Saturday, February 13, 2016

Meaty two-hander, "Annapurna," next up for Theatre22

John Q. Smith and Teri Lazzara (Ahren Buhmann)
Theatre9/12 (at 12th Avenue Arts)

The next offering by Theatre22, Annapurna by Sharr White, seems like an actor’s paradise. It’s a two-hander, as they say, two actors who get to throw themselves into meaty, emotional material. It’s about a long-extinct marriage where the ex-wife comes back to nurse her dying ex-husband and rehash their relationship.

Most won’t get the title reference. Annapurna is a mountain in the Himalayas; the play is set in mountains of Colorado; so the mountains are the struggles of the relationship. Very poetic. White wrote the play in 2013-14, and it was done Off-Broadway in 2014. So, it’s very new. White has other plays that have been well received, and you might think of him as “up and coming.”

I spoke to director Julie Beckman about this play. Beckman is an award-winning director (she won the Gypsy Rose Lee Award in 2014 for directing A Small Fire at Sound Theatre Company and was nominated for directing Water By the Spoonful for Theatre22 in 2015). Here’s a taste of how she goes about directing a play.
“Having recently directed Water by the Spoonful, which was one of my all-time favorite projects, it is a pleasure to dive into the new year with Theatre22.  Corey McDaniel (artistic director for Theatre22) and I work really well together. About a year ago, Corey brought me a stack of plays and asked me what I thought. Annapurna was by far the favorite of everything he gave me. I love telling this beautiful story about love and reconciliation, with amazing characters and a gripping, very human story. 

“The first thing I usually do is ask what is this play about? What is the message gives to the world? Corey and I like plays where something is hopeful or offers the possibility of growth or change or positive development.

“In this case, it attracted me because ultimately it’s about the power of love and it’s a message we can hear over and over because it’s so core.

“Finding the people who you are excited about going through the process is a fun part of it. Having worked with Teri Lazzara on A Small Fire and with John Q. Smith on The Bells (Strawberry Theatre Workshop), I know that both of them are truly gifted. I had great faith in their chemistry on stage.  And believe me, their electricity is palpable.  They will not disappoint!

“Then design meetings, sometimes before the show is cast. I really like the collaborative process that happens between the director and the designers. I like to take advantage of the talent we have in the design world and get their contributions.

“I've worked with set designer Michael Mowery before and know how talented he is, and he is the perfect designer for this show.  His skill and attention to detail are really showcased in this production, which is set in an intimate trailer in Paonia, Colorado.
“And we have Jennifer Ewing who created our ‘mountain’ -- an incredible visual -- so beautifully rendered. Sound designer Kyle Thompson also designed Water by the Spoonful, and it's great to work with him again.  Lighting designer Ahren Buhmann has worked with Theatre22 before, but it is my first time working with him -- he's also really smart and talented.  And it's great to work with Jen Moon on props (of which there are hundreds!) and costumes (of which there are a total of two for each actor).  Altogether, it's a fantastic team.

“One of the first things you discuss is stylistic choices for the production and that makes a huge difference in the design. This is very realistic. It’s set in a trailer. You need to see Mount Gunnison through the windows. That makes a lot of choices for us.

“Then how do we want to configure the space. In 12th Avenue Arts you have that choice. We decided to go in a standard configuration (proscenium) because we needed this backdrop and needed the audience to share that perspective. Do we want to have the audience be inside the trailer or outside the trailer looking around it? And we chose, because this is an intimate story and the space is intimate, that we’d embrace it and that we audience members are in the world with them. That informed the set choices. Instead of seeing the exterior walls and roof of the trailer, you can see through their windows.

“For lighting, you discuss the quality of the light, the time of day, the environment, but also the emotional tone. It’s different if you’re in an interrogation room and the light is bright and cold, or in a home with lamps. All of that is in the lighting designer’s toolbox. As a director, I just talk about the quality and let them decide how they want to create that quality.

“Sound is similar, both in that there are a lot of dog-bark sounds that have to happen at specific times, but then also questions about whether we want to integrate music, and do we want sound at the beginning and ends of the play to shape people’s experience?

“Then we get into rehearsal. With the actors, we talk about the story we’re telling and the character’s background and the journey they go through in the course of the play. Ultimately, my job is to help the actors do the best they possibly can. A lot of that comes from creating an environment where the actors feel respected and that they can bring their own strengths to the process. I really welcome their insights and discoveries. Again, it’s a collaborative process.

“The last part is ‘tech,’ where you try to put all the pieces together. We integrate all the technical aspects into the performances. It’s rehearsals where every piece of technical element, lights, costumes, and sound are brought into the piece. We do a ‘cue-to-cue,’ a moment to moment check to make sure we know we’re all on the same page for each moment. And we’ll have ‘dress rehearsal,’ where the actors put on all the costumes and the makeup and we try to refine the process so it works smoothly.

“Finally, we have opening night! There are a lot of layers in this play. The other thing that is really fun for me is working with Corey because we’re on our third show together and we have a great rhythm. Altogether, working on this show has been a pleasure, and I can't wait to share it with audiences!”

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