Denton — Finding new, unpublished scripts can be tough, especially if you’re not soliciting for them. For director/actor Mandy Rausch, discovering the play for the final show in Sundown Collaborative Theatre’s 2015-’16 season happened by doing something most of us do every day: Wasting time on Facebook. More specifically, the page we’ve all come to adore: Humans of New York.
That Facebook status, originally posted May 8, 2013, was titled “One of my plays is getting produced!” When HONY creator and photographer Brandon Stanton asked him what it’s about, Vogel responded: "So there's this guy, and he really loves this one girl—she's the girl of his dreams. But she's going off to college. So he applies to every nearby college, just so he can be close to her. But the only college that accepts him is a clown college. But here's the thing—he's terrified of clowns." (Here’s the post on the HONY Tumblr page.)
Rausch’s interest was piqued, and she contacted Vogel. She soon read the script for Jacob Monroe Hates Clowns and loved it. Sundown’s production is the play’s second full production (the first starred Vogel as the coulrophobic guy). The play, called a “metatheatrical tragicomedy,” takes cues from Commedia dell'Arte, clowning, pantomime and improvisation. The production opens Friday for two weeks in Denton’s PointBank Black Box Theatre.
We e-chatted with Rausch, who was named Sundown’s co-Artistic Director, with Chloe McDowell, in June 2015. Sundown’s next season will be announced this summer, but there’s no word yet whether there will be any found-on-Facebook shows on that lineup.
TheaterJones: Remind us how you found this project and about your initial conversations with the playwright, Corey Vogel.
Mandy Rausch: I was looking at the Humans of New York page on Facebook and saw Corey's photo. The caption for his photo was about his play being produced, and the short synopsis of the play alone fascinated me. I think I immediately shared the photo to my own Facebook with the exclamation that “I would totally produce this play.” The feedback I got on my own post led me to do some Google searches for Corey and his play, and I emailed him and asked to read the script! Corey was immediately responsive and excited about our company's interest in the play. This was in August of 2014, and a few weeks after my initial email to him, I had a script in my inbox!
Has he had other productions of it? Will he be coming to Denton?
I know that he's done a staged reading and one production of it (produced and directed by him) in New York City. He is coming to Denton! He and his girlfriend and his parents will be in attendance at our penultimate performance on April 30. I'm very excited that he will get the opportunity to see Sundown's production of his play.
How does this show fit into Sundown's aesthetic?
The whole process has been collaborative, which of course lines up with our name and our mission. Corey and I have emailed, Skyped, and texted each other quite often (these days it's every day) throughout the process. We also love to support new and original work, so the idea of taking a new play that the playwright was interested in workshopping with us was appealing to us as a company.
How has this show challenged you as a director? The performers and designers?
This has definitely been my most challenging project I've ever worked on. It's a full-length play, so it's longer than a lot of the plays Sundown produces. It's also a much larger cast than we typically have (there are nine cast members), and there are just so many props. The designers and I immediately started thinking of a concept that would match the show's tone and themes but still fit within Sundown's budget and our rehearsal and performance space challenges. As a director, I've had to learn how to manage rehearsals and be as efficient as possible with a long script and a large cast. It's been really challenging, but I have learned so much from the process.
How much clowning/physical theater is involved?
I did quite a bit of research on clowning before we started rehearsals, and we spent a couple of rehearsals dedicated to some clowning exercises, specifically with the ensemble of the show. We also had a cheerleading coach come in to a rehearsal to teach us a few specific stunts and lifts that we were able to implement into the show. Clowning concepts ended up being more important to me than the slapstick and circus tricks one immediately thinks about, but the exercises helped drive those concepts home. As a director, physicality and intentional movement are very important to me, so I've worked with the cast to remember what we discovered in those exercises and apply them to the concept and storytelling of the show.
Sounds like it has something to say about following an artistic passion; how does that apply to a larger life message?
I've been thinking a lot about this during our tech week as we run the show over and over. Jacob is following what he thinks is his passion in life (Rosetta Clark), and along that journey he actually begins to see, a little unwillingly, that it may be a misguided goal…that he really won't achieve what he truly strives for until he's willing to be honest and open about who he is as an individual. I think that absolutely applies to any of us in our lives: accepting that we are works in progress and that where we are now is okay. I think it also applies to us as artists in that we have to be honest and truthful and vulnerable sometimes before we'll be able to make the artistic breakthrough needed to take the next step on our personal and artistic journey. That seems really corny when I write it out, but I believe it with my whole heart.
Anything else to add?
I can't believe this entire process has spanned a year-and-a-half. I didn't even realize how long ago it was that I first saw his photo until I was looking up dates in order to answer these questions. Corey himself has been writing about Jacob Monroe for six years now, so this production is the result of a lot of hard work from both of us over a long period of time. Who knows where Jacob Monroe will go next!