|Eric Powell Holm, Valerie Redd, Brendan Spieth|
How would you describe the development process of Short Life of Trouble?
Valerie Redd: How would we describe the development process?
Eric Powell Holm: It was… thoughtful.
VR: It was long!
EPH: It was long!
VR: A year of workshops with actors, after a year of literary research and dramaturgy.
EPH: It was considered. Developing this piece has been really interesting to watch.
VR: I do remember very clearly having a set list of hypotheses and then testing them out in the workshops. I mean, the very first one we were trying to find out if we could get away with doing Shakespeare with a Southern accent. We had to test that out. Every foundational piece had to be tested out. Those kinds of validations and discoveries, finding our footing every time and getting deeper and deeper into it…
EPH: Yeah, yeah what’s that phrase people use…”proof of concept.”
VR: Right, this thing has been tested, you know? Every time we met, another risk was being taken… First, it was the Southern dialect with the Shakespeare text, next it was the songs, “What’s it like to mix bluegrass with Shakespeare? Does that work? Can we get away with it?” and then the next time it was original text and Faulkner and the question of whether or not we could get away with adding that! “Will they blend together? Can we go seamlessly between these things?”
EPH: Right, or “What do the seams feel like?”
VR: Yeah! “Is it bumpy? If it’s bumpy is that good?”
EPH: Right, exactly.
VR: That’s what the development process was like…kind of baby steps along the way…but also, jumping off cliffs every time!
EPH: Baby cliff jumps.
VR: Baby cliff jumps. Every time.
EPH: I remember your wall, or sometimes floor, of notecards that you would move around. “What if this goes here?”
VR: My “Beautiful Mind” notecards! They were color-coded – it was a whole language, “Here’s a song, and here’s an original speech, and here’s Shakespeare” and I kept an eye on making sure it hadn’t been too long before we had another puzzle piece. After I’d set up that system, I found great comfort in this treasure trove of interview archives of Faulkner, where someone asked him about his process in writing As I Lay Dying—which is a huge influence on this piece because of its multiple narrators—and they asked him “How did you know when to switch to a different character’s perspective, how did you know how to order them?” and he likened it to arranging a shop window, thinking about what would look best next to each other. So that’s what the cards were about!
What is it like to rehearse a play that is still a work in progress?
VR: I have certainly felt that moment where I was in the room and I thought “Shakespeare and Faulkner are dead…but I’m a live person….in the room...I have a say.” I like being open to changes…this team has had proposals of “Let’s move this speech, let’s move this line, cut this line” and what I have found, so I don’t go crazy, is that I know I put it on the page the way it is for a reason, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. That’s my way of working. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. I’m thrilled when I am…because they just made it better.
EPH: On the whole what makes it interesting has to do with collective ownership…communal creation.
VR: Yeah, people bringing what they do to the piece – actors living through the text, whether I wrote it or adapted it or spliced it or whatever. I tried to live through it as a playwright as much as I could just to check and make sure that I was making sense.
EPH: Of course.
VR: But, I can’t live through it the way each actor is, and I can’t bring to it who and what they are. Their approach to it and their reaction to it is changing it, and potentially rearranging it and editing or altering it in a very good way.
How does Short Life of Trouble differ from the source material?
EPH: Yes. Our play gives everyone in the story the permission to pause and think things through in a way that is very Hamlet-ish, but it invites everyone into that process.
VR: I think the original Hamlet relies on the fact that everybody’s going to identify with Hamlet. They have to, because he’s asking those universal questions that everybody asks—but in our play everybody gets to ponder in their own way.
EPH: And the point-of-view is different for each person, letting everyone have that secret power of turning to the audience and asking them a question. It’s not only the special brilliant princes that have these thoughts.
VR: It’s generous, giving everybody their chance.
EPH: I don’t know where I first fell in love with that phrase “spirit of generosity” but to me it’s a phrase that really speaks to what I want the theatre I make to have. Spirit is such an amazing word in the way that it speaks to ghosts but it also speaks to whiskey, it also speaks to breath and inspiration…
VR: The Holy Spirit…
EPH: Exactly… so the idea that the Holy Spirit of Generosity is flowing through our play… well, it makes me happy to invite people to come into our circle.