“I have felt from very early on in the collaboration
a strong sense of mutual trust, and I think that trust
was established by our shared trust in the play itself”
We asked Tara…
When we first talked about the piece, it was about your realization (after a Playwrights Horizons workshop in December 2016) that the only way to productively continue development of the piece would be on its feet, in production. Which led to finding the amazing Catastrophic Theatre in Houston, first stop on our co-world premiere! Can you talk about why that was the case, and what you’ve learned since that puts us in position going into this production?
“Coming out of the Playwrights workshop, Chana and I felt strongly that we didn’t need to learn more about the script from another reading. The play actually worked pretty well in a reading setting. This is odd for a play we keep describing as “highly theatrical” – which it is, but in a language-driven way. Language makes things happen in this play. As a result, you can actually imagine a lot of what is happening just through hearing the language. So when you start to put the play into space, and convey the history and context of this idiosyncratic world through design, there’s a real risk of RUINING EVERYTHING, to put it in a fear-based way, which I know Chana wouldn’t approve of. At the same time, the play is irreverent and maximalist…it uses associative logic freely, but in a way where everything that is seemingly weightless manages to accumulate and take up space. So that was the big question: how to stage it in a way that stays true to the play’s spirit and creates a kind of container, without trying to make it all make TOO much sense (which can be very confusing), but that still brings a cohesion that allows us to experience change.
Doing the show in Houston was a great way to test things out. There are different tones and styles happening in the play, so if you’re looking for a single container, there’s always a danger of either trapping things too much into an inflexible space, or catering too much to one part versus another. Without actually trying something out for real, I don’t think we could have uncovered just what those pitfalls were. We also solved a lot of problems in fun, stupid ways in Houston, that we’ve had to remind ourselves about in NY, of the spirit of that.”
As kind of a corollary to that, so much of what’s wonderful about this piece and process is you and Chana’s long collaboration on this piece, and your long experience with the play. It just feels so luxurious, so ideal, and I’ve been so impressed by the depth of your shared vision. I know you’re accustomed to long collaborations/processes with your company, Piehole. But what makes this a great way to work, or a challenging way to work? What, if anything, feels different about the very particular experience of working on LEAP?
“People usually want more time to work on stuff in theater. I will say from experience with Piehole, that we have gotten a lot out of testing out shows, fully designed in front of an audience, in order to learn more about what the play even is, before going back to work on it more. But I’ve also seen that when you have too much time with a piece, you can start to make choices based on your own shifts, and a desire for variety, rather than the project actually needing those changes.
Weirdly enough, I don’t experience us as having worked on Leap for very long. Initially, when we came back to it in NY, I thought a lot about how we did it in Houston, and what we’d want to keep or shed. But once we really got going, I became so entangled/obsessed with the version right in front of me, that I would sometimes feel as if I’d never directed this play before. This is partly because with a new team of designers and actors, the details of how to make it all happen are totally different. But when I step back, it becomes clear how much the work in Houston taught us all so much about the depths of the play, and the kind of mode of working that helps the play sing. And of course, there’s a lot of overlap, despite the differences, in terms of specific choices or tactics we use to get from point A to point B. But I would say the biggest impact of that work operates at a deeper level, that’s allowed us all to more fully connect with how Chana’s invented world operates.”
Why do you think your collaboration has worked?
“Chana and I both have a tendency to look at a thing and say, I don’t know, what DOES it mean? Or how DOES this work? And because we both lead with curiosity, it’s allowed us both to approach the play anew each time, and has kept us open to the ideas of different collaborators along the way. I also have felt from very early on in the collaboration a strong sense of mutual trust, and I think that trust was established by our shared trust in the play itself. Chana obviously knows a lot of things about the plays she has written, but she’s also able to look at her own writing with fresh eyes and openness. She doesn’t take for granted how it will all come to life, and this incites the creative team into action. So we’re all rolling up our sleeves together trying to figure it out.”
How did you guys meet/start working on this?
“Chana and I were introduced by our mutual friend Eric Powell Holm, who was my classmate in directing grad school at Columbia. He put us in touch, and I met with Chana, and then later with Chana and Andrew, who had written a couple of songs for Margie’s Heart.
I loved the songs, but I had zero idea what the relationship between songs and text would be, and how that would feel, and we decided this would be a big focus of our workshop at Playwrights Horizons. By the time of the workshop, Andrew had written a bunch of songs, and arranged a couple for our cast. That week, we had just enough time to do a couple of passes on each scene, to teach a song and a half to the cast, and to put the pieces together, and when we got to the last song after our first time putting it all together, I cried and cried I was so moved, and I became a little scared of Andrew because I started to suspect that he was a genius but I don’t believe in “geniuses” so that was rough. [This will relate to my last answer below.]
What is it about this play? Your favorite thing about it, the thing that first grabbed you, the thing that keeps on holding your interest? What is it about, to you?
“I already described how it wasn’t until I heard the songs in context that it became clear to me how they played such an essential role in helping us navigate the play as an audience. In a similarly “scary” way – with the play itself, when you work on one scene in isolation, it can be fun and funny and moving and meaningful, but it’s not always evident which piece of the puzzle it really is. But the play is rigged in a really tricky, amazing way– it’s a collection of moments on a journey, a series of non-decision decisions, that accumulate into something whose resonance takes you by surprise – the play takes you on this journey by the heart, not by the mind. And I actually think that it invites audiences to be brave and “leap” into it, and it rewards that bravery. This is a play that celebrates bravery – the bravery of listening inwardly and acting on whatever you discover is inside, regardless of how impoverished the structures around you are. And I love that it invites audiences to engage bravely as well.”