Ann-Marie Pereth received her MFA in directing from UNLV and is a theatre professor for both University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Directing credits include The Elephant Man, Small Mouth Sounds, Incognito, Wit, The Glass Menagerie, The Flick, Foxfinder, When the Rain Stops Falling, A Summons from the Tinker…, Becky Shaw, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, A Steady Rain, Red Light Winter, August: Osage County, Belleville, The Trip to Bountiful, Compleat Female Stage Beauty and The Diary of Anne Frank at The Smith Center. Ann-Marie also worked with Nevada Conservatory Theatre, directing The Learned Ladies, Rabbit Hole, Miss Julie, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Glory in the Flower. She has acted, danced, directed and choreographed with a number of renowned theatre training programs and community organizations throughout the country including the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Disney Musicals in the Schools, Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts and American Girl in New York City. Ann-Marie is a co-founder and the Artistic Director of A Public Fit Theatre Company.
Coco Lane Rigbye is an Aussie studying theater at UNLV. She has a couple degrees already from CSN and is a staple in the local music and theater scene around town. I spoke with her about joining us for The Elephant Man. Here is what she had to say.
A few weeks into The Elephant Man’s rehearsal process, Ann-Marie called me saying she needed an actor. As a new actor, to have the opportunity to work with the company of such caliber as APF is exciting and I happily accepted.
Working on the show has been an extraordinary process of discovery, exploration, and self-actualization. We each took weeks to explore who each character is, though we constantly discovered new ideas about each one even still. We explore their class and location, how they speak, stand, and move. But also: who are they?
I play four roles that interact with Joseph “John” Merrick and/or Dr. Frederick Treves. What is important in playing multiple roles like this is to remember their job in terms of the play, but also the idiosyncrasies that make them wholly who they are. Are they air-headed, bird-like, weighted, strong, scared, childlike… Then, many would say one person can be all of these attributes at once sometimes. Just as Joseph Merrick can be hideous and beautiful, wise and naïve. We find ourselves by what’s around us.
My characters see part of themselves in John, and he is looking for himself in all of us.
I thank Ann-Marie and Joe for trusting me, and I thank the entire cast for welcoming me with open arms. I am very proud of this production and to be part of this company.
We go to school together; he’s a 21 year old engineering major and I’m an old guy who needs help with his calculus homework. It’s an 80’s buddy-pic in the making.
(“Why are you in this class?” he asks me all the time. “You went to school already. What’s the point?”
“It’s part of my artistic process,” I tell him. “Some artists abuse themselves with violence or alcohol or tumultuous relationships, I do it with Craig’s Interpolation Theorem.”
“Yeah, but don’t you also abuse yourself with violence and alcohol and tumultuous relationships?” he says.
“Shut up,” I explain.)
The theater department of our tiny community college had posters up everywhere advertising their spring production and I’m a Support-Your-School kinda guy, plus I thought it would be fun to bring my buddy to his first ever play. And to make things even sweeter, it was Twelfth Night.
Perfect, I thought, little Shakespearean gravitas, but a raucous comedy… good first play.
He got all dressed up. “If I’m the only brown dude there, I gotta represent.” That’s a young person expression. I’m pretty sure it means, “I’m hoping to score some artsy chicks.”
“Why do you think you’ll be the only one?” I asked him.
“Theater is a white people thing,” he said completely without irony, something that still rattles the soft bits of my skeleton. I opened my mouth to argue with him because I’m also an Argue-With-Anyone-About-Anything kinda guy. Still, I knew right away that I’d lose this one, but that’s a different blog altogether. (I know, I know, I’ll get to it one of these days. Calculus, man. Cut me some slack.)
So we cruised into the campus theater on a sultry night. It was one of those ginormous theaters that exist only either in the high falutin world of fancy-pants subscribers and Broadway ticket prices like the Taper, or on a campus. 90 percent of the theaters I’ve worked in are two rats away from being bulldozed to the ground, but you walk into a university theater and it’s like you just got a job at the Palladium. Big, well-equipped, comfortable, like a gazillon seats, the whole bit. Even at about half full, there were more audience members that one night than saw my entire run of Coriolanus at Shakespeare Santa Monica and that’s a shame because I was the balls in that show. Just sayin. THE BALLS.
Lights out, hush falls, off we go.
And it was awful.
I mean staggeringly, mind-numbingly bad. This show was so god damn fetid that at one point I wanted to lean over and ask my buddy to punch my eyeballs squarely in the dick, because I deserved that for bringing him there. Not just Undergraduate Theatre Bad (which I generally appreciate) this was “The Last Airbender” bad. It was Trump at Langley bad.
It’s not just that it wasn’t funny; it’s that it was the opposite of funny. Not dramatic, because it was the opposite of that, too. It was the opposite of theater, the opposite of storytelling. It was a non-thing. The actors were like fat southerners at a Vegas buffet, hungrily eyeballing the text that they were gonna gorge upon so they could vomit it back at us later. It was a fiasco of bad pacing, misunderstood text, mindless zombie direction and totally unrealized potential.
***WARNING: MASSIVE DIGRESSION AHEAD, BUCKLE UP, BEEYATCH***
Here’s the thing: I like bad theater, not gonna lie.
I like a little off-key singin, unglued mustache, too old ingénue and too young dad, inappropriate costuming and poorly constructed foam brick walls in the service of storytelling; the ambitious overreach of sophomoric don’t-tell-ME-how-to-play-Chekhov histrionics that serves for technique in this age of over-trained and under-experienced actors.
I love that stuff.
And honesty? Honesty is over-rated and trust me on this: that thoroughly modern notion that it all has to boil out from some cauldron of Stanislavskian veracity, as if earnestness is a sacrosanct virtue. What a bunch of hooey. I’ve never bought the long con of 60’s method-hounds that their real tears were any more effective than the ones Barrymore sprayed on before his entrance. (Twice as much for Hamlet, kid, let’s not be stingy with the glycerin; there’s paying customers out there!) Not for a second.
But there has to be a commitment to the storytelling, the deeply human shared joy that comes from traveling with an audience through a series of verbs that culminates in a couple of adjectives. If there isn’t at least some attachment to the clan-around-the-fire ecstasy of shared experience then I check out; when the actors are too involved in themselves and not enough in US. You know that guy at work who is so good at telling stories? What is it about that guy? He’s not wearing fancy costumes or using expensive magic tricks, but man alive does he spin a good yarn. That guy tells great stories, kid; not because the moment capstones in his own exultation, but because the story itself becomes elevated beyond the vocal gimmicks and wacky faces he makes. Maybe that’s it. I aint going to pretend that I know for sure.
We’re all in service. That’s what I’m saying. We’re all in service to the story, the image, whatever. We’re all scholars in the translation process that cyphers that cacophony through the brainpan of our writers or directors and rebuilds it into something discernible, something receivable and observable and watchable and ultimately, something fucking feel-able. (That should be a word: fucking feel-able. Fulable? Feeckable? Whatever.)
Simple really, take what’s in one person’s head, and put it in someone else’s. I’m pretty sure that at some point we’ll be able to do it with an HDMI cable, but for now we need artists.
More’s the pity.
But that’s what we are, we are scholars in service. In service to the story.
***WE NOW RETURN YOU TO THE RANT YOU ORIGINALLY SIGNED UP FOR***
After the play, without offering my opinion, I asked my friend what he thought.
“I liked it,” he lied. “It was cool.”
“No you didn’t!” I said. “You hated it! Know how I know? Because it was terrible. No one would like that show. The lead actor’s mom wouldn’t like that show. The guy who directed that show should be forced to watch “The Big Bang Theory” for ten hours a day until he beats himself to death with a copy of Aristotle’s Poetics. Don’t lie to me, ya ponce.” (I actually used “ponce.” I was feeling all Shakespeary.)
“Well, I don’t know… What was it supposed to be like? What does a good play look like?” It’s a good question, actually. Mary Overlie could make an entire dance piece about that question. It would be boring.
“It doesn’t look like that,” I assured him.
He went on, “I don’t have anything to compare it to, I guess.”
Later, in the elevator, there were two freshmen girls who had sat near us during the show. I noticed them because they were conspicuously NOT on their phones and that gave me a spark of hope for humanity in the midst of that Shake-smear.
“What’d ya think?” I asked them.
“It was great!” one of them gushed. “Sooooo good.”
“Uh huh,” I said. “Who’s girlfriend are you?”
“Um, Manny. The guy who played Orsino. Why?
“Nothing,” I said. “Glad you liked it.”
Our director, Anne-Marie, proposed a full-day optional experience of silence that she would program for us, to help with “cast bonding” (as it was right at the start of the rehearsal process) and to give us a taste of what keeping silent for a somewhat extended time period would feel like in today’s Las Vegas. We arrived and began with a yoga class, followed by a guided mindfulness meditation session.
After that, a very experienced hiker (and appropriately, also a doctor in theater) Dr. Ian Pugh arrived to be our guide on an outdoor hike that would take up the rest of the cold, beautiful winter afternoon. Ian made the inspired decision to keep silence along with us, but he had prepared some informational signs that he showed us to give us important background information about the hike, and along the way we learned some geological tidbits and were shown stunning and delicate fossils that I have no doubt we all would have missed had we been chatting in the usual manner of friends hiking together.
After the hike we returned back to the warmth of Anne-Marie & Joe’s house and had dinner all together as a group, still keeping silence, and then cleaned up according to our assignments that we had been given earlier.
Only after the dishes were done, the food put away and the table wiped clean did we begin speaking again. At that point it had been somewhere around 7 hours of silence – not comparable to 5 days, but still a very unusual way to spend a day in 2019 with a group of 8 or 9 people!
Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s play Appropriate is soon to be a new American theater classic.
Like Long Day’s Journey into Night, Death of a Salesman, Buried Child or A Street Car Named Desire, its easily recognizable living room drama and authentic character dialogue eloquently encapsulates the American psyche of the time.
Set in 2018 on a former slave-owning plantation, three grown-up siblings sort out their late father’s estate as they metaphorically unpack each other’s trouble lives with quick-witted dialogue and laugh-out-loud conceits. The Lafayette family is clearly the new theatrical American Gothic.
“Why can’t you let me be different?” Franz yells to his older sister Toni after a 10-year estrangement. The three Southern siblings, along with their children and romantic partners will struggle with this question throughout the night. “Why can’t you let me be different?” Their self-imposed metamorphoses, specifically shedding the exoskeleton of their respective childhoods, demands of the audience an investigation into the questions of potential and transformation; is such a thing even possible? Can one ever emerge as a respected and brilliant butterfly from the cocoons created by their family?
Mark Gorman came to Vegas about 3 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina where he had been the artistic director of a theater company called South of Broadway and the Board President for the League of Charleston Theatres. Before that, he was a performer and director in a bunch of fancy pants companies in New York that you’ve heard of but that I don’t wanna say because it will sound like I’m bragging. He’s also been in several APF shows and readings and directed some of them, too.
Most recently he directed our last staged reading, No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. Big affair, standing room only actually. Went well.
Sartre is a tricky one and make no mistake. Big ideas; lots of, you know, words and stuff. Mark and I were talking about the whole thing the other day and here’s what seeped into my brainpan.
What’s the scoop on this play?
3 characters of very different backgrounds and beliefs are thrust into a confined space and left to search for the meanings of their eternal lives. All the walls and defensive barriers that they have built around themselves to give meaning to their lives become false and fall away. Only then are they left naked. Mirrors reflect only their pretenses; not anything real. But through the eyes of each other, they can truly see themselves. When they reject how the others see them, they are never truly naked and thus live in a constant Hell.
I wonder if the notion is that we are incapable of actually forming truthful and valid opinions about ourselves, devoid of outside influence.
I think there is an overwhelming sense in No Exit that the characters know exactly who they are. It is through social interaction and real life existence that they put forth a persona, or an image if you will, of who they want to be seen as. Perhaps a grand game of deception that lies so deep within themselves that they have truly convinced themselves the deceit is actually real. Thus the outside influence becomes a stimulant to maintain the deceit. In No Exit, Sartre forces his characters into a room where the eyes of others are not fooled by the deception and they are then judged solely on the truth. The struggle then becomes not one of formulating or creating a truth but rather living with or accepting the truth of who you are.
How do you approach a play like this as a director? I mean, there’s no big dance numbers… I can’t remember a single swordfight in Sartre…
Yeah, no. The major difference between an existential piece like No Exit and a normal “narrative” play is action and plot. Most plays have a simple plot line, Character A wants something and Character B wants something, and when they stand in each other’s way… Conflict and Plot… For the most part linear. No Exit leaves much to the interpretation of the director and the cast. Many productions of the play focus on the characters outward expression of themselves in the real world. I like to focus more on why each character is placed in the room with the other, what is the dynamic of each relationship. Basically taking a step back from who they were and focusing on what they must have from the other despite obvious intentions. Two of the most powerful emotions that Human Beings possess are Love and Guilt. Love defines how we treat the world while Guilt defines how we treat ourselves. The exploration of these two states is what I tend to focus on in each of these characters as they are the dominate forces each tries to avoid.
Why’d you stage it the way you did?
I believe a play like No Exit is perfect for being staged in the round. One, this allows the audience to be much more intimate with the cast. Subtle moments can be explored and the richness of life actors are living in “quiet” moments is beautiful to watch. Each audience member will have a unique experience based on the side of the stage they are sitting on. Two, there is no position of power; there is no upstage or downstage in the round, the actors are constantly on the same plane. No one character’s story or actions becomes any more important than the others. They must all exist equally at the same time.
So what’s next?
I would love to focus my attentions on new works. While it is important to produce known plays and bring that art to people who might not have had a chance to experience it yet or to experience new interpretations of known classics, my true enthusiasm lies in not producing what was on Broadway yesterday rather what will be on Broadway tomorrow.
Let’s get to it…
Sophie Laidler was born in Sydney, Australia but has spent most of her life in the States. Sophie developed her love of theatre in high school and went on to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in theater at California State University, Stanislaus, where she also completed a degree in anthropology. Since then, she has graduated from San Francisco State University with her Master’s Degree in museum studies, focusing in non-profit management and fundraising. She has experience in marketing projects through the museum studies program at SFSU while working as Assistant to Development and Institutional Giving Assistant at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. She has now returned to the theatre world and is excited to utilize her skills to help promote great theatre in the Las Vegas valley.
As the Development Director for A Public Fit, Sophie manages the company’s fundraising platform, while as the Online Media Manager she manages the company’s online presence.