ROUNDABOUT BLOG

2009-2010 Season

If I Forget: Designer Statements

Posted on: March 13th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Set models for IF I FORGET.

DEREK MCLANE—SET DESIGN
When I first read Steven Levenson’s If I Forget, my brain started to figure out the ground plan or the geometry of this particular house. Basically, my job is to figure out how to solve the requirements of the text scenically. It was very perplexing for me for a while. My ideas kept changing with each new draft of the play. At one point, there was a draft that required a fully equipped and working kitchen. There was another draft where a scene took place on a subway. All that is gone now. The challenge of designing the set for this show is that the text requires that we see various rooms of a two-story house simultaneously. Basically, the locations are a dining room and a living room and upstairs there is a bedroom connected to the rooms downstairs by a staircase. I finally came upon something rather simple and logical. When the action is in the dining room, we will see the living room upstage through an arch and when the action switches to the living room or the bedroom, the whole house will rotate as the various rooms come into focus. The play takes place during the years 2000 and 2001 and the matriarch of the family has passed away—so I decided that the last time there was any substantial remodeling done to the house was sometime around 1975. The décor will reflect solid middle-class taste and the architecture of the house will be reminiscent of houses built in the Bethesda, Maryland area during the ‘30s and ‘40s. Another challenge for me was keeping sight lines in mind. When you design a two-level set, you have to make sure that the audience can see all the action, especially from the side sections in the Pels Theatre at the Steinberg Center

 

Costume research for the character
"Joey."

JESS GOLDSTEIN—COSTUME DESIGN
There are many projects that require a good deal of research and preparation for a costume designer, certainly anything that is set in an historical period. However, most plays that are set in modern times are usually more about getting to know the actors who will be creating the characters they play and providing them with clothes that help them become the characters. Of course, with period costumes, a costume designer is also designing and choosing clothes that define the character and help tell the story of the play. In this case, the actor is often not familiar with the look of the period, and the more knowledgeable costume designer will take charge in establishing it. Contrary to this process, in a contemporary play, because the actor will usually be wearing costumes not unlike their everyday clothes, actors are more invested in offering opinions, and the design process becomes far more collaborative. Usually, all of the clothes are shopped and it's always appreciated when the designer provides several options for each look the actor will wear. The actor tries on the various choices with the designer's advice, and sometimes with the director's input, and the final look is chosen together. If I Forget is set in the year 2000, 16 years ago. What I find interesting is that until about 30 years ago there would have been a much bigger difference in 16 years of fashion history. For example, people generally dressed very differently in 1986 than they did in 1970. But in the last few decades fashion has become far less rigid and more individualized, and all kinds of shapes and silhouettes prevail. There are differences year to year, but they're far more subtle. The clothes the characters will wear in the play, summer casual in Act I and winter casual in Act II, are not appreciably different from what we wear today. The one exception is the teenage character Joey. Teenage fads in clothing do still change rapidly, and we are likely to see the biggest differences in his costumes.

 

KEN POSNER—LIGHTING DESIGN
When I first read If I Forget, I was very struck by how deeply the theme of honesty and truth in the context of sibling relationships kept bubbling to the top. There is a careful dance we do to manipulate our competing agendas within a family, all under the premise that we have what’s best in mind for everyone concerned. The strongest voice in the room wins the argument, but that voice can change and be influenced by outside forces, in this case the spouses of Lou’s children. The lighting reflects the undertone of each scene. In Act I, we meet the family in the hot muggy summer of 2000. Lou’s house is sealed tightly to keep in the air-conditioned cold, and the sunlight penetrates the house through blinds or sheer covered windows. The light is warm, revealing, and inviting. In Act II, as we delve deeper into the family's issues and secrets, the frozen winter morning light carves out the house in a more angular way, creating high contrast and longer shadows. Six months have passed, and the family is once again forced to come together to deal with their father who has suffered a stroke. It’s in Act II that we learn the secret agendas of each of the siblings and watch as the family unravels and the reality of the situation takes hold on them. Finally, as the play comes to its conclusion, Lou delivers his final speech, and the house takes on a surreal and expressionistic quality in complete contrast to the naturalistic light that has defined the space and story up until this point.

The primary challenge with designing the lighting for If I Forget is how to achieve these effects with a low ceiling height. To address this, I have collaborated with Derek McLane to create places throughout the set to hide very small lights to help carve out the rooms. The household lighting fixtures are all thoughtfully chosen and positioned to maximize the drama, as well as providing the major source of light for each of the scenes.

 

DAN MOSES SCHREIER—COMPOSER AND SOUND DESIGN
When Daniel Sullivan asked me to compose music for If I Forget, the first question that I asked him was should the music look forward to the character Abby, the granddaughter, who is on a birthright tour of Israel in 2000, or look backward to Lou, the grandfather, who helped liberate the concentration camp at Dachau in 1945. I will be researching contemporary Israeli folk music in the year 2000 and will also look at traditional Jewish melodies of Eastern Europe as the basis for music I will be composing for the production. The character of Abby is never seen in the play, but there are times when the music can work as a symbol of her role in the production. The character Lou has important monologue at the end of the play where music can underscore the framing of that moment.

As for the sound design, a key “character” in the play is the television set that is heard in the background during many of the scenes. There will be times where that content of what is playing on the television will be important. Bernard Shaw, who was a news anchor for CNN, is mentioned in the play. There are also reference to the second “intifada.” These are keys to beginning to build the sound design for the play.


If I Forget is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, If I Forget, Upstage


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Marin Ireland

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Where did you get your training?
Marin Ireland: I was born in Camarillo, California, where the state mental hospital used to be. Now the mental hospital is closed and there’s a giant outlet mall. I was super shy as a kid, but my school, which was a progressive Southern California style elementary school, involved everyone in doing two plays a year, and when I started playing bigger parts in those, it was completely transformative for me. I ended up choosing to go to Idyllwild Arts Academy, an arts boarding school, for the last two years of high school, which was absolutely thrilling, a deeply joyful and rigorous experience. I chose to be part of the first class of the theatre division of The Hartt School at the University of Hartford. We were sharing teachers with Juilliard and Yale. We had a semester in England, a semester of new plays. Probably one of the most potent elements of that time was simply being on a bus ride to and from New York City. I saw so many incredible shows, bought so many rush tickets. I saw Julie Harris and Charles Durning in The Gin Game from the very last row of the balcony. It is etched in my brain forever! I did a ton of summer stock while I was in school, so I was lucky enough to have my Equity card by the time I graduated. I threw all my belongings in my little Honda Accord and drove around to all the theatres in the northeast. I'd call a theatre up, like a maniac, ask to speak to their casting person or associate artistic director and just say, "Hi, I'm an Equity actor! When can I audition for you?" And sometimes it worked. I went to the Equity open call for ART and got cast in Adam Rapp's first professional production, Nocturne. I had no lines, but that show moved to The New York Theatre Workshop, which is what led to me being cast in Caryl Churchill's Far Away. That show changed so much for me.

TS: Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
MI: When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be a novelist because all I ever did was read books. I don’t remember ever making the decision to become an actor. Once I started, there was never anything else. I went after it with every cell in my body.

TS: I have to say your journey as a working actress is fascinating. I don’t think people realize how much energy and tenacity it takes.
MI: That’s the thing. The few times I've taught, I've tried to talk about how many times I failed, what it feels like getting bad reviews and being rejected. I feel like that’s important. I remember when I would watch interviews or go to talkbacks with actors and they would talk about their first big job and I was wondering, how did you even get a meeting with an agent? How did that happen? I didn’t have an agent until I got cast in Far Away, which was two years in, and I thought I was already a failure. It is a hard, hard road becoming a working actor, and there is no arrival point where the struggle goes away entirely.

Marin Ireland in ON THE EXHALE. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: Why did you choose to do this role in Martín Zimmerman’s On the Exhale? What do you think the play is about?
MI: When I did a reading of this play in February of 2016, the world was already in a dangerous place, and it’s even worse now. To be able to use my voice as an interpreter for something that is not only beautiful, but relevant to a broader political conversation — to feel useful in some way while also having the privilege to deliver these exquisite words — is a great honor. I feel enormously grateful. It's really unlike anything I've ever read. It's a new place for me as an artist in many ways: it's surprising and challenging and I love that. I gravitate towards big challenges for sure; I try to push myself to lean into the fear, to step into the unknown. Something that is new and surprising and also meaningful is the holy trifecta for me. It's sacred, special work.

TS: What kind of preparation or research do you have to do before rehearsals begin, in order to play this role?
MI: I usually try to research the writer as much as possible to try to get inside his or her brain. I usually read other plays they’ve written and try to talk to that writer a lot. Whatever ideas continue to come up as I work on a piece, I always get sparks from that, and that leads to more research. I have been looking at sleepy suburban college campus towns, places affected by gun violence, other specifics that I don't want to give away here. I’m thinking a lot about the fact that this play is written in second person — which speaks to the fact that Martín takes us inside my character’s mind. It is such a rare experience to read something in that voice. I’ve been thinking a lot about that grammatical choice and thinking about other things written in that voice and what that means. I try, at this particular phase, to let the text speak to me.

Marin Ireland in ON THE EXHALE.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: What do you look for in a director when doing a one-person play?
MI: This is a very scary situation. It’s never been just me onstage, so I really was looking for a director who I already trusted. I knew I would be scared to death every day. I didn’t want to feel like I had to build trust with anyone new. Leigh Silverman and I worked together on The Beebo Brinker Chronicles — we did that twice — and then we worked together on In the Wake — which was a very challenging show in many ways. It was an incredible exercise in emotional, psychological, and intellectual stamina because I never left the stage for nearly three hours and I almost never shut up. I just kept talking and had to navigate these really immense intellectual arguments. Leigh is someone who can challenge me from the jump. We’ve been having conversations since she first read it. We are asking ourselves: How do we attack this? Where is this? Where is the drama in a one-person play like this? How do I dramatize it as an actor? These are questions we both have. Leigh will push me and catch me when I jump off cliffs, which will hopefully happen every day.

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist? What advice would you give young people who say they want to act?
MI: When I’m not working, those are the hardest times for me. I try to see a ton of theatre or film that makes me happy and that makes me want to act. I try to educate myself in terms of the work that is being done by my colleagues. I seek out people who are just starting, new writers who inspire me. I think of this job as devotional, in service of the writing, because the writing is bigger than me. I read a lot. My actor friends like Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, and Deirdre O’Connell, who have been doing this longer than me, are the ones I look to, onstage and off, for support and inspiration. As far as advice to actors goes, I find myself telling people who want to be involved in this business that it is a long game. It’s a lifelong pursuit. While I have had some big-break moments, I haven’t had the one thing that has catapulted me into a place where you no longer have to worry about rejection or fear of failure. You will always have to deal with fear and rejection. It might be on a different level, but it always exists. The life of an actor is hard; success doesn’t happen overnight. The more I do it, the more vulnerable I feel. I hope that it's because that's what I'm striving for: more openness and clarity within the work. There is great value in vulnerability. I think that as artists, we have to push ourselves to explore that. We have to constantly ask ourselves, why am I doing this? That answer will change and evolve as the artist does. Ultimately, I do think about it as a life of service. Being in service to the writer’s ideas. And to the larger idea of connecting all of us together, cultivating empathy among strangers. We can change the world as artists, I do believe that. That is how we begin and how we continue.


On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage


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Playwright Steven Levenson and director Daniel Sullivan in rehearsal for IF I FORGET. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Ted Sod: Why did you choose to direct Steven Levenson’s If I Forget
Daniel Sullivan: I was interested in the play. I feel the ideas regarding the direction Israel is going in are important.  It seems to me that these are conversations that go on around the kitchen tables of Jewish families all over the country, all over the world. You just don’t ever hear it on the stage. That’s one reason why I was interested in Steven’s play. The characters have some powerful arguments to make. I thought what better place to hear them than on the stage because his characters are wonderfully theatrical.

TS: So, it had all the elements that you look for in a new play?
DS: Yes, exactly. It’s set in 2000 and 2001, during the failure of the Oslo Accords and what’s interesting is how little things have changed in the political context of the play. The constant threat of violence in the Mid-east, in Israel, the conservative and reactionary views against the more liberal views as to the direction of the country, all of those things are as important now as they were then. Perhaps a little more so now in terms of the religious right in Israel.

TS: What would you say the play is about?
DS: It’s about the “if” of If I Forget. It’s both the argument of the play and the story of the play outside its own political context. It’s also about what happens if we forget our own history, our family history. What happens to us? Who are we? That’s the constant question of the play.

TS: How do you understand the relationship of Michael and his sisters, Holly and Sharon, to their deceased mother? Michael also seems somewhat of an outsider in his own family. Both things feel important to the storytelling. Do you agree?
DS: Yes, I think that’s true. I think it accounts for Michael’s radicalization as well. The mother of the family has passed on and that’s a huge event. You try to locate who she was and the power she had in that family, which is now missing. The siblings are a bit lost and trying to find themselves in this new situation with their mother gone. That’s one of the motors of the play. Lou, the father, and his relationship with his son, Michael, is also key. And, with the mother gone, that relationship has become even more important to Michael.  He has been trying to prove himself to his father for a long time. The father is withholding any kind of praise from his son. Michael’s family hasn’t been able to grasp in any way his academic life, they haven’t understood the previous books he has written as part of his academic life. He hopes his new book will not only blow the lid off the academy, but will get noticed by the general population as well.  Keep in mind, Michael’s gone out of his way to marry a shiksa, which is also a statement to his family that he refuses to be pulled into the Jewish religion or culture. He has deliberately separated himself from his family.

TS: Do you think books still have the power to be scandalous and are able to bring about someone’s downfall?
DS: Yes, I do think so.  Michael has written this book so that the statements he’s making will reverberate beyond the academy. He knows that overstatement is what’s necessary.  Steven Levenson may have been inspired by the case of Steven Salaita, who was fired from the University of Illinois, and then sued and was compensated. Salaita’s tweets about Israel and Palestine were definitely alarming. They were violent. Protecting his First Amendment right was the main argument against his firing, but certainly what he had to say was scary. The same thing is true here with what Michael is suggesting in his book.   Michael has to know that what he’s written will not just shake the academy, but the larger world as well.

TS: Will you give us a sense of your collaboration with Steven Levenson, the playwright? 
DS: Steven came out to Illinois and we sat around and talked for a few days about the play. That was a majority of the work that we did on it. I work with a writer the same way I work with an actor: I just ask questions.  One of the things that I noticed in an earlier version of Steven’s play, was that the first scene was a hilarious family scene and I felt it was getting us off to a false comic start. It raised the usual expectations about watching a comedy and then the rest of the play turned out not to be that. Steven had written another first scene that he cut with Michael on the phone with his daughter Abby, who is in Israel on a birthright trip. He went back to that as the first scene, so now the play begins with a scene that I think allows us to visit not only a humorous world, but the political and moral issues at the heart of the play are in focus from the beginning too.

TS: And I imagine your work together will be continuing until you open.
DS: Our main focus right now is what is the cost of writing this book to the character of Michael.  Does it have a cost to him?   What is the decision at the end of the play costing him if anything? I keep going back to The Cherry Orchard and what does the sale of the cherry orchard cost the people in that play? I know the cost in The Cherry Orchard; I’m not clear yet what the cost of it is to Michael.

TS: The play takes place approximately 16 years ago. Did you have to do any research regarding the world events mentioned in this play?
DS: I am trying to get as much information as I can about the weeks surrounding the Oslo Accord and what was actually going on and to read as much as I can during that time period – but it is very déjà vu. The rhetoric of the time hasn’t changed at all except that everybody has gotten more dug in.

Jeremy Shamos and Tasha Lawrence in rehearsal for IF I FORGET. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

TS: What did you look for in casting the actors? What traits did you need?
DS: It was an interesting casting process. There were some actors I think who were avoiding the subject matter. It does need actors who are bright, smart people and who understand the issues at hand. That’s extremely important. It needs the most realistic ease of playing that you can possibly imagine. I want the acting to be completely naturalistic and detailed.

TS: How important will the use of sound or music be to the storytelling?
DS: I believe that the television will be on most of the time and it will provide the necessary sound, and I don’t want to underscore dramatically. I feel like that would be false. Sometimes music will help us escape something and I would rather keep the sounds environmental and any score will weave in and out of that. I don’t know at this point what I’ll do at the end of the play when things start to get abstract. I don’t know how I’ll handle that because it is stylistically very separate from the rest of the play.

TS: You are also directing Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes this year – do you think these two plays are in conversation with one another? 
DS: The Little Foxes is black and white. Regina is the most complicated and interesting character. But Hellman’s play is a melodrama and If I Forget isn’t. There is a certain mild queasiness that the two plays share, but I think that we still need to admire virtually all the characters in If I Forget and that’s certainly not true with The Little Foxes.

TS: Do you have any advice for young people who want to direct?
DS: Just relax and observe. Directors have to be empathizers and they have to study behavior. All we can do is to bring that into the theatre, but we can’t do it if we don’t empathize with everything we see and understand it in some way. That’s what I try to do. Most directors think the job is to talk people into doing stuff and I certainly think that’s true, but the arsenal that we have as directors is the fact that we don’t forget. We keep behavioral observations with us forever and that’s what we bring into a rehearsal hall. We must be able to see both sides of every argument. If I Forget is a play that tries to present both sides.


If I Forget is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, If I Forget, Upstage


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