Studio's Lab Series Tests New Plays On A Budget (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Studio's Lab Series Tests New Plays On A Budget

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this hour we're engaging in a little Trial and Error. We've met Washingtonians who've gone through trials in the courtroom and the medical lab. And now we're going to focus on a little trial and error in the theatre. So take out pages 89A and 90. So 89A and 90 are being replaced by 89 A and B and 90 and 90A.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:36
We're at a rehearsal at D.C.'s Studio Theatre where literary director Adrien-Alice Hansel...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

00:00:41
(unintelligible) straight replays?

MS. ADRIEN-ALICE HANSEL

00:00:42
Straight replays.

SHEIR

00:00:43
...is sharing script changes for a new play soon to open on Studio's Stage 4.

HANSEL

00:00:48
And then we have new pages 112 to the end of the play, which now ends on page on 127.

MR. DAVID MUSE

00:00:55
It feels shorter in my hands.

SHEIR

00:00:58
That's David Muse, Studio's artistic director. He'll be directing this production, a world premiere by Tony Award-nominated British playwright Bryony Lavery. It's called "Dirt."

MUSE

00:01:08
And it's a little hard to just encapsulate in a sentence or two but it has something to do with dirt and dirt in many forms, like, dirt as soil. Dirt as the results of decomposition, dirt as emotional mess.

SHEIR

00:01:24
"Dirt's" first performance is October 17th, but as we just heard, the script clearly is still in progress.

MUSE

00:01:31
Over 50 percent of the play is new since I read it for the very first times. But we're sort of honing in on what we're going to do. And by the time the thing is in front of an audience we expect it to be more or less complete, at least for this production.

SHEIR

00:01:46
See, "Dirt" is the second show in Studio's Lab Series. "Lungs" by Duncan MacMillan, which Studio produced late last year, was the first. David Muse says he dreamed up the Lab Series shortly after replacing Joy Zinoman as Studio's artistic head in 2010.

MUSE

00:02:00
I inherited an institution that hadn't done a lot of new play development. And it's a personal interest of mine.

SHEIR

00:02:08
Because sometimes, he says, you might find a play that you're really excited about.

MUSE

00:02:12
But that's unfinished.

SHEIR

00:02:14
Or experimental.

MUSE

00:02:15
Or noncommercial and it can be hard to find a place for it in a season but you feel passionate about producing it.

SHEIR

00:02:21
So, what do you do? You launch a series outside your theater's regular subscription season.

MUSE

00:02:27
To take the pressure off and to free us up to take chances on things that weren't yet done.

SHEIR

00:02:32
And that, says Tony Award-nominated playwright Bryony Lavery, is what she calls...

MS. BRYONY LAVERY

00:02:35
Absolute playwright's heaven.

SHEIR

00:02:38
For one thing throughout the development process, Lab Series playwrights are invited to stay in Washington D.C., which by the way, Lavery describes as...

LAVERY

00:02:47
A very handsome city.

SHEIR

00:02:48
So Lavery and her ever-changing script have been in residence in this "very handsome city" for a while now.

LAVERY

00:02:54
The process has been, we'll all discuss it and laugh and try it and do different things in the rehearsal room and then I go away and get up very early in the morning and come in with propositions.

SHEIR

00:03:09
Which she offers to the director and, of course...

LAVERY

00:03:12
These most wonderful actors. So they immediately try and embody what in this case, was we started working on two new characters. And so we kind of cooked them and grew them up, from the ground. I'm slightly gushing because I'm having such a good time.

MUSE

00:03:33
Can we just take a moment and hear these four pages because a lot new on them.

HANSEL

00:03:37
From where?

MUSE

00:03:39
From Seven Deadlies, from Harper's okay.

MS. HOLLY TWYFORD

00:03:42
Okay. I've got a big question, why me? Why me? Me, I was fit and helpful. What did I do to deserve this?

SHEIR

00:03:56
That's one of Lavery's most wonderful actors, Holly Twyford, a Washington-area native who's been gracing stages for, well...

TWYFORD

00:04:04
Well, for a few years now. I don't need to go into details.

SHEIR

00:04:08
The giggler here is actor Matthew Montelongo. "Dirt" marks the fourth time he and Twyford have teamed up on a show.

MR. MATTHEW MONTELONGO

00:04:14
It's such a pleasure working with Holly Twyford.

TWYFORD

00:04:16
There's really nothing like working with Matthew Montelongo.

MONTELONGO

00:04:19
I wake up every morning and I think to myself, I get to work with Holly Twyford again, today.

SHEIR

00:04:25
And Bryony Lavery thought she was gushing. Anyhow, Twyford and Montelongo have both performed in world premieres before. But because this material has been so raw and so malleable, they say the Lab Series experience has stood out.

MONTELONGO

00:04:39
From an actor's point of view, like, it's good for us to develop that muscle, to commit to something wholly and then the next day it might be something completely different that you are engaging with equal passion and fervor.

TWYFORD

00:04:51
A lot of times actors' jobs are as interpreters, which is still really fun and exciting. But this even takes it to the next level of actually being able to help tell the story.

SHEIR

00:05:04
Now, in the case of "Dirt," the story involves a kind of love triangle between a guy named Matt, played by Matthew Montelongo, a waitress named Elle and then Holly Twyford's character, a woman named Harper who actually is a dead body.

TWYFORD

00:05:18
Which is not a spoiler because from the moment I walk on stage I say, now I'm the body?

SHEIR

00:05:25
The play goes on to explore the various characters and, as Bryony Lavery says, various questions.

LAVERY

00:05:31
When we die, actually what happens to us? What we know for certain is that we become dirt. But are we dirt or are we, what's the word, not gods, but spirits? You know, are we low or are we high? Are we base or are we divine?

SHEIR

00:05:49
Sounds like pretty heavy stuff sure, but as the playwright's quick to point out...

LAVERY

00:05:53
It is very funny and very moving, serious, light.

SHEIR

00:05:59
And that's a big reason David Muse selected "Dirt" for the Lab Series. Not only might it engage all sorts of audiences but it could enjoy a rich and full life after this production. Last year's show, "Lungs," has since been produced a number of times in America and Great Britain and it recently received a nomination at The Theatre Awards U.K.

MUSE

00:06:18
But if we tried to, you know, create a play every single time that was going to go for the world then the project in a way wouldn't work. Because we would start to second guess ourselves and focus on the success of the thing, as opposed to what the writer needs in the development process at that time.

SHEIR

00:06:36
Muse says he's pleased to see more and more Washington-area theaters focus on new-play development. But what sets Studio apart, he says, is how the Lab Series allows a play to change so dramatically from the first reading to the first performance.

MUSE

00:06:50
Which is a kind of crazy, nervous-making, exciting, freeing way to work, that could be a kind of glorious hit-or-miss enterprise. And you're meant to come with an open mind and to see what we've come up with so far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1

00:07:05
You were buying flowers.

TWYFORD

00:07:06
I think you just use your brain and you make it up.

1

00:07:13
You were happy. I pray you were happy, darling.

MUSE

00:07:19
And this is where the bit about her day used to come, right? Snip, snip, okay.

SHEIR

00:07:27
Performances of "Dirt" begin October 17th at Studio Theatre in Northwest D.C. For more information on the show and on the Lab Series, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
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