ROUNDABOUT BLOG

 

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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Rebecca Taichman, director of TIME AND THE CONWAYS

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Rebecca Taichman:   I was born in Madison, Wisconsin to two amazing Canadian-hippie-leftists: my father, at the time a young scientist, and my mother, on her way to becoming a social worker specializing in poverty law. I have one sister, Laura, who did her best to protect me from all the dangers in life then – and still now. We moved to Long Island when I was about five, and I grew up there. I went to McGill University in Montreal for undergrad and then many years later to the Yale School of Drama for an MFA in directing. As far as teachers are concerned, the list is long -- to just name a few: Ming Cho Lee, Elinor Fuchs, so many of my colleagues, Sam Gold, Simon McBurney, Mary Zimmerman, Julie Taymor, and on and on. I've also been very lucky to be part of the Henry Crown Fellowship at the Aspen Institute. As part of the fellowship, 20 leaders from various fields are put through a two-year series of seminars on the ethics of leadership and social responsibility. The Crown Fellowship has been the single greatest learning experience of my life. Some of my greatest teachers were in that group: the 19 other fellows and the leaders Peter Reiling, Skip Battle, Tonya Hinch, and Ben Dunlap.

TS: You directed a revival of Time and the Conways in 2014 for the Old Globe in San Diego. Why did you choose to direct this play?

RT: The play came to me through Barry Edelstein, Artistic Director of the Old Globe. He called me several years ago and said, "There is this extraordinary play by J.B. Priestley called Time and the Conways. I would like to produce it, and I think you are the right director for it.” I read the play that night - and couldn't put it down. I remember reaching out to Barry the next morning and saying, “I’m in. Just tell me when and I'll be there.” I think Priestley a genius and the play a neglected masterpiece -- at least in the U.S. As soon as the Globe production opened, I hoped to do it again. I pitched the idea to Todd Haimes, Artistic Director at Roundabout, and he said yes.

TS: Does the play have personal resonance for you? What do you think the play is about?

RT: Time and the Conways is about so much. On one level, it’s the story of an upper middle class British family just as the upper classes were about to tumble and how, over time, they are hurt by their own greed and narcissism. They are characters from another time and place but feel oddly familiar, and their story feels important and resonant to us in the United States today.

On another level, the play is about our perception of time. With this play, and in many of his plays, J. B. Priestley is challenging our perception of time as a linear arrow, shooting ever forward. Time and the Conways suggests an alternate view of time, one in which the past, present, and future are available all at once. It's a hard thing to wrap one's mind around, but Priestley was writing at a time when time and space were being redefined by new breakthroughs in science and technology – much like our own sense of the world is being transformed by the internet and social media. In Time and the Conways, Priestley proposes that the past, present, and even future are coexistent with each other. I think that Priestley was proposing a sharpened sense of the wholeness of our lives, offering his audience an invitation to release themselves from the panic of being “on a sinking ship,” moving ever closer to death. This was a social awakening as much as an aesthetic one. Theatre, Priestley understood, was the perfect medium in which to communicate this idea – being a place in which, as he once wrote, “Everything still exists: that life of the voice, that gesture, that look, they are still there. [Theatre is able to] recapture the past that has not really vanished at all.” Priestly manages to marry these streams – the story of a family in Great Britain and his ruminations on what he called the “time problem” in the most theatrical of ways. The form of the play and its content are so brilliantly entwined that they reveal and release each other.

 

Rebecca Taichman in rehearsal for TIME AND THE CONWAYS- Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: Can you give us some insight into your process as a director? How did you prepare to direct this play? What kind of research did you have to do?

RT: When I directed the play at the Old Globe, I did an enormous amount of research and of course was greatly aided by the dramaturg there: Danielle Mages Amato. Right now I am working with a wonderful dramaturg, Drew Lichtenberg, who is again teaching me so much. I am still trying to understand the context of the play as deeply and intimately as I possibly can. Also, and this is true for anything I direct, I read the play over and over and over until I think I know it on the cellular and the cosmic levels. With a play like this, I also like to ask the company to share in the research. In this case, for example, I have asked Gabe Ebert, who plays Alan, to research the theory of time in the play and share what he learned with us in his own way. Each actor is researching a topic that relates intimately to the character they are playing. I find it is a wonderful way to get the whole room engaged in the research together and bring the world of the play to life. I first heard about this idea from Mark Wing-Davey, and I love doing it.

TS: How do you understand the characters of Kay and her elder brother, Alan, at this point in your process?

RT: Kay and Alan are privileged with sight in the play, and capable in some ways of moving from past to present and back again. Alan is partially the voice of Priestley. In the middle of this story of corrosive classism, Priestley creates this humble, unambitious, beautiful character who offers an alternative view, a way of looking at life that unspools the greed and narcissism that infects this family. Alan is the tender-hearted, surprising hero of the play. He envisions a world driven by love, rather than panic and fear.

Ultimately, the play warns against a life of greed, and Alan sees it all most clearly. Kay has glimpses of understanding and struggles to see the larger picture Alan seems to perceive so easily. Many of the play’s ideas relate to what is happening in this country now. We are grappling with greed overtaking the country, with a 1% who can’t seem to see past themselves and an enraged working class that feels it has been rendered invisible. All sense of larger community is broken, and we are divided.  Priestley writes about this in Time and the Conways and sees the same basic dynamic unfolding in Great Britain during the years between the first and second World Wars. Despite containing what sounds like the classic ingredients for a tragedy, I feel the play is full of hope. That hope is personified in the characters of Alan and Kay. The fact that they can sense another path for the future invites us to believe that we can, too.

TS: What did you look for in casting the actors? What traits do you need?

RT: Actors who have a tremendous facility with language and can make the language feel visceral and real -- not distant -- so that the action is deeply lived and alive. We also need actors capable of great emotional complexity and range. In the play, they age 20 years. They have to be able to access two sides of one character with grace and dexterity. Not easy, needless to say.

Anna Baryshnikov, Anna Camp, Matthew James Thomas and Elizabeth McGovern in rehearsal for TIME AND THE CONWAYS- photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: How are you collaborating with your design team? 

RT: Working with such extraordinary designers is a thrill. It’s a very collaborative process that is iterative. I ask lots of questions – that lead to more questions. Designers this good bring exceptional ideas to the table, and I respond.

TS: Are you using original music?

RT: There’s a piece of music by Dustin O’Halloran that we are using. It exists on one of his records, which I listen to obsessively – especially when I am dreaming about the play. Somehow it takes me to the center of the play every time I hear it. Matt Hubbs, our sound designer, found it and brought it to me. What a gift.

TS: Do you have any advice for young people who want to be theatre directors?

RT: Being a director for the stage is a very hard life. I believe that if you can do anything else and be happy: do it. For a lot of people there really is no choice. I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s the lens through which I see the world. So, if directing is something you absolutely must do, then my advice is: fight for it with everything you’ve got and don’t give up, even when it seems impossible. It’s a complex journey with all kinds of twists and turns. Go, go, go, and don’t allow yourself to be driven by fear, but rather by faith or hope.

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

RT: As a director, I think you are a vessel through which a story flows. You’re translating that story onto the stage. I view my job as ever searching for the most evocative, theatrical, moving, and honest way to tell the story of the play. The story for me is the inspiration and guides every choice. As long as the story truly compels and moves me, that’s all the inspiration I really need. I have been very lucky to tell stories that I believe are important and deeply moving, like the one in Time and the Conways.


Time and the Conways begins performances at the American Airlines Theatre on September 14. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, Time and the Conways


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Now in its eleventh year of producing emerging playwrights in the Black Box, the Roundabout Underground program has achieved a stunning degree of success since we mounted Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate as the inaugural Underground production in 2007. In the years since their Underground productions, all twelve of our Underground alumni have gone on to fruitful and lucrative writing careers, whether for the stage or for the screen. Over the past two seasons alone, three of these alumni have made their Broadway debuts: Stephen Karam (The Humans, 2016 Tony Award® for Best Play and Finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize); Joshua Harmon (Significant Other); and Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen, 2017 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical). Both The Humans and Significant Other began in our Laura Pels Theatre, just upstairs of the Black Box at the Steinberg Center. In addition, Underground alumna Lindsey Ferrentino made her debut at the National Theatre in London this past spring with her play Ugly Lies the Bone, which premiered here in the Underground in 2015. Both Lindsey and Joshua Harmon, in fact, will be returning to the Laura Pels Theatre later this season with new plays, both of which we commissioned: Lindsey’s Amy and the Orphans and Joshua’s Skintight. I am so thrilled to watch as our relationships with the Underground writers have grown over the years and given rise to these and other magnificent successes at Roundabout and beyond.

Needless to say, the Underground program holds a special place in my heart, and I couldn't be happier to welcome Jiréh into this family with his extraordinary play. Set in Nashville, Tennessee, during the Civil Rights Movement, Too Heavy for Your Pocket follows four black Nashvillians who encounter the Movement far closer to home than they expected--and approach it with mixed feelings. To Jiréh’s characters in 1961, the Civil Rights Movement isn’t yet the world-famous triumph that we know it to be today. It’s still a revolution in the making with its own challenges and struggles, and the fates of the Movement’s activists are yet uncertain. For prospective protesters, the risks to their person and property are high, the potential sacrifices of livelihood and career are large, and the road to equality and reform is long. Through the perspectives of two vividly-drawn families, Jiréh confronts the realities of protest and the price of social change, reminding us that the true work of revolution often originates not on the floors of our Capitol buildings but in our church basements, classrooms, and homes.

At a time when the question of the cost of protest is an incredibly urgent one, Too Heavy for Your Pocket asks us to face our own attitudes toward political activism and consider what we might be willing to forfeit in the name of justice and social progress. The freedoms of speech and assembly often come at a price for those who need them most, and Jiréh’s play, with vibrant and captivating storytelling, deftly captures the nuances of this contradiction. Too Heavy for Your Pocket serves as a gripping reminder that while the Civil Rights Movement may be decades behind us, the lessons it provides us for our current and future political atmospheres are timeless.

Too Heavy for Your Pocket, under the direction of the exceptional Margot Bordelon, will undoubtedly continue and deepen the Underground’s tradition of excellence, and I am so excited for you to experience the phenomenal work of this creative team. Like all good theatre, Jiréh’s play is sure to spark discussion and inspire a richer understanding of our past and our future. As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts on our season, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. 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, Too Heavy for Your Pocket


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