Hoping to put you “into a ‘klunch’ (an internet-y little word to describe the state of mind of someone who’s become totally engrossed in something like Facebook, Netflix, or Pokémon Go),” The Klunch is bringing DODO Theatre Collective’s production of The Last Class: A Jazzercize Play to the Trinidad Theater at the Fringe Logan Arts Space.
Sarah Scafidi speaks with playwright and actor Megan Hill along with her co-star, Amy Staats about the production:
Tell me a little bit about The Last Class.
Megan Hill: The show is a real Jazzercize class, or our interpretation of one. It is a real exercise class happening in real time. It’s about a woman whose Jazzercize class is being replaced by Zumba. She goes to teach her final class thinking all of her faithful students will be there, and instead, less than a handful show up. It’s an exploration of how fickle the exercise industry is (or really any industry), and what happens when you invest your life into something that has gone out of fad. Do you change with the times, do you hold stronger and stay with it, or do you give up? A lot of people have said, “it feels like the journey of what it is to be an artist or a writer or anyone that is their own business owner.”
Amy Staats: I feel like it’s especially timely with everything that is happening in our country. I think it serves as a metaphor for what it’s like to be a worker in any industry that’s dying, and the frustration that comes with that – and really exploring what it’s like to have to start over again mid-career.
Megan, did you have any specific inspiration for The Last Class?
MH: The children’s theatre I grew up going to was attached to a gymnasium that did Jazzercize. Almost every night of my childhood, I would watch this onslaught of women come in to this gymnasium and do Jazzercize. There would be tons of them; I mean the class was packed, and it was a huge gym. And as a kid, I always thought it was kind of silly and funny. And then a few years ago, I started watching Jazzercize videos from the 70s and 80s, and I thought they were really hilarious.
Then a friend of mine, Joshua Conkel, who is in our theatre company DODO with Amy, Meg Sturiano, and I, began talking about creating a show that was a real exercise class. And I thought, “what if I get certified?” And then as I started doing research about the franchise, it just seemed like this uphill battle. It’s really expensive to get trained, and basically, you are a business owner, so you have to commit to teaching and earning a certain amount every month. And the more I thought about it, it seemed much more interesting to have it be set now than in the 80s. If it were set in the 80s, it would have been a “haha” joke, and we wouldn’t have had a lot of mileage story-wise.
So, it got me thinking about what happens when you invest in these franchises, especially in fitness. Every few months there is a new thing, and if you put your entire life savings, time, and devotion into one thing, what happens when something new comes along?
Amy, did you have any hand in writing the piece?
AS: Megan really wrote the script. I think that there were a number of things that we discovered during rehearsal that were changed, but I wouldn’t put on a writer hat. Megan wrote the play, and I am a player in the play, but we do have a nice collaboration. And there is a creative back-and-forth between me, Megan, and the director Margot Bordelon.
MH: It was a really collaborative process, and both Amy and Margot are also writers. So going in, I think it would have been stupid not to listen to their feedback. And once we got in the room, there was a lot of figuring out how the script I’d written went with the movement and the music. They were really instrumental in making those changes. We had to start rewriting a lot of the lines down to the syllable where it was like, “oops, this line is two syllables too long for the movement.” Both Amy and Margot were incredibly helpful with that.
AS: Then, when we actually started doing the exercise, that took care of a lot of things because we discovered, “I simply cannot physically do that movement and say the line at the same time.”
You are both writers and actors. Do you often perform in your own work?
AS: Yeah, we do. It’s actually been really fun with the whole company. We just had a residency at SPACE at Ryder Farm. Joshua Conkel is writing a play about three Victorian sisters. We would all do diary entries, and he wrote the play inspired by some of those. That was really fun.
And then, Megan and I and Margot Bordelon, who is not in DODO but a dear friend of ours, just did a residency at Berkley Rep working on a play I wrote about Van Halen. So, we all seem to write and act in our own things.
Did DODO have any prior connection to The Klunch?
MH: No, Ian saw the show in New York and reached out to us, and said, “any plans to take it to DC?” And we said, “we’d love to take it to DC!” So, the collaboration has really started with them producing it and bringing it to DC. So far, it’s been an amazing experience working with them. We didn’t want the life of the play to be just our New York run. We hope it reaches a larger audience, and that we get to take it to other cities.
The Last Class: A Jazzercize Play
August 19 – 21, 2016
Details and tickets
Tell me a little more about DODO.
MH: We have only been around for a year. We’d all worked with each other in varying degrees in different collaborations, so we decided to come together. Our mission statement is pretty simple: instead of tying ourselves down to an aesthetic, we just do plays that interest us. So … all new work, and it’s new work that starts with us.
AS: And we really started developing our aesthetic though our Triptych series, in which three out of the four of us each write and develop a short piece based around a theme. And we put them on for one night with free drinks and free food. So, that has been a real bonding experience, and it is a way for us to develop our aesthetic as a company.
MH: And it also encourages each of us to take roles outside of our comfort zone.
AS: For instance, Meg, who is primarily our lead director, wrote a piece and acted in it. Josh, who is primarily a writer, has written and starred in two of his own pieces, and Meg and I have both written and acted in pieces.
MH: And it’s kind of a way for us to create a community that is really important for us. To create an event where we get to explore as artists and take risks, but also create a really casual environment where people can go see a short piece theatre and drink and eat and talk and not have to spend a dime.
AS: The Last Class is our first mainstage production as a company.
For each performance of The Last Class, there will be some cameos by DC artists as class participants. What will that be like?
MH: Since the show is a really class, we wanted people to do the class but didn’t want to force those that may not be inclined. Ian knows the people who will be doing it. We don’t know them; we’ll meet them 30 minutes before the class. They’ll be taking the class with us, and it’ll be their first time doing it. So, it’s an element of surprise for everyone.
So, the audience is not involved?
MH: No. In the New York run, we had two tickets available every night for people who wanted to take the class. And every night, we never knew who was going to show up. We had older participants. We had younger participants. We had people who said they had never worked out before. We had one guy who was a diehard Zumba person.
AS: We had Broadway stars. And then we had people who were Jazzercize people.
MH: We had a woman bring her daughter from Wisconsin to come and do the show because she’s a big Jazzercize person. The Jazzercize community has been incredible through all of this. They have been so supportive.
AS: They are really a great group of people. There is such a great sense of community. We had large groups come. It was really fun to meet them.
MH: We would have great conversations with them after the show.
That’s fantastic. So, you actually got involved with the Jazzercize community?
MH: Yeah. I think people have an idea of what they think Jazzercize is, and for us, it is really important that people know we’re not making fun of it. It’s a really great method of exercise, and it really paved the way for all of these other dance aerobics like Zumba.
AS: There is something really important about getting together socially and exercising together. And most of them have been doing it for years, so there is a sense of family. I think that is a really cool thing. We wouldn’t want to ever make fun of that.
MH: And it is people’s livelihood. Talking with some of the instructors, both men and women, hearing what goes into building class and teaching classes, they are a really inspiring and wonderful group of people. That’s been probably one of the greatest pleasures of doing the show: getting to know that community.
What has been the most fun or exciting part of the process?
AS: For me, it’s that sense I get just before we go on. It’s always nerve-wracking before you go on stage, but for this play in particular, it’s like being in line to go on a roller coaster. You know you have to do this class – there is no way you can’t do the class – because it’s the only way you can do the play. So, you just buckle your seat belt. It is a really thrilling ride, because there is this incredible physical task, and there is the play on top of it. And there is no getting around it.
MH: Exactly. We have this moment before every show where we look at each other, and it’s like, “well, no escaping now! We gotta do it.” Developing the show, we talked a lot about how there is a very real task that has to be completed. So, every night, it’s kind of incredible to see where we get winded or where we get our second wind. It changes every night because that’s just where we are, and it forces us to be completely present in this thing that we’re doing. We can’t phone it in. We have to do it.
DODO’s The Last Class: A Jazzercize Play will be performed at the Fringe Logan Arts Space, August 19-21, presented by The Klunch. Written by Megan Hill. Directed by Margot Bordelon. Starring Megan Hill and Amy Staats. Class participants: Kathleen Akerley (Sat 3p), Judith Baicich (Sat 8p), Sara Barker (Sat 3p), Melissa Bustamante (Fri 8p), Sara Cormeny (Sat 8p), Kate Debelack (Sun 3p), and Christina Ruppert (Fri 8p). Choreographed by Sarita Lou. Lights by David C. Ghatan. Stage management by Jason A. Milner and Laura Schlachtmeyer.