Dallas — WingSpan Theatre Company is the only group that has peformed in each of the Festival of Independent Theatre's 17 years. This year's show is Cynthia Salzman Mondell's Shoe Confessions, a fashionable tale that follows the misunderstood and rarely recognized journey of shoes. Shown from perspectives as diverse as the accessory itself, this new play tells the real life stories of several "sole sisters" in the theatrical precursor to her upcoming documentary film. We chatted with Sargeant about it.
TheaterJones: As the only company to appear in every single FIT, what is your script selection process like? What makes one script stand out above another?
Susan Sargeant: A good one-act can be hard to find. Over the years, I have done both published plays and world premieres. I try to find a play that serves my mission statement and also provides risk and innovation. For the last three years of FIT, WingSpan has produced world premieres: Lydie Marland in the Afterlife (2013) by local playwright Isabella Russell-Ides, Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam & Eve, edited and adapted by Susan Sargeant (2014), and this year, 2015, Shoe Confessions by playwright and documentary filmmaker Cynthia Salzman Mondell. The investment of a world premiere can be even more challenging than a published play.
My criteria for selection are: Does the play fit the mission statement, fit into FIT time constraints, and spread WingSpan's artistic wings.
After you have selected your script, you also appear to have a brilliant eye for casting your show. What are some of the main characteristics you look for in your actors?
The actor needs to embody the right sensibility for the role. For me, it is truly about matching the right actor to the right role. The great fun of FIT, especially this year, is a cast of six actresses. I usually don't render shows with a cast this large for FIT. So 2015 is a hallmark year for largest cast WingSpan has ever put on a FIT stage.
In your 17-year FIT run, what have been some of your favorite actor-moments that have made you laugh…or cry? Or just a favorite story?
Goodness, there are so many tales to tell about favorite stories from FIT. In recent memory, one of my favorites was in 2012 when WingSpan's FIT play, Edward Albee's Counting the Ways, ended up doing a lobby show due to a power outage at The Bath House Cultural Center. I believe the play resonated even deeper due to the circumstances. The audience certainly appreciated our efforts and I was reminded why I do theater—the pure power of the story. Of course, there was also the time I had to go on for a sick actor in FIT 2008, in A Permanent Signal by Sherry Kramer. As a Greek Siren, who had to sing! Did I mention I barely had one rehearsal? Yikes!
Anyone who has ever worked with you already knows your extreme level of discipline and attention to detail. How does this help during FIT's infamously short tech process?
Thanks for the compliment. As for FIT and tech, organization is the key. You have to think way in advance on how you are going to craft your play. For me, once I select the play and get casting done, I pretty much start figuring out the world of the play and how to make it work within the FIT timetable.
As the artistic director of a female-centric company, what benefits come from having such an all-female cast and (mostly female) production team? How has it further illuminated the script for you?
The energy and talent that this cast brings is bountiful. I have six wonderful actors telling real stories. Plus I have the privilege of collaborating with Cynthia Salzman Modell. Cynthia is an accomplished documentary filmmaker, now playwright. The play is about empowering women and I am excited to see how this blooms in rehearsals. It is exciting to have all this Woman Power on board.
You’re the face of WingSpan, but you surely can’t do it alone. Who do you lean on whenever the days get longer?
You are right; I certainly don't do it alone. Art is about collaboration. My biggest collaborator is my husband, Lowell Sargeant. Lowell is my partner in life, co-producer with WingSpan and the resident Sound Designer for WingSpan. When I need to take a breath and/or seek an opinion this is where I find the "lean."
With so many new companies this year, what advice would you give them as they prepare to tackle fit for the first time?
The four simple guidelines are:
- Think ahead
- Stay organized
- Turn any artistic roadblocks into creative opportunities.
- Have fun!
» Shoe Confessions opens in the performance block at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 11, and is also performed in the following blocks:
- 2 p.m. Sunday, July 13
- 8 p.m. Thursday, July 16
- 2 p.m. Sunday, July 19
- 8 p.m. Saturday, July 25
- 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1
» Click here to go to our special section devoted to the Festival of Independent Theatres. You'll find a schedule, interviews, reviews and more.