start to realize your way isn't any better than anyone else's, you start to see Boston theater as a community and not the competition.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Creative License at FringeNYC will be occupying my summer. I'll be producing it and also performing in it.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

See as much theater as you possibly can. And if you fancy a trip to New York City in August, you can see the new and improved Creative License at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival, directed by Rachel Bertone and music directed by Dan Rodriguez. Shameless plug over.

2014 Best Student Actor Nominee Interview: Ben Salus as Tom Whitmore in Boston University CFA's "The Whitmores"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Jun Tsuboike

Photo by Jun Tsuboike

Ben Salus joins us from London, where he is studying in the Classical Acting Diploma program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art ("LAMDA").  As a junior in the Boston University College of Fine Arts' BFA in Theatre Arts program, Ben shone as the charismatic and manipulative Tom Whitmores in the original play by Ben Ducoff, The Whitmores, at Boston University.  In his interview, Ben describes the process for rehearsing a new play, the rigorous but fulfilling theatre program at Boston University, and some of his favorite productions in 2014. We wouldn't mind sharing a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats with Ben!

Tell us about yourself, Ben.

So, I’m originally from Philadelphia, and I’m currently in my third year at Boston University pursuing my BFA in Theatre Arts. Right now, I’m in London studying Classical Acting at LAMDA, but I’ll be back in Boston for all of my senior year. My Mom and Dad support me so much in pursuing theatre (they knew nothing about it when I into college), and so does my sister, who graduated with a BS in Bioengineering. My friends from high school keep me sane and they’ve shaped my sense of humor and sense of joy. I spend most of my free time listening to Kanye West, Mozart, or Dave Matthews. I’m a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan and could talk an ear off about random sports history. You may have seen me either in a BU production or on Boston Harbor, as I was a tour guide in the summer of 2013 for Codzilla. I really like gummy bears and, to top it all off, I drive a 1994 gray/purple Toyota Camry.

What is your professional training?  What does the program at BU College of Fine Arts ("CFA") involve?  What are you doing now in the program?

Apart from BU, I’ve trained at the National High School Institute at Northwestern University the summer before my senior year in high school. Also, I’m completing the semester-long Classical Acting Diploma at LAMDA. Regionally, I’ve been in two shows, Our Class with the Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP), and Les Misérables with Cortland Repertory Theatre in New York.

In the Theatre Arts track at BU, I not only have the opportunity to study Acting, but I’ve also taken courses in Directing, Musical Theatre, Playwriting, and many other facets of the theatrical art. Right now, I’m gearing up for a packed senior year. First, I will be in STAMP (Senior Theatre Arts Major Productions) in which the Theatre Arts BFA class of 2016 will produce a full season of theatre, which will be coming in April/May of 2016. Also, I’ll be prepping for our showcase in New York City in March. In the meantime, I’ll be in shows at BU, and hopefully working a theatre internship this summer in either Chicago or New York City as part of my graduation requirement.

I really have to thank the School of Theatre for pushing me to become the artist I am today and who I look to be in the future. My training there has really transformed me as an individual and it is preparing me to succeed in any field of the theatre that I wish to pursue. It’s one of the best programs in the country and I’m blessed to be a part of it.

Who are The Whitmores?  Describe Tom, your character, for us.

The Whitmores are a middle-aged married couple living in a suburb of Cleveland who simply want things to go their way and go to any means necessary to get them. Tom and Mary love each other deeply, and they are very zany and fun, but I would never want to be on their bad side as they both have a short fuse when things don’t go according to plan. I think that’s all I can say without spoiling the play.

Tom Whitmore is a guy who really loves power. In dealing with people, he has an awareness of status, race, and manners, and he allows the three to flow masterfully in order for him to get what he wants. He is a riff off of any suburban man in this day and age, really. He’s got a rooted traditionalism in the sense that he’s a host and a fun loving partier/conversationalist, and, in that, comes his patriarchal power and force.

Photo by Kal ZabarskY

Photo by Kal ZabarskY

What was the process like for rehearsing a new play?  What were the challenges?  What were the benefits?

It was really cool being a part of a new play development as an actor, especially a play like this where I was in love with both the content and the style of writing.

One of the challenges was that, because it’s a new play, there was no existing definition of what it was. So, every day I had to come in and give 100% or else the production would take a step back, and it was evident when I was “off my game.” There wasn’t really time to take it easy in this process, which left me inextricably exhausted. It took a lot of effort on all of our parts to circumnavigate the process. Patience is a virtue, and really discovered that during this process.

The benefits were huge, so get ready:

I can’t begin to describe how lucky I was to be in the room with this team. Ben Ducoff (playwright) and Michael Hammond (director) really gave me free reign to explore what Tom was and wasn’t through the script. Ben was really open to have a dialogue about the characters and some of the lines. Every so often I would go off of a line, Ben and Michael would hear it out and we’d have a talk about even the smallest choices of words. Ben was really open to collaborate and share his character with me, ultimately letting it build into this monster that I didn’t even realize I had inside of me. Ben’s writing is supreme and I really loved being a vehicle for the words of someone who was in the room.

Getting to play alongside Lucy (as Mary Whitmore) was really a gift. We had some incredible chemistry, and when we were really cookin’, we operated on another level. We pushed each other every day and kept pushing each other’s buttons to get the best work from the other. The play was able to take some pretty huge jumps merely because the entire cast came in ready to explore and trusted each other to play.

New plays are interesting because the story is being cultivated in the room. Ben’s, Michael’s, and my ideas about the story that we were telling are all linked and similar, but definitely different. I really got to find this character and what he was about. I hate to say it like this, but I genuinely think everyone who plays Tom Whitmore will be playing a bit of Ben Salus at the same time. Developing a character for a new play requires putting your fingerprint on the character, more so than any other role. Finding my own way to tell my side of this story, that still agreed with Ben Ducoff’s and Michael Hammond’s, was the coolest experience I’ve had in theatre to date.

What are your biggest challenges as an actor?

Line memorizing. Oh my god. I get distracted very easily, so memorizing lines can get very tedious for me. Past that, I put a lot of attention into not relying on charisma or showmanship to get me through a scene, so that I have to really play from within the text.

What is the best production that you saw in 2014?  What is the best production that you have ever seen?  Why?

Thinking back, there were so many productions that blew me away this year. I fell in love with Finding Neverland at the American Repertory Theatre. I think Diane Paulus is a genius and helmed a gorgeous production that story onto the stage. Also, The Magic Flute presented by the Isango Ensemble at ArtsEmerson was one of the heartiest shows I have ever seen. I love Mozart, having just taken a class on his work, and I really was in awe of their storytelling and passion for the community that was presented on stage. In London, I got a chance to see City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse, and it might be the best production I’ve ever seen. Seeing Hadley Fraser live was one of my favorite theatergoing experiences because he exuded so much ease and really embodied his role.

Waiting for Godot at the Cort Theatre starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart is probably the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on stage. Getting to watch two friends act on a stage together in my favorite play put me in awe. It was so human and so beautiful. The connection they had on stage transcended the script and the performance as a whole and was an exhibition of humanity, which is the root of theatre. It still sends shivers down my spine to think of the final scene between Vladimir and Estragon as they say good-bye to each other. Simply beautiful.

Why do you think that it is important to support university productions and students?  How do you think that the Greater Boston community can do a better job supporting these productions and students?

I’m estatic that ArtsImpulse is including us students in the fray. As a 21 year-old kid that hasn’t experienced that much exposure into the theatre community, it was really cool to see my name on the same webpage as Jeremy Jordan, Kate Burton, and Diane Paulus, among others. That definitely gave me a huge sense of accomplishment as a nominee. That support alone is incredible.

It’s essential that university productions be looked at in the theatre scene because it’s part of the city’s theatrical identity. The idea that we have the space to examine works without pressure of commercial interest is wonderful. In that, it allows us to do our work in the public without fear of criticism, but with hope of praise.

Boston is a fantastic city for theatre, especially in the collegiate circuit. The support from the community is already there and is growing, but I would love to see some more of the professional actors in the area check out our work.

What is the best part about studying in London?  What do you miss about Boston?

Seeing the theatre in London is my favorite part about studying here. The theatrical risks they can take here, because of the government-subsidized theatre, allows for really inventive and beautiful stories to be told on stage. In my classes, I really like the culture behind Acting. They make everything about the work and less about you. It’s very business-oriented without seeming too distant from being personal. Also, professors here are really blunt about everything, which is hilariously intimidating.

I definitely don’t miss the snow or the T, that’s for sure. I miss seeing the familiar smiles of my friends in the halls of the College of Fine Arts and my professors immensely. I miss looking at the John Hancock Tower a lot. I also hope the Starbucks across from CFA misses me as much as I miss it. Oh, and I miss the burritos from the Whole Foods by Symphony Hall. That was my go-to during the run of the show and my secret get-off-campus-and-get-lunch-away-from-everything place.

What is one role that you want to play?  What is one role that you probably would never play, but you would still want it?

I really want to play Sweeney Todd one day. A few dream roles that are a little nearer in the future are Hamlet, Ken in Red by John Logan, and Mitch in Tuesdays With Morrie.

I wouldn’t immediately cast myself as Emile de Becque is South Pacific, but I would love to sing that track one day.

What is your favorite breakfast cereal? Sell it to us.

Honestly, give me some Frosted Mini-Wheats and I’m set for anything. The idea of health and sweetness don’t usually coincide, but the ratio between wheat and frost is sublime. And please, don’t get me started on when the sugary coating melts into the bowl of milk, leaving someone with a mouthful of sweet, sweet victory.

What are your post-graduation plans?  Do you want to stay in Boston?

My plan is to work as an actor and director, wherever that may take me. Hopefully, I can settle down at some point and start a family. As long as I’m doing material that stimulates my own artistry, I’m down for (almost) anything. Even though beggars can’t be choosers, I would love to stay in Boston if the right opportunity arose, but I’m really intrigued by the opportunities Chicago, NYC, and LA might have for me, too.

What is one thing that you want to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Ben Ducoff is a godsend. Watch for The Whitmores to go somewhere. It deserves to.

And thanks, ArtsImpulse, for the nomination and this interview!