Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spotlight On...Lee Sunday Evans

photo courtesy of Julie Guinta
Name: Lee Sunday Evans

Hometown: Denver, CO

Education: Boston University, School for International Training

Favorite Credits: The Play About My Dad by Boo Killebrew, The Deepest Play Ever by Geoffrey Decas, The Caucasian Chalk Circle with HS students at PPAS

Why theater?: I'm endlessly fascinated by the public event of it - about the communication between a play and an audience, between the performers on stage and the audience that's watching them. I'm fascinated by what you can and can't control about it - and what you do and don't want to control about it. We're so media saturated these days, that I'm hooked on the idea that we can create a public space where we're NOT telling people what to think or crafting images and narratives designed to manipulate people. That seems of vital importance to me - and increasingly difficult because our expectations that we 'get' something or can 'identify' with a play seem to be so heavily shaped by our experience with heavily manufactured media - marketing, movies, commercials, music videos etc.

Tell us about A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes: Great Lakes is a contemporary family drama. Its a play about a sprawling family making Thanksgiving dinner where there are no props or representational scenic elements, and all the action is described by two sports announcers looking down on the event. Aesthetically, the play is a rejection of naturalism because it requires that you figure out some way to stage it without any representational set or props.

What made you want to direct Great Lakes?: The language. I'm absolutely crazy about Kate's playful, detailed, staccato, muscular language. Its so smart and so outrageously funny AND, its also very, very emotional. I love that her language is emotional and not at all sentimental. The mode of story-telling that the language in this play sets up is so exciting to work on as a director - the text tells you everything you need to know about the action and a fair amount about what people are feeling as well. So, as a director, I was freed from having to represent any quotidian behavior on-stage - no one had to walk across the room to pick up the "real-life" hot pads or napkin rings. Instead, I got to reveal the characters and tell the story by creating a staging vocabulary that works in concert with the text but is not literal in any way. The challenge of telling the story in this play was extremely appealing to me - any time I started to recreate any literal behavior on-stage the play felt dead, flat because that behavior was already being described so why should we need to see it? So then the challenge for me as a director becomes - what do you put on stage while the text is being said? The play pushed me to this fundamental question about what to put on stage to tell the story. It required me to start with this big blank canvas that I found very exhilarating. In the end, I can see that I was honing in on how the text and the staging would create a composite and in that composite was the story. The audience put the text and staging together - they had to inherently be active in that way. That's very exciting to me.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I'm very inspired by experiments with form. Writers who are making formal and structural choices in their work to illuminate or deepen the content in some way. I think that every era creates new forms to suit and challenge the prevalent conventions of that time. I think Kate created the form of narrated sports-action family drama for this play, because she wanted to make a familiar event (Thanksgiving with the family) into something just strange enough that you can see it fresh for yourself in some way. And, as an artist, I think she's responding to the 20th century naturalistic conventions that can feel a bit tired these days - we've seen so many plays in living rooms and kitchens where people are pretending to act normally, like they would in every day life, even though its a room full of carefully chosen representational things. When those plays were written - people didn't watch tons of TV where 'real-life' was being portrayed in great detail. Now - I think the bravest theater artists are defiantly carving out new space for theater that doesn't try to compete with the naturalism and representation of TV and Film. We have to invent and explore new, inherently theatrical forms of story-telling.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I'd absolutely love to watch Ariane Mnouchkine build a new production from day one through closing night. I'd be an actor with a bit part, a props person, anything.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Daniel Fish's recent production A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again - after David Foster Wallace

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  No comment!

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: As many of the early performances of Godot as I could - at the big fancy theaters where it was panned and people stormed out, and the famous performance of it in a prison where all the inmates completely understood it. And I'd LOVE to have seen one of Brecht's original productions of Mother Courage or Good Person in Berlin, to see how he approached his own work and how people responded to it in the time, place, and context where it was originally created.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Seeing sci-fi, action movies at a big expensive theater on 42nd street where you're steeped in the horror of Times Square mania seeing Hollywood films made with gazillions of dollars that supposedly reflect the values and fears and narratives of mainstream culture.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: In my dreams, I'd be an economist. Working for someone like Thomas Piketty or Esther Duflo.

What’s up next?: A residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center, and working on a commission from New Victory Theater, then headed up to MacDowell to work on a contemporary adaptation of Shaw's Major Barbara.