Six Windows Presents A Hero Of Our Time
nytheatre.com q&a preview by Will Dagger
June 16, 2013
What is your job on this show?
What is your show about?
Devised through improvisation, Six Windows Presents A Hero Of Our Time follows the members of a young NYC theatre company in real time on the closing night of their latest production, an adaptation of a 19th century Russian novel.
What type of theater do you like most to work on?
Oh I'll see anything, but when it comes to making theatre, I prefer to collaborate with playwrights on new work. The classics that have stuck around for centuries obviously survived because they are works of genius that can be explored infinitely, can be continually reinvented and reconnected with and that's a wonderful thing. But I think there's actually an overdeveloped and rather destructive reverence for "the greats" that we'd do well as an industry to get over. I think it's still possible for a playwright to speak for our time while speaking for all time. I can't say for certain that the next Shakespeare or the next Chekhov is out there today just waiting to be recognized as such, but I'd rather assume so and be proven wrong than deny the possibility. As far as style and substance, this show is exactly my kind of thing. I like a play that carves out a fresh and untouched place for itself in theatre history and in doing so says something new about about what plays can be. I like when it's messy and risky and nothing is spoon fed and the audience is treated like a group of intelligent detectives who can connect dots if you let them. And I like natural realism that reminds us that there's simultaneously so much more and so much less to life than we're accustomed to seeing onstage.
Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I understand stories better than I understand science or money, and I understand a room better than I understand a camera.
Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I started this project for fairly superficial reasons: I love working with friends, I love improvisation, I love Lermontov, and I thought it'd be funny to stage a talkback as part of a play. But this thing has grown so huge and has demanded so much time and hard work that I guess the bigger question is why have I stuck with it? What's kept me dedicated enough to follow this thing wherever it leads and to not take shortcuts? First there's the thrill of seeing all the talent and intelligence everyone is bringing to the table, and the thrill of trying to make sure we're using all of it well. But it also feels really great, as I was saying before, to find your own little corner of theatre history and set up shop. Plays within plays and meta-theatre has been done by many, many people, but to my knowledge nobody has gone about it in quite the same way we are, nobody has attacked the same problems and found the same solutions. When an audience watches a play within a play, they're seeing not two but three different realities simultaneously. There's the reality of the real life actors in costumes pretending to be Hamlet and Gertrude, there's the reality of the characters Hamlet and Gertrude watching The Murder of Gonzago being performed, and then there's the reality of Gonzago getting poisoned. In Hamlet, as in many other plays, the fun is had in the crossover and confusion of the second two realities--Claudius' conscience is caught because the Poisoner's story is his own. In our piece, the audience never actually sees the play within the play, so we ended up having more fun with the crossover and confusion of the first two levels. All our actors play characters with their own names and personality quirks and vocal patterns and vulnerabilities. Our set represents nothing but the pile of materials it consists of. We view the project as a site-specific piece, and the site just happens to be a theater. It's all incredibly confusing, and it's such a blast to try and make sense of it every day.
Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or Zeppo?
Harpo. I know it's an obvious choice but it also happens to be the only correct one. I've never liked when people claim Ringo is their favorite Beatle, or that they prefer Bert over Ernie--Harpo Marx, George Harrison, and Ernie are objectively the best and there's no point in being a contrarian about it. I'm only about 75% serious about that but honestly, Harpo narrowly beats out Groucho because his leg hold routine is maybe the greatest comedic idea I've ever heard. How long have humans had legs? How long have we been lazy and tried to get other people to hold our stuff for us? Yet he was the first to think of it? Genius.
Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I don't know if I'm qualified to answer this question as I'm an artist, not a sociologist. (I hate when people go around saying, "I'm an artist" but I mean it here as a limitation, not as a self-important declaration.) I'm sure a lot of theatre has tried to change society and I'm sure a lot has, though how and to what degree I couldn't tell you. I can only speak from personal experience. I'm not much of a playwright but I do write songs occasionally. And I've never had any luck picking a topic and then writing a song about it. Everything I've written that I'm proud of has come from the unconscious; I'll like the way a couple chords sound under a couple words and then everything else--story, voice, meaning, melody--comes out of that organically, and I don't realize until later what was in me that needed to be expressed. I suspect theatre is like this. Writing a play designed to change the word can, at times, be like writing a song designed to get yourself laid. I think I heard somewhere that the purpose of art is to remind us that we're not alone--in a thought, a feeling, a situation, a room. That's the level and scope of change I'm looking to effect. Maybe the work fits into a larger political agenda, intentionally or unintentionally, but it's that small yet crucial reminder, from one person to another, that I'm interested in.