Monday, August 1, 2016

Spotlight On...Zach Stephens

Name: Zach Stephens

Hometown: Lehigh Valley, PA

Education: Marymount Manhattan

Favorite Credits: The Four Seasons by Charles Mee, Daniel MacIvor’s Never Swim Alone, Fernando Arrabal’s Picnic on the Battlefield

Why theater?:
 You can write-off really anything, it’s so crazy. But other than that, for one, I think what always draws me is that rush that comes from finding the strongest possible voice for a story or a character, and forming it, and shaping it, then handing it over this nuts and crazy unpredictable thing of something live. The perception is totally out of your hands. That’s really exciting to me. That suspension. Finally being able to let everything else go. Especially when it’s something that comes from a meaningful place in your mind and your heart. Seriously though, I wrote-off a Modelo tall boy once.

Tell us about Tailspin!:
 Tailspin! centers around a Hollywood movie studio turned upside down when North Korea catches wind of a recent release satirizing the country’s dictator.

What inspired you to write Tailspin!?: 
The story originated from an impulse to warp the Sony Pictures hack of 2014, where cyber terrorists (presumably associated with North Korea) essentially prevented a major Hollywood movie from being released in theaters. I remember keeping track of the timeline of events and being just completely dumbfounded and frustrated that something like this could happen. How could hackers associated with some reclusive, authoritarian regime on the other side of the world determine what American movie studios can and cannot show in theaters? Then I started to think about Charlie Chaplin and "The Great Dictator" and his speech at the end about staring evil in the face and standing true to your creative liberties. He released that movie at the height of Hitler’s power and Nazism essentially, at a time where these people were effectively taking over Europe. The two situations are very, very different of course, but still, thinking of Chaplin giving that final speech to the camera in 1940 really energized and inspired me into finding the voice to best express the opinion I held of the entire mess. From beginning to end it was just so absurd I knew I wanted to dramatize the events and distort that larger conversation regarding free speech and creative license and political influence, which was so completely apparent in the situation. To borrow a line from Arrested Development, it was ripe for parody.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I really like things that are messy and chaotic and distorted. Stories that force characters and audiences to challenge a set system of beliefs, pulverize the veneer, upend everything we think we know. You know fun stuff.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I’d like to write a play for Elaine May. Lily Tomlin should be in it too. And maybe Jane Fonda walks in and you find out they’ve been in an episode of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie the entire time. Directed by Spike Jonze. Produced somewhere below 14th street.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Hm. Most recently I’d say Hir by Taylor Mac, Dry Powder by Sarah Burgess at The Public, and Annie Baker’s John. Oh, also David Harrower’s Blackbird.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Oh Jeff Goldblum. It would be called Dollar Pizza.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Probably the original production of Streetcar Named Desire with Brando and Jessica Tandy. That’s way back.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Conspiracies probably. They can be so engulfing and horrifying. I will also never turn down ice cream. And I did go to see Batman v. Superman.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A politician. Absolutely. Hoping to be a progressive Ronald Reagan some day.

What’s up next?: Oy. Have to focus on Tailspin! at Fringe. After that, lots of ideas to turn into pages. Auditioning. Feeding myself. Taking things as they come, but always grateful for chaos.