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The Dark and Wacky Side of Life.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES KAUTZ, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE AMORALISTS, BY PHILIP W. SANDSTROM ON JUNE 27, 2014, ABOUT THE TWO GYRE PLAYS THAT RUN IN REPERTORY.
Shows run from June 26 – August 9, 2014 in a limited 7-week engagement.
Walkerspace, located at 46 Walker Street between Broadway and Church Street in New York City.
"The Qualification of Douglas Evans" begins previews June 26 for a July 15 opening and runs through August 9.
"Enter at Forest Lawn" begins previews June 27 for a July 14 opening and runs through August 9.
Performances are Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm.
The schedule varies - for exact days and times go to http://www.TheAmoralists.com.
Tickets are $40 and $20 for students and can be purchased online at http://www.TheAmoralists.com.
For more info visit http://www.TheAmoralists.com
"Enter at Forest Lawn" 1 (L-R): Sarah Lemp as Jessica and Mark Roberts as Jack Story in Enter at Forest Lawn. Photo by Russ Rowland.
The Amoralists proudly present The Gyre, a two play repertory exploring man's vicious cycles, featuring the World Premiere of Derek Ahonen's "The Qualification of Douglas Evans", directed by James Kautz, and the world premiere of Mark Roberts' "Enter at Forest Lawn", directed by Jay Stull.
Philip W. Sandstrom:
Having seen two of your earlier shows and reading some of the scripts from your newest works, I was reminded that your company forte is in the portrayal of the darker side and the wackier side of life and human interaction. Why this choice?
For us, the company's founders, we've always gravitated towards the anti-hero, the morally ambiguous characters. We started off a huge fans of 1970's film, and we gravitated toward material that puts people in dire circumstances. We like the extremes, There is something incredible tragic about farce, and that heightened theatrical sensibility. It allows to genuinely experience the deepest emotions that that we have as human beings. As artists we've always been drawn towards that, that's how we've always chosen our direction. That's what Derek writes; he's our resident playwright.
I see, that's clear in the work, it's what can make the work so engaging. Since the whole company is leaning in the same direction story-wise how much interaction is there between the playwright and the actors in terms of developing the work?
Derek is a traditional writer. It's not devised work; he writes it. However he is definitely the most un-precious writer I've ever worked with. He gives it everything he has but the best idea in the room always wins. We take a lot of input from our actors and we take a lot of input from the director, for one of these plays that's me.
I've heard stories about, for some productions, the playwright is not allowed in the rehearsal, they are not part of the process. In your case, your playwrights are involved in the entire rehearsal process from the beginning; would that be accurate to say?
For a new play, how much material is actually written before the company takes a look at it?
Most of the times we have to have a first draft before we'll consider producing a piece. With Derek it's a little bit different because he is our resident
"Enter at Forest Lawn" 2 (L-R): Anna Stromberg as Marla and Mark Roberts as Jack Story in Enter at Forest Lawn. Photo by Russ Rowland.
playwright. He presents us with an idea and the majority of a play will be done and we'll start working. The logistics of the production will follow: we'll rent a theater, we'll start producing, and then the play will be finished before we go into rehearsals. But it's still really rare. Some companies will develop work for three to four years before they produce it; our timeline is about a year or a year and a half. It's a little bit more immediate, a little bit more raw, a little bit more dangerous, but Derek has earned that right.
You chose to present both of these plays directed and written by two different people in repertory. Tell me how this idea came about? Why that particular choice? Why these plays?
Derek came to me about this play he was writing as did the playwright Mark Roberts whose play, "Rantoul and Die", we produced last year at the Cherry Lane. Mark's voice and his esthetic as a writer just matched our company pretty perfectly. It was akin to Derek's in the way that it explored characters with tragedy and humor simultaneously. His voice just really fit with ours. Mark had been talking to me about an idea for a play and there were such central themes and chords between the two plays (Derek's and Mark's) that I thought these could be bookends to each other or two different sides of the same coin. Both plays had this underlying current of exploring man's cycles, the cycles of power, the cycles of domination, the cycles of remorse…they just worked together. It was kind of crazy, producing one show is hard enough but producing two at the same time is a killer.
PWS: Are there staffing overlaps, cast overlaps, between these two plays?
Yes. Most of the design team and most of the actors overlap and are people who have worked with us before; it's all part of the same small family with two different directors and two different playwrights.
PWS: Is this your directorial debut in general or just for the company?
JK: This is it in general.
PWS: How did that come about? How did the company decide that you were going to move into that particular role?
Derek had been asking me to direct for about two or three years now. He's been slowly convincing me. I started as an actor and I've always had a
hankering to direct. I've been the artistic director of the company for eight years so I've built plenty of shows, and I've been in so many plays as an actor that I feel I know how to make theater. But I've never officially directed before. The story that Derek wrote was very personal and I know how to work with him better than anyone. He asked me, I said no, he asked me again, and I said no, and then he asked me again, so I said I'd consider it. When I finally said yes and had the support of everyone in the company, it felt really good. And I feel that the artistic director of a company should direct; they should wear that hat at some point in their career.
It sounds like a logical choice but I know some artistic directors don't feel that they're cut out for that role. How are you finding the experience? These are all of your friends, people you've worked with before. As director you are now in a more authoritative role as it relates to the play and to the actors; you call the shots. How is that working?
"Qualification of Douglas Evans" 1 (L-R): Samantha Strelitz as Cara, Mandy Nicole Moore as Kimmy, Derek Ahonen as Douglas and Kelley Swindall as Jessica. Photo by Russ Rowland.
It feels great; I expected it to feel weird and different. But it feels really organic; it feels really natural. I was really scared at first. I tried to not let anybody know that… it feels like a good fit which also seems scary in its own right.
PWS: Being a director must be a whole different process; distinctly different from that of an Artistic Director in terms of how you look at the script.
JK: Oh yeah.
PWS: You have to analyze everyone's character plus you're figuring out how it's going to work together and how it's going to look.
JK: It's hard because as an actor onstage in theater you have control, control over the pace, control over as much as you can. But as a director you have to give up control; which is hard.
Right, you have to let the actors do what they do while you watch…
From the Amoralist shows that I've seen over the years the actors seem to work together so well and form the characters so completely, especially in the interactive nature of your productions…it almost seems like the actors direct themselves. How does that work for you a the director?
I feel that the most important thing that the director can do besides making sure that the story and the intention are clear is creating a safe space for the actors. This first step is you cast the right people in the right roles. That's so cliché but it's so damn true. And then it's just creating a safe space that lets people fail and experiment and encouraging them and empowering them to make bold choices. And making sure that they trust you (the director) to hold them back or push them forward. We've always had directors for our plays that help facilitate that process. If it seems like the actors direct themselves and build these characters that are them I feel that's' a good sign of the leadership on the outside as well; we've created those safe spaces.
"Enter at Forest Lawn" 3 (L-R): Sarah Lemp as Jessica and Matthew Pilieci as Clinton Smiles in Enter at Forest Lawn. Photo by Russ Rowland.
Without spoiling anything, would you tell me a little bit about each show that's not in the press release? Let's start with "The Qualification of Douglas Evans".
JK: Ultimately at the heart of the play is a story about fate vs. free will. Are we able to break the cycles that are inherent in us, that have been passed down by parents and what's in our blood? It's a story about addiction but not necessarily just alcohol or women. It's the behaviors that we inherit from our parents. Are we able to rise above them? Recognize them and break them? Or are we destined to continue on… becoming our parents? I think that's at the heart of the story. It follows this character named Douglas Evans from the age of 18 to age 41 as he becomes a writer; interspersed in-between you see his parents journeys from wanting to become artists to becoming parents and the toll that that took on Douglas and how it has shaped him.
Now the subject matter or storyline of the second play "Enter at Forest Lawn" about a debauched TV star being covered over by his producer has been in the news over the past few years involving different stars in different countries; is this based on any story in particular?
The playwright Mark Roberts is a playwright who cut his teeth doing theater in Chicago; he wound up becoming an incredibly successful television writer. He was the creator of Mike and Molly, the head writer and executive producer on Two and a Half Men; he worked for TV in LA for quite a few years. The play takes place in the office of one of the biggest TV executives in history as he is put in the position of trying to put out a huge PR fire for one of the stars of his biggest television show. You see all the executives under him gunning for his job; basically trying to plan a coup. It's this high intense weird pressure cooker of a situation with some fairly caustic people. But you realize that these are the people who are creating the family-friendly television and shaping the identities of all the characters that we watch on TV.
I think it is based on actual events that have been heightened and altered. It's all there in the play if you look for it. I don't want to explain away who they are…
This story line could easily move into a cliché. What have you done to keep that from happening or what have you done to move this into a direction that is amoral?
JK: What's more amoral that a bunch of TV executives? I would say that just the depth with which we tried to really get down to the root of what is underneath the covers of these very successful people. Like the great lengths they have to go through to be sure they stay in power. We tried to explore what happens as you strip away those layers.
It's a highly stylized piece of theater; we brought in an amazing choreographer, Catherine Correa to work with Jay (the director). I'm creating this very stylized world; it's not kitchen sink realism, it's very heightened, very theatrical. The best we could do, like you do with any play, is to tget down to the root of what is underneath all of these people and what makes them tick. And that's what we've tried to explore.
"Qualification of Douglas Evans" 2 (L-R): Penny Bittone as Dad, Derek Ahonen as Douglas and Barbara Weetman as Mom. Photo by Russ Rowland.
PWS: You've shown your work at a number of different space like PS122 and Abrons Arts Center. Why did you chose this particular theater, Walkerspace, for these works?
We loved PS122; it truly felt like a home for us but they've closed down for renovations. When they re-open we definitely hope to go back. We love Walkerspace as well, it's the home of Soho Rep, and they are kind of a mentor theater for us. I really love what Sarah Benson and the folks over there produce. They've created a very reputable name and venue. Shows not produced by Soho Rep are referred to as being presented at Walkerspace, the name of the space itself, but there's still a validity. The acoustics are wonderful; the dressing rooms are nice, the actual space has a good energy in it. And we prefer downtown locations. I acted in a show there in February and I was really taken with the space. It just feels good to be on those boards.
PWS: That's great. Thanks for you time I look forward to seeing both shows and re-experiencing that dark and wacky side of life.
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