Q&A with Directors Salon Alum Leta Tremblay: Fullstop Collective’s CAUSE OF FAILURE at FringeNYC

Director Leta Tremblay has had a busy year, and between tackling Shakespeare, a site-specific play in a Williamsburg apartment, and working on a Peter Pan-inspired musical, she’s directing Megan Weaver’s Cause of Failure at FringeNYC with Fullstop Collective.  Leta squeezed in some time to tell us about her third time participating in FringeNYC (and her first time directing at Fringe), Fullstop Collective, and her desire to direct a play with a peanut butter and jelly ballet (confused?  Keep reading!)!

Dina: Tell us about CAUSE OF FAILURE.  What made you want to direct this play?  

 Leta: CAUSE OF FAILURE was originally written as a short piece of Impossible Theater in 2005 at The Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute (NTI) where playwright Megan Weaver and I were students together. Since then, I have had the tremendous privilege to be a part of the development of this story into a full length play and I am so thrilled to finally have the opportunity to put it on stage at FringeNYC! At it’s heart, this play has always been the story about a mother and daughter living with terminal illness and ultimately saying an untimely good bye to each other. What makes their journey unique though is the creative way that Megan guides the audience through each medical crisis as seen through the daughter, Maggie’s, imaginative eyes as magical realism writing student. Many of the impossible elements of the original 2005 play have remained including a a scene where the stage fills up with water, a cartoon archvillain nurse, and a sexy tango between the mother and her failing heart. As a director, the opportunity to play and problem solve in the rehearsal room with actors and designers to realize these fantastical moments has been an incredible gift. The insane amount of creativity that is required to stage this play is one of the aspects that most attracted me to it and made me want to direct it. 

Pictured: Lauren Weinberg and Sally Burtenshaw
Photo credit: Christine Drew Benjamin

 How has the play evolved over 18 months of workshopping?  What has the rehearsal process been like?

 Last year, CAUSE OF FAILURE was workshopped through FullStop Collective’s inaugural Play Development Series which culminated in a staged reading in July 2011. The focus of this process was to add context to the core story and expand the play into a full length script. Multiple characters were added and flushed out including Maggie’s immediate family members and her community college professor. These characters offer another point of view beyond Maggie’s personal experience of her mother’s battle with Congestive Heart Failure and serve as both road blocks and opportunities for growth along her way. Both the cast for the reading and the cast for this FringeNYC production have been incredibly gracious in offering their talents and insights about these characters as they have developed. The rehearsal process has been playful, focused, and informative for both Megan and myself. 

 You’ve been involved in FringeNYC before.  What excites you about Fringe and what has been challenging?

 This will be my third year as a participant in FringeNYC! I produced HAMLETTES with FullStop Collective in 2010 (Outstanding Directing Award to Lillian Meredith) and AMPERSAND: A ROMEO & JULIET STORY with Mariah MacCarthy in 2011 (Outstanding Performance Award to Lauren Hennessy). There are A LOT of challenges that come with producing a play in a festival this large but I keep coming back because of the community that has grown up around it, the opportunity to produce in spaces that we might not otherwise be able to afford, and the chance to be reviewed by multiple NYC publications that may not otherwise come out to see a short run of a new play. This is my first year directing with FringeNYC and the biggest challenge with CAUSE OF FAILURE as been simplifying the highly theatrical moments within the means of the festival setting. I have to thank my design team a million times over for being so inventive and diligent in addressing these challenges. They really are rockstars!

Pictured: Lauren Weinberg, Louiza Collins, and Sally Burtenshaw
Photo credit: Christine Drew Benjamin

 How did Fullstop Collective come to be and what is your role in the company?  

 FullStop Collective originated with the same group of students that Megan and I worked with at NTI in 2005. After graduating from our respective colleges, a contingent of us came together in NYC and wanted to create a forum to support and produce each other’s work. Thus FullStop was born in 2007 with our very first FringeNYC production, DIVING IN DECEMBER by Emma Fisher. It is beautifully serendipitous that our five year anniversary should be at the same festival where we started and with a play that was originally conceived when the artists that would become the company were first starting to collaborate. 

 You recently directed a site-specific production of Mariah McCarthy’s The Foreplay Play in a Williamsburg apartment through Caps Lock Theatre.  Was this your first time working on a site-specific piece?  What was that experience like?

 Yes! I’ve directed site specific scene studies as a student but THE FOREPLAY PLAY was my first fully produced site specific play. It was truly an exciting experience. Our hosts who live in the apartment that we performed in were so gracious and supportive which made a huge difference to the process. We had the opportunity to rehearse often in the space itself allowing the actors to really explore and become comfortable with their surroundings. Many members of the audience commented that the show was “hyper real” and they felt like voyeurs peeking into the actual private lives of these characters. 

 What was the last production you saw that really inspired you?

 I’ve said it before in other interviews but it’s still true, PASSING STRANGE by Stew was one of the most dynamic theatrical experiences that I’ve had as an audience member. I’ve actually referenced this production a few times to my designers for CAUSE OF FAILURE. What was so incredible about PASSING STRANGE for me was the power that music has in story telling. Theater and music have the power to communicate a whole life with only six actors, a band, and relatively simple design elements. They have the power to bring the audience to their feet singing and dancing within the first hour and sobbing in Act II when a mother is brought back from the dead. I wish that it was still playing so that I could experience it over and over and over again.

 What kind of work are you drawn to as a director?  Do you have a dream project?

 In the past year, I’ve directed my first Shakespeare play (OTHELLO, The Secret Theater), my first Choreo-play (part of FOREPLAYS 2012: FULL FERVOR, Galapagos Art Space), my first site-specific play (THE FOREPLAY PLAY, Caps Lock Theatre), and CAUSE OF FAILURE. These projects represent a wide range of exploration for me as a director so I can’t say that there is one style or genre of theater that I am drawn to. I love a good story and interesting characters that have something to teach me about myself. I love exploring why characters make the decisions that they make in extraordinary situations. As for a dream project, I’ve always been interested in Paula Vogel’s AND BABY MAKES SEVEN about a nontraditional family facing the challenges of adding a child into the mix. This complicated story is told with a lot of playfulness . . . and a peanut butter and jelly ballet. 

 What’s next for you?

 I am working with the wonderful Elizabeth Seldin on a new musical inspired by Peter Pan that we are affectionately calling THE PAN PROJECT for now. She’s been busy writing away all summer and after CAUSE OF FAILURE opens we are flying to Neverland together. Stay tuned.  

  FullStop Collective presents . . .

Graphic Design: LeeAnn DiCicco

by Megan Weaver
directed by Leta Tremblay

Part of the 2012 New York International Fringe FestivalWhen Maggie was born, she pulled her mother’s heart out with her. 
So begins a young woman’s magical journey through terminal illness and the limits of love.

Performance Dates: 
Friday, August 10 @ 8pm
Sunday, August 12 @ 4pm
Wednesday, August 15 @ 4:15pm
Tuesday, August 21 @ 2pm – Talkback to follow
Friday, August 24 @ 5:30pm 

At Venue #7
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street
(Between Bowery & 2nd Ave)

Kevin Bunge, Sally Burtenshaw, Katelyn Collins, Louiza Collins, Nick DeSimone, Sam Given*, Lauren Hennessy, Eve Marie Mugar, Christopher Norwood*, Maggie Raymond, Emily Rupp, and Lauren Weinberg. 
*Appearing courtesy of the Actors’ Equity Association. 

Creative Team:
Andrew Squier – Movement Director
Jacquelyn D. Marolt – Set Designer 
Brian Henderson – Lighting Designer
Sarah Bertolozzi – Costume Designer
Chris Kadis Moscato – Sound Designer
Marissa Bergman – Properties
LeeAnn DiCicco – Graphic Design
Sydney Rainville-Thompson – Stage Manager
John DeSilvestri – Producer
Christine Drew Benjamin – Publicity Rep

TICKETS are $15 in advance, $18 at the door and can be purchased online starting July 20th at www.fringenyc.org



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