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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Friday, July 23, 2010

Special Feature | From First Workshop to World Premiere, After the Revolution at WTF

by Rachel Lerner-Ley, Dramaturg

Every year, WTF gathers an emerging playwright, an early-career director, and 10 talented non-equity actors into a rehearsal room. 3 weeks later a new, fully produced play emerges.

AFTER THE REVOLUTION, now receiving its world premiere on the Nikos Stage, was one such play. The play was developed last year as the 2009 Bill Foeller Fellowship production.

I was able to catch up with Amy Herzog (playwright) and Amanda Charlton (producer and Artistic Associate ) as well as some of the non-equity actors who appeared in last year’s workshop production to share some thoughts and memories of being a part of this unique process.

The Fellowship
Artistic Associate and workshop producer Amanda Charlton explains how the Bill Foeller and Boris Sagal Fellowship work:

Every year an artistic team pitches an idea that they would like to develop into a play or a musical. Once we choose the projects we cast a company of ten actors who we feel will make a diverse and interesting ensemble.  It’s important to cast people who are excited by the prospect and challenge that comes along with creating new material. 

We encourage the playwright not to write a single word until the workshop, where they meet the actors for the first time. The actors are sent assignments and research material to read before the workshop so that they are informed about the subject matter and can really contribute something to the work.  We want the process to be collaborative and for the artistic teams to be inspired and influenced by the actors hired. That’s why the Fellowship Projects are always ensemble pieces.  The writers write for the actors in their plays so every part is rich and important to the telling of the story.  Morty in ATR is only in two scenes, but they are two fantastic scenes!

A Last-Minute Change…or two
The fellowship allows for a playwright, director, and cast to play with ideas, try out new scenes. It is a constant process of collaboration and re-writing, a process that can be incredibly inspiring for all involved.    

Lucas Kavner, a non-equity actor who played patriarch Ben
(or rather as he was called last year “Robbie”) and is currently appearing in Six Degrees of Separation explains:Working on the fellowship last year, I think all of us can universally say, was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of our careers.  To watch Amy Herzog work was just this prodigal, remarkable thing - she would get a few notes from Tamara [Fisch, Director] in rehearsal and then run off to Tunnel City for an hour and write this beautiful monologue and bring it in for us that same day.” 

It can also be an exciting process, with changes happening right up to the night of the first performance.

Dominic Spillane, a non-equity actor who appeared last year as Leo and is currently appearing in Six Degrees of Separation recalls “One of the most interesting things about our production was that Tamara Fisch, the director, had found the original transcripts of the Joseph senate hearing. The play opened with a staging of this. It was about 10 min long and we all played various senators and what not. This scene was fully teched and costumed, and was cut right before our first show.” 

A Tale of Two Casts
The original cast of AFTER THE REVOLUTION featured members of the 2009 Non-Equity company. Early career actors mostly in their 20s, the ten cast members took on characters anywhere from 5 to 60 years their senior.

 However, as Amanda Charlton recalls the age discrepancy made no difference. “The play worked with 23 year olds playing parts outside of their age range or experience, which I think is a testament to the strength of Amy’s writing.”

The current cast of AFTER THE REVOLUTION features a collection of stage and film veterans, all age appropriate to their roles. The current script also has been cut down from 10 characters to 8.

For playwright Amy Herzog having the opportunity to work with two different casts on developing her script has been quite advantageous. She reflects: “Last year, I developed this play with a really wonderful company of actors who were all in their twenties. They didn’t know a lot of the history, which was very helpful in its own way because I learned what I could sort of short hand and what I had to really explain. And having that experience meant that I got the script into fairly good shape before arriving here this year. Now I feel that the current actors have a solid textual basis. This company’s made up of extremely seasoned actors and hearing from them when they feel like something is missing or when they are struggling is really valuable information for me as a writer.”

Now on the Nikos Stage
Tonight, AFTER THE REVOLUTION will receive its world premiere on the Nikos stage.     

Lucas Kavner: “We are all just so insanely excited to see the Nikos production.  Almost too excited, I think; everyone in the new company is probably a little freaked out by how much we tell them how excited we are.  But it's going to be phenomenal, I'm sure.  It's pretty impossible for that text to go wrong...”

Amanda Charlton: “I love the play for so many reasons. I was not alive during the McCarthy hearings and it seems extraordinary to me that something like that could actually happen. The play tells us not to forget the lessons learned from McCarthyism.  But it’s not a political play; that’s just the landscape for a very personal story about family in crisis.

It’s also exciting on a personal level. We bring artists to the Festival that we believe in and hope that this process allows them to create new work that will take their career to another level. We believe Amy is an extraordinary playwright with a strong voice, and we are thrilled to be part of her journey.  ATR is a powerful and important play and it was created here with us, and we just love that!”

A Life After Williamstown
This fall, AFTER THE REVOLUTION will make its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons. Carolyn Cantor will direct. 

Photos by Sam Hough from the 2009 Workshop and 2010 Season Production of After the Revolution

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