Episode 51: Two One Act Play Interviews
This week we look back at two podcast interviews before TFP ever existed. It’s two one act play interviews: Ruth Wareham shares her production experience with Emotional Baggage and Billy Houck talks with his students about performing two plays from A Box of Puppies.
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Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk, coming at you from in front of a little foam box.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
Today, it’s a blast from the past. Theatrefolk podcasting before there ever was a TFP.
So, for the next two weeks, we’re going to be opening the vault as it were to the Theatrefolk podcasting past and this week is from the way, way past – way back, man! I’d like you to know that I just made double V-signs of the microphone. So, both these interviews are over five-years-old. And why would we post interviews that are over five-years-old? Well, they both involve one-act plays of ours and they both share interesting production experiences. They both talk about what it was like to perform these plays – one from a director’s experience and one from a cast actor’s experience. And I know that, for our customers, they – you – when you’re looking at a play, you want to know just what it’s like to read a play or see a play, but also, you want to know the experiences of others that can help in how you visualize and how you take in the play.
And so, the first interview is with Ruth Wareham who directed a production of Emotional Baggage and had quite the interesting – and I use that word with fully gritted – adjudication experience.
Lindsay: Hello there, podcast listeners. This is Lindsay Price at the International Thespians Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. And I am with…
Ruth: Ruth Wareham.
Lindsay: Ruth Wareham. And Ruth came up to our table the other day and introduced herself as the director of Emotional Baggage which I’m always glad to meet directors who do this play because it has varying reactions.
Tell us about why you chose it?
Ruth: I definitely wanted something different. I wanted something that would challenge my students, especially with being required to go to District One at competitions, who are always looking for something that’s a little unique, that would, you know, take people by surprise. It definitely did that and I’m very focused on the process of doing a play, not just the final outcome, and I thought that this would be something that would be a very fun, creative process to be a part of with my students.
Lindsay: It’s a very different play. Tell people why.
Ruth: Well, first of all, there’s no dialogue which makes it unique. The story is done through pantomime with the suggestion of use of music.
Lindsay: When you saw the script for the first time, did it freak you out?
Ruth: Well, I had read a summary about it so I knew what I was getting into. I definitely had to read it a few times. It’s not something that’s obvious, that’s self-explanatory. And, you know, when you have the dialogue there, things just kind of pop into your head, obviously. So, I could tell it was something different. I wouldn’t say I was, like, scared. I was really, actually, it intrigued me.
Lindsay: That’s good. That’s a good way to be.
Ruth: Yeah, and I come from a dance background so I thought this would be a neat opportunity to do some creative movement.
Lindsay: And what did the students think?
Ruth: They were so excited about it. Even when I tried to give a synopsis of what our show’s going to be for the next season at the previous into the school year and I could even just see the interest on their face when I said we were going to do that show. So, they were very excited about it, had so much interest in it that actually I triple cast the show.
Lindsay: Oh, wow!
Ruth: So, I had three different cast to pull from.
Lindsay: And did you do it, I know that sometimes when I see it, it’s done in mask and sometimes in very out-of-this-world makeup. How did you decide to do that?
Ruth: We decided, after a lot of thought and discussion, I wanted my kids to really be in on the decision-making, too. We decided to go with makeup. I didn’t want to hide facial expressions and because seeing what was just naturally happening in rehearsal, I wanted to enhance those reactions by using makeup.
Lindsay: So, you went to your district and you had a, let’s say, an interesting experience with your adjudicator.
Lindsay: What happened?
Ruth: Well, I’m glad that they always do an oral response critique and then you get all of the written sheets and I’m glad that’s the person they chose to critique us in front of the audience. Loved the show. She was, like, “Kudos to the cast and your director for taking a risk and doing this different production.” But on the written critiques, one of the judges just did not get it – is the best way I can describe it.
Lindsay: And they said a very horrible thing which, when you first told me it, I am still livid and I’ve been telling your story everywhere to the point where someone was actually going to go and they thought it happened here and they were going to go beat up someone. We’re like, “No, no, no, no!” What did they say?
Ruth: I can’t remember exactly how they phrased it but it was pretty much, “I wondered why anyone would want to watch more than five minutes of this.”
Lindsay: That’s coming though from a vocal coach so, you know, he probably just didn’t get it.
Lindsay: Well, exactly. I mean, especially when you’re dealing with high schoolers, you know? And, my biggest thing is take a risk, do something different. So what if it doesn’t work, you know? You don’t have to do Neil Simon, like, all the time. As much as I love Neil Simon, maybe we don’t have to do it.
Ruth: Right, exactly.
Lindsay: Maybe we don’t have to have, you know, Death of a Salesman. Oh, you know, there’s nothing wrong with those but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going in a new direction and then saying how great it is that they, you know, did it. Even if it wasn’t a successful production, you have to go, “Wow! I can’t believe you did that.”
Ruth: Exactly, yeah. And, you know, we’re always trying to tell our kids to take risks. But then, when you get comments like that, that’s what makes them start to cut up a wall and not want to take risks.
Lindsay: “I don’t want to do it anymore!”
Ruth: Yes, exactly, exactly. But I think, I mean, all of us – students included – realized that he was, I mean, basically, he was just ignorant.
Lindsay: Excellent. Well, I really want, when you came by, I really wanted to sort of have this little chat so we can put it on our website and have other people who view Emotional Baggage, of which there are so many interested, and you are the first person – not the first show – to have had that reaction.
Lindsay: It’s always amazing about how some people are just not willing to take at risks. So, for any of those future directors out there, what do you say about doing this show?
Ruth: First of all, definitely do it. I mean, it’s quite a learning experience. It’s tons of fun! It’s a great way to see a different side of performance from your students. It just really depends on whose eyes are watching because we had people that had came back and came back to see this show because they loved it and it’s one of those things that’s really left open for interpretation.
All right! So, now on to the second interview which is with playwright and director and teacher, Billy Houck. He is the author of A Box of Puppies which is a poignant and funny collection of short plays and monologues about the insecurities and frailties of being a teenager. Oh, you should read it. I think the monologue in there, One Beer Too Many, is really just so fantastic and so bittersweet.
So, I talked to Billy at the International Thespian Festival one year when he brought a couple of the plays in A Box of Puppies to Festival, talked to him and to his cast and what their experience was like performing the play and performing it at a big festival like the International Thespian Festival. It’s a lovely exchange. Here you go!
Lindsay: I am Lindsay Price and I am here with the cast and director of A Box of Puppies. And so, we have Billy. Billy, you have to say your last name because…
Billy: Billy Houck.
Lindsay: Billy Houck, and…?
Lanelle: Lanelle Chavez.
Kelsey: Kelsey Kessler.
Danielle: Danielle Aims.
Lindsay: Danielle, very good. And you guys are doing A Box of Puppies, these four plays. And you guys are doing two, correct? So, who is in which one? Who is in Constantly, Incessantly All The Time? This is Danielle, Danielle is putting up her hand so you’re doing Constantly, Incessantly All The Time.
Lindsay: And that means that you guys are in Diatom.
Lindsay: Very good! So, let’s talk first about Constantly, Incessantly All The Time. What’s that like?
Danielle: It’s awesome. Like, I know it’s kind of scary being, like, ten minutes of just yourself. It’s nice because you have all the props so it, like, doesn’t die down easily.
Lindsay: No, it’s sort of like a clown car of…
Lindsay: Billy, do you have the biggest knapsack of all time?
Billy: Yes, I actually went out and got a knapsack just for this.
Billy: My daughter is going to Europe later this summer so it’s one of those, you know, the big American tourist backpack.
Lindsay: Oh! Oh, oh! Oh, that’s really awesome.
Danielle: That I use in high school.
Billy: Kids do carry huge backpacks. It’s…
Lindsay: They’ve been carrying them since the dawn of time, I think.
Billy: An awful lot of that play is based on just talking to kids and asking them what was in their backpack.
Lindsay: But, you know what? What’s really interesting about that one though, what really caught me when I read it is there’s that aspect of it – it’s the clown car bag – but then, there’s that twist where the little thing comes up and it talks to the little bag and then you have the twist, right? About what’s actually in the little bag. What’s that moment like for you? Like, is it real? Is it something that happens? Can you relate to it?
Danielle: I can’t relate to it at all.
Lindsay: That’s not you.
Lindsay: So, okay, how do you play it?
Danielle: But I just kind of go into Ricky, what would she do? And, like, she’d be, like, “Oh, no! My drug! Or my pills,” you know?
Danielle: And, like, that’s what’s letting everyone see them and she takes it really, really seriously even though it’s like no one’s going to come up and search you with all your stuff.
Lindsay: Right. Billy, where did that come from? That twist?
Billy: Again, from talking to kids. There are an awful lot of kids on a lot of different prescription medications that are used to make them better students.
Billy: And yet, you’re not allowed to bring them to school. And, not recently, but we used to have drug-sniffing dogs at our school, really. And I do know of a little boy who was kicked out of his elementary school for bringing his hay fever medication to school. It’s true stuff.
Lindsay: And you two are doing Diatom, what’s that like? Diatom is a little strange trip.
Danielle: I know but it’s so much fun.
Danielle: I think it’s really awesome. In the play, we’re just two friends messing around and I really like that, that’s just really simple how you think, “Oh, maybe it’s about a diatom. Maybe it’s about them, I don’t know, playing superheroes, or waiting at a bus stop.” But it’s really not. It’s just about friendship.
Lindsay: Have you guys read Waiting for Godot?
Lindsay: It’s sort of like a very, I’ve always thought of it as a very lefty-turny version. It’s got a Waiting for Godot teen-feel to it which I really love. What inspired you about Diatom, Billy?
Billy: Somewhere, I read about these things, these diatoms that are living entities.
Billy: They’re these little one-cell beings always growing and getting bigger and they have these exoskeletons but they’re completely at the whim of what they’re around and so they’re always being washed away or moved because they’re so small.
Billy: They don’t have any control. And I thought, “Well, that’s exactly like being a teenager.” You’re being moved around by your environment. You’re not in control of it and you develop an exoskeleton just to keep yourself safe.
Respondent: That’s deep.
Billy: Thank you.
Lindsay: I love it. It’s a great compliment. So, have you guys performed at International Thespians before?
Lindsay: No? So, what do you…?
Billy: These kids have never been to festivals.
Lindsay: You have never been here before? So, did you go to Hair Spray last night?
Lindsay: And was that like…?
Respondent: Uh, amazing, spectacular.
Lindsay: My first experience at Thespians, I came and I saw and I’ll never forget, it was a version of Pirates of Penzance where there was a life-sized boat that moved, that came on stage, with 26 pirates on it, and it had cannons firing. And I’m like, “Okay! I guess this is International Thespians!”
Lindsay: How do you think your show’s going to go? Are you excited?
Respondent: Yeah, thrilled more than anything.
Lindsay: You’ve got to wait ‘til Saturday.
Lindsay: So, that must be…
Respondent: It’s really hard. I guess the hardest thing is waiting all the time.
Billy: You know, it’s really hard to do badly at a Thespian Festival. I suppose the only real, it would be bad if no one showed up to see it.
Billy: But once the people show up, it’s the best audience in the world because it’s the only time you’ll have an all-theatre student audience…
Lindsay: Very true.
Billy: …to see other theatre students and the nature of it is so supportive, I mean, that they applaud the lights going out.
Billy: They applaud everything. They’re just really nice. They’re the best audience.
Lindsay: I agree.
Billy: And so, that’s why I keep coming back. It’s such a great experience that you just won’t get anywhere else.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Well, enjoy your time.
Respondent: Thank you.
Lindsay: Break a leg with your show.
Respondent: Thank you.
Lindsay: And I know it’s going to be great.
Now, before we go, let’s do some Theatrefolk News.
We’re messing with the podcast and trying things out and so, now we’re going to have the news at the end of the podcast instead of the beginning. And I hope you’re still around and listening. Maybe we’ll have to start adding something fun to this little section just for the people who stick it out.
So, this week, it is Free Play Sunday coming up this Sunday. Yeah, that’s something fun – free plays. The last Sunday of every month, we give away plays, all day! You need to like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, but really, that’s it. There’s no hoops to jump through. You click on the link, and in your inbox will appear a link to a lovely new play. So, join us!
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 that’s where were going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.
Over and out, from the little foam box.