On the Exhale


Leigh Silverman

Ted Sod: Why did you decide to direct On the Exhale? What do you feel the play is about? Does the play have personal resonance for you, and if so, how?
Leigh Silverman: I think Marin Ireland is one of the best performers that I have ever had the joy of working with. She and I have done three shows together. Martín Zimmerman is a writer I’ve never worked with before, and I am honored to direct his first New York premiere. His intelligence and poetry radiate off the page and made it impossible to say no to this project. I do feel very personally connected to the material, and the subject matter is certainly essential right now.

TS: Would you say On the Exhale is looking into one woman’s psyche, or is it more than that?
LS: I would say it’s an exploration or meditation of one woman’s journey to discovery and understanding.

TS: I know you’re just starting rehearsals, but how do you understand Marin’s character. How would you describe her?
LS: She is an Everywoman. She’s a complicated woman who is learning and trying to reach beyond her current circumstances.

TS: What about the grief factor? Is that important?
LS: She’s experienced unimaginable tragedy, but she’s not even at the grieving stage yet. Something else happens first, and the play explores that moment before the grief.

TS: One thing I love about this character is that she seems to lead with her intelligence. Do you agree with that?
LS: Absolutely. She’s fiercely smart and amazing. She’s a very proactive character.

TS: What is the most challenging part of directing a one-person play? Will you give us a sense of your process as a director?
LS: There’s an overall emotional ride we go on with this play. The challenge of rehearsing it is if we don’t want to do the whole thing, how do you get on a ride half-way through — because it’s such a taut emotional piece. Really, the trick of rehearsing it is a technical one, which is how to explore the overall arc of the play while working out the finer points without having to do all of it all day long.

As a director, it’s rarely my job to personally experience the play the same way an actor does. Instead, my job is to stand outside and guide the process in a rigorous and hopefully artistically satisfying and challenging way for my collaborators and then the audience. It is my job to always have perspective. How the process works is mysterious and different with each project. Every process is a snowflake, and they each require slightly different ways of managing the artistic and technical requirements. That’s where the magic is. And directorial craft.

TS: You have a reputation for doing new work. How do you go about working with a playwright on a new play?
LS: Martín and I met for the first time on the first day of rehearsal, and I had never heard the play before. It’s kind of like marrying someone on the first date. I usually spend many, many years developing a play — sometimes three years, sometimes five years, sometimes more — and so the fact that I am walking into the rehearsal room never having heard the play before is very unusual and quite exciting.

Each writer is different. The way I talk to Martín is different from somebody like David Henry Hwang or Lisa Kron — writers who I’ve worked on three or more shows with, and whom I have a much longer, deeper experience with. I will usually ask a lot of questions and hear what the writer intended and sometimes I’ll say, “That’s really interesting, that’s not what I see here,” and then we talk about whether it might be performative or if it’s a writing question or if I am understanding it correctly. And usually, if the writer is engaged in the process, we find a solution. Sometimes I will have a very strong point of view and I’ll say, “Let me tell you how I experience this moment” or if I am looking for a new line or a cut I will say something like, “Might I audition something for you?” I really try to ask permission before suggesting big. That’s just respectful. Sometimes the writer is open to hearing notes and thoughts and sometimes not, and the director has to know what to say when, and when to push and when to step back.

TS: The Underground space is very intimate. Are you familiar with it?
LS: I am. What’s challenging about it is finding ways to turn the intimacy into a virtue, if you will.

TS: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to direct for the theatre?
LS: See a lot of theatre, think about what interests you, what kind of work you want to do. Develop your leadership skills — and by that I mean how to manage big groups of people and get them to joyfully and enthusiastically do what you want. In the professional world, assist people and sit in rehearsal rooms where you can watch people who know what they’re doing. And then direct all the time -- direct in the privacy of your own living room or in small theatres or at school or wherever, so that you’re making your own work. No one is going to offer you that opportunity when you are first starting out. You have to be someone who can proactively make things happen.

TS: What else are you working on now?
LS: I’ve just finished directing a revival of Sweet Charity for the New Group with Sutton Foster. I’m directing a new play by Madeleine George entitled Hurricane Diane, which will be at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey and Ethan Lipton’s show called The Outer Space at the Public Theater.

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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On the Exhale

With the world premiere of On the Exhale, we proudly welcome Martín Zimmerman to the Roundabout family and add him to the extraordinary list of playwrights to be produced through this program. We started Roundabout Underground as a launch-pad for emerging writers, and as the subsequent successes of our first eleven playwrights demonstrates, it is doing exactly that. I can say with confidence that, with this intense, surprising, and moving debut, Martín is already taking off for great heights.

In On the Exhale, Martín creates an exquisitely intimate relationship between audience and character, bringing us on the journey of one woman as she sees her worst fears coming true. What Martín has crafted is both a captivating story and a necessary theatrical exploration of America’s relationship to gun violence at the most deeply personal level. He helps us as an audience to grieve the past, survive the present, and confront the future.

One of the things that I think Martín has done so beautifully is to write a play for one actor that never feels like the prototypical “one-person show.” It is so layered and complex that you never feel the need for other voices to permeate the world of this piece. It is a true play, just one that happens to have only one character in it. And of course, I feel so lucky to have the remarkable Marin Ireland taking on this challenging role. She is one of the most captivating performers of her generation, and to have her command the stage alone in this play, under the direction of the brilliant Leigh Silverman, is simply thrilling to watch.

I’m also grateful to Martín for his choice to infuse such accessible humanity into a work that tackles a dark subject. Taken as a whole, the questions surrounding this country and its history with guns are, to my mind, utterly overwhelming. But Martín is able to break it down in a way that allows us to connect without shutting down. He considers the physical object of a gun itself, the act of holding one and how that differs from seeing one from the other side. He addresses the feelings of power and fear that the mere image of a gun can bring to the surface. And he holds nothing back either about the consequences of violence or our rituals of grief – in all of their insufficiencies. It is a raw, joyful, tragic, and stunning piece, and one that I am so proud to be sharing with you.

As we continue this remarkable tenth season at Roundabout Underground, I know that Martín Zimmerman will continue the great tradition of this initiative. I am so proud of the achievements of the artists who have come before him, who not only brought their brilliance to the Black Box Theatre, but who have also gone on to make some of the best work in theatres across the country and around the world. I can’t help but marvel at the ever-growing list of playwrights, directors, actors, and designers who found an early home with us. From a two-time Pulitzer finalist, to five recent Tony-winners, to more Broadway debuts than I can count, it’s been hugely gratifying to watch these artists attain such success.

I hope that you enjoy On the Exhale, and I am eager to hear your thoughts on this world premiere play. Please email me at to share your response to this exceptional new work.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director/CEO

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, From Todd Haimes, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground

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Just Announced: On the Exhale

Posted on: September 26th, 2016 by Todd Haimes


OTE-Announcement_IGI’m thrilled to announce the second production in our newly-expanded Roundabout Underground season: the World Premiere of Martín Zimmerman’s On the Exhale, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Marin Ireland.

When I saw this solo play in our 2016 Underground Reading Series, I knew we had to produce it at Roundabout. Martín explores the timely subject of gun violence through brilliantly simple and shattering writing – and Marin, who also appeared in the Underground Reading Series reading, is truly exceptional in the leading role.

I’m thrilled to welcome Martín to Roundabout and to have him join the growing legacy of Underground playwrights. And I’m honored to have both Leigh and Marin back at Roundabout. Leigh was nominated for a Tony Award for her direction of Violet at Roundabout, and Marin has appeared on our stage in The Big Knife and After Miss Julie.

On the Exhale will begin performances February 7, 2017. For more information, please visit our website.

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From Todd Haimes, On the Exhale, Roundabout News, Roundabout Underground