Thursday, March 02, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 918: Noah Mease






Noah Mease

Hometown: Williston, VT

Current Town: South Bronx, NY

Q:  Tell me about Omega Kids.

A:  Omega Kids is a play and also a comic book. The comic book called Omega Kids (which I wrote and drew and which you’ll receive when you come to the show) is about a ragtag team of gifted teenagers trying to save the world. The play called Omega Kids (which I also wrote) is about two guys in their early twenties who spend a rainy Saturday night on the carpeted floor of an empty apartment talking about Omega Kids (the comic, which is a well-known X-men-like franchise in the world of the play). They use the summaries of the comic stories to chart a course though the choppy waters of the attraction and excitement and danger of a brand new friendship – the kind of friendship that feels full of the promise that it could become something important in both their lives.

When I try to describe the kind of theater that Omega Kids is, I’m left with ill-fitting words like “mumblecore” or “naturalism.” Though it’s grounded in naturalism, I actually think of Omega Kids as experimental theater, but the experiment here is about investing in tiny, specific, hyper-real, human moments and deciding that those are worth making a whole play about because they feel monumental when you’re living them. I love characters onstage who talk like real people; there’s a poetry in unfinished sentences and nervous filler words and half-remembered stories, and the wide gaps in our mundane, inexact language can give us glimpses into these characters’ bigger hopes and deeper insecurities and truer selves.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Well, I also design props, and this month you can see my design work on Broadway with Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (all those paintings…) and off-Broadway with The Debate Society’s The Light Years at Playwrights Horizons. But the other play I’m currently writing is about this true, crazy story from early American history where Thomas Jefferson spent the decade right after the American Revolution trying to send a giant taxidermy moose to France in order to prove that American animals were just as big as European animals. Its very different from Omega Kids in that the text began as a cut-and-paste collage of primary sources – letters and scientific writing from the 1780s – and I’ve been sculpting it into something dramatic and stageable. It’s a play about politicians and scientists having a huge, ridiculous argument based on vague assumptions and inaccurate facts as America tries to assert its identity to the rest of the world. So it feels timely, obviously, but it’s also about this whole other side of the Founding Fathers™ that I’d never heard of – that they were all amateur scientists and polymaths and sincerely believed that the only way to lead this brand new, fragile experiment of a democracy was by learning as much as they could about the mysteries of the natural world.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Well, Omega Kids is all about trying to reconcile who you are now with who you used to be, and the simultaneous fear that you’ve become too different or stayed too much the same. So, yeah, I don’t know. I grew up in the woods of Vermont, with sand pits and farms and railroad tracks. It was big enough and safe enough that I could wander so far away from home that I wasn’t quite sure how I’d get back, and I got lost – really lost – at least twice. I think getting lost and panicking a little and trusting you’ll find your way back in a totally different way is a pretty good explanation of my writing process.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Yes, well, more money and support and stability for artists, more access and education and engagement for audiences. But a small and totally-accomplishable thing I am currently trying to change is to create more understanding and recognition of props as a design discipline and to show theater artists and audiences that choosing the right objects onstage is a crucial part of telling the story and defining the world, and not an afterthought.

Q:  Who are your theatrical heroes?

A:  It’s hard to not just list everyone I’ve been lucky enough to work with as a prop designer, but having up-close insight on the way that set designers like Mimi Lien and Laura Jellinek, writers like Annie Baker and Bess Wohl and Stephen Karam and Branden Jacob-Jenkins, directors and creators like Rachel Chavkin and Sarah Benson and Anne Kauffman and The Debate Society, and theaters like Ars Nova and New York Theater Workshops and Soho Rep. and Signature make and think about theater only makes me love their (objectively brilliant) work all the more. My current theatrical heroes are Jay Stull and Will Sarratt and Fernando Gonzalez who are directing and performing Omega Kids – they’re all just amazing. And, through my work doing props, I’ve come to know the whole unseen world behind the scenes, where stage managers and production managers and carpenters and technicians and dramaturgs and assistants and associates and administrators are the true heroes down in the trenches solving all the impossible obstacles that arise when you try to redefine the rules of theater. They’re the ones who actually make daring, inventive, experimental, genre-defying new work possible in the most direct and literal sense.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I’m excited about collaborative theater – theater that is greater than it has any right to be because of the unique minds and talents that brought it to life. Theater where design is crucial to the storytelling and experience. Theater that is still and small and deep. Or theater that’s a big, communal, cathartic party. Or theater that‘s both of those things at once.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  I was pretty shocked to find out, when I first got to New York, how important (and rare?) it is to just show up, be kind, and be reliable. So do those things and you’re at least halfway there.

And, while you’re writing and treading water, go see theater and volunteer or work in theater and learn about everyone else’s jobs. I know you’re supposed to read a lot of plays, but don’t write plays to be read like books – write plays that get your future collaborators excited to dive into the pool with you and splash around for a while. It helps to know what’s a big ask or a big expense and what’s easy and what’s boring and what might be a welcome challenge – not just for actors and directors but for sound designers and marketing people and education outreach folks and write your plays so that when those people read it, they’re inspired to do their jobs better than ever before.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Omega Kids. It’s running March 2nd through 25th at the Access Theater, Thursdays-Sundays with some weird late shows and matinees so it’ll fit in your schedule somewhere, I promise. It’s directed by Jay Stull and starring Will Sarratt & Fernando Gonzalez, produced by New Light Theater Project in association with Access Theater. Get your tickets now, because they’re going fast and we’ve totally reconfigured the Access Theater’s Gallery Space which means seating is limited.

http://www. newlighttheaterproject.com/ omega-kids

And that moose play, which is called American Moose, will have a developmental reading as part of Loading Dock Theater Company’s brand new Forklift Reading Series on April 2nd.

http://loadingdocktheatre.org/ forklift/

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