WRRR Cast Interview: Randolph Pfaff

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Just four days left until our production of White Rabbit Red Rabbit comes to OBERON! The show has been described as “a thoughtful, playful response to oppression” in The Guardian, and we’re taking that as a necessary reaction to the results of our recent election.

We’ve got one more cast member to catch up with: AP cofounder, Randolph Pfaff.

Since Randolph will be our stage manager and Emcee, the questions we asked the other cast members didn’t exactly apply, so Carissa wrote new questions for him:

 

You hold the key to this production—as stage manager, you hold the script. What does it mean to you to wield that sort of power?

I think the real power lies in the unknown for this production. There’s this energy at the intersection of the script and the experience, playfulness, and flexibility of the actors. That said, there’s great excitement in creating this surprise for the three actors. It’s like a really good gift you’ve found for someone’s birthday and the real joy isn’t in giving the gift but in watching them receive it. (Editor’s note: How fitting that there are gifts behind Randolph in his photo.)

 

When we started this project, I approached you to perform and, initially, you said yes. Then you changed your mind (and broke my heart). Will you talk a bit about those choices (and how you’ll make it up to me)?

Well, I’m clearly more suited to heartbreaker roles and since I couldn’t guarantee what sort of leading man I’d be in this show, I had to decline.

In all seriousness, there were two reservations that led me to decline: 1. I don’t perform often, though I read my work now and then. Because the only real preparation that’s possible for White Rabbit Red Rabbit is to be comfortable on stage—physically, emotionally, and creatively—I didn’t feel like I’d be able to give it the performance it deserves, and 2. In the current sociopolitical environment of our country, I couldn’t see filling one night of a three-night run with a white male performer. There are so many actors who can bring cultural and experiential context to this show that I can’t. I don’t think putting a white guy on stage by himself in Harvard Square and having him talk for 90 minutes is doing much to shift perspectives and open people up to new ideas and conversations, which are what we need now more than ever. I’m happy to listen and learn and participate rather than driving the conversation.

To answer the second part of your question, I suppose, in keeping with the spirit of the show, I’ll have to surprise you with something to make it up to you.

 

Good stage managers, like good editors, work invisibly. They do their magic and step back, and the reader/audience is none the wiser. But in this show specifically, we need your guidance. You’re the only one who knows, right now, what this show is going to be like. How are you approaching that responsibility? (And will you break up with us if we get too needy?)

I’d be a hypocrite to judge the too-needy among us, so I’m going to do whatever I can to ensure that all three of you can get up on stage and just go for it. I think the best thing I can do is to give each of you the confidence that you won’t need to rely on anyone or anything other than yourselves once you’re on stage.

 

Even though “Productions” is half of Aforementioned’s name, only a handful of people know we started out as a theatre company. How do you feel about this return to staged work?

I’m excited that we’re getting back to producing theatre by doing something really challenging. It’s an art form that has the power to entertain, engage, and educate without being overtly didactic. I think most audience members have a fluid relationship with theatre and are far more willing to take a risk by immersing themselves in a new experience. In return, playwrights and performers are able to break rules and blur boundaries because the audience has consented to a kind of openness and acceptance they might not be willing to give in other contexts.

 

If you were to talk up White Rabbit Red Rabbit to people on the street—without saying top secret, once in a lifetime, or experimental—what would you tell prospective audience members about the production?

I’d tell them that we’ve been getting too many bad surprises of late and that this show is the opposite of that. I’d say it’s a reminder that there are spaces in which we can go out on a limb without fear that the branch will break beneath us.

 

Last question: Part of the fun of performing and producing this show is the risk: the whole thing runs on potential and we won’t know what’s happening until we’re in it. As a writer and a visual artist, how does the unknown figure in your work?

This might be the perfect show for me to be a part of because I’m totally infatuated by the ways in which we approach the unknown. In my work, I’m most interested in the process of teasing out what I can’t define or articulate rather than defining and articulating it. We spend our whole lives trying to figure out who we are and how we relate to other people and how we fit into the larger world, but it’s the attempt itself that shapes who we become. We’re defined by the practice, not the conclusion, and the practice is an ongoing, loving embrace of the unknown.

 

Read about the rest of the cast at the WRRR page, and to reserve your seats for the show, head over to OBERON!

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WRRR Cast Interview: Carissa Halston

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Our production of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is less than two weeks away! We hope you’ll join us at OBERON to discover Nassim Soleimanpour’s top-secret show.

And in the meantime, we hope you’ll read on for interview with our own Carissa Halston. She’ll be performing on opening night, Monday, November 14.

 

So much of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a mystery. You can’t read the script, can’t memorize the script, can’t rehearse anything. We, of course, love the idea—but what makes this sort of risk attractive to you as a performer?

I’m coming at the show from a different entry point than Sam and Jen, in that I instigated the production to begin with. The first time I heard about White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Randolph and I were at the Philly Fringe Festival for my 33rd birthday. And as I read through the descriptions of each play, I was forced to choose between WRRR and a show called The Adults.

Obviously, since I’m performing, we did’t see WRRR that night. But the conceit of the production—performing a show you’ve never seen or read—was so memorable that it floated back up in my mind when I read about the New York production this summer. But, being the stubborn person I am, I thought, “I don’t want to go all the way to New York.” Then I realized one surefire way to see the show was to produce it here.

As for what makes it attractive to me as a performer—I’m a big fan of creative risk. I think every artist should embark on a journey to undertake work that truly scares them.

So, here’s the official word: this prospect of performing this show scares the hell out of me. Which is the main reason I’m doing it.

The possibilities that accompany performing a work you’ve never read or seen are wide open. What are you most excited about?

There’s a moment that happens when you’re performing a live show. You’ll hear actors talk about the way an audience changes the material. And they’re right—an audience makes a scene completely different than when you rehearse to an empty room. There are no rehearsals here, but it goes beyond the lack of practice.

The bond between the audience and the actor is the work. By that, I mean the play itself, but also the effort. The follow-my-lead of it all. The are-you-with-me-so-far? relationship. The moments when the actor is leaning forward and the audience is leaning too, and the thing that catches them is the material wed to the delivery.

That’s what I’m most excited about. The symbiotic relationship between the actor and the audience and the work.

On stage, you’ll be holding a script and reading the words as you’re about to speak them. This setup could be limiting. How do you connect with an audience when you’re constrained in these ways?

I’m big on eye contact. There’s a rhythm to most scripts that gives you room to maneuver. A pause for breath. And in those moments, I’m hoping I can look out and see that the audience is with me. I’m hoping to find the cadence, and find it quick, so I can adjust to the mystery, so to speak. So I can find a place to stand, even if it’s not the surest footing. And, if nothing else, at least I’ll know where I’ve been as it goes on.

Are there any other steps you’re taking to prepare to perform White Rabbit Red Rabbit? (Reminder: Googling is against the rules.)

I keep telling myself, “This is and is not a cold reading.” But since it’s a monologue, I’m also telling myself I have to carry it off without flubbing a line. I’m so concerned about mispronouncing or tripping over a word. So the thing I’m going to try to do is remember to take my time. Because the faster I’m going, the starker the interruption will be if I stumble.

Outside of this show, what else are you working on creatively?

For my own writing, I’m currently working on a novel called Conjoined States, which centers on our country’s dangerous fascination with morality, how it encourages surveillance and judgment, and how that constant monitoring results in different types of “passing” as a necessary means of survival. Racially (many of the characters are either mixed race, unaware of their ethnic background, or have a different identity forced on them that doesn’t match their ethnicity [e.g., a Middle Eastern philosophy professor grapples with the fact that she's targeted as an outsider, but she's "white" according to the government because that's how Middle Easterners are documented in the US]), religiously (mainstream Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Islam are all part of the book), and health-wise (mental health issues get denied or repressed, and disability and disfigurement [harder to deny] are acknowledged but not discussed). With all of that cheery material covered, the book is also about trust and abandonment and how we can learn to retain the former in the face of the latter, even if it involves destruction along the way.

For other AP work, I’m thrilled about the chapbook we’re publishing next month—Krysten Hill’s debut collection, How Her Spirit Got Out, which is such an important series of poems about the way black women cope when they’re confronted with personal and political violence, and specifically how one black woman walks many paths in order to arrive at selfhood. Plus, Jill McDonough recently had these choice words for the collection: “These poems are a middle finger tucked in the hip pocket of your favorite dress.” Plus, check out these covers:

 

 

 

Read more about Carissa and the rest of the cast at the WRRR page, and to see Carissa in White Rabbit Red Rabbitreserve your seats for opening night, Monday, November 14!

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WRRR Cast Interview: Sam Cha

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Just a few more weeks until our production of White Rabbit Red Rabbit comes to OBERON!

We recently checked in with cast member Sam Cha (who’ll perform on Wednesday, November 16) to see how he was preparing for the show.

 

So much of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a mystery. You can’t read the script, can’t memorize the script, can’t rehearse anything. We, of course, love the idea—but what makes this sort of risk attractive to you as a performer?

a) Performance is about being terrified and then turning that terror into something useful. (For loosely defined values of “use.”) When you can’t prepare for the performance, you’re even more terrified, and so, in theory, unless there’s a sort of terror-singularity thing happening, where you accelerate into terror faster than you can accelerate out of it, you’ll be a supernova of sublimated fright. This doesn’t attract me, per se, but it strikes me as something I’d definitely like to try.

b) Ever stand on the edge of a subway platform and think I’m definitely not going to jump, but what if my body has other ideas?

c) On roller coasters, I always envision the freak accident: the arm lopped off, the tongue bitten in half, the g-force induced heart attack, etc. I love roller coasters.

The possibilities that accompany performing a work you’ve never read or seen are wide open. What are you most excited about?

I’m not sure, so I’m going to be oblique.

I wrote in college. Then I stopped. It was years before I managed to write anything that wasn’t a close reading or an annotated bibliography or a prospectus. When, eventually, I did write a poem, I went to an open mic. I was feeling lonely. There’s this wonderful moment that happens and then passes—I think probably at the speed of sound–where the words leave your mouth and they haven’t quite registered with the audience yet—and you feel kind of weightless, like school’s been cancelled and you have the day off, like maybe you don’t have to be human anymore, you can just be a thin membrane, like the one in a kazoo, buzzing with air.

On stage, you’ll be holding a script and reading the words as you’re about to speak them. This setup could be limiting. How do you connect with an audience when you’re constrained in these ways?

I’ve never actually interacted with an audience in any other way.

I think of it as an opening-up, I guess. A signaling of vulnerability (which I guess in my head signals honesty signals authenticity signals look people something here is actually happening). (This doesn’t mean you’re actually vulnerable, of course, but you have to look like it.)

Are there any other steps you’re taking to prepare to perform White Rabbit Red Rabbit? (Reminder: Googling is against the rules.)

My friend Jade is feeding me these improv exercises. Also, monologues. Lots of monologues. Also, I plan to go to the Cantab and recite other people’s poems on the open mic. Will any of this help? I don’t know! I haven’t Googled anything.

Outside of this show, what else are you working on creatively?

Right now I’m working on a long poem that is sort of a riff on a couple of lines from Wordsworth. So far it’s about: the garden of Eden, procrastination, the sudden death of one of our neighbors, chessplayers in the Harvard Square Pit, and the shape of tragedy. If it sounds ADD, that’s because it is—when I write, I waffle between trying to leave almost everything out and trying to put everything in, but on balance I’m really mostly a collector, a magpie, going from shiny thing to shiny thing, in the hopes of making some kind of memorable temporary (slash temporal, I guess?) pattern.

 

Read more about Sam and the rest of the cast at the WRRR page. To see Sam in White Rabbit Red Rabbit, head over to OBERON and reserve your seats for Wednesday, November 16!

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WRRR Cast Interview: Jen Taschereau

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With less than a month to go until our production of White Rabbit Red Rabbit, we wanted to ask our cast members how they’re gearing up to perform a show they’ve never read or seen.

First up, we have Jen Taschereau, who’ll be performing on Tuesday, November 15.

So much of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a mystery. You can’t read the script, can’t memorize the script, can’t rehearse anything. We, of course, love the idea–but what makes this sort of risk attractive to you as a performer?

I love challenging myself as a performer with tough scripts, whether it’s the language itself or themes that are difficult to tackle. I’m also very big on physically seeing how far I can push my body and mind. When Carissa approached me with this project, just the description terrified me, so I knew it was the right project for me to say yes to. I haven’t been on stage in three years, so coming back to something that forces me to jump in with no time for questions seems right. I also love connecting with the audience as a performer, and I imagine I’ll need them immensely the night I get to read WRRR for the first time. I believe the audience members who sign on for this kind of evening of theatre are also there to make connections. It’s the perfect relationship.

The possibilities that accompany performing a work you’ve never read or seen are wide open. What are you most excited about?

I’m just excited to actually read the script! I’m dying to know what’s inside that envelope. I’m excited to see how I react to it for the first time. How the audience reacts to it. And how that shapes the evening. 

On stage, you’ll be holding a script and reading the words as you’re about to speak them. This setup could be limiting. How do you connect with an audience when you’re constrained in these ways?

I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve done staged readings before, but I’ve known the script and had time to get familiar and comfortable with them, so it’s easy to build in moments to take your eyes away from the paper and make audience connections. I have faith those moments will be found in the moment of WRRR. I don’t know how to describe it in words, it’s just a feeling I have. I have to be completely receptive and exposed and vulnerable up there. That state of being alone is going to open the door for connections, I believe. 

Are there any other steps you’re taking to prepare to perform White Rabbit Red Rabbit? (Reminder: Googling is against the rules.)

So far, I haven’t done anything to prepare because, to be honest, I’m not sure what that would be outside of any dramaturgical work. And I’m not allowed! I have been following this instruction so much that outside of the description Aforementioned gives of the play, I know nothing. Normally, I would be researching the time and place of the script, the author’s life, anything I felt was relevant and needs my attention. Instead, I’m completely in the dark. It feels both odd—like I’m being a lazy actor—and liberating—like I’m being told, “Don’t worry, just do this.”

I do plan on taking a few pieces of text, poetry maybe, or a book I’m unfamiliar with, and doing some out loud reading on the spot for some cold reading practice. 

Outside of this show, what else are you working on creatively?

If you had asked me this question three or four years ago, I would have started listing off a season of projects (3-5, maybe more depending on the year!), but I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from creative work these days—though I guess that’s not true. I’ve been teaching in Newton for 11 years now, and I write or adapt a show for about 70 children every year, which I then direct, music-direct, and produce. I have an amazing team behind and beside me. This year, it’s a crazy version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, adapted from the brilliant mind of Matthew Woods and his ensemble of artists over at Imaginary Beasts. I also spend many hours a day making up crazy stories and voices for my five-and-a-half-month-old son. So I guess the creative juices haven’t stopped flowing, really!

 

To see Jen in White Rabbit Red Rabbit, head over to OBERON and reserve your seats for Tuesday, November 15!

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