By Joel Markowitz
It was the smash hit of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, and I’m glad it’s back, because I couldn’t get a ticket to 4.48 Psychosis’s critically acclaimed, sold out run. Producer Rick Hammerly and director John Moletress talk about remounting the show in the Warehouse Theatre, the new cast members, and their new production company – Factory 449.
Joel: Tell us about 4.48 Psychosis.
John: 4.48 Psychosis was Sarah Kane’s last play before she committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 28, shortly after completing the work. The first production was performed posthumously. The play is written from the point of view of someone who is suffering from severe clinical depression, the disorder which Kane suffered from. The theme of suicide is prominent. The central voice of the play says that it is at 4:48am, for one hour and twelve minutes, she feels as if she is in her right mind. I wanted to dig a little deeper than the familiar with this production by exploring how we as human beings are susceptible to the tones of information constantly bombarding us, whether it is from the news or from violent images or movies. I also wanted to expand the play to be more universal by casting a very diverse group of actors.
Joel: Why do you think it was such a hit at this year’s Capital Fringe Festival (voted “Best Drama” and “Best Overall Production” at the Festival, and “Favorite Festival Play” by DC Theatre Scene readers)?
John: I have to say, it was a pleasant surprise. I really didn’t know how people would react to the production. It’s certainly not a play for someone looking to have an entertaining and fun night at the theatre, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for dinner theatre. That being said, the play is subjective, and each audience member will have their own experience of it. We can agree that this is a play that deals with sanity, written by a playwright who was suffering from mental illness. I think the play raises an interesting question about who gets to define what is sane and what is insane, and under what conditions. I think the production works because the audience had simultaneously both a visceral and an intellectual response to it.
Rick: I think audiences and critics responded to Sarah Kane’s text as a result of John’s incredibly specific staging and of course the performances of the acting ensemble. John was able to really flesh out the narrative thread in the text, which I think is quite difficult given the play’s lack of structure. The addition of video and original music/sound composition further supported and heightened John’s vision. The result was a production that truly captured and exposed the workings of a clinically depressed, suicidal mind. The production challenged audiences…then again so did the 90° heat…
Joel: Will all of the cast from the Fringe be returning?
John: Six members of the Fringe cast are returning. I’m very delighted to have added David Lamont Wilson, Brian Hemmingsen, and Cesar Gaudamuz, all three of who have made an impact in the DC theatre community, as well as a talented young lady and recent college graduate, Randa Tawil.
Joel: The play is not your typical “easy-to-follow-plot-driven” play. Talk about the challenges you had directing it.
John: When I read the play the first time, I thought, wow, this is difficult, what a challenge it would be to direct. I like challenges. If you regard every section of the play, of which there are 24, as pieces of the puzzle to the story, it is actually more linear than not. The play is a text-driven play first and foremost. The text creates images, it creates environment, it denotes tone, it contradicts itself, and can have multiple meanings at the same time. In trying to convey this, I looked at the play as if it were a musical score. The actors’ voices became instruments in the play. We also added sound and video to support the unstable environment of the play.
Joel: What was the best advice you gave your cast?
John: To not think too much. Don’t get me wrong, we did do copious table, source, and text work on the play. But at the end of the day, I told them to be bold, take chances, and surprise themselves.
Joel: Will there be any directorial changes and/or design changes in this new Warehouse production?
John: The production will return to the original design concept we had intended for the play, which had to be re-thought due to the Fringe venue limitations. The overall concept of the production will not change, but we have added lighting designer Eric Grims, as well as upgraded the video design. It has been a challenge for me to remount the production, as my brain is always going, finding new things in the text, in the actors, and from the world around us. But like I always say, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it… too much.
Joel: Why bring it to the Warehouse now?
John: It was both Rick and my goal to remount the production while the iron was still hot. Since we were lucky to sell out the Fringe production, we wanted more folks to have an opportunity to see it.
Rick: It is incredibly important to me that as many folks as possible see this production. We (and by “we” I mean all of Factory 449) agreed upon 4.48 Psychosis as our inaugural production, not just because we believe in the text, but because it has allowed us to showcase exactly what Factory 449 is all about; artists from different disciplines and perspectives working together to creating a theatrical event. Through 4.48 Psychosis, Factory 449 company members have had the opportunity to direct, act, stage manage, design set, compose music, design lights, design and direct film, and produce. I’m anxious for audiences to see that collaboration.
Joel: Who are the founding members of Factory 449?
Rick: Factory 449 began with seven members: myself, John and
-Nanna Ingvarsson, a Helen Hayes Award winning actress (Outstanding Lead Actress, The Rocky Horror Show, at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company).
-Brian Hemmingsen, who has worked both as an actor (four Helen Hayes Award nominations) and artistic director (for Washington Shakespeare Company, of which he is also a founding member). He and Nanna will have been married 20 years this January.
-Sara Barker, an actress who has worked in New York city, and locally with Rorschach Theatre and the Washington Shakespeare Company (of which she is also a company member).
-Greg Stevens, a set and costume designer with extensive regional and local credits.
-and Debbi Arseneaux, a stage manager, director and events planner, who has worked with numerous theatres and arts organizations both locally and abroad.
Since that initial meeting, the Factory has recruited additional members for a total of fourteen: Jesse Achtenberg (filmmaker/editor), Ryan Keebaugh (composer/musician), Amy McWilliams (actor), Eric Grims (set/lighting designer) Lisa Hodsoll (actor), Bill Carlton (stage manager), and Jennifer Phillips (actor)..
Joel: What is your company’s mission?
John: Our mission statement is still a work in progress. We wanted to ease into unveiling the company over a certain amount of time, however we received such a great response from 4.48, we needed to move things along more quickly. Rick and I are both very interested in theatre as an event. We are also interested in producing lesser known plays and new theatre works as well. We engaged not only actors and designers as members of the company, but also a composer and a filmmaker. My influences in theatre have been The Wooster Group, Robert Lepage, and Robert Wilson. I’m very interested in mixed-media theatre, and our relationship to popular culture, and media trends.
Joel: Did you model your new company after another existing theatre company?
Rick: I honestly believe our company, a collective, has come together through the input of its members. Certainly other companies, their structures and missions, were studied and referenced, but I think we are pretty much making our own way in terms of putting the Factory together. It has been particularly enlightening to hear the ideas and viewpoints of artists whose primary creative backgrounds are not in theatre
Joel: What will your first season look like, and where will you perform?
Rick: Currently we are hoping to produce two shows a year; one to be produced in a traditional theatre space, and the other to be site specific (and by that I mean anywhere BUT a traditional theatre space), as dictated by the piece.
As a company, we are meeting to read plays that could be potential Factory 449 productions. We are currently looking at works by Martin Crimp, Kevin Hood, Terry Johnson, Olivier Choiniere, and Mark Ravenhill.
Joel: Rick, you have been one of our area’s most beloved actors and a Helen Hayes Award winner, and now you have thrown yourself into the theatre producing lion’s den, having to raise money, market the productions, fill up seats, and make sure that actors are paid. Are you crazy? Why would you put this incredible pressure and stress on yourself?
Rick: There is a fine line between “crazy” and “crazy like a fox.” Currently I am blurring that line rather successfully, I think.
Producing and helming a new theatre company is indeed stressful, but what isn’t? Currently I’m stressed out just trying to decide if I should dye my goatee today (the answer is “yes,” by the way).
One of the main reasons for starting Factory 449 was to allow the members more creative control. That, of course, comes with greater responsibility and with that comes increased pressure and stress. As a DC-based artist, I have been afforded the opportunity to act and direct for the stage, as well as write, direct and produce films. It wasn’t until I began working on my first film – signage – that I realized how much more fulfilling it is collaborate on a project as a whole, from its inception. This also helped explain my waning desire to do theatre; I was only a small part of the each production. With Factory 449, we all have an opportunity to be creatively involved with productions from the very beginning. I have honestly not been this excited about theatre in years. Opening night at Fringe, seeing the first performance of 4.48 Psychosis, I couldn’t have been more excited, proud and fulfilled…OK, the lengthy applause helped too.
Joel: You are Co-Artistic Directors for Factory 449. How do you split the job, and what are your responsibilities as Co-Artistic Directors?
John: Although Rick and I come from different backgrounds, there is a lot of crossover in our views of art. It may be a challenge at times to share the title, but it’s also a great gift to have someone there who supports your work, and who you can look to for advice.
Rick: “Different backgrounds?” I think John just intimated that I come from the “wrong side of the tracks!” Honestly, it has been great having John to work with on Factory 449 business. As with the company, we bring different abilities, talents, and points of view to the table. The fact is it is very exciting to talk creatively with someone you respect and enjoy working with. When John and I collaborate on projects we are able to both inspire and challenge each other creatively. It’s pretty much a “win-win” situation.
Joel: What are your hopes and dreams for Factory 449?
John: Money, an office, a permanent performance space; what every company wants. Moreover, I hope the Factory grows into an established and recognized forum for artists to create new and challenging theatre work.
Rick: Yeah….and guest artist contracts for Traci Lords, Charo, and Joyce DeWitt (let’s face it, she needs some work after that DUI incident).
Joel: Why should theatergoers who haven’t seen the show before, and those who saw the show at The Capital Fringe Festival, come to Warehouse Theatre to see 4.48 Psychosis?
John: The Warehouse version will be the fully realized production of ours. I have to say, after the first week of rehearsals this time around, adding the 4 new cast members, I was blown away by the courage and intensity of these actors. I think we’ve really begun to get to the heart of the play. And, there are some pretty stunning new technical effects.
Rick: We were given an amazing opportunity in having six Fringe Festival performances to, in essence, workshop this production. We were able to discern what worked in the production, what didn’t and what aspects or design elements could be more fully explored. The run at the Warehouse has allowed us to hone the Fringe incarnation and make a stunning production even stronger.
For Details, Directions and Tickets to 4.48 Psychosis, click here.