Moving forward with THE LECTURE post-Directors Salon: Q&A with The Anthropologists’ Melissa Moschitto

Director Melissa Moschitto of The Anthropologists tells us how THE LECTURE, first developed as part of the 3rd Annual Directors Salon’s Night of Director-Driven Work this past April, has transformed into a double bill with companion piece THE BLACKOUT.  

“They’re like two little demented love letters to our collective climate change crisis,” says Melissa.  The plays were devised by the ensemble using source material, found text, and plenty of improvisation with the material then being scripted  by Melissa with the guidance of dramaturg Louise Gough.  After being granted a rehearsal space residency by The Field post-Directors Salon, Melissa and The Anthropologists decided to revamp the piece based on audience feedback and reaction and ultimately decided to create a new play – or Act II – as a counterweight.

Dina: How has The Lecture evolved over the past few months since the Salon?  How did The Blackout become its companion piece?  

Melissa: Performing The Lecture in front of an audience at The Directors Salon told us two very important things:

THE LECTURE at the 2012 Working Theater Directors Salon

1.  We had too much material.  Originally the play had three parts.  At the performance we were completely taken by surprise by a very vocal response to the end of part 2: loud cheering!!  We were all unprepared for that and at the same time, really psyched to have elicited such a response.  We decided that was a sign that the piece should end there.  
2.  People trying to quit smoking as a metaphor for people trying to give up habits that might hurt the earth felt a little too narrow in scope (and slightly imperfect, though still intriguing.  Instead of expanding on the characters or try to do more with the source material (Aldous Huxley’s lecture), we decided to create an Act II that might serve as a foil. Rather than continue asking if people can change by choice we wanted to look at the flip side: will people change when given no choice?   

We tossed around a lot of ideas until one of the actors, Josh, related to us his experience during the 2003 blackout in NYC – getting stuck in the subway and having to walk home to Inwood.  It was such a visceral experience, how the blackout really dramatically affected the city.  We all immediately agreed that this was the rabbit hole we want to go down!

What has been most exciting about developing these two pieces and what has been a challenge?  Tell us about the rehearsal process.

This company of five actors has earned my utmost admiration.  We have truly been working at super-sonic speeds.  On Sunday, July 15, we all gathered in a room with the script for The Lecture and this sole idea around which to create this new play.  We had a very transparent devising process, working from the outside in.  With various articles and source material we started with the big picture, trying to sketch out a skeleton plot and then worked our way in to the characters.  The process required a lot of idea generating as well as idea editing!!  Much of the script came from improvisation and composition work that was then scripted and brought back to the actors for further revision.  Sometimes we would write a scene or interaction together, other times I would transcribe improvisations and then take creative liberties in order to keep the plot or character driving forward.  The most challenging part was building this play from scratch in such a short period of time and having to both embrace ideas to the fullest and be ready to make decisions really quickly.  

Jean Goto, Brianna Kalisch and Mariah Freda in THE BLACKOUT

What do want the audience to take away from these two pieces?

We hope they recognize themselves in these characters.  Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s a little painful or humbling, but either way, we hope that this recognition is an invitation for people to get a little introspective and evaluate their own behavior in relationship to each other and the planet.  

You mentioned that “both plays ask: are humans really capable of change?”  What is your own answer to that question?

Oh god, I really really hope so.  Sometimes I see the possibility and other times….well, I get a little afraid!  I see, though, how conscious we as a creative team have become and that gives me hope!

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

I fear that I haven’t seen much theatre this year – the perils of being in rehearsal!! That said, I really dug Clybourne Park.  (In fact, it was something that we referenced when deciding to make two plays that were approaching the same topic from a different angle).

What would you like to see more of in New York theater?

More residencies and incubating programs like The Directors Salon!!!

  The Anthropologists’ newest show is a double bill: The Lecture & The Blackout. The workshop performance is at The Directors Studio (311 West 43rd Street between 8th & 9th). 

Cast of THE BLACKOUT

Thursday, August 9 @ 8PM
Friday, August 10 @ 8PM
Saturday, August 11 @ 8PM

Running time: Approximately 65 minutes.Tickets $10 online (no fee!) or $12 at the door.
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/262108SO WHAT’S THIS SHOW ABOUT?!

What happens when a smoker’s cessation group gets inveigled by an environmental revolutionary? THE LECTURE resurrects Aldous Huxleyʼs 1959 lecture, “Man and His Planet” along with explosive anecdotes, absurd interludes and invigorating movement to examine the precarious role of the individual in the age of climate change.

THE BLACKOUT plunges a group of New Yorkers – plus one stranded tourist from Iceland – into a city transformed by a loss of power lasting weeks, even months. Did we mention they’re also in the middle of a heat wave in August? THE BLACKOUT takes a sharp look at a community forced to change their way of life while asking, is real change truly possible?

This ensemble-devised work features performances by: Josh Adler, Robert Colpitts, Mariah Freda, Jean Goto & Brianna Kalisch.

Directed by Melissa Moschitto

Lighting Designer: Porsche McGovern
Assistant Director: David Benger
Stage Manager: Joe Brofcak

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