Emma is in the middle of directing my play Tuna Fish Eulogy. She shares her vision, her struggles and what she’s hoping for with her production. Every teacher who has student directors will want their students to hear this!
Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
I’ve been so excited to sort of get into a groove of interviewing some folks, some teachers. Wherever I go in my travels, I try and nab someone and say, “Hey! Tell me about your experience about a specific thing in the classroom, or working on a specific play,” and, this is just as a side note, if you see me in a conference and you want to share something, nine times out of ten, I have my camera and microphone with me, and I would love to talk to you because I think these are the best kinds of podcasts to have. I mean, instead of just listening to me drone on, you can listen to someone in your field who has something to share, and this one’s great because it’s a student director.
We have an interview with Emma who is a high school student in British Columbia, and she is in the middle of directing my play Tuna Fish Eulogy. So, it was great to listen to her talk about her process, and what it’s like to direct her peers, and her vision for the show. And, if you have student directors, sit them down and listen to what Emma has to say.
All right, let’s take it away!
Lindsay: The first thing I want to know is why you chose the play.
Emma: That’s a tricky one. I think the reason I chose it was because it was such a, it looked like it was going to be so challenging, like, I couldn’t even read all the way through it because of the way it’s written. And so, I had this kind of brief outline of the story and I tried to get through the bits at the beginning, the bits at the end, and I pieced together the middle and I worked that way, and I just thought it’d be a really great challenge because our class is grade ten, eleven, twelve, and I know a lot of them. So, I thought they were kind of up for a challenge and I’ve never done anything direct-y in my life. So, I jumped, two feet in.
Lindsay: Well, why not, eh? So, is this for a mark?
Emma: Yeah, we’re doing four one-act plays. I thought, like, everyone’s going to be pick a comedy, it’s going to be ridiculous like that, and I wanted to do something different. And so, I chose this one, for that reason as well. But then, when we all brought our chosen pieces to the table, everybody had different, we’ve got an absurdist play, we’ve got a really abstract, really kind of lilting, beautiful play, and we’ve got this clever high school kind of drama going. So, we’ve got a really big variety of plays and I thought that’d be really fun.
Lindsay: That’s going to be a good evening. And, how long do you guys get to rehearse?
Emma: We started rehearsing two weeks ago. We started casting and figuring out sets for the past couple of months. I think our show’s the third week, second week of January.
Lindsay: So, you still have a good amount of time to do it. How big is your class if you have three grades in it?
Emma: It’s big. I think we’ve got thirty, thirty-two, thirty-five – something like that.
Lindsay: That’s huge. For Drama, that’s huge.
Emma: It is, and we’ve only got the one Drama teacher so all the classes are really big, but yeah, everyone’s really dedicated. Like, we’ve all signed contracts to say we’re available after school to do extra rehearsals and such.
Lindsay: That’s cool.
Emma: Yeah, it’s really fun. This was our second year trying this. Last year, because of the job action, we started having to do all of our shows in school and we just continued.
Lindsay: This is the way to do it.
Emma: Totally, yeah. It works so well.
Lindsay: That’s really awesome.
Lindsay: So, what was it like when you brought the show for others to see? What was their first reaction?
Emma: It was funny because I picked Tuna Fish at the beginning of the summer and I talked to Elana about it then, and so, she said, “We’re going to have read-through of the first show that was brought to me,” so she kind of slammed this one on the class first, and they were like, “What the hell?” like it’s going to be so hard. And, it was really hard because we did this, we all sat in a circle, and we tried passing the lines through and reading it that way, and we just gave up and had, like, four people at a time, well, “the four people.”
Lindsay: Whatever, yeah.
Emma: And then, we’d pause and break off and choose four new people. And, I got really good feedback and then what we did was we all stood and went around the circle and talked about the imagery we saw. So, out of all the four shows, yeah, Tuna Fish hit the hardest, and everybody just had all these ideas, and they wanted me to hear them, and they wanted their idea to be the best idea, and it was really, really inspiring because they were just so enthusiastic, and that’s what I was worried about, was people not taking to it and not being up for it.
Lindsay: And, like, going, “I’m not doing this, no way.”
Lindsay: So, what did you see? What imagery do you see when you read this play?
Emma: Well, that’s the cool thing. We have this great thing in Vernon called igo cards. And so, when you’re in high school, you can go to any performance for $5.00 rather than $30.00 so I’d go to every show that comes to Vernon. And, there was this great dance recital that came called Backhausdance and they did this really neat, they used the biggest thing – I don’t know what to call it but – their lighting was just these pools of light and they played with jumping in and out so, when all six dancers jumped into their spotlight, the stage went from black to just, like – and they were all in these white costumes, right? – the light exploded and I want to play with that jumping in and out of light and levels and such.
Lindsay: Oh! Yeah, I like that a lot. I think that’s really cool. So, a little bit more abstract-y as opposed to…
Emma: Yeah, yeah.
Lindsay: That’s cool. I like that.
Emma: Cool. Thanks!
Lindsay: What about costuming?
Emma: Costuming, that’s something that I still haven’t worked all the way though. My actors want it to be really black and white – they don’t want anything – and I’m like, “Ah! I don’t know.” I haven’t had any cool visions of costumes. I feel like I could do anything and it would work.
Lindsay: Yeah, for sure.
Emma: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for that one.
Lindsay: That’s coming later.
Lindsay: What questions do you have?
Emma: Oh, my god, so many. Where did it come from?
Lindsay: Well, I wanted to write a play, because I saw a play with that format, so I was like, “All right, I’m going to write this.” And then, I was writing a play for someone who was putting things of one-acts. I’m like, “All right. I’ll use this format.” It was going to be a comedy.
Emma: Oh, no.
Lindsay: Because it was about someone eating tuna fish and, what happens when you eat tuna fish and, if it’s bad, would you die? So, I’m like, “Okay,” and then, it just didn’t. So, it’s kind of weird because I know, because I’ve been asked that question a lot, and I can firmly say, “Well, I started writing it because it was about tuna and it was about this form,” but what the play became, I cannot tell you where that came from.
Emma: It’s like I can’t even imagine the process there. Like, it started small then just took off and ran away.
Lindsay: Sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes, I have such a very clear, the path is very clear and I can tell you the beginning, the middle, and the end. Sometimes, I’ll look at plays and I’m like, “Who wrote that? I’m not like that!”
Emma: Yeah, I know. It’s so moving. I really love it. It’s so good, yeah.
Lindsay: What have been your challenges in rehearsal so far?
Emma: It was interesting because that’s why I was drawn to your workshop earlier as I was sitting and I was like, “Oh, my god, I can totally present this to the kids that I’m working with,” because they’re just being themselves, speaking the lines, as talented as they are, like, we’ve got some of our very best actors in the school are, I mean, it has to be, we definitely selected the cast that way – the most up for challenges, and the most talented, and the ones that were ready to work hard are in mine – and I’m really thankful for that, but it’s such a challenging show.
Lindsay: How do you get them to not be themselves? Because these characters are very specific.
Emma: They are, yeah.
Lindsay: I was talking to Hannah who’s played Miss Scully.
Emma: Anna, Anna.
Lindsay: Anna, sorry, I apologize. She had this wonderful idea about how the character sort of gave up on herself, and I’m like, “Uhh, okay,” and then, that’s the kind of thing where you go, “How do you play that? You know? How do you bring that to life?” Because what a wonderful thing for an audience to see, like, not just to keep it inside, because I’ll bet you that your actors are, well, obviously, they’re smart and they know, but how do they actually get it on the outside?
Emma: Well, we sat down and we drew this road map of each character and their relationships to one another, and to other people in their lives, and what’s affected them, and what experiences have they had that have shaped who they are. You know, things that aren’t mentioned like how many siblings, if any, did anybody have? Like, what kind of environment did they grow up in? What were their parents like? What pressures were put on them in school? And, things like that. And it was really fun because, I mean, I bet another group, another team for this show could have done the same thing and come up with totally different answers. So, that’s what makes it interesting. Everyone is going to be, like, every show is going to be unique to the group who are putting it together.
Lindsay: Absolutely. In the workshop, it’s all about interpretation and assumptions, and what you assume about your character is going to be completely dependent on your background and your beliefs and your preferences, you know? Tuna Fish is one of the plays that I had seen the most because it’s one of my oldest, but I think it draws people which makes me very happy.
Emma: Totally, yeah.
Lindsay: And just the number of ways that people have interpreted it has just been…
Emma: The funniest thing was, I was looking, we’ve got a picture from every show we ever done on the wall in our theatre and I was looking through some of them, and there it was, and I was like, “What?” Somebody has already done this at my school, like, fifteen years ago.
Lindsay: Yeah. Oh, my god.
Emma: Well, I don’t know exactly how many years but yeah, something around that. So, that was really cool and the picture was, like, I don’t want it to look like that at all. It looked so fake, so not what I want, and yeah, it was cool.
Lindsay: It’s always good to know what you want, and it’s good to know what you don’t want, you know? Because sometimes you just have to work backwards, right?
Emma: Yeah, I guess you’re right.
Lindsay: Which character is going to be the most challenging to stage, do you think?
Emma: Our youngest actor is playing Albert and he’s really talented. I mean, he’s definitely up for it and he’s excited but he’s just having a hard time, mostly with the timing, I think. But he’s getting there and it’s going to be good.
Lindsay: He’s got time.
Emma: Totally, yeah, and I like it because I do lots of music and lots of singing in groups, and it’s a lot like putting together different harmonies and making them fit because it’s so hard at first, and then, you get into a rhythm and it starts to work.
Lindsay: When I describe it to people, I tell them to think of it as music.
Emma: Yeah, totally. That’s what I thought of when I first saw it.
Lindsay: Are you going to use music?
Emma: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve done lots of lighting, stage craft kind of things, but I’ve never been big in sound so I don’t know how to tie it together. But that’s a good place for me to grow so maybe I will and just experiment.
Lindsay: Well, think about how you can fit it to how do you take the lighting that you know so well and then how would you make that a sound. You know, like, is it musical or is it found sounds like dripping or clocks? You know, is it a primal sound like drumming like this morning or is it a – words are failing me – metallic, you know? Just think about what you see, what does that represent to you as sound? And, even if you never use it, they’ll probably just be a good exercise just to take what you know and then just apply it to something that you don’t know just to sort of go somewhere.
Do you think you’ll want to do more directing?
Emma: Yeah, I really like it. I mean, it’s kind of hard because you show up and you’re like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do today. I feel like I’m letting people down,” but then you kind of get into a flow and it starts to work. I mean, we did our first read-through, we’ve got four shows, we only have one stage, so we’ve been rotating around the school and we had our first time in the theatre standing and it made all the difference. I couldn’t visualize what I wanted them to be doing with their bodies until then and I’m starting to get all these ideas and I was just writing furiously.
Lindsay: That’s good.
Emma: Yeah, it’s getting so much easier, so quickly, which is cool.
Lindsay: What was your biggest fear as a director?
Emma: Honestly, not being able to tell people that I’ve gone to school with for twelve years what to do.
Lindsay: Is that the hardest thing working with your peers?
Emma: Yeah, it is. It’s like I don’t want to tell them they’re wrong because they’re not, but they’re not doing what I want, and I want what I want, and I want them to do what I want.
Lindsay: So, how did you do that? How are you dealing with that?
Emma: I apologize a lot and I think you need to get over that.
Lindsay: Well, that’s Canadian. That’s just, like, “Oh, I’m sorry. We’re sorry.”
Emma: Yeah, sorry but yeah, I don’t know, it’s getting easier. I’m asking a lot of questions. I think that’s a cool thing to do, to try to let them figure it out on their own because they are smart people and they do love the play and we have got this really 3D look into the characters’ lives so they’re making really great assumptions as to what their characters will be doing – and how they’re acting, and how they’re sitting, and how they’re standing – on their own. And so, just asking them the right questions really gets them to think about how they’re going to do it.
Lindsay: The choices they’ve made.
I think questions are, they’re by far, they’re the best tool because you can ask a question that either makes them quantify the choice that they’d make, and if they can answer you well, even if you don’t agree with it, you can either go, “Oh, you know what? You’ve obviously thought about this choice,” but if they don’t know the answer then you can go, “Well, I just so happen to have thought about this,” and sort of give the answer to them that way.
Okay. That’s really cool. No more questions?
Emma: No. Do have you a favorite character in the show?
Emma: Yeah, me too. She’s so cool. She’s so, like, self-righteous.
Lindsay: She’s ridiculous.
Emma: So cool. It makes you shudder just listening to something that she says. It gives you the chills.
Lindsay: Well, yeah, and because she’s pretty evil.
Emma: She is.
Lindsay: But she embodies the things that aren’t supposed to be. Like, the quote-unquote, “the babysitter,” like, that innocent character.
Emma: Yeah, she’s this total juxtaposition. She’s like black and white in one bit and everything totally contrasts each other about her character. I love it.
Lindsay: And then, you know, you add in, you know, she would be one of those, quote-unquote, “Christians” who are supposed to love your neighbor and all that. And the, as a mother, as who she is, you know, when she’s brought into this world, it’s like she’s one of those stereotypes too. Like, I like to sing to my kids and, you know, and we do all the right things. And, who knows what she’s doing really?
Ellen and I were talking about how Albert’s mom, it’s like she’s failing so badly which is so heart-breaking because I think she’s absolutely trying her best. I don’t think she could try harder and it’s a little mess-up.
Emma: And then, there’s this Cherry and she’s rubbing it in and just making her totally aware of all of the mistakes on all the times she’s messed up. It’s like, oh, it’s cruel.
Lindsay: Yeah, Cherry’s my favorite character. So, I think that, even though Albert is the main character, I think the play hinges on Cherry.
What’s your Cherry like as an actor?
Emma: She looks the part, a hundred percent. She’s getting better. At first, I was really wary. She was the one that I wasn’t set on, but it’s getting better and she’s growing a lot, and she’s the one that’s mostly bringing things to the table. I found this out. I think this is the way it is. She took her whole script and, like, highlighted it and put sticky notes on it. “This is a flashback. You’re supposed to do this,” and I was like, “Great! You’re doing my work for me!”
Lindsay: What more do you want from her?
Emma: I want her to stop doing the same things. Like, she’s angry at the same level all the time.
Lindsay: She’s one-note.
Emma: Yeah, yeah, and I think it’ll get better because it is getting better. I don’t know if it’ll ever be perfect, but it’s also high school theatre and you can’t expect a ton.
Lindsay: You know what? Nothing is perfect. First of all, I have seen such great high school theatre, and I have seen such wretched professional theatre. You know what? It’s really all about the commitment of who you’re working with. And, if who you’re working with is committed, you know, if the final product is not perfect, your process has been really valuable.
Lindsay: Is she in grade…?
Emma: She’s in grade twelve so yeah, everybody’s in grade twelve except for Albert who’s in grade ten.
Lindsay: Oh, so you’ve got the seniors.
Emma: Yeah, but Albert’s nice.
Lindsay: What’s your set going to be like?
Emma: Oh! It’s really minimal. Brodsky is actually in his workshop right now. He’s making this great big – not great big, it’s about four feet high, eight feet long – block on wheels and we’re just going to have that roll in and Albert will sit on top of it so there’s a visual difference between the three characters at the front and him. Other than that…
Lindsay: Black stage?
Emma: Black stage, cool lighting. I don’t know, I want to light him from the sides.
Lindsay: You can do a lot with lighting, man. I love well-designed lighting.
Emma: It’s so cool because it’s so different from colors we see it, like, concrete. Like, you mix what is it? I don’t know, blue and red and you get orange. It’s crazy. Primary colors are different. Everything’s so awesome when you turn it into light.
Lindsay: And stage light, I love. Stage light, well, because you can create a world, right? You can create a world with nothing and an audience will sit there and just totally believe that they are…
Emma: They make everything, yeah. It’s so cool.
Lindsay: Awesome. I agree.
Thank you, Emma.
Emma: Yeah, thank you so much!
Lindsay: You’re welcome!
All right, thank you Emma! Before we go, let’s do some Theatrefolk News. Ah, and I didn’t sing the song last week! Okay, I’m going to do it, I have to do it twice now. I won’t, seriously. “It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!” And, we just have so many amazing new works in our catalog. I just floored with the quality of material that has been coming through the Theatrefolk doors and we just want to grab them and just get them out to you as quickly as we can. So, here’s another one.
Last week, we talked about Stereotype High by Jeffrey Harr. Go read those sample pages. Buy that play. If you want a really good experience for your students that is real and significant and humorous and fulfilling, Stereotype High ticks all those boxes so beautifully with wonderful, colorful rainbow check marks.
And then, this, we’ve got to tell you about A Deep Poetic Journey Into Something by Forrest Musselman And, this one is, again, we have a teenager at the center of it. If you have an actress who you know is going into her senior year and you want sort of a showcase, this is a wonderful showcase whirl, but it’s also just got an amazing movement component to it that just takes someone going through an internal struggle and theatricalizes it – theatricalizes, it is? That doesn’t sound great, but it turns inner thoughts into theatre. There we go. So, in this play, we have Jane who wants more out of life. She wants to burst out of the box life is handing her. She wants something special. She wants to be something special, but it’s not working out. And, as events in her life sort of spiral out of control, she starts to think more and more about that box, and maybe it would be better to stay in her box. And so, this is a monologue for Jane from the very beginning of the play. I mean, think about it. We grow up in boxes that look like other boxes, in neighborhoods that look like other neighborhoods. We go to school in boxes where they teach us how to conform, and then we graduate, and go to college which is a larger box that teaches us how to work in a box so we can buy our own box and then start the whole process over again. Not me. I want more out of my life. I just wish I knew what! I want to believe that, inside those boxes, there are organic shapes that move beyond structured lines and, with a mighty push, they find themselves outside the wall, free! And then, they move… A Deep Poetic Journey. These are shapes I keep in my mind. Shapes that want to make the push but they can’t. There are shadows that flit and flutter away into a big dark nothing. That’s me. I’m on this deep poetic journey into nothing, and it’s been a big nothing for a long time. Go to www.theatrefolk.com. You know what I’m going to say. Read the sample pages for A Deep Poetic Journey Into Something by Forrest Musselman. Read pages. Buy play. Now, do it. You will love it.
Lastly, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com, and on our Facebook page, and Twitter. You can find us on youtube.com/theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app AND you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on the word Theatrefolk. And, if you’ve got time, you know, give us some feedback, throw up a review on iTunes, send us an email that says, “I want an interview on such and such a topic.” Of course, like every other artist, wants the whole entire world to love me unconditionally and, well, it’s okay. I need to get over myself. Things don’t happen that way, right? In order to get better with anything, we need to hear from you and we need to know what you’re thinking and we need to know what direction you’d like this to head. And, you know, we can take feedback and process it and see what happens next.
Oh, big breath on that one. I hate asking for feedback. It’s my Achilles heel that I will continue to work on.
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.