Site-specific shows are not new to DC theatre. We’ve had plays performed in a swimming pool, in bars, in vacant spaces and in a residential home. Nameless Theater is taking it further, producing their latest play, Honey, which is set in a motel room, in a small bedroom of the Ivy City Hotel in northeast DC.
When guests arrive for tonight’s opening night performance, they will check in at the front desk, and receive a key to a room where they will discover what happens when Honey, a DC lady of the night, and John, a routine customer, experience a break from their routine.
To learn more, we had an email conversation with Nameless Theater’s founders, playwright A’Leighsha Butler and director, Nia Barge.
Nia: The goal of Nameless is to challenge the way the audience experiences theater. We are constantly looking for ways to make audiences feel fully immersed in the experience. We don’t want audiences to watch a performance we want them to have an experience. We only produce original content. A lot of times our ideas are sparked by a location first and not the actual story. After we think of a location or setting we then create a story for it. That’s how Honey was inspired. We thought to ourselves “what kind of story can we tell in a motel?”
A’Leighsha: I wrote this play and didn’t do anything with it for over a year. In all honesty, I was a little afraid of it. Honey is the most complex and dark story I’ve ever written. The characters are deeply flawed and at some points it is very hard to empathize with them. However, I hope this story challenges audiences to think about love, forgiveness and pain in ways that they hadn’t before. I believe there is a darkness in every human, and if the spirit is not fed with enough light – that darkness can grow overpowering. Honey is a story that explores that darkness.
As far as the location, I’ve always been inspired creatively by motels. When I ride past them, I imagine a story behind each door. Honey is ultimately the pilot for a “Motel Series” we plan to launch by September 2018. In the Motel Series, audiences will view 3 short performances in one night in various motel rooms.
Is doing a play in a site-specific location something new for Nameless?
A’Leighsha: Nia and I both studied theater in London, England at the University of London Goldsmith’s College. We were exposed to a variety of art forms and performance styles. As a result, we are very passionate about non-traditional performance and engaging audiences who wouldn’t normally consume theater. Nameless has a series called, Happy Hour Theater, where audiences attend a theater show in a happy hour setting. Our productions in this series, Last Call (2014) and Death at the Prom (2015) both were site-specific and took place at Heaven and Hell bar in Adams Morgan and Union Town bar in Anacostia, respectively.
Produced by Nameless Theater
closes April 14, 2018
Details and tickets
How did you choose the Ivy City Hotel?
A’Leighsha: We wanted to target a non-chain motel because we believed they would have the freedom to allow this unique opportunity. We also wanted to support a local business, if possible. It was important that the location had outdoor room access. Ivy City Hotel is in a great location and is newly renovated. The on-site parking was also an added bonus!
What was management’s reaction when you told them your idea?
A’Leighsha: The manager, Raj, was actually extremely excited about the idea! Nia and I thought we were going to have to do a lot of pitching, explaining and assuring, but, within the first 10 minutes, he was on board! In addition, he has been very flexible and accommodating.
How have you adapted the Ivy City Hotel bedroom to the play?
Nia: We won’t be! Rather, there is no need to. The show was created specifically for a motel room. It (takes place in) a standard motel room with a King size bed. We are able to fit 12 chairs in the room.
Technical considerations? Lights, sound …
Nia: We won’t be adding any additional lights or using any sound equipment. The show is intimate enough where it is not needed. The attraction to us producing this show was making the audience feel like they really are somewhere they aren’t supposed to be.
I imagine performing in a small space such as this presents challenges. Could you talk about them?
Nia: Seating has been the biggest challenge. Trying to fit enough seats and have performance space has been difficult. We’ve had to be very creative with the blocking of the show; keeping it contained, to make room for the audience, while also implementing enough movement to keep it interesting.
Are you worried that sound from the performance will both other guests?
Nia: We are not really concerned about our show disturbing other guests, but more so the environment possibly disturbing our show. Performing at a site specific location that is still a functioning business will inevitably have elements we can’t control. Children playing outside, Conversations in other rooms, housekeeping – these are all things that have crossed our mind. We won’t be able to control any of it. We are really counting on our actors to adapt to whatever surprises may come our way.
Do you think it would work as well in a performing space?
A’Leighsha: This show should definitely be performed in an intimate space. A small black box theater could also be suitable. The story is engaging enough to captivate the audience in any setting.