“Every character in the Forum production was invented in rehearsal. We worked on how many characters should be in each scene (where not specified), who the characters are, what is their relationship, and who says what.” – Edward Christian, Love and Information
My esteemed friends!
Jon Jon Johnson here, bringing you an interview with some of my favorite artists, all working on a production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, opening for previews tonight at Forum Theatre in Silver Spring, directed by Forum’s Artistic Director, Michael Dove.
Assistant Director Rebecca Wahls, and actors Edward Christian, Lillian Oben, Samy El-Noury, Shpend Xani, and Em Whitworth rose up to answer my questions, in order to provide some insight and guidance into the fascinating landscape of Love and Information. (All in the midst of their busy tech-rehearsal schedules!)
Love and Information is a play with 7 sections of scenes/vignettes. What did you have in mind with your arrangement, and what themes do you hope become evident by doing so?
Rebecca Wahls: General themes started to come through for each section from the first read. Hannah Hessel Ratner, our dramaturg, helped articulate those themes as the process continued and mold each to suit both love and information.
The seven sections have to remain in the same order, reinforcing the thematic progression, but within them we are able to shift scenes. Churchill also provides a Random section containing ten one-line Depression scenes, which she says are essential to the play and must be included, and several other optional scenes. One, Genes, is literally a list of codons. Michael figured out a really innovative and enthralling way to include that scene in Forum’s version.
With about 50 mini-plays, how do you separate each little vignette? Do sound and lights play a big part in that magic?
Rebecca Wahls: No characters repeat in this play – that is something else that Churchill stipulates. Costumes have played an essential role in differentiating characters, while sound, lights, and projections serve as a bridge between scenes in addition to enhancing individual moments. It’s important to note that the shortest scenes are one line long and the longest is several pages. Giving equal weight to each is a delicate balance – a scene shouldn’t stand out on the grounds of length alone.
How much information do you have on each character you step into?
Lillian Oben: None. There is no information (gender, age, name, relationship, setting, number of characters speaking, who speaks when, what the conversation is about, or any traditional contextual script clues, etc) about any of the characters or scenes at all. It’s just lines on a page.
Edward Christian: Each scene is simply a series of lines, and the work contains few stage directions and little or no description. Every character in the Forum production was invented in rehearsal. We worked on how many characters should be in each scene (where not specified), who the characters are, what is their relationship, and who says what.
Lillian Oben: The goal is to end up with characters who are as fleshed out with as much and as much filled in, specific, detailed character information as we can.
Samy El-Noury: I’ve imagined entire lives for some of these characters knowing that very little of that information will ultimately reach the audience. It just helps inform my performance, especially in the shorter scenes, where you only have a minute at most to communicate your character to the audience.
Shpend Xani: Churchill didn’t necessarily provide us with a lot of information, but it gave us the freedom to enter the world of imagination, exploration and discovery. Creating these characters was truly a collaborative work between the actors, the director, and the production team.
Emily Whitworth: Which was both daunting and liberating in this process. The characters that have evolved are as much facets of ourselves as they are derivatives of Churchill’s work.
Edward Christian: Usually, an actor would choose a scene and act as the “Scenerunner”, who would devise a scenario and cast it. Then, 20 minutes later, it would be presented to the group. Almost every scene went through multiple iterations by different scenerunners in this fashion until one interpretation landed with the creative team. Then casting would be finalized by the director, and the scene would go into rehearsal like you would expect in a more traditional play.
Any tricks on how you keep that number of characters straight?
Emily Whitworth: Practice, Patience, and Excellent Scene Partners.
Lillian Oben: Once the characters had been decided upon and placed, and the scenes had been specified, then it became more manageable. Michael did a great job of making each of our characters very distinct, so that helped keep every character in their own folder, so to speak. This is even true for characters who may appear to be just a shade a two apart, in terms of the frequency at which they vibrate.
Samy El-Noury: It helped to think of each movement in the play thematically. Each section of the seven vignettes had various overarching themes depending on how you looked at them. So it’s easy to say, like: ”Oh, are we in a memory section? Which of my characters deals with memory?”
Shpend Xani: I don’t think about it. I just trust that when I need them, they’ll be there for me. They all have their own world and show up only when I need them before returning back to their own world.
Edward Christian: We worked intensely with the script, inventing as we went along; the resulting characters rose from the words and became indelible to the group. At this point, I think the actors could step into half of the scenes in the play and do a reasonable job of carrying out the intent of the director.
Who’s your favourite character, and why?
Samy El-Noury: My characters in part four are very dear to me because they both deal with memories in different ways. I don’t play him for very long, but I like who I am in the second half of part four. Churchill states that characters can’t come back in other scenes (every character in every short vignette is different), but Michael made a decision to have a small handful of them make non-speaking appearances later in the play. I think the fact that this character resurfaces at all is very touching. I can’t say more without spoiling it! I feel like I already kind of did…
Love and Information
at Silver Spring Black Box
September 28 – October 19, 2017
Details and tickets
Edward Christian: My favorite right now is a man trying to get back together with his ex-wife, and I love how the idea unfolds that their memories of the relationship are quite different.
Emily Whitworth: This show has allowed me to play both within and against type. My two favorite examples, respectively, are a college student with a passionate secret and an exasperated new mom.
Lillian Oben: Rather than any specific “favorite characters”, for me personally, I think it’s more a case of some characters that present interesting and new challenges that are fun to explore and dive into, even if it’s just for a matter of a few minutes.
Shpend Xani: I really like them all; I don’t want to hurt their feelings, as they’re very sensitive. Jokes aside, they all have their uniqueness and I couldn’t tell you which one I enjoy more.
Bodies of Data, written and performed by Gwydion Suilebhan will be presented before the feature Love and Information on the following nights: September 29th, October 4, 7, 8, 12, 16, & 21.
On October 16th and 17th, Forum will continue its exploration of the themes of Love and Information by joining other theatres for Digital Eye @BlindWhino. It’s an exciting, interactive, two-day only event merging theatre, film, a live game show, and a town-hall style discussion to explore how the Digital Age is affecting our everyday lives.