Q&A: Frieda Dunkelberg

The Dallas newcomer talks about the devised show Hospit(al)able, from her Frieda Dunkelberg and Company, in the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres.

published Monday, July 4, 2016

Photo: Christoph Carr/Eat the Cake NYC
Frieda Dunkelberg


Dallas — TheaterJones is running interviews with every company in the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres. First up is a newcomer to Dallas, Frieda Dunkelberg, whose eponymous company debuts with the devised piece Hospit(al)able. It opens as the second show in the 8 p.m. slot on Friday, July 8.



TheaterJones: Tell us the background of you and your company.

Frieda Dunkelberg: I recently graduated from New York University, I studied at the Playwrights Horizons Theatre School studio at Tisch School of the Arts. I have studied with several working devising artists such as Dan Safer of Witness Relocation and Mikheal Tara Garver, who has worked with Punchdrunk NYC and Empire Travel Agency. I moved back to Dallas after graduating in 2015 so that I could work with new artists and help bring an unconventional form of theater to the Dallas theater scene. My specialty is in immersive and devised theater that's mostly movement based but also uses text. The company I keep rotates depending on who is available and interested in the current work I've proposed.


Where did the idea for this show come from?

This show started with me thinking "what would happen if I put a dude in a box in a dark room," then it became a movement piece when my music library was on shuffle and played Cage the Elephant's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" followed by The Ink Spots' "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire." I wrote an outline for a very different story that night and 3 months later began devising it with my New York cast. Together we created a similar version of the play that's currently being produced.


The description of your show includes the statement that it’s "centered on the intoxicating power of memory."

Frieda Dunkelberg and Company working on Hospit(al)able

Honestly I didn't write that statement, I believe it's what the festival put out for me. But the piece does focus on memory and mistakes, and the power that obsession has over all of us. Instead of saying money is the root of all evil, this is a world where memory is the root of all evil. Whether it's Calvin's compulsion to get rid of all memories of his former lover, or Elizabeth's memory of never being taken seriously fueling her obsession with her scientific work. Memory makes fools of them all in that it can never be erased or over powered. Memories stay and never change while those they affect do.


Take me through the process of devising this piece with your company? Who's in the company?

My company is more of a rotating collective of collaborators than a set line up. I have some who've come down from New York to work with me (Brenna McShane, props and set dressing) and I have some longtime area friends who I've also worked with (Megan Diamond, costumes), plus for this particular production I have a whole new cast who've been a huge pleasure to work with.

My process for devising depends on the show. For this particular piece, with the original cast, I brought in an outline of a story, and a soundtrack. From there we used a combination of me writing, the actors improvising dialogue, and us all collaborating on choreography to give you the play you'll see in the festival. This process continued to this current Dallas cast, some of the choreography and storytelling has changed with their help to make the story on stage even clearer.

My work focuses on a devised process that includes creating the script in the room with everyone, and myself acting as a filter to tell the story we want. Movement, dance and music are all central to the shows we create. All of the shows we create are also immersive, and some are interactive. My storytelling style is influenced by immersive structure of video games, which is where my interest in exploring what happens when we allow the audience to become part of the story comes from. For instance, video games often ask the question "what happens when...?" and this is a structure I am interested in bringing on to the stage, melding both player and audience member.


Will you stay in North Texas after this? What are the future plans for the company?

I am planning on staying in Dallas, and after this will be taking over my father, Marc Dunkelberg's, theater company, Itinerant Theatre Guild. They did several shows at the Bath House around 20 or so years ago, so I'm really honored to be taking on the name and using it in my future work. Our next show will be Closed Quarters in December, which centers around a gathering of friends at a New Year's Eve party. In addition, beginning in August we will be having monthly salons where folks can bring works they're wanting feedback on and present it to a group of peers in a very low pressure environment. My personal goal as a theatermaker is to cultivate the creation of new works, and I hope that this will help connect more young artists who want to work together.



» See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres in our special section here, where you can also learn how to download our FIT app. In that app, you'll see a section for the playbills for each company, which includes cast, creative and director's notes.

Hospit(al)able is performed in the following blocks:

  • 8pm Friday, July 8
  • 5pm Saturday, July 9
  • 2pm Sunday, July 10
  • 5pm Saturday, July 16
  • 2pm Sunday, July 24
  • 8pm Saturday, July 30


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Q&A: Frieda Dunkelberg
The Dallas newcomer talks about the devised show Hospit(al)able, from her Frieda Dunkelberg and Company, in the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres.
by Mark Lowry

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