SARAH MYERS’s new play, The Realm, is being produced by Down Payment Productions (directed by Jessica Fisch). Opening Night set for Saturday, April 3 at 8pm. The limited showcase will run through Sunday, April 18 at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd Street between Avenues A & B).
Ms. Myers is a company member with Rude Mechs in Austin, Texas, and she currently teaches in the Theatre Arts Department at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got a chance to chat with this busy lady by phone recently . . .
Hi Sarah! So, If you’re part of a company in Texas, but teach in Minneapolis, and your new show, The Realm, is being produced in New York City, where are you calling from now?
SM: I’m actually calling from Minneapolis at the moment. I moved here in August.
So have you been involved with the production remotely? Or have you been doing a lot of traveling while The Realm was getting off the ground? Must have been tough for you to be involved in this production!
SM: I haven’t been to New York City yet, but through the magic of technology I feel very connected to the process. I’m in touch with Jess [director Jessica Fisch] … I’ve been video chatting with her and the cast and can answer questions that way, and so far it’s been fine.
Will you make it here for the actual show, though?
SM: Definitely! I’ll be there for dress rehearsal and the opening. And I do feel very invested in the process. I wasn’t directly involved with the audition, we had a casting director, but Jess was very much on the same page with me. One thing that was important to me was that the actors themselves who are playing teenagers actually be younger, as opposed to older people who are playing younger, and Jess was already going in that direction. So far I’ve been blessed by how it’s all worked out.
I’ve spoken to a lot of playwrights who are doing their first plays, so they’re involved with everything. But how does it feel to have your play picked up by another group to be produced? Is that when you know you’ve “made it”?
SM: (Laughs) I was actually stunned to get the email from Down Payment Productions. The Realm had gotten good reception, but no New York companies wanted to produce the play. For a long time I was in denial about the possibility of a New York production, I told myself things like “the script is published, so no one will want to pay to use it”. I told myself all sorts of things. So this chance is pretty fantastic. I feel like I had to put my playwriting career on hold to get a Ph.D. This was a way to feel like I was a writer again.
The Realm won the 2005 National Waldo M. and Grace C. Bonderman Playwriting Award.You’ve also been nominated for a number of other awards. What does winning an award do for the life of a play?
SM: The Bonderman is a development festival. When you’re in that type of festival it becomes tricky trying to negotiate people’s opinions and voices and decide what you want to put in your pocket and think about later. It can turn into information overload. After the festival I made a lot of adjustments, but then I put the script away for awhile. In terms of legitimacy – after the award The Realm was sent to youth theatres and children’s theatres. My dramaturg sent it to my agent and since then it’s been sent to places like Playwrights Horizons, where Down Payment Productions came across it … it has a life beyond what I even realize sometimes.
And how does winning an award change you, as a writer?
SM: There are a number of major awards that I haven’t won, the ones I’ve won aren’t necessarily the biggest so I do still feel like I’m emerging. I hold myself to ridiculous standards. I don’t think any award would make me feel like I’ve “made it”. This production and other productions have been more beneficial than awards. I’m surrounded by incredible playwrights in Minneapolis, and the same thing was the case in Austin. I feel like being in a community of writers and trying to be up to their caliber, constantly thinking of the craft — that’s changed me more than any award.
The blurb for The Realm says “In the underground world of THE REALM, resources are scarce and everything is rationed – water, food, people’s life spans, and the words they speak. To preserve their powers of self-expression and escape from this oppressive place, two rebellious teens must band together and struggle toward the surface in search of a world they can’t be sure exists.” Is this a post-apocalyptic world? Is it the future? Or is this an alternate envisioning of the present?
SM: It’s a dystopic world, in many ways post-apocalyptic. It takes place in the future, but not really that far in the future. And it happens as an outcome of some of the poor choices that we could make–and have made already. The control of language is at the center of the play. I wrote it in 2005 at a time when language was being manipulated and distorted by the Bush administration. You see similar issues coming from the radical right today–the misuse, abuse, and even conflation of words like fascist and socialist.
So then is The Realm a message play? Is it a metaphor? Or were you just playing around with the topic and letting any type of subtext happen or not?
SM: I was more playing around and the subtext evolved . . . There were 3 main characters I’d written that I wasn’t even sure would be in the same play. Then it became more and more obvious that they belonged together. But I don’t think of The Realm as a message play . . . That title feels a little limiting. You don’t leave the theatre thinking “this is the one thing I’m going to change”. I’m interested in language and its connection to politics and society. And from an aesthetic point of view, language is both a beautiful invention, and often not sufficient enough.
You chose to have people’s words rationed in The Realm. How challenging was it to then write a full length play when in fact you were rationing yourself? Or did you just write and not worry about that?
SM: I would say definitely there are words that are rationed. I had to put myself in the mindset of the characters – What kinds of words were dangerous? What kinds of words weren’t permitted in this world? But then there’s also one character who speaks in monologues. Her sentences don’t always make sense in terms of a “logical” progression, but the cadence of her speech required another kind of rationing. The play is pretty spare and that’s my aesthetic preference. I’m attracted to a rhythm of words – I don’t like excess fat.
You’re part of Rude Mechs, which I’m not familiar with (because they’re based in Austin Texas), but they look like they have a comedic drive behind their work. Are there elements of comedy in The Realm?
SM: I wouldn’t call Rude Mechs driven by comedy exactly. Get Your War On and The Method Gun, which is going to Humana this year, definitely have comedic elements but are more complicated than anything which you would call comedy. For my own training, I was in Chicago where comedy is HUGE. I didn’t do improv as such, but Viola Spolin, who is the great grandmother of improv had exercises that fueled my acting education. I’m sure that informed my comedic sensibility in some way. All of my work may not be comedy but it has an element of comedy in it. A play that I wrote, God of the Gaps, is wacky. It’s full of base humor and is more of a tragicomedy. I don’t like that term, but that’s the best thing you could call it. All of my plays are very different style-wise but they all have that mix of comedy and drama in common.
I usually leave my last question as a throw of the dice ”anything goes” type question where the interviewee can talk about anything they’d like. However, in doing my research on you I found that you were involved with something called Grrl Action and it’s something I’d really like our readers to know more about. So, if I can hijack your last open mic question … can you tell us more about Grrl Action?
SM: Of course! Grrl Action is a really amazing program. When I first came on to work with Grrl Action it was a summer camp/workshop. It was a permanent fixture of Rude Mechs but was just during the summer. I started working for them in an admin capacity but then I began co-running/teaching the program with Carrie Fountain. The 2 of us co-taught the summer program for teen girls. Then, we expanded into a year-round program where girls could create their own artistic projects. We paired them up with their own mentors in different disciplines. We paired one girl up with a documentary film maker, we have girls who do poetry, and bookbinding. We applied for a grant through Impact Austin, an organization made up of hundreds of women who pool their money and give $100,000 grants to local nonprofit organizations. We were the first arts organization to get one!
Today I keep in contact with girls I was working with. I wrote my whole Ph.D. dissertation on Grrl Action: how girls use the program as a framework to try out different identities, and how girls on stage now allow women in the audience to look back on their own girlhoods. The most amazing thing is the girls who keep in contact with me. At this point they’re in college! Grrl Action draws girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and it’s a really rewarding experience for one girl to meet another a girl across town who she wouldn’t normally come in contact with.
That sounds absolutely amazing!
SM: You can check out ViBe Theater Experience, which is doing some really interesting work in New York that’s similar to Grrl Action.
I definitely will, thanks for the tip! And thanks so much for taking time to tell us all about The Realm. I can’t wait to come see it.
For more information about The Realm you can read my review which will be coming up in the next few weeks.