Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on Gillian‘s director, Sara Joy Lebowitz

By • Oct 23rd, 2007 • Category: Backstage, Interviews, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday

Listen to Mike interview Sara Joy Lebowitz, about To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday [MP3 8:47 4MB].

Mike: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. I am talking with Sara Joy Lebowitz who is the director of Port City Playhouse’s production of To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. Thanks for talking with me.

Sara Joy: Absolutely not a problem. I love talking with you guys.

Mike: So tell us about the show. What is Gillian about?

Sara Joy: To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday is about a man who lost his wife two years prior to the action that is going on in the play. He has been so overcome by her loss that he has kind of removed himself from the world. He still talks to her, he still believes in her. I think that speaks to a lot of people, but unfortunately for him it has caused kind of a distancing and a rift between him and his daughter. This play is a coming of age for both of them. She is only 16 years old, he is in his late thirties. His sister-in-law and brother-in-law come to visit for the weekend. They bring with them someone for him to meet, hoping that that will spur him in to moving on with his life. It’s a wonderful story about learning how to move on and when it is the right time and how do you manage that grief, but not lose sight of what’s still here and what’s still important.

Mike: I think it was at the auditions that we attended that you mentioned, or maybe at the first rehearsal, that this is a character driven show and you could do this show with no set at all.

Sara Joy: I think so. Some people may disagree with me and that’s perfectly fine. That’s the wonderful thing about theater. Everyone has their own opinion. I like to choose plays that are character driven, plays that have really rich characters where if you stripped away the set, if you stripped away the costumes, if you just got up there and performed the piece and performed the characters you’d get it. You’d be drawn in by it. It would be a powerful story and a powerful production. I think this is one of those plays.

Mike: Have you ever done a show without a set? Kind of a black box almost.

Sara Joy: I have done a show that way as a performer, but I’ve never done a show that way as a director. I performed in a reader’s theater a few years ago where we didn’t actually have the lines memorized. We had the scripts in our hands. We sat in the seats. We stood up when it was our turn to talk. I have been involved in productions like that. I don’t think it works for everything. I don’t think it quite worked for the show I did then because we were going back and forth between different locations whereas To Gillian is one place, one set. It all takes place on the beach outside of the house where the the man and his daughter live. You don’t have to worry about people wondering where we are right now. What’s going on? Where have we shifted? That’s all there for you.

Mike: It seems like a one act festival would be a great place for that type show.

Sara Joy: Absolutely. A one act festival is the perfect place for a unit set. This means there are no set changes. There’s little things to change. Little props and little technical elements.

Mike: We’ve done several interviews with the some of the cast members and they’ve all loved the character workshop you did a few weeks ago.

Sara Joy: Good.

Mike: How did you come up with that? Have you done that as an actor before?

Sara Joy: I actually discovered that when I was in college. I was working with a group called No Refund Theater. One of the first directors I worked with did that. We called it hot spotting. We would put one character in a seat as their character and then everyone else as themselves and then you ask them questions and that person has to really get into their character, get into the mindset and then the first answer that comes into their head is what they go ahead and say. It becomes a great way for the cast to kind of come together on what are some of those externals that aren’t in the play that we need to know about.

For instance in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, it doesn’t say how long Paul and Esther (who are the brother-in-law and sister-in-law of the main character David) have been married. Some people may say it doesn’t really matter how long they’ve been married. It doesn’t really come out. But it’s something good for actors to know to have an idea of. A couple that’s been married for five years acts differently than a couple who has been married for twenty years. To have that understanding and make sure that both actors are on the same page to say, “Ok, we’ve been married for this amount of time. This is kind of where we are in our relationship.” That’s an important thing for them to know when they are performing. So the character workshop is one of those places where we can get that all out and make sure we’re all on the same page.

Mike: Have there been any other challenges with the script?

Sara Joy: There have not been that many challenges with the script. It’s been a lot of fun. The biggest challenge is Gillian herself which is one of the characters in the play, but she is a ghost. She died two years ago. We’ve been struggling as a cast especially the actor playing Gillian and the actor playing David her husband. We’ve struggled with as a cast with how much of her is a real ghost that he is actually seeing and how much of her is completely made up in his head and he is dreaming about her and dreaming up the conversation. And where do we find that balance because the evidence is there that you could go either way. You could go in the way of she is a real character and she is there and that’s the end of the story.

It’s been a struggle for us to find that fine line of how do we want to portray it. How is it going to come across to the audience? What does it mean that she’s her and for the moment that she does come. What is she saying? How is all that important because obviously for a playwright to write any character who is dead is not something that happens that often. The title of the play has her name in it so she is obviously an important character. So what exactly is her significance at these specific moments. How do we capitalize on that without being heavy handed about it?

Mike: Anything else we should touch on?

Sara Joy: I have to say that I have been incredibly impressed with this particular cast. It’s one of the best casts that I have worked with. Usually you get to a point and anybody who is listening to this who has done theater before knows that when it’s time to get off book, you usually take a couple steps backwards with everyone struggling with their lines. It take time to learn those kinds of things. It’s understandable and we all prepare ourselves for it.

I’ve been truly impressed with his cast getting off book and with learning their blocking. We’ve changed the blocking here and there every time we get up there we learn something new and we find something new we tweak it. I’ve been very impressed with their flexibility and I am looking forward to getting my crew in there and the props and the set and all those things and putting them together. I am so excited about this production and I hope that people who come to see it will be just as excited about it because I think it will be amazing.

Mike: Well, it’s looking really good. Laura saw the Act 1 run through last night and she was very impressed.

Sara Joy: It’s been a lot of fun having you guys there as well. You have some really interesting comments and constructive criticism. It’s always good to have that along the processes. It makes me think twice and say that maybe we should bring in people along the way here and there. To say what do you think and what do you see because now I am a drama teacher at a middle school in Alexandria. One of the first things I taught my kids is there is no theater without an audience. You can’t act in a vacuum. It kind of makes me take a second look at the whole rehearsal process of when is it beneficial to bring somebody in to watch for a little bit. To say what do you think and what do you see? To bring that in along the way rather than rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and then opening night you have an audience and you have no idea how they are going to react.

Mike: We’ve read the script. We have a copy of it, but seeing it being blocked out with actual people saying the words from across the room really is so different from reading it.

Sara Joy: It is. It is completely different. I saw a play last week that had I read it, I probably would not have been very moved by it. I probably would not have been very interested by it. But I was watching it and by the end I was crying. It was an amazing production when you add the actors up there really giving it their all and really committed to the scene. It’s such a difference to have it up on the stage.

Mike: Absolutely. It opens on November 2nd at the Lee Center for the Performing Arts in Alexandria.

Sara Joy: I’m very excited. Three more weeks.

Mike: It’s all coming together so get ready for the hard work now.

Sara Joy: Thanks.

Mike: Well thank you very much for talking with us.

Sara Joy: Any time.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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