Coming Soon to LSTFI
Co-directors Sam Barkley & Theresa Burns chat with Will & Simone about their journey throughout the process of Spring Awakening and how to keep actors safe in the rehearsal room. NYU Tisch students Jeff Lawless and Camden Espino join to share their story from an actor’s point of view.
Spring Awakening for Today’s Audience
Set in 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening centers around a group of adolescents in the throes of discovering themselves and their budding sexuality. The production opens to find Wendla, an innocent but curious girl, questioning her mother about where babies come from – questions which go unanswered. Meanwhile, Melchior – an intelligent and radical boy – seeks to teach his peers about sexuality and intimacy from the books he’s read in secret.
Commenting on the parallels between Spring Awakening and the present, Sam notes, “it’s not too much of a lift, really, in getting people to understand the same ways that we are repressing very natural curiosities of teenagers today.” Theresa adds, “the plot of our show doesn’t happen, for the most part, if information is freely shared. And that’s something we deal with today: abstinence-only education, the refusal to share information.”
Dealing with Intense Material
Spring Awakening is rife with heavy, often dark subject matter. The play features explicit intercourse and male masturbation, and deals with topics ranging from domestic abuse and sexual assault to incest. As such, Sam stresses the importance of creating a safe rehearsal space and dealing with the material with a great deal of sensitivity. Sam would work with actors individually to establish “no fly zones” and boundaries without the pressure of other members of the cast and team in the room.
Sam explains that, too often, actors are expected to improvise or “feel out” scenes involving intimacy, even assault. By staging these scenes slowly, in a choreographed manner, with only the actors involved, he sought to make the actors as comfortable as possible. Theresa recalls the commitment they made before rehearsals began: “We’re not having a rehearsal room in which our actors feel powerless or coerced.”
Sam and Theresa’s approach to blocking and intimacy direction is designed to empower the actor. By creating such a environment, the actors are given the power to speak up when they aren’t comfortable with a piece of direction or moment in the script. Sam explains:
“If an actor says to me, ‘I’m not comfortable kissing my scene partner’ it is my responsibility as a director and as an intimacy choreographer to say, ‘Okay. Thank you for letting me know.’ Now we’re still going to tell the story [but] we’re going to find a different way to do it. Can we go with a kiss on the forehead, perhaps? Can we have a very intimate moment of nuzzling?”Sam Barkley, director
Jeff tells us that this approach was, in fact, successful. He explains how he always felt safe in the room – and was always prepared for what to expect in any given rehearsal. Camden adds, “we’ve been blessed to have such accommodating directors that really care about what we have to say about the piece and what we are trying to say in our performances.”
Working for Longevity
“This career is a marathon. It’s not a sprint and your body is your job.”Theresa Burns, director
Creating a safe environment for the actor is not only important for the project at hand, but for the long-haul. Theresa explains how an actor who has felt powerless or coerced in a rehearsal space before is likely to enter their next production with more hesitancy. Simone concludes, “you want to have that positive experience in this project so that in your next project you can bring a positivity and an openness and ableness to continue.”
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Will Brockman: Oh daddy!
Simone Elhart: Will…
Will: Simone Elhart.
Simone: Hey there Will.
Will: You are here!
Simone: I am here.
Will: And what are you doing here?
Simone: I’m here to help you host this episode!
Will: You’re here to help me host… more episodes than just this one.
Simone: Yeah, I kind of fell in love with both Strasberg and you and this podcast. Have been since basically the beginning.
Will: But now it’s official.
Simone: Yeah! I’m excited, I’m here and we’re going to do a lot of interviews together.
Will: Yeah! So, for those of you who have maybe missed Simone, she has been on several episodes before. She’s been a repeat guest and we’ve just liked her so much that we-
Simone: Here I am!
Will: Yeah! You want to just remind the viewers who you are for half a second?
Simone: Yeah. So I’m in my second semester senior year at NYU. I did my primary here at Strasberg as well as a third year in both APT and the Practicum program. So I spent three years training here behind the Red Doors. I kind of left for a semester to learn about screen acting but then missed it so much that I came back! So I’ve been working here and yeah. Will is like one of my best friends so-
Will: And you’re one of my best friends!
Simone: I know, right?
Will: Yeah, fun!
Simone: So we just decided, you know, “let’s work together!”
Simone: So yeah, I’ve kind of been working for Strasberg and training here because Strasberg is like my lifeblood so… yeah, here I am.
Will: Well, that’s very exciting and I’m very happy to have you here.
Simone: I’m very excited to be here.
Will: So I would just love to do a quick catch up with what’s going on in your week so far.
Simone: My week, oh my gosh! It’s been a pretty relaxed week, I’ve been watching a lot of Chef’s Table on Netflix.
Will: Ooh! I’ve actually never seen Chef’s Table. I know what it is, I just never seen it.
Simone: It’s so good! That and Tandem with Anthony Bourdain’s-
Will: I love Anthony Bourdain. We talked about this.
Simone: Yes. Because I am really interested in educating myself more on other cultures of the world because I just find it so interesting and I want to travel and see it all but while I’m saving up money to travel and see it all, I just listen to Anthony Bourdain tell me about it all.
Will: See it all through the screen, yeah.
Simone: So that’s kinda been my life lately.
Simone: What about you?
Will: I’ve just been in rehearsal for Curious George.
Simone: Will’s in an equity show because he’s a big boy now!
Will: I am a professional actor, ladies.
Simone: I love it.
Will: And yeah, that’s taking up a lot of my day. I am, you know, doing the same – I’m substitute teaching, doing my best.
Simone: We’re doing the artist thing.
Will: We’re doing the artist thing. I’ve been… still writing some songs.
Simone: Yeah, check them out on Soundcloud.
Will: We’ll link below.
Will: And before this episode, Simone and I had a very intellectual discussion.
Simone: Yeah this morning we talked a lot about like European culture and-
Simone: A lot of things. I learned a lot this morning.
Simone: I learned a lot this morning about-
Simone: Yeah! Croissants and this Sociopolitics of Europe and the Middle East.
Will: Yeah. We’ve definitely covered a lot in the hour before our guest showed up,
Simone: And I think you know it really angeled-
Will: Set the tone for a very intellectual day.
Simone: Yeah, very exploratory, like interested in the way we relate to each other.
Will: Yeah. It definitely was a day for multisyllabic words.
Simone: Yeah. For sure.
Will: And I’m going to use some monosyllabic words.
Will: We’ll be right back.
Simone: Registration for the Young Actors Program at Strasberg is now open. Applications are due March 9th for the Spring Semester. Email [email protected] for more information today.
Will: Simone Elhart.
Simone: Hi, Will.
Will: We’re joined by some familiar faces today.
Simone: Oh yeah.
Will: Who we both worked with before.
Simone: Some of our favorites.
Will: Some of our favorite people.
Simone: Oh yeah.
Will: Ever. Sam Barkley and Theresa Burns.
Theresa Burns: Heyyy.
Sam Barkley: Hey.
Will: How are you guys?
Theresa: We’re great.
Sam: Excellent, yeah. Right in the middle of cue to cue so you caught us on one of our best days. Yeah.
Will: Cue to cues are generally some of my favorite rehearsals cause I feel like as an actor I have like very little responsibility- I know I have responsibilities, believe me I have responsibilities! Let’s not get that twisted but it’s not that hard to be an actor in cue to cue. It’s not that hard.
Simone: It’s in fact the easiest type.
Will: Yeah, it’s really kind of fun.
Simone: All you must do is stand and do what you’ve been practicing for about four weeks.
Will: I feel like for an actor as of during a cue to cue, as long as you’re okay with people having mental breakdowns around you and you don’t absorb their energy, you’re fine.
Simone: I was going to say if you put up a little protection.
Theresa: Yeah there’s the thing. That’s the thing.
Will: As long as you are safe, nothing else matters.
Theresa: Yeah, you just have to be okay with marinating in anxiety. Like you’re not anxious as the actor necessarily but, if you absorb people’s energies, you’re going to be like shamwowing a lot of anxiety and that’s not great so you need to turn off your shamwow and just be protected.
Will: My montra during tech is always “Well, I know my track.” I can’t do anything else! Besides that. So, yeah.
Simone: So in explanation as why we are talking about cue to cue is these two lovely people are in the middle of a production of “Spring Awakening” that we are putting up here at Strasberg. And so we have kind of brought them on today because we wanted to hear more about the process because we have been in shows with them before and we’re really excited to be able to be in the audience this time and to witness the greatness from the other side. So we kind of brought them in today to talk about that show.
Sam: Thank you very much for that you guys.
Theresa: Appreciate it.
Simone: So do we want to start just by having you guys kind of give a little spiel? I know, Theresa, we’ve had you on before but I think it’d be nice to give kind of a spiel about yourself as an artist/person so that our listeners can kind of get an idea of who you are before we begin talking about the show.
Sam: Yes of course. Would you like to refresh them, Theresa?
Theresa: Sure. Here’s the sparknotes version. My name is Theresa Burns. I am a director choreographer, about half the time. And I’m a performer the other half of the time. So, you know, proud member [of the] Stage Director and Choreographers Union. Proud member [of the] Actors Equity Association. I am from Brooklyn, New York and interestingly Strasberg was my first choreography gig at a school. They were my first choreography job, I choreographed “Kiss Me Kate” here and they’ve been consistently employing me and being really wonderful to me since. And this is… I’ve directed and choreographed a bunch outside of Strasberg before but this is actually my first production within Strasberg that I am one of the directors as well as the choreographer.
Sam: And I am Sam Barkley. I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana and I’ve been in New York for a few years now. I direct, I do fight choreography, act, write, I’ve stage managed both of you guys.
Sam: I will do anything to get into a rehearsal room. I’ll do any job in theatre, although I love directing and this is definitely the thing that I’m leaning into right now. Yeah, let’s see – Strasberg was the first theatre gig I had in New York. A few months after I moved here, Rob Heller – who had been directing the shows and musicals rather here in Strasberg – brought me on as his assistant and then stage manager and fight choreographer and just kept adding on.
Simone: Adding titles!
Sam: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, I’ve been assisting Rob for the past couple of years and then, rather serendipitously, when he decided to just stay in Philly and focus on his life and his work there, he recommended to the powers that be at Strasberg that I step into the role. And they very generously offered the co-directing spot with Theresa, which was awesome because we’ve worked together in the past couple of years and in her choreography which has featured a lot of stage violence… There’s been a nice dovetail relationship there in that collaboration which has been unbelievably useful. I mean, you know, two people sharing the powers in the same job could be a total nightmare and I know I just had a lot of “Oh my God, who’s going to be stepping on whose toes? How is this going to go?” It has been so smooth and I promise this is not the PR front – Well and truly, this has been incredibly collaborative and you know-
Simone: Well and I can even say from working with you guys… I remember being like “Oh I feel like they’re communicating well.” Cause I think it’s easy in a production where there is stage combat and dance and you know, lights, songs and – it’s all hard to make it all come together. And when I was working with you guys, I always felt like it was a thing where, “Oh, you can tell these people communicate with each other cause everything works!’
Will: Cause it’s like an ego thing. If you walk into a room being like, “I have to show my directorial skills and I have to show my choreographing skills” then you’re never going to produce a good product and that’s never the vibe that I have ever gotten from either of you.
Theresa: Thank you!
Will: You’re welcome!
Theresa: Appreciate you!
Will: So you’re going to, by nature of not walking in with your own interests first, be able to create a collaborative project. I was having this conversation with my voice teacher yesterday in that some people just aren’t built for the collaborative arts.
Will: And I think that’s a lesson that – I’m not calling anyone out, this isn’t shade! I’m not shading anyone! But there’s just some people that aren’t built for the collaborative arts and I think that’s a really interesting thing to think about.
Theresa: It’s true.
Will: Cause you have to learn how to be a really good collaborator, I think, when you’re first starting out in theatre and then as time goes on hopefully it becomes a virtue in habit. But it’s not something everyone possesses.
Theresa: Yeah, it was an interesting… As soon as Strasberg was like, “Okay, you and Sam, are you guys good to co-direct?” and I was actually like, “Okay, with anybody else I would be a little nervous about this human and how our work styles are going to interact” but I distinctly remember our first time collaborating on an actual song in Urinetown. I don’t remember what it was but it was-
Simone: It was probably “Snuff that Girl.”
Theresa: Something like that. You know, every song in “Urinetown” has dancing and a shit ton of stage violence. And I was like, “Okay.” And this was the first time Sam and I had ever worked together on anything, and this was… two years ago?
Sam: (Agrees) Mhm.
Theresa: And as soon as we started I was like, “Oh no, cool, cool, cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool. This is great.” Me and Sam work really well together so part of my brain as we were going into Spring Awakening was like “Ooh you know, co-directing. It could be really… it could be a dicey situation.” But then I was like, “But it’s also Sam. So it’s probably going to be okay!” But then I was like, “But what if our great relationship, this great collaborative relationship that we have, gets messed up because this is our first time co-directing”. Thankfully it’s been great and we have very similar concerns and anxieties about a lot of things.
Theresa: From the get go, as soon as Sam sent a text message saying, “Hey, can we have a meeting where we definitively divide the labor and say what we are both going to work on, what I’m going to work on, what you’re going to work on?” My brain was like, “I was 15 seconds away from sending you the exact same text!” So it’s been a good collaboration in that way. Yeah.
Simone: That’s awesome. So, speaking of collaboration, how did you work with Strasberg to decide the show? Because we kind of talked about how Spring Awakening – for you, Theresa – is a very important show and you love the show. Did you suggest it to Strasberg or did Strasberg suggest it to you?
Sam: It was a bit of a ride. A twisting path to get to Spring Awakening.
Theresa: It was a journey. ‘Twas a journey.
Sam: Correct me if I’m wrong, this is the… 50th anniversary this year?
Will: It is.
Simone: Yeah, it’s the 50th anniversary here.
Sam: So, there were very grand ambitions. In fact after Parade last year, I remember… I think Victoria said to Rob, or maybe it was Bruce, “Can we do this again next year?”
Will: Yeah, I remember that! I remember that!
Sam: Which is very flattering to restage. However, clearly not in the best interest of the students in terms of getting, you know, new opportunities to work on new shows.
Simone: And a lot of students were graduating.
Sam: Exactly! Yeah, lots of stuff. So, they had a lot of ideas for what this 50th anniversary show could be. And, you know, it is a fickle world, licensing in the theatre…
Will: Oh, yeah.
Sam: So there were several hurdles to get over and they had to go through several titles before we eventually righted Spring Awakening and it was pretty late in the game. We knew what we were directing, what… two weeks before we auditioned?
Theresa: Yup, that’s correct.
Sam: So we were really down to the wire on that, you know, getting the okay. We finally got rights to this and – there were a few other titles that were still being considered and, as soon as we got the rights to this, Bruce texted both of us and was like, “Are we cool with Spring Awakening?” And we said yes! Please, please!
Theresa: Give us the show!
Sam: Let’s do Spring Awakening! That’s great and now we know what we’re doing and we can start to prep for it.
Simone: Which I feel like, for people who don’t know the show… Spring Awakening does have a very young skewing cast, which is also very helpful here at the Institute.
Will: That, I think, is such an important thing because I worked on a lot of older people when I was- Not just, yes in your shows, but also in other shows-
Will: And it’s a very weird thing now to be in the real world being like, “Oh I can’t play a forty year-old dad?” Cause that’s not anything anyone’s going to cast me as! So I think that’s a really great opportunity for the kids that are – the kids. The young adults! The kids that are 2 years younger than me! – in your show right now, to be able to play people their age or somewhere around that.
Theresa: To have age appropriate roles on their resumes before they graduate.
Will: Yeah, totally!
Sam: Absolutely. And the enthusiasm of the students who came in to audition was so palpable, that everyone was really hungry for the show, and that absolutely translated once we got into rehearsals. Everybody was just so into their tracks and into the world we were creating. And, you know, you can get students who are enthusiastic to buy into whatever show you’re doing. But Parade is a harder lift because it’s like, “Here’s something from 110 years ago” And, you know, how much table work did we have to do of like, “Who are these people?”
Will: A lot of table work.
Sam: Exactly. Hours and hours.
Will: It was genuinely one of the most interesting rehearsal processes I ever been a part of, because I felt like I learned so much. And because it was such a monumental show that I think a lot of people forget about. It was one the most valuable experiences I took away from my undergrad, but I understand what you’re saying. It’s a very different rehearsal process than you’re definitely being a part of now.
Sam: Definitely. [With] Spring Awakening, people come in and they’re like “Great! I’m here!”
Theresa: That’s exactly correct. It was lucky on my end that, you know, Spring Awakening came out the very beginning of my freshman year at NYU. One of my freshman advisors was, you know, one of the professors I think of the costume designer or something. So, I actually got to see the final dress rehearsal of Spring Awakening before the first preview happened and I had no idea what I was in for. It was just an 18 year-old Theresa being like, “Yeah, I would go see a free thing. Cool, cool, cool.” And I sat in that theatre watching it and I remember intermission hit and I just sat there for 15 minutes being like “WHAAAT DID I JUST SEE!?” and I went back to see it 5 times?
Will: Were you seeing when it- cause it started at Atlantic right? Or you saw it on Broadway?
Theresa: Broadway! Final dress rehearsal on Broadway.
Will: Got it.
Theresa: Yeah. And the energy in that audience after they took their final bow… Like, the cast exited and then the conductor had to call and tell them, “No, you need to come back on stage and bow again cause they’re still standing and they’re not leaving.” It was- and ,you know, we had a lot of very monumental, game changing Broadway shows since then. But, you know, in 2006, this was for me… Having so much rock music on stage. I’d never seen the dichotomy, I’d never seen a pairing of text from a hundred years ago and a setting from a hundred years ago being brought up to the present in music.
And, you know, now we have “Hamilton” which is… you know, that kind trope has been used a good amount since – and probably before and I just didn’t know it – but that blew my mind and then the choreography blew my mind! Every Broadway show I had seen before then was very, you know, theatre dance. Which I love! I love me some theatre dance. You know, I saw a lot of Kiss Me Kate, those… 42nd Street, those kinds of shows and I adored those shows and so to see Bill T. Jones’s original choreography, which was very gesture based and dancing without being dancy? If that makes sense?
Simone: So more like pedestrian skewing like-
Theresa: Yeah, it was- oh god. It was absolutely- it was so clear [that] it was absolutely choreographed. It was devised in a very different way than I have ever seen and it really just broke ground in my brain on a whole other set of movement that could belong on stage.
Will: Cause I saw the revival that was-
Theresa: With Deaf West?
Will: Yeah, yes, yes, yes.
Theresa: So beautiful.
Will: Which was an amazing production and everything that was happening felt like it was purposeful movement more than it was dance which I think was a really interesting thing to put on stage. And especially the Deaf West production was a very specific production of Spring Awakening where sign language was involved-
Theresa: The sign language was the choreography.
Will: Right, right. Which became a dance in and of itself [so] that you were even… I don’t even understand sign language but it became this beautiful fluid motion of, “Oh I am understanding this story” because you’re telling something through human gesture that just makes logical sense. It was a really- yeah, ‘groundbreaking’ I think is a word often associated with many iterations of this show. Can we just rewind a half a second and can either or both of you give the short sparknotes version of what Spring Awakening is?
Theresa: There’s not a visual medium but I just pointed at Sam!
Sam: Thank you very much for clarifying that. Spring Awakening is a musical that is very book heavy and relies on Frank Vatican’s 1891 play of the similar title Spring’s Awakening. The thing that’s so crucial about this show is that we’re trying to rebel against a social paradigm, if you will, from a hundred and twenty years ago and… it’s not too much of a lift, really, in getting people to understand the same ways that we are repressing very natural curiosities of teenagers today. I mean, I’m from a red state, from Indiana and god knows my sex education class taught by my gym teachers in 7th and 8th grade was deficient.
Simone: I was going to say. Midwest!
Sam: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, to say the least. And the culture surrounding these sorts of issue of sex and masturbation and, if we’re being quite frank, abuse as well. You know, these are very similar and you know the idea that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’ I think it’s so true and in our musical we use song to get there and we use song as it means of liberating the characters from the social repressive apparatuses that are being foisted upon them. And, you know, that’s been the challenge in staging all of this: how can we really unclasp these characters and let them be free on stage, and the choreography has been a huge part of that, absolutely. And the actors have really come in with an idea of what that looks like, which was very helpful. Yeah, that’s the crux of the show really – that dichotomy between the land of song and the land of when we’re just stuck in these chairs and in the same rigid patterns that have been going on for centuries.
Simone: Right. I’m interested in something you kind of touched on. Cause I remember when we worked on Urinetown and it was also a newer-ish released show, but you guys worked a lot with skewing it more towards the current socio-political climate. So, I’m kind of interested in how you, in the process of this show, have… Cause as you were saying, it’s based on a text from a hundred years ago, but I’m kind of interested in how you guys were exploring a more current socio-political climate within the show.
Theresa: Yeah, interestingly, the show kind of does that for us. So, a huge, you know… the plot of our show doesn’t happen, for the most part, if information is freely shared. And that’s something we deal with today: abstinence-only education, the refusal to share information. The refusal to let younger humans know exactly what is happening with their bodies and exactly what they can expect with moving forward and exactly how babies happen. Something so simple is that withholding of information is something we are still absolutely dealing with today. We were talking at dinner a couple of days ago about, you know, what happens when funding is pulled from sexual education and the STI’s that become epidemics and the-
Will: Accidental pregnancies.
Theresa: Accidental pregnancies.
Will: And they don’t know anything about anything.
Theresa: And you know, the plot of our show does not happen without the same withholding of information that we have today. So, between that and the abuse in the show… it does all the work for us. We’re in the middle of one year out – maybe – from when the MeToo movement became vernacular, and the abuse in our show and the way this town has enabled it and has punished anyone who speaks up about it also does the work for us.
Simone: Right. Cause, unfortunately the things that you’re saying very much parallel the conversations that have begun in the entertainment industry as a bubble but also the country as well. And it started in the entertainment industry but I feel like now it’s becoming a conversation in other industries as well, which is very exciting and very good and which is why this show is so poignant right now.
Theresa: It was amazing revisiting it now after, when I had… you know, the last time… you know how you get obsessed with shows and then you get obsessed with a different show. So, I was obsessed with Spring Awakening for a solid two years, like 2006 to 2008. And then, you know, I got obsessed with In The Heights and moved on. And so revisiting Spring Awakening in our current time, I had the thought as we were doing director prep, I was like… Oh this is- we’re not going to have to beat this nail over the head. This is going- this is here and this is ready for us. These issues from 1891, we haven’t progressed all that far from them so, here we are.
Sam: Yeah. Because you bring up the MeToo movement in the way that its entered our vernacular – if I could just talk about for a second how that has affected us on the preparation side?
Simone: We would love to talk about that.
Sam: Yeah, so this play – I’m sure a lot of you who are listening know – features a scene of explicit intercourse as well as a scene of male masturbation. There’s also a song that is very specifically in reference to domestic abuse and sexual assault in incest. So, we’re dealing with some very heavy topics, obviously. And so the way we have gone about preparing to get our actors to that point, and also choreographing these in a way that are repeatable and safe and also tell the story we’re trying to tell, we had to come at this with such a great deal of sensitivity.
I had the great fortune, when I was in college, to work with Adam Noble who is now the head of the grad program at the University of Houston. He is one of the sort of original founding… uh, let me be clear in this, I don’t want to miss credit anybody. He is a very foundational thinker, writer, and choreographer in terms of the way that we do intimacy direction these days. You know, on the Intimacy Directors International website he’s very much… a lot of his resources are listed and are very useful, I would say, for anybody who is taking on a scene in class or in life. Some good, you know, useful guidelines for how to approach this.
And yeah, so we just had to have very specific rehearsals that were like “alright, everybody’s out” – even Bruce, our music director who we love so much, you know. It’s like, nonessential personnel out the building. So we got our gentlemen playing Hanschen and Ernst as well as Vendla and Melchior and the stage manager and myself, and we had a day where I bought in a friend of mine who also studied with the same teacher. We went through the steps that we’ll be going through with each of these pairings of actors and showed them how we’re going to establish our ‘no fly zone’ on our body, how we’re going to get comfortable with each other, and the protocol we’re going to develop because… you know, speaking of so many student actors, I mean how many times are you just thrown into these Acting 1, Acting 2 scenes that are like Fool for Love or Red Light Winter or things that are incredibly heavy, with no supervision and no third party to be watching out for the safety of actors and to be, quite honestly, preventing the emotional trauma that is almost certainly going to happen when you’re just “feeling out” a scene that involves rape or, you know, sexual assault.
So, I feel like we were able to develop a very good repor with the actors. There was a trust established from the very first and, you know… just showing them you’re taking it seriously and it’s not going to be like, “Okay, we’ve got a half an hour. Quick, you guys up. Here let’s run this real quick.” Like, as they’re putting their shoes on.
Sam: But it was absolutely a very big challenge and I’m very glad we addressed it and I feel much stronger having done it on my end but I’ll be interested when you guys talk to- when you talk to Jeff and Camden later to get Jeff’s thoughts on it as he is one the actors in it.
Will: I think that’s a really interesting point because that’s kind of a meta-extension of the show. That in the rehearsal and choreography of it you-
Simone: You’re communicating so much!
Will: That you’re doing the opposite of it. That you’re choosing to have extraordinary knowledge about what’s going on in the rehearsal room and what people are comfortable with and what they’re not comfortable with. That is such an important conversation to be having, because you never know the baggage that someone brings – I don’t want to use baggage – but the background. You never know what someone is okay with, what someone’s not okay with, what trauma someone carries with them. You never know and we’ve lived in a culture that assumes people aren’t as affected by their traumas as perhaps they are. Actually, as they obviously are. And we are, thankfully, finally having a conversation around that that is getting us to a more productive place that, you know, people like you are respectful of and are sensitive to.
Theresa: Cause that was one of the very first conversations. The first, literally the first conversation we had once we had a show was, “Okay. We have a lot of explicit sex and sexual stuff on stage, we need to deal with this in a healthy way. It’s gotta be healthy.” Both Sam and I were like, “We’re not having a rehearsal room in which our actors feel powerless or coerced.” That is absolutely not… you know, the directors build the rehearsal. It’s our room to build safely and that was really, really important to us.
Sam: Yeah. I mean, the biggest thing is this idea that you must be willing to sacrifice all and give all of your body and also your mind as well and your emotional wellbeing to a production or you’re not a good team player. So absurd.
Theresa: So absurd.
Sam: Theatre is about creating in spite of obstacles. Whether the obstacle is your budget or the obstacle is this, that, or the other – or simply the conflict of the scene! The content. It is about overcoming obstacles and if an actor says to me, “I’m not comfortable kissing my scene partner” it is my responsibility as a director and as an intimacy choreographer to say, “Okay. Thank you for letting me know.” Now we’re still going to tell the story and we’re going to find a different way to do it. Can we go with a kiss on the forehead, perhaps? Can we have a very intimate moment of nuzzling?
Will: There are always the alternative.
Sam: And there’s this laziness on the creative side of “it must be this way because I saw it in my head that way.” Would we ever truly settle for that in any other context besides a sexual one?
Theresa: Yeah, strong no.
Simone: I just think it’s really interesting to think about doing this scene work in the context of… it’s almost like the consent workshop. Cause you’re building this set of steps, I guess? To communicate with each other. I can say from experience, even just working with Sam on stage violence with Urinetown, it was very set, you know… “we’re going to run through it slowly and then we’re going to do it this way and before we start every time. We’re going to check in with each other and make sure that everyone’s still comfortable and ready to do it again.” I just remember that- I almost think of it as the scientific method. Like, these set steps of how we’re going to work through that just sets so much safety because you know that there are multiple escape routes where you can say, “Oh, in Step 3 there’s a moment where I can say ‘Oh can I- whoa stop! Can I- can we start again from Step 1 so I can get comfortable again?’”
Will: Cause it was the same thing in the next year when we did Parade, for the final scene where Leo’s hanged, in that you need the very specific step of x, y, z happens until alpha, beta, omega happens and then 1, 2, 3 happens. And none of them happen without each other and if one is missing you stop and go back. And you have to be super sensitive to that.
Theresa: And what’s really amazing is as soon as the team demonstrates that they are taking this very seriously-
Theresa: This is how we’re doing this, we want you to speak up, we never want you to feel unsafe, please do speak up, please do tell us if you feel unsafe, this is how seriously we’re taking it. It’s amazing how much, then, everyone else in the room can relax. Because, if we’re not taking it seriously, then suddenly the actors have to be on the defensive all the time and they have to be in this hypervigilant state to protect themselves. And if we’re like, “No, your safety and wellbeing is so much more important to us than anything,” then you see them exiting the hypervigilant state and they can be safe, healthy artists about the scene we’re doing. Which is what we want.
Will: And I think, thankfully, you have created that rehearsal room where people do feel safe. I wanna just touch on what you’re saying about actors speaking up. Because, unfortunately, actors do often encounter hostile rehearsal rooms.
Theresa: Oh yeah.
Will: And I don’t know if I had a question here, but just like if you have experience with that in speaking up and if that’s something you wanna address?
Simone: I was gonna say. How do you build the language to be able to communicate these issues? Cause I think that’s very challenging…
Sam: Yeah. I mean, God knows HR in the theatre is as difficult – if not more so – than anywhere else because our capital is your body and what you can bring to the room. I think it’s really important to remember that the director is not actually God, most certainly, and that your stage manager is your bodyguard, essentially. The stage manager should always be the person who you’re going to with this. There’s not a single part of this choreography that I didn’t do with Emma – our stage manager, who’s lovely and very diligent and very concerned about safety – with her right at my hip. Every step of the way, when something went off a little bit off, she was letting me know, “Oh hey, just so you know, that was changed a little bit. You might want to address that,” and never jumping in and doing my job for me but pointing out and being another set of eyes.
So, ideally, you always have a stage manager who is concerned first and foremost about safety and the emotional wellbeing of their actors. It’s knowing where the levers get pulled in production. So, if the director is the issue, [then] the stage manager, the producing manager of the show, you know… You must simply go higher and you just gotta phrase it in a way of, “I cannot do the work I was hired to do with the way that things are currently going.” And again, that’s not being difficult. That is stating what you need and then that’s simply an obstacle to work around, over, and through.
Theresa: And I think it’s significant that both Sam and I are also actors.
Theresa: And so, I don’t want to speak for both of us, but I know I’ve absolutely been in a rehearsal room where the creative team doesn’t want to hear it, if you’re having trouble with something or if you’re, you know, if something isn’t safe. They’re just like not having it. And I’ve also been in a rehearsal room where the creative team absolutely wants to know, and you can absolutely speak up. So I think that also has informed me as a director. You sit through both and you’re like, “Okay, well now that I’m the director, what room do I want to build?” and you bring that forward with you in rooms in which I’ve been an actor and the team has not wanted to hear it.
Honestly, this career is a marathon, it’s not a sprint and your body is your job. When I was, you know, seven years ago, ten years ago, when I was first getting acting jobs it was so, “OMG I finally have an acting job! I’m finally a working actor!” That can skew your priorities [to where] just having a job can seem like the most important thing – and it isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is that you can go on to do another job after this job. So for me, when I’m in a rehearsal room, I have to regularly remind myself of that. I have to regularly be like, “Theresa, you’ve been injured before. Like ten months of recovery kind of injured. Do you want that again? Or do you want to speak up about this six week long gig that could cause a ten month long recovery and do you just want to say something? Is this six week gig really worth a ten month recovery?” and the answer is always no, it’s not.
So, reminding yourself of your priorities regularly and then respectfully saying, “Hi, here is this need I have that deals with safety and I’ve been trying to do it your way and it has not been working out safely for me. I cannot continue on this path.” If you’re presenting that respectfully, and being very clear that this is a direct safety concern, if that team is still isn’t having it then maybe this isn’t a show you want to be in. Honestly.
Sam: It’s part of the really hard work I think for actors and anybody who’s involved in the creative process in theatre to… this is work you have to do before you enter the room. [Asking yourself,] “What am I comfortable with? Where are my boundaries? What are the things I need to watch out for?”. And, to be very open and very frank, I encountered something that I was not prepared for in this process when we were staging the penultimate scene in the graveyard. Melchior is preparing to also commit suicide, before the intervention – sorry, spoilers! Before the intervention of his deceased friends, Moritz and Wendla.
Theresa: More spoilers…
Sam: Uh, yeah. When we were staging that, I was caught completely off guard by a very, very visceral emotional response to walking our actor through this process of, “Okay, this is it. I’m now going to take my own life because I can’t do it anymore.” And very fortunately, Theresa – being the lovely collaborator that she is – once she saw me starting to flag a little bit on it, stepped right in, right into the breach, and let me deal with what I needed to deal with. But I can’t remember the last time that happened to me in the process. Where I just, out of nowhere, [was] going through blocking and talking to an actor, and then couldn’t do what I needed to do. And very fortunately, [I] had a good support system there in the room to just continue with the work and let me get through what I needed to, but that’s something that I know going forward. I need to be aware of, before I work on material like this again. So, this is just part of the very difficult emotional labor that you must do on your own and that’s kind of the hardest thing-
Simone: As an artist.
Sam: It’s easy to get into a rehearsal space – and God knows I’m the worst about this – say, “This is my space and my time and now I’m here doing it!” Like no, you have to do that at home too.
Simone: And I think it’s so important too… I feel like these… I feel very excited about these young actors being in a rehearsal process where they’re being taught how to communicate these things. Because I do think it’s rare to have… cause although the show is very much like a show, I do think it’s important in this educational setting to have this sort of workshop and [learn] how do you communicate that this content that we’re doing is hard for me. And so I think I feel very encouraged that these actors are learning that in a process.
Will: And I think having both of you guys here to explain the very detailed nature in which you took the seriousness of that rehearsal process was something that’s super, super important for people to understand. Because, hopefully, other people who maybe want to be directors or on a creative team will remember how important it is to take in other people’s sensitivities into their own rehearsal processes. Well, thank you for being here, guys.
Theresa: Thank you!
Sam: Thank you so much truly.
Theresa: Any time guys.
Will: We’ll be right back.
Announcement: Strasberg’s Spring Musical “Spring Awakening” directed by Theresa Burns and Sam Barkley with music direction by Bruce Bomer, this collaboration between NYU and Institute students runs from March 6th to 9th. Tickets will be available soon on Eventbrite. Stay on the lookout.
Simone: And we’re back!
Will: Hi, Simone.
Simone: Hi, Will! Now we’re joined by two members of the cast of Spring Awakening, so more on the performance artist track of the show. We have Jeff Lawless and Camden Espino with us here.
Simone: We’re excited to hear about the other side of the production! So, hi guys!
Jeff Lawless: Howdy!
Camden Espino: Hello!
Will: Before we dive into production, I just want to get to know you guys a little better. I want to know what’re you about? How’d you get to Strasberg? What’s going on?
Simone: Where’re you from??
Camden: You take this one!
Jeff: I’ll take this one, being a non-Strasberian to start. Hi everybody, my name is Jeff Lawless and I am a junior here at NYU. I actually started at Tisch in Playwrights Horizons Theatre School. It was great, it was great, but I wanted something different and so I came here. This is my third year and this is my second semester of third year. Spring Awakening has always been a show that I wanted to be a part of and so this was an amazing opportunity and here we are. And more things about me? I’m tall? You can’t see that right now, but I am six foot two but Camden is taller than me… and in my free time, I have a Spider-Man suit and I used to work- my job in high school was dressing up as Spider-Man at little kids parties so…
Simone: Do you still continue that here in New York or?
Jeff: I wish! It’s more dangerous here cause like- I’m also really busy with Spring Awakening.
Will: Postgrad. For postgrad
Simone: I was going to say what a way to make money for postgrad!
Jeff: Exactly, exactly. A little side hustle.
Simone: I love that! That was a good intro like a little thing about you! I feel like we know you better!
Camden: Uh, yeah! I’m Camden Espino. I’m a sophomore here in NYU. I’m in my second year here at Strasberg and… Oh gosh, what about me? Well, I was born and raised in Southern California so I’ve definitely got that affect on me.
Simone: I was going to say both of you are from Southern California?
Jeff: We’re both from Southern California!
Will: Wearing some very vibrant colors in the studio! Southern California has much to do!
Simone: Of course!
Camden: Absolutely, with our short sleeve button down shirts. Which, you know, you can’t see but they’re very becoming on us.
Will: And it’s thirty degrees!
Simone: It is thirty degrees!
Camden: You know, the wave of 405 and the 101, you can’t really-
Simone: You can’t shake that off?
Camden: You can’t shake that. You can’t let off your vibe, as it were.
Simone: I love it! Two Southern Californians.
Camden: There you go.
Simone: A man from New Jersey and a woman from Michigan. Here we are.
Will: Just doing our best! So, I would love to dive into the show a little bit. So, can you guys talk about the characters that you’re playing?
Simone: Yeah, can you give us a description of them for our listeners who maybe don’t know the show.
Jeff: Yeah, so I play Melchior Gabor. He is a teenager in school in Germany in the 1800s – that’s the setting on the show, I just gave you more information-
Simone: That’s great.
Will: Script analysis.
Jeff: He’s kind of one to question authority and question the way things are taught in that period of time. And he’s always, always on the lookout for answers to life. He’s really philosophical and I feel like he kind of also has this false sense of confidence. Cause he has this leadership quality among the boys when, really, he’s just as qualified as everybody else in school. Just because he’s “smarter” – in air quotes – he thinks… he has this air about him. But the show really breaks him down and cuts to his core and makes him realize things that he didn’t know and probably didn’t realize were so life wrenching, I guess. So, yeah.
Simone: Great! Camden how about you?
Camden: I’m playing Moritz and he is Melchior’s best friend here at the school. Moritz is just a very kind of neurotic and nervous kid, and he has a lot of fears about adolescence and his sort of sexual desires that he can’t really put into words or understand. And that freaks him out, you know, because in that sort of society there isn’t really a support structure for teens who are trying to discover themselves. And so that’s really what he struggles with a lot of times. I feel like Moritz does show a lot of potential as growing as a man that is kind of squandered because he doesn’t have the best sort of support that I feel like we are trying to improve with every year.
Simone: Yeah, I like it.
Jeff: Moritz Stiefel.
Camden: Moritz Stiefel.
Simone: So we kind of talked to Sam and Theresa about their process preparing for the show. So I’m curious – how familiar were you guys with this show before auditioning?
Jeff: I’ve always heard… when I was in high school everyone was talking about Spring Awakening. It was like coming out in like 2007? 2006? And everybody was- it was a huge hit. So all my theatre friends were like, “Spring Awakening this! Spring Awakening that!” and I had never seen it until – I think it was right after senior year of high school. I saw a production of it and I’m like, “This thing is so beautiful! I can see why everyone’s talking about it!” and I knew from the start I’m like, “Melchior is one of my dream roles. He’s like top five dream roles!” and so, yeah. I had a knowledge of the show beforehand I just didn’t- I never been in it, so.
Simone: So this is your first time ever embodying the role.
Jeff: Yes! Yes.
Simone: That’s amazing.
Will: And how have you approached building a character? Because I’d be interested in kind of knowing – because you’ve had training in two different studios now – the tools you have taken with you and the way you kind of get inside the mindset of that character.
Jeff: I feel like Strasberg has done most of my training. [It’s] done most of the heavy training when it came to it. Cause Playwrights was totally different. It was a lot different from what you guys are doing here and so on. I feel like my characterization is primarily Strasberg training and it’s really cool because it’s my first time being able to apply these skills in a production, so.
Simone: That’s really cool. What about you Camden? What was your experience with the show or background with the show?
Camden: I didn’t know too much about the show going into it. I heard a couple songs before. If you don’t know this score of Spring Awakening, it’s all very metaphorical and very kind of impressionist, in that sense. The lyrics aren’t really tied to the distinct plot point, it’s all very kind of out there. So, I didn’t really get a grasp [of the show] just from listening to the cast album. But after, you know, finding out more about the show and this process, it’s really coming to be a- you know, I’m finding out how sort of revolutionary it was when it came out on Broadway. Just the sort of idea of an impressionist musical theatre piece being so mainstream.
And my Strasberg training, to get prepared for Moritz, I think really helped a lot. Because, you know, growing up in high school musical theatre, it’s all about “just as long as you get where you’re going and you sing your notes then your friends and family will enjoy it”. And now we’re getting into more of the sort of “well how do we find our deeper truths in these characters?” And I really appreciate the training that I’ve had here to kind of delve deeper not only into Moritz as a character but actually taking a look back at my own life and see where, you know, Moritz and I are maybe more similar than we like to admit to maybe our friends and our family.
Camden: And to be able to be vulnerable on stage was something that I took really greatly from Strasberg and that’s- I hope that shows on the stage, in the run.
Simone: Yeah, I find it really interesting that both of you come from very different angles from the show, where you [Camden] weren’t familiar or hadn’t seen it and you [Jeff] had seen it, heard it and talked about. I think it’s very interesting to- cause I’m sure the cast probably has a similar… where some were very familiar with the show and [other] people weren’t very familiar with the show. I think that’s very interesting in building a world around that.
Will: And one thing that I kind of want to dive into the world and here from you guys, that we were talking with Sam and Theresa about, is being young actors playing characters that are completely age appropriate for you? Because that’s not something you get to do all the time in undergrad. Like I was saying, I’ve played a lot of dads and that’s not something that anyones going to cast me as in the real world. So, I would love to hear from you guys if that’s been something that’s been important to you: having, you know, credit on your resume that’s age appropriate.
Camden: I have been the biggest guy in the cast for all my years in working in theatre, so I’ve always been dads. You know, I was Tevya in my senior year of high school.
Camden: So, yeah. You’ll always have that sort of… you know, when everyone’s always the same age on stage, if you’re bigger [then] you’re older. It feels really nice to just sort of play – even though I am six foot four, you know, two-hundred pounds – I can still play a sort of teen. Because I never really did get to do a sort of young role growing up and I feel that I can actually reach more into my actual sort of self to get that. Cause, you know, you play a lot of dad affects when you play dads of course. You know, the sort of idea of a dad-
Will: But you don’t know what it’s like.
Camden: But you don’t really know, exactly. But now I can actually root it in true, you know, experience. I feel a lot more connected to Moritz than I have with other characters, I’d say, definitely.
Simone: It’s an exciting experience to be able to really connect with a character and find yourself in… kind of like what you were saying earlier – finding aspects of yourself that are more similar to the character than you maybe, on first read, [realized]. But, as you get more into it, realizing how-
Will: Aligned you are.
Simone: Yeah, and how humanity connects itself and how people are so similar. I love that. Love it! We kind of talked to Sam and Theresa about the fact that this show does deal with a lot of-
Simone: Very sensitive, intimate topics. Whether that be the sexual nature of the content or the violent nature of the content. So I think we’d just be interested to hear from you about your experience rehearsing that kind of material and yeah.
Will: Going to the rehearsal room having to deal with those kinds of subjects.
Jeff: Yeah. I believe Sam refers to it as “heightened physicality” and that just covers an umbrella term for the sexual content and the stage combat. I’ve been in shows that have dealt with both of those but this one… I guess those shows, being from Playwrights, were more student produced shows and they tried to be professional as possible and it was great and they did do a good job with handling that.
But being with Sam, who’s trained in working with this kind of material, was so helpful. We even had a little meeting a week prior to our first heightened physicality rehearsal where he just spoke about what we’re going to be doing and how we’re going to approach the material in the room and what to say. It just made me feel very comfortable, really safe. It made me have a better idea of what we’re going to be doing with it, going into it. I think what we’ve done is- I don’t want to spoil anything, but I feel like Spring Awakening is just so… When I tell my friends about it they’re like, “Oh, that’s the one with sex scene, right!?” and I feel like people remember it a lot just because of that one scene because it’s so starkly different than what you usually see on a Broadway stage and-
Simone: I was going to say. It’s commonly referred to as the show that’s about sex, you know what I mean?
Jeff: Exactly. But it’s about so much more than just that. It’s about relationships between parents and friends and significant others, and the sex is a part of it but it’s not as big a part as people make it seem to be. And so what Sam and Theresa have done is, kind of, made those scenes less risqué as prior productions have been.
Jeff: We’re not like- there’s no nudity in this production, which I think is awesome because that’s what people are going to remember. They’re going to be like, “Oh, yeah then there’s the nude scene” because it just makes people’s attention go to that. And the fact [is] that the show doesn’t need that and can still capture the same message [without nudity]. Sam and Theresa’s work is angled towards capturing that message in the story. I think that’s important. I think that’s really, really important. And it’s still there – we’re not changing anything. It’s just maybe less than what people might expect.
Will: You’re telling the story in a different manner.
Simone: We kind of talked with [Sam and Theresa] about, you know, the [different] creative angles [from which] you can tell the same story. Because we’re talking about, you know, if-
Will: There’s always an alternate when someone’s uncomfortable.
Simone: Right! They talked about how if someone doesn’t really want to kiss their scene partner, there’s ways that you can portray that emotion creatively without actually having to have people touch lips. You know, there’s so many ways you can approach that. And so I think it’s interesting to hear you point that out as well, because I do think it is important to… There’s ways to communicate that kind of connection without having to have nudity for the sake of nudity. Not that I’m not saying [in] the original production that’s the way that they did it, but there’s so many ways you can approach it that make it just as meaningful without having to-
Will: Well, because there’s a different show for a different setting.
Will: The show reinvents itself and recontextualizes itself – any show – at any time where it’s performed somewhere else. It becomes this specific cast doing this specific production with this specific creative team at this specific venue. And then you have to mine it to understand, how are we going to tell this story? You know, it’s the same story told through a different mode. That’s, I think, one of the most interesting things about theatre: that there always is a different mode to tell the story in. Something that Sam said that I thought was so brilliant is that “theatre is the creation of a story in spite of your obstacles”.
Will: Which is so interesting cause there’s always obstacles and there’s always-
Simone: Sam and Theresa are the best! Sam and Theresa blew our minds multiple times this morning.
Will: Yeah, there’s always an outline of what’s going on – and maybe you can’t color outside the lines – but how are you going to imbue the inside of your lines with as much humanity as possible. That I think is the challenge of the actor and the creative team.
Jeff: They were really good about that. That was the first thing we did. We delineated what were our ‘no fly zones’ and then [Sam] was like, “Okay. I’m going to choreograph something around that”. Because there are certain things that are stated in the script that we’re not necessarily following in some regards and he’s like, “Okay, we’ll work around that. We’ll do something else that will tell the same- give the same idea”. He was just so brilliant with those rehearsals and I felt really safe the entire time. So, it’s been a really good process.
Simone: That makes me very excited to hear. Theresa kind of touched on this this morning, about how you want to be able to do this project and then not be afraid to approach another project. You know, you want to have that positive experience in this project so that your next project you can bring a positivity and an openness and ableness to continue. Because I think if you do – you know, if anything were to happen – God forbid – that this production that made you more hesitant to approach characters. Kind of what Camden was saying earlier about being sensitive and open to material – it also requires a certain level of safety in the room to allow yourself to be that open.
Camden: And I think that sort of working with Sam and Theresa- their sort of collaborative nature of treating us more like colleagues rather than, you know, if you ever worked with some directors that treat their actors as basically just puppets for them to take their directions on stage.
Will: Common occurrence
Simone: Unfortunately it happens a lot.
Camden: Unfortunately it does, and I feel like in this process we’ve been blessed to have such accommodating directors that really care about what we have to say about the piece and what we are trying to say in our performances. That really helps a lot, especially with a show with such, I guess, heightened sexual instances and instances of violence where, sure, if you want to try to go for the shock, you’ll do that. But that’s not what we’re trying to do here in the end. It’s these instances [where] what we are saying under them, I suppose, that’s more important to I feel-
Simone: The message is more important than the physical action
Camden: Exactly. It’s what does doing that to someone else say about your time and your society? And how does our contemporary lens also change that sort of action? I’m just really glad to be a part of this cast. It’s so much fun and everyone in the cast is just so talented and so on their game. I’m just really excited for it.
Simone: I love that! I have goosebumps!
Will: I think that positive note is a good place for us to take a break.
Simone: I was gonna say. I love that.
Will: We’ll be right back!
Will: Simone Elhart
Simone: Will Brockman
Will: We’re back with our long loud sound segment. Our favorite segment of the week!
Simone: The best.
Will: Do you wanna know what mine is?
Simone: Yeah, I do. I’m very curious.
Will: So mine is for a very specific group of people.
Will: They’re called flat earthers.
Will: And I was reminded of them because there is a documentary called Beyond the Curve – Behind the Curve? – that was released on Netflix last night.
Simone: Excuse me?
Will: In which the flat earthers are so adamant about their belief and the final scene… Okay, so their basic premise is that you shouldn’t be able to see stuff in the horizon. Because the earth should curve. Which is idiotic and proven by science. And I believe that you can see stuff in the horizon because the Earth is at such a slight tilt and the Earth is also large so that, you know, I can’t see from Seattle to New York but I can see from Seattle to across the bay. And they get this laser that is supposed to-
Theresa: Oh god. Lasers!
Will: That is supposed to show that, at a certain elevation, the line goes completely straight. Basically, it’s supposed to show that the line tips downward if the Earth is curved – which it is. And they’re like, “Oh, it’s at twenty one feet high or something like that. It should stay at twenty one feet.” And then they measured a certain length that is twenty one feet here and seventeen feet as it goes on and it’s just them going, “Well, uh… we shouldn’t publish this.” They don’t even believe the science that they took themselves!
Simone: So this is actually an anti-flat earthers documentary disguised as a flat earther documentary.
Will: I sure hope so.
Sam: Just enough rope to hang themselves with kind of thing.
Simone: Dear Lord! They really went for it with that one.
Will: So flat earthers. Also because they apparently intersect with a lot of not cool people. Apparently there are also a lot of anti-vaccers that are flat earthers and that’s a whole thing.
Theresa: That’s a venn diagram.
Will: What a fun group of people!
Theresa: What a venn diagram, yall.
Will: Camden what’s your long loud sound?
Camden: My long loud sound is billionaires! They don’t need to exist! I don’t think you can ethically earn that much money in a lifetime. And what are you doing with that wealth? Are you just sitting on it and reinvesting and getting more wealthy?
Simone: I was going to say. The only thing you can do with that much money is make more money.
Camden: Exactly! And and and and and then we turn around and blame the worker? Are you kidding me? And okay, Jeff Bezos? What’s his deal? The richest man in the world. He can solve world hunger maybe five times over with what? Ten percent of his money? Eleven percent? Elon Musk, what he can solve, you know – he can pay to fix climate change for everyone and still have money in the bank to go to Starbucks or whatever but he’s not! He just wants to build his stupid tunnel under LA and it’s not going to fix, you know, the mass transit problem because, you know, sewers are a thing. So, you’re going to have to build a-
Simone: I was gonna say. There’s a whole bunch of infrastructure already.
Camden: A bunch of infrastructure that Elon Musk hasn’t, you know, thought of. And then sending a car in space? I mean, what was that stunt? You know, you want to focus on going to Mars, Elon? How about you focus on, you know, better working conditions for your workers in the Tesla factories bruh! I don’t need it!
Simone: Go off, is all I have to say. I fully agree.
Camden: Oh my God. That Twitter picture of Beyoncé and Jay Z and the caption was like “What’s better than one billionaire?” Zero billionaires! We don’t need them!
Camden: We don’t need them!
Simone: Ooh. Alright, Theresa. Your turn.
Theresa: My long loud sound is food poisoning.
Will: Oh, yeah I saw that!
Simone: Yeah on your facebook!
Theresa: Last week, like thirty minutes before a rehearsal, I was smacked right in the face with some real gnarly food poisoning. And bless Sam for kind of tagging in and – God – bless my assistant Maria Byers for also-
Camden: Maria’s back? Oh, yay!
Theresa: She’s wonderful. I basically sat down and gave her a long tortured look and was like, “Can you fix ‘Bitch of Living’?” and she was like “uh huh!”
Simone: She was like, “I sure can.”
Theresa: She cleaned it! And so, yeah. I am just starting to get back into solid foods. And I will have you know… not really being able to handle solid foods during tech week? Not cute. Not, not cute.
Simone: Sounds like both of some of the most stressful situations you could be in at once.
Theresa: Yeah, super not cute and it’s actually… you know when something gets so stressful that suddenly you’re giggling ‘cause that’s just where it is? Yeah, it’s definitely the tipping point has occurred and now it’s a little funny. It’s a little funny now but still it’s my long loud sound.
Simone: I appreciate it.
Sam: Uh… I am sick of not being able to find the New York Times around my apartment. I’ve moved a thousand miles closer to where the New York Times gets written, edited, and published so that I can find it anywhere I want, damn it, and I have to go fifty blocks downtown to-
Sam: I know! It’s crazy! Yeah, I live on 143 and Broadway and nobody around there carries the Times and I’m a simple guy! I just want my crossword, you know? I just want to be fifty years older than what I’m actually am in any given moment. And every Sunday I’m like, “Okay, let me just get my commute to get the paper” and you know what? It’s ridiculous. I’m tired of it. Mr. Sulzberger, if you’re listening to this, I’ll give you my address later in post. Just send me a subscription, please. That’s all I want. Yeah, that’s what I’m sick of.
Simone: My long loud sound today is just for the day that I had on Tuesday. Do you ever have those days where [it’s] really small things but everything goes wrong-
Simone: I left work- I work at a yoga studio and I was like “they’re really late” and I left and I was taking the subway back and I just… after washing a hundred and fifty yoga mats, my lower back hurts. So, I was on the MTA, leaning forward, trying to relieve tension in my lower back and I had my head in my hands and I missed my stop by three stops and then I get off the subway and I’m walking down the street to my house and all of a sudden this fire hydrant explodes and I had to get splattered with water
Simone: It was all of these ridiculous things! So, and then I got home and I thought I had left pasta at home for me to make post-dinner but I realized that I had completely no food in my house. So, I had to go out but most grocery stores were closed at that time and so it was like whatever I could get from the bodega. I was all excited to have my pasta and I thought I had ricotta and I was so excited and then that didn’t happen. So my long loud sound is for Tuesday. All of Tuesday.
Theresa: Is today Thursday?
Will: Today is thursday.
Theresa: I lost all sense of time.
Simone: So Jeff?
Jeff: Do any, like, Academy producers listen to this podcast?
Jeff: Okay, we’re good. Okay.
Simone: I doubt it.
Jeff: Have you guys seen Greenbook?
Jeff: Did you think it deserved the Best Picture?
Will: I’ll tell you exactly what I thought about Greenbook. I saw it very late at night. I was a little sleepy and I left it being like, “Wow. Cool… Nice?” and then I really thought about it and it was very “white savior-y.”
Will: And then I was like a few days later, “Mmh, mmh, mmh.” So, no. No, no, no! I think what- what did I think should’ve won? I’m A Star Is Born stan. I never- I knew it was never going to win!
Jeff: I knew it was never going to win either-
Will: But I love A Star Is Born!
Jeff: -but it’s so good!
Simone: Wait! Shout out Lady Gaga. A Strasberg alum!
Will: Won an Oscar. I don’t know what I thought should have really won.
Jeff: Honestly, my reasoning is… anything. Anything should’ve won but Greenbook! I don’t think Greenbook should have even been nominated as a Best Picture, you know?
Simone: I thought it was like… If you look at it… I don’t mean this in its entirety [but] I thought it was a cute movie. But I agree, upon further rumination, I was like, “Ooh hoo!”
Will: I really genuinely liked The Favorite and I think The Favorite is a better movie than just its performances and I think stylistically it did a lot of unique things in the way it told the story with those little chapters. It was very whimsical and I think- I wish we’ve rewarded movies like that more. Because we have this – well, we don’t – the Academy has this concept of what a quote-on-quote “Oscar” movie is and-
Sam: It’s so unfortunate.
Simone: And I think my thing about Greenbook too is… I kind of agree with that concept and the fact that I was like, “This is like… a movie. Like, that is a cute movie.” It had very traditional storytelling, very traditional editing, very traditional cinematography-
Will: I felt very much like it was something my mom would love.
Will: No shade on Laurel! Well, a little shade on Laurel.
Simone: Love you, Laurel.
Jeff: No, I feel like all the Academy people in the Academy are moms and dads and these old white men cause it won several awards right?
Will: It won a little too much.
Jeff: Yeah. I-
Simone: But all respect to Mahershala Ali.
Will: Mahershala Ali gave a brilliant performance. But also should’ve been nominated for Best Actor and not Best Supporting!
Simone: Eh, I know.
Will: We’re like preaching to the choir here.
Camden: Of the Best Picture nominees, I’ve only seen Black Panther.
Jeff: But see the thing is, Black Panther was never going to win. But I’m glad-
Simone: I’m glad it at least got the nom.
Jeff: It burst through what a traditional Academy movie would’ve been.
Simone: It reminds me… It harkens back to the Dark Knight and their nomination. Well, their non-nomination, which is why they changed the way that they do Best Picture nominations now. Anyways, the Academy’s traditional choices.
Simone: We’ll dub that the Academy’s traditional choices.
Will: And also, I’m just sorry for Glenn Close
Theresa: Yeah, I also feel bad for Glenn. Although, God bless Olivia!
Will: I’m happy for Olivia Coleman and no one’s mad at her. I’m just very sad for Glenn. Cause she dressed to win an Oscar that night. She was in all gold- she had a cape! She was ready to win an Oscar.
Simone: She was dressed as an Oscar.
Will: Did you see her face? She was forlorn.
Simone: And again, God bless her. She did her best to support Olivia too which I totally respect – I love – and I love the moment where Olivia basically looked at Glenn and said-
Simone: “My bad.” Like, she was like, “I didn’t choose this.”
Will: Well, cause it was so expected. I expected Olivia to win because I knew Glenn and Gaga were going to split the votes and Olivia was going to come out with more. That’s what happened.
Will: Have you not thought about it? Glenn and Gaga split the votes
Jeff: Yeah, that makes so much more sense.
Simone: I’ve talked a lot about the voting politics of the Academy with my friends and-
Will: Cause I don’t think you need a plurality to win. You just need the most.
Camden: They still do runoff voting, I think.
Will: Oh, do they?
Camden: After Crash won in 2006, they were like. “Ohhh… maybe we shouldn’t vote for the film that people feel most passionate about, but the film that generally most of us would agree more or less with.”
Simone: So the way they do Best Picture, I just learned this recently. They way they do Best Picture is it’s a ranking vote. So you rank the top five, which is why something like Greenbook can win over… Because if people pick-
Will: Ohh and put it in their top five. And if enough people put it in their top five…
Simone: Greenbook is the type of movie that tends to hover around people’s third choice. But if everybody puts that as their third choice and then people get split between Bohemian Rhapsody and Black Panther and stuff as number one and number two… then they get misplaced and so your places in the thing are not-
Jeff: They need to change that.
Simone: Interestingly enough, they did that after Dark Knight didn’t get a nomination. Because, before that, they only nominated five for Best Picture and now they nominate ten. So then they changed the way- where it’s a ranking vote with this whole thing and that’s why. The more I learn about the way that voting happens, the less I seriously take Oscar wins.
Will: It’s also… I, this year, was very passionate about seeing a lot of films before the Oscars happened. I felt like this was one of my most educated years of seeing films and a lot of stuff doesn’t get the “justice” quote-on-quote that you think it deserves. And I think that’s kinda one of the exciting parts about the Oscars. Like, of course stuff should get rewarded. But acknowledging that you’re doing it for the art and not for the award, I think, is something a lot of people get mixed up in. Because, like, Glenn Close is a fabulous actor! We know this! This isn’t news. You know, she just unfortunately doesn’t have an Oscar.
Simone: Right. Well, and I think one of the things that I try to remind people of, as Oscar season comes around, is you forget that even being nominated is an award in and of itself. And so, in a way, all of those people that were there won. I think that’s a mindset people sometimes forget because they’re like, “I want to be first place.” It’s kind of the same concept of “if you go to the Olympics and you get a silver, you’re not a failure.” Like, if you made it to the Oscars, you’re not a failure!
Jeff: You’re in the room.
Will: If you booked a job in the last year…
Will and Simone: …you’re not a failure!
Simone: And, on that, I think we should do a long loud sound.
Will: Thanks for being here everyone!