ROUNDABOUT BLOG

From the Artistic Director: The Last Match

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by Todd Haimes

 

This New York premiere marks Roundabout’s first collaboration with Anna, though I have long admired her body of work. From her play Photograph 51, which played on the West End in 2015 and follows the story of renowned physicist Rosalind Franklin’s fight for scientific recognition, to A Delicate Ship, which ran at The Playwrights Realm in 2015 and explores the existential underpinnings of young love and lust, Anna’s work proves her willingness to confront all the complexities and contradictions within her characters. There are no easy answers in her plays; she faces the beauty and ugliness of her stories head-on, relentlessly mining the scenarios she renders for their deepest layers. Her plays investigate new perspectives in a way that always surprises and thrills me, and, like all great theatre, her work never fails to enrich and complicate my familiarity with subjects I thought I already understood.

And The Last Match is no exception. Set during the semifinals of the US Open, Anna’s electric play follows two professional tennis players who have put everything on the line for their game. Inspired by the real-life career paths of some of the sport’s biggest icons, The Last Match delves into the pressures and stresses placed on players who, due to the short-lived nature of a profession that demands retirement at an early age, must race against time to achieve their dreams. For sure, in every game there is a great deal of money, reputation, and glory at stake, but Anna’s play hones in more specifically on what her characters, after sacrificing so much in the name of perfecting their craft, owe to their families and to themselves. With so much riding on every serve and every return, tennis -- one of the most solitary of sports -- can become an internal maelstrom of doubt, euphoria, and nostalgia. By tracing the inner tribulations of her characters, Anna meticulously unpacks how a tennis match can spiral into an all-out war.

By expertly unpacking the truth and humanity from within this fictional tennis match, Anna exposes so much about the nature of ambition and competition regardless of profession or field. American workaday culture is infamous for its glorification of stress, workaholism, and burnout; it’s not only athletes who risk the health of their family, their friendships, and themselves in the name of success. Anna’s play deftly explores what happens when the pressures of an incredibly driven lifestyle clash with the demands of familial relationships and personal care. With a play that is both characteristically nuanced and propulsively acrobatic, Anna asks us all to examine the reality behind our cultural obsession with competition, recognition, and victory.

I am thrilled for you to experience Anna’s wonderful play, mounted by this exceptionally talented creative team. This is such a captivating story, and I couldn’t be more excited to share with you Gaye Taylor Upchurch’s remarkable work in bringing it to a New York stage for the first time. As always, I am eager to hear your reactions to the show, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your thoughts. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Sincerely,

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director/CEO


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, From Todd Haimes, The Last Match


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The Psyches Of Champions

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by Jason Jacobs

 

THE LAST MATCH begins previews October 28, 2017

 

The Last Match brings the audience into the minds of two top tennis players engaged in intense competition. According to sports psychologist David Fletcher, professional athletes differ from most people. “Winning in sport isn’t normal; so being psychologically different in certain ways is not just advantageous, it’s necessity.” Fletcher notes a tendency towards positive characteristics like resilience and extroversion in pro athletes, but also towards negative traits, like obsession and selfishness. An understanding of how the mind impacts athletic performance has led to a profession called sports psychology, which can help explain the drive to compete.

 

COMPARISON and RIVALRY

Since the 19th century, psychologists have seen that athletes perform better in head-to-head competition versus practicing alone. Competition improves

Actor Alex Mickiewicz practices his serve.

performance, such as speed or hitting a ball, and it also impacts physiology, such as endurance, heart rate, and the ability to withstand pain. Social comparison—the tendency to compare ourselves to others—helps drive competition. Athletes or not, most humans rank ourselves to determine if we are “ahead” or “behind” others. Comparison usually raises our competitive edge; however, if we sense too many competitors in the field, the desire to compare and compete may actually decrease.

 

Rivalry, the focused comparison directed at one individual that we see between Tim and Sergei, plays a greater role in single-player games like tennis. NYU researcher Gavin Kilduff has shown that athletes compete more intensely against individuals or teams they view as rivals. Kilduff explains that rivals “are motivated to outperform each other not just because of what is at stake in the competition, but also because of their history with one another and the implications that future competitions between them have for this competitive relationship.”

 

MOTIVATION: Extrinsic vs Intrinsic

Comparison and rivalry both serve as motivation, but people compete for a variety of reasons. Sports psychologists look at distinctions between extrinsic motivation (external goals) and intrinsic motivation (internal reasons). Sports offer many external rewards: money, scholarships, fame, and glory. However, intrinsically motivated athletes find a sense of success through their own improvement and growth, and in the pure enjoyment of the game. For pros like Tim and Sergei, long-term dependence on extrinsic rewards can actually diminish internal motivation over time. Coaches and sports psychologists now see the benefits of stronger intrinsic motivation to support a long sports career.

Actor Alex Mickiewicz visiting the U.S. Open.

THOUGHTS: Focus vs. Distraction

Thoughts during the game have significant impact on performance—especially in tennis, a game played with no teammates or coaches. Maintaining focus is crucial in a match that can last a long time, with no pauses. Under pressure, the player who keeps their attention on the game and does not allow distractions to break their focus has a competitive edge. Additionally, self-talk (how an athlete speaks to her/himself during the game) can affect performance either for better or worse. Ziegler allows us to hear the “self-talk” of two highly competitive athletes. Even if we can’t hit a ball, we can  understand how competition informs our own lives, be it in school, work, or at home.

 

 


The Last Match begins performances at the Laura Pels Theatre on September 28, 2017 . For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, The Last Match


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Margot Bordelon, director of TOO HEAVY FOR YOUR POCKET. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Why did you want to become a theatre director? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you? 

Margot Bordelon: I was born in Everett, Washington, a small city 25 miles north of Seattle. I got my BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, and then (many years later) an MFA in Directing from the Yale School of Drama. I first started directing when I was a junior in college. I was an acting major and auditioned to participate in the Original Works track offered by my program, which meant I took playwriting and directing courses in addition to my core acting classes. I was originally interested in being an actor/playwright, but I discovered directing and loved it. I liked having a hand in every aspect of a production. When you direct, you get to work in multiple mediums at once – acting, dance, music, design. I’ve found this deeply satisfying. My mentor at Cornish was a brilliant director named Sheila Daniels. She first introduced me to Viewpoints and techniques for devising original work. She opened my eyes to the power of expressive rather than literal staging. There are exercises she taught me that I still use in my rehearsal processes. Her impact on my development as an artist is immeasurable.

 

TS: Why did you choose to direct Jiréh Breon Holder's play, Too Heavy for Your Pocket? What do you think this play is about?

 MB: In 2016 Jiréh and I collaborated on his Yale thesis production, Some Bodies Travel, and we had a blast together. When he sent me Too Heavy, I instantly fell in love with it. I find his voice, poetry, politics, and imagination incredibly compelling. He is truly the real deal -- in addition to being a generous collaborator.  For me, Too Heavy is a play about family, community, faith, struggle, and ultimately about personal responsibility. One of the most important questions I think this play asks is: where does our responsibility lie? When injustice thrives all around us, do we invest further in our friends and family? Or do we fight for change on a national scale? Do we have a bigger responsibility to our immediate community, or to society at large? And what does it mean to contribute when you’re without a financial safety net? What is the personal cost of progress?

 

TS: How are you collaborating with your design team -- can you give us a sense of how your production will manifest visually? Do you see the play as written in the style of magic realism? Will there be original music?

MB: One of the first stage directions in the play is “grass everywhere, even indoors.” Our wonderful scenic designer Reid Thompson and I want to explore this idea fully by turning the Underground space into an installation of sorts. Grass throughout the entire space, with the images of trees and nature surrounding the audience. The script says that the audience should feel like guests, and that’s what we’re attempting to do—create a space that is fully inhabited by our characters that we invite the audience into. I think of the play as poetic naturalism. There are aspects of the piece that are fully naturalistic (like Sally cooking a meal), but the transitions and moments of song live in a more poetic realm. Ultimately, we’re hoping to create a poetic space with the set design; costumes that realistically ground us in 1961 and lights and sound that function both realistically as well as poetically. And yes—some original music!

 

TS: Will you give us some insight into your process as a director? What kind of research did you have to do in order to direct this play? How will you use rehearsal time on this particular show? 

MB: I’ve gotten such an education researching this show. Of course, I’ve done extensive reading about the Freedom Riders and about the Civil Rights movement as a whole, and it’s rich, compelling, topical material. I’ve also gotten very specific about Nashville history, Fisk University, the role of the church, and life in the U.S. in the ‘50s and ‘60s. But the subject matter of the play extends well beyond all of this. This is a history piece written for a contemporary audience. Jiréh was as influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement as the Civil Rights Movement. We’ll spend the first few days at the table naming the facts the play offers us both about time period and character. I like to begin from a place where we’re all approaching the play objectively before we begin getting subjective. We’ll share information about the world of the play culled from our individual research. With this piece, it’s essential to ground ourselves historically in the place and time. Then the actors will create character biographies based on the facts of the play, their research, and their imaginations. We’ll spend some time on our feet doing movement based ensemble-building exercises and character work. And then we’ll dive into scene work.

The cast of TOO HEAVY FOR YOUR POCKET. Photo by Jenny Andrson

TS: How do you collaborate with a writer on a new work? Do you expect there to be any rewriting during the rehearsal and preview periods? How involved are you in the rewriting process on a new work? 

MB: Long before rehearsals begin, I read multiple drafts of the script and go back and forth with a writer offering questions and thoughts. Too Heavy has gone through a variety of drafts since Jiréh and I started working on it over a year ago, and it’s been a joy to watch it grow and change. We worked on it at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta last winter, and that allowed us to see scenes and moments that really landed as well as those that could be further clarified. A new play is an ever-evolving organism, and I’m certain the play will undergo more changes once we’re in the room with actors. They will bring experiences and perspectives to the piece that will most certainly affect it.

 

TS: I’m curious how you understand the relationship of the two couples to each other and how the men and women relate to each other in this play? It seems to me both couples (Bowzie and Evelyn, and Tony and Sally) are symbiotic -- would you agree? 

MB: Absolutely. The foursome in this play is incredibly tightknit. Bowzie and Sally have known each other since they were small children, and Bowzie and Tony have known each other since they were teenagers. They have grown up together—they are family.  They are an interdependent community and (spoiler alert!) when Bowzie leaves, their ecosystem is thrown into a dangerous imbalance.

Eboni Flowers and Brandon Gill in rehearsal for TOO HEAVY FOR YOUR POCKET. Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: What traits did you need in casting the actors for the four roles in Too Heavy for Your Pocket?

MB: With all four characters, we looked for actors who had incredible heart, wonderful senses of humor, and deep wells of emotional availability. It’s a true ensemble show, and so it was essential that we find collaborators that are dedicated to team playing, while also being forces of nature in and of themselves.

 

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist? Do you have any advice for young people who say they want to direct? 

MB: I’m a firm believer in Stella Adler’s philosophy that your growth as an artist is synonymous with your growth as a human being. I love going to see plays, but I also love reading, and watching films and television, going to museums, protesting, seeing live music, and spending time in nature. I’ve recently begun meditating, and that’s been helping me stay inspired while finding balance. My advice to young directors is that, in addition to producing and directing your own work as much as possible, spend time acting and writing. It’s invaluable to have experience being on the other side of the table. Try to learn on a visceral level about your own expectations and what you’re asking of others.


Too Heavy For Your Pocket begins performances at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/ Black Box Theatre on September 15, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, Roundabout Underground, Too Heavy for Your Pocket


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