ROUNDABOUT BLOG

Bobbie Clearly

 

Ethan Dubin

Ted Sod: Tell us about yourself: Where were you born and educated? When and why did you decide to be an actor? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Ethan Dubin: I was born and raised in Pasadena, California, a suburb in Los Angeles County. I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor from day one; it took some time. But I was always performing in some way or another. I was bad at sports (like, no-one-goes-to-lunch-until-Ethan-hits-a-baseball-during-gym, bad-at-sports) and compensated with a class clown mentality. My high school and my family were really focused on academic achievement, but I was lucky to have two phenomenal acting teachers, Tina and Cynthia, who consistently made the best high school theatre around (yeah, that’s right). They nurtured my curiosity, and they also recognized the weirdo in me. One taught me Viewpoints and Suzuki when I was sixteen, and the other sent me to go see a Robert Wilson musical my junior year, which she knew would explode my brain. It did. Theatre always gave me a place to escape to, so I guess in hindsight it makes sense that I wanted to go to school someplace where I didn’t know anyone at all. For me that was the frigid Midwest and Chicago. It didn’t take long at school to figure out that I wanted to do something in the theatre. When I graduated, I still hadn’t quite figured out what. I thought I’d start telling people I was an actor just to see how it fit. And it’s still fitting.

 

TS: Why did you choose to play the role of Bobbie in Bobbie Clearly? What do you find most challenging about playing this role? Does the role have personal resonance for you? If so, how?

ED: I am humbled at the opportunity to play a character as complex, beautiful, and challenging as Bobbie. I have always been attracted to playing outsiders, weirdos, people who desperately want to fit in and to be liked. I relate to them. In their efforts to try to be liked, these characters often have to be incredibly courageous, especially when their actions may be clumsy, misguided, or downright painful to witness. I’ve never played an outsider as polarizing as Bobbie. I immediately connected to how raw and vulnerable he is, and how pure his hopes are to make amends with the people of his hometown. With this horrific crime behind him, he wants so badly to do the right thing, to prove that he’s worthy of forgiveness. At best, he is the elephant in the room, and far more often he’s the target of wild and justified hatred. It’s an amazing challenge to try to imagine what that would be like—for me, and for our audiences. I found a statistic that in 2016 there were an average of five gun-related homicides of children or teens every day. I didn’t grow up in a town like the Milton, NE we see in Alex’s play. But the story of Bobbie Clearly is all too familiar and recognizable to me growing up and living in this country.

TS: In your opinion, what is the play Bobbie Clearly about? 

ED: For me, this play is about the act of forgiveness and how we get along as a community in the wake of a tragedy. Far too many small American cities and families have had to grapple with a tragedy like we see in the play. How do you move on? How do you learn to feel safe again? How do you punish the criminal, and does he deserve a place back in the society he harmed? If so, would you help him? I can remember several mass shootings in recent history where the families of the victims have announced their forgiveness of the murderer hardly a day after they lost their loved ones. And I’ve wondered what this really means, what this really feels like. Could I forgive someone like that for a crime so heinous? Or even if I thought I could, what would it be like to have that forgiveness tested if and when I saw him face to face? There are so many painful complexities in how a traumatized community tries to coexist and move on. Some people feel their very identity has been changed forever and want to spend their lives memorializing the victim, while others want to get as far away from the memory as possible. One of the things I love about Alex’s play is how honestly he portrays this, and how funny and awkward it can be along the way.

JD Taylor and Ethan Dubin in Bobbie Clearly

TS:  What is your process as an actor? What is the first thing you do? How do you research a role like Bobbie?

ED:With a few weeks to go before rehearsals, I’m gathering research and mining details from the script. Through books, movies, clips, what have you, I’m trying to spend time with people who may have similar circumstances to Bobbie or resemble some part of his life. That could be anything from a man serving a life sentence in prison for a murder he committed as a minor, to just what it’s like for a bunch of high school kids in Nebraska to pile onto a bus to go detassel corn and make some ice cream money. I want to get a sense of the textures and rhythms in the text. And I also want to figure out what facts I know from the script, and what questions I’m going to have in the rehearsal room. Especially with a play like this, I start with a timeline, trying to organize everything I know for sure about Bobbie so I can start to draw a narrative for myself of how his life has been through that chronology. I want to get to know this world so that in rehearsals I’ll be ready to meet the people inside of it.

 

TS: Can you share some of your preliminary thoughts with us about Bobbie and his relationship to the community in Nebraska that he comes from? How do you see the relationship between Bobbie and Casey? What about between Bobbie and Darla?

ED: We’re in a really small town in Nebraska, where the murder of Casey affects everyone. As Derek tells us about halfway through the play, when Bobbie walks into a store or someplace in public, 90% of the people know who he is, and the other 10% are about to find out. Bobbie has been released back into the town he’s harmed, and the ripples of his crime are felt everywhere. They’ve ripped apart his family and any comfort and security he may have once had as a boy. It takes monumental steps to regain any trust, and the little of it he comes by is tenuous. I have so many questions about Bobbie’s relationship to Casey. I think his feelings about Casey have as much or even more to do with his feelings about Eddie, a boy he once had tons of power over, and then none. In Darla, I think Bobbie finds possibly the only example of a benevolent authority figure in his life. We don’t see him interact with other authority figures, but I get the feeling Darla has always expressed some kindness even in moments of deep disappointment, and that’s been a huge exception from a lot of other adults. I’m eager to discover more about Bobbie’s relationship with his family, what his home life was like. Seeing children display deep rage isn’t all that unfamiliar to us, but when a temper tantrum goes too far into something unknown, we always want to know why; we’re hungry to be able to point to one concrete, definable event or reason in the child’s life and say “that’s where the anger comes from.” And one of the reasons I love this play is because I’m not sure it’s ever that simple.

TS: What do you look for in a director when working on a new play?

ED: I love a director who really trusts and respects actors. Someone who knows how to open the door for you and then step aside to let you walk through it. When I’m in a rehearsal process, I always want to have the time and the space to go too far and push the limits of a scene or a moment past what I think they “should” be. Working on a new play, you’re in uncharted territory and you want to stretch the text and discover the boundaries. When I’m really jamming with a director, I think she sets me free in the moment, sometimes pushing or pulling in directions I didn’t know I needed to go, while keeping a bird’s eye view of how any one scene ripples through the rest of the play. I feel free to make new choices all the time, and only afterward do I see the framework that was being built invisibly around me. And at the end of the day, I love a director who asks questions, but also knows that rehearsals are about trying on answers. There isn’t really a right one, so you just pretend there is until you figure out which ones are the strongest, the juiciest, the most essential for the story.
 

Writer Alex Lubischer with Director Will Davis

 

 

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

ED: I love theatre, and I see a ton of it. Making plays is hard, it just is. And my community of theatre artists in New York inspires me all the time. I’m also amazed by how much inspiration I find in other forms of performance. Maybe it’s music or dance or an exhibition at a museum—I’m frequently amazed by how much inspiration I’ll get in acting from other creative forms. I try to take advantage of being in New York and take in as much as I can. And I try to keep things fresh, keep myself taking risks and doing the unfamiliar. A mentor of mine in high school said that, as a working actor, you have to keep your body engaged in some kind of movement practice, no matter what that looks like. A few months ago I started doing an Israeli dance/movement form called Gaga (no, not Lady). It’s all about providing your body with a framework for discovery and going outside of what’s familiar. It’s awesome. You should try it. I think it makes me a better person, so probably a better actor, too.

 

TS: NYC public school kids will read this interview and want to know what it takes to be a successful actor -- what advice can you give young people who want to act?

ED: Champion each other. It’s too easy to focus on the negative in what we do. But you’ll just hold yourself and your community back. Instead, find all the chances you can to talk about who inspires you, about someone in your community who’s doing amazing work. Be a champion for them, and someone’s going to come back around and be a champion for you. And another thing. I had an acting teacher here in the city say that no matter what job you’re doing, do the best you possibly can at that job. With all the crazy side-jobs we actors do in this city, that advice really stuck with me, and I think it’s absolutely true. You’ll keep your integrity, strengthen your discipline, and nurture your curiosity. You’ll also get bored. And boredom, it turns out, can be a powerful thing for an artist.

 


Bobbie Clearly closes at the Roundabout Underground on May 6, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, Bobbie Clearly, Roundabout Underground


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Bobbie Clearly Designer Statements

Posted on: April 4th, 2018 by Roundabout

 

Arnulfo Maldonado/Set Design

Bobbie Clearly by Alex Lubischer is exciting in its structure and unique storytelling -- I was immediately struck by how engaging the interview format can feel within a theatrical context. What is the setting for such a world? In the film/documentary version of this play, these subjects would be interviewed against a static background. But this play spans both various locations and time. So, it was important for us to create a flexible environment that could easily transport us to different locations and times and that the audience be as much a part of the transformation of the space as the characters in it (thus the thrust seating configuration we've come up with for the space). As with any new play, before even getting into the practical specifics of what the play demands, I like to immerse myself in the emotional feeling of the piece. This sometimes involves music.  What would be playing at the time on the radio in Nebraska in 2002? Music for me is always a helpful tool in terms of delving into the emotional landscape of these characters; I can create a narrative for myself by thinking about each of these characters' personal tastes (and there is definitely a wide range of personalities and tastes within this small town). From there I started looking at photographs that weren't necessarily about any specific location in the script but rather, again, the feel, of the play. I first landed on this image to the right. There is something both haunting and beautiful about this photo. Similar to our story. What is being kept behind this structure? Is it a refugee? Is it dangerous? Unclear. Coincidentally, this particular structure in the photo houses corn (these are known as corn cribs). From here Will and I looked at various structures that would potentially live in our world (grain bins, corn cribs, corn fields). Similar to the image above, these structures were both beautiful in their form and also dangerous in their capability to cause harm.  I also found it helpful to look at documentaries that play with a similar interview/documentary structure. Documentary-series like The Thin Blue Line, Making A Murderer, Amanda Knox, and The Jinx were all helpful in terms of understanding how each one crafted a narrative of real-life events. In some cases these were served via stylized reenactments, and in others it was about letting one's imagination run wild by hearing a subject's retelling of particular events. Alex's description for the set is: “An acre of corn hangs above a bare stage, tassels down, as though the sky is the earth.” Aside from the rich visual these words provide, I was also taken by Alex's word-play, in how he laid them out on the page. How does one bring that much punch of a descriptor to a space that is not much taller than one of our actors, with no fly space?  Will and I embraced the limitations of the space and its literal basement-ness. The “acre of corn” visual felt important in that the corn (field) felt like a vital extra character in the play; it was important for us to retain the feeling of Alex's words in that sense. Thus, why we are surrounding not just the characters in the play, but the audience themselves, in corn-crib walls. The corn is contained behind wire, but at any point this wire can give way...or not. It's that tension that is at the root of the design.

 

 

Ásta Hostetter/Costume Design

The event that precipitates Bobbie Clearly is a tragedy. Bobbie is our central character because he has committed a crime that has changed the life of the community forever. The reactions to that crime range from devastation to curiosity. To some characters, Bobbie is a demon to be avoided; to others, a human deserving forgiveness. Playwright Alex Lubischer gives us no instruction or footholds to “answer” this question. My main job is to craft this wide range of individuals with love enough to allow us access and feeling for all of them. My preparation for this had most to do with the small town of Milton, NE. In the midwest, corn detasseling is a job hundreds of young people work at a time. Though the masks and gloves that they wear will not be seen onstage, their sweaty exuberance in a gigantic field is important background to understanding the moment of this crime. I like to think that my work parallels the work of an actor: to be a sensitive collaborator in theatre, one has to be prepared to respond to the present moment of the rehearsal room. Meghan and Megan, characters in this play, are simultaneously two unique individuals and total twinsies. The joy of a well-written text is that there are a number of ways these characters could be embodied -- both physically and emotionally. They need to be able to giggle like sisters and repel one another as if they were strangers. It’s a fun challenge for a designer to take up.

 

 

Palmer Hefferan/Sound Design

Bobbie Clearly is framed through interviews for a documentary. As scenes evolve this lens morphs, turning single interviews into split-screen, and shifting to a theatrical world outside of the interviews. Establishing the perspective of the audience was my first task. What do they see and hear? The audience is a spectator that moves between documentary interviewer, an audience member at an event, and an observer in an undefined place. The magic of sound design is that it can invisibly move the audience fluidly between these viewpoints.

I began by listening to documentary films and radio broadcasts. I was struck by the sonic presence of interview locations. Whether they had the intimacy of a quiet studio, or the omnipresence of nature in a park, the environment gave authenticity to people's stories. In , location ambiences create the foundation of the aural landscape.

The play spans years, giving the audience multiple first person perspectives of a single event that comes to define the lives of those involved. As the play progresses, nondiegetic sounds seep into the design, creating expressionistic layers in the shifting naturalistic world.


Bobbie Clearly opens at the Black Box Theatre on April 3, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, Bobbie Clearly, Roundabout Underground


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Corn Detasseling

Posted on: March 29th, 2018 by Lucy Powis

 

What is corn detasseling?

Every corn plant has both male and female parts—the tassel and the silk, respectively. Detasseling is the process of removing the male parts of some rows in a cornfield in order to create strictly female plants, which can then be pollinated by the remaining male plants in the field. While mechanical pullers are used to pull as many tassels as possible, they typically only get about 70% of them, meaning that the rest have to be pulled by hand.

Why detassel?

Detasseling produces hybrid corn, which produces healthier corn crops with higher yields, as well as seed for the following year’s crops. In order to produce hybrid corn, plants have to be prevented from self-pollinating. Removing the tassels from some of the rows in a field ensures that the male plants fertilize the female plants. Once the corn is fully matured, the female plants get harvested, and the male plants get ploughed.

Who does this?

Detasseling is a common summer job for teenagers in the Midwest—so much so that it’s practically a rite of passage. Detasseling season often only lasts about three weeks in August, and with millions of acres of corn planted in the US, many hands are needed to get the job done. The work is grueling but necessary, pays well, and is often a great way to connect with other area teenagers as well.

How do you prepare for detasseling?

Detasselers wake up at the crack of dawn and are typically deployed to their field for the day in a bus with their co-workers. In preparation for a day of work, detasselers need to dress both for the heat and for the wet and often scratchy corn plants they will be walking through. They also typically wear bright-colored jackets in order to remain visible among the tall cornstalks. Detasselers typically work 10-hour days, and the pressure is high—in order for a field to “pass,” only 3 tassels in 1,000 can be missed.


Bobbie Clearly began previews at the Black Box Theatre on March 8, 2018 and will open on April 3, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, Bobbie Clearly


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