Dallas — WingSpan Theatre Company is the only theater company to have had a production in each of the 18 Festival of Independent Theatres, and it and Echo Theatre are the only founding members of FIT still producing in it (Echo skipped a couple of years of FIT). Both companies have a mission to highlight women's themes and voices, but whereas Echo only produces work by women writers, WingSpan has frequently produced work by men. With this year's FIT entry, Play, WingSpan takes on its second work by one of the most important writers of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett. The first was his play Happy Days in 2013, in a non-FIT production. In Play, three disembodied heads—their bodies are in giant urns—discuss an incident of infidelity. Actors in a confined space, their bodies unable to fully move, is something Beckett has used several times, including Happy Days and Endgame (with Nell and Nagg), or even with just the moving lips in Not I.
In our latest interview for the FIT companies, Susan Sargeant, WingSpan's cofounder and director of Play (which stars Barrett Nash, John Pszyk and Lulu Ward), talks about the work, the playwright and her long relationship with FIT.
TheaterJones: This is WingSpan's second time with Beckett after Happy Days in 2013. Why the decision to take Beckett back on, and this work in particular?
Susan Sargeant: Yes, this is WingSpan's second endeavor with Beckett. WingSpan produced Happy Days in 2013 as Main Stage production, featuring Stephanie Dunnam as Winnie and Bill Jenkins as Willie. A little background: Beckett's Happy Days had its U.S. premiere at the Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC in 1961. Play was written between 1962 and 1963. I have been aware of Play for many years but I wanted the right venue. Play is a one-act and not long enough for a Main Stage production. It would have to be coupled with other Beckett short plays for a full evening. FIT gives WingSpan Theatre Company the opportunity to produce smaller gems by major playwrights. All part of my thinking. Plus, I love the convention and challenges that Play demands of a creative team (director/actors/design team). All of us, have to take on the precision, clarity and definition of Beckett's World.
How did Happy Days prepare you for this? There are some similarities, mainly in that Winnie is immobile.
I am very grateful for my Happy Days experience and all that I learned along the way helming that project. First of all, all the reading and research that I did for Happy Days and also for Play, just fills and feeds my brain. It also allows me to expand my artistic sensibility/vision. As you have pointed out, there are some similarities of Happy Days and Play. Play was written after Happy Days, so Beckett just took the isolation idea even further. In Happy Days, Winnie is up to her waist in Act 1 in a mound and then in Act II up to her neck. In Play, Beckett has the three actors encapsulated up to their necks at the start.
Beckett’s language, silence and punctuation is so specific. Take me through the rehearsal process for this, especially since there is no tradition blocking.
One has to approach Play as a piece of music and honor all the notes and rests. Punctuation is crucial; this is where the rhythm of the piece is revealed. You are right, there is not traditional/conventional blocking—actors walking on a stage, sitting on furniture, etc. The actors are confined to "heads and necks only." So there is no use of hands and arms. You use what you have available as an actor (and as a director). The actors have learned to work in a different way by taking on the sometimes arduous task of Play.
What have you learned about play as you've been working on it that you didn't realize before, in terms of meaning?
As a director—to trust the language and music that Beckett has set down. Also, to honor the world of Play but not to be afraid to think a little "out of the box." Beckett certainly thought out of the box!
As for meaning, it is a good piece of theater to take on with a more mature perspective. The Play is three characters: M/Man, W1/Wife, and W2/Mistress.
Also from my research on Play, Beckett was a great admirer of Dante's Inferno (Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, and Paradiso). We are dealing with "a marital affair" in Play and the three characters are trapped in their own Purgatory.
How are you doing the urns, without giving too much away?
Well, if I spoke too much about the urns I would be giving too much away. I did read all sorts of notes/essays about other productions, etc., but the most important things I landed on were Beckett's thoughts on the urns. Originally, the urns were lighted boxes. I had my own personal inspiration points but I also had to keep in mind a thrust configuration and how to adhere to FIT's limited storage space.
WingSpan in the only group to have been in every Festival of Independent Theatres. What are some of your favorite memories from the event? Any thoughts/hopes for its future?
I am very proud to have participated in all FITs to date. There are only two original founding groups left: WingSpan and Echo Theatre Company. WingSpan Theatre Company, in our 18 FIT years, has brought to the Dallas stage six world premieres: Only Me, Art on the Fridge and Sidhe all by former Dallas playwright Valerie Brogan Powell; Lydie Marland in the Afterlife by Dallas playwright Isabella Russell-Ides; Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam & Eve, edited and adapted by Susan Sargeant; and Shoe Confessions by Cynthia Salzman Mondell. It has allowed WingSpan Theatre Company to take risks that we would not have been able to take on otherwise.
The future of FIT is clear to me. FIT continues to be a platform for budding groups, adventurous mature companies, and artists who think "out of the box."
» 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.
See more info about the 2016 Festival of Independent Theatres here.
Play is performed in the following blocks:
- 8pm Saturday, July 9
- 5pm Sunday, July 10
- 8pm Thursday, July 14
- 2pm Sunday, July 17
- 8pm Saturday, July 23
- 5pm Sunday, July 30