Studio Theatre is thrilled to welcome back Studio veterans Dina Thomas and Joanie Schultz, the actor/director pair currently working on Lisa Kron’s autobiographical solo play 2.5 Minute Ride. Assistant Director Annabel Heacock interviewed Dina and Joanie during the first week of rehearsals, and the three discuss the process of making a solo play during the coronavirus pandemic and the elements of Studio’s production that will be distinct from Kron’s original performance.
Annabel: Dina, I know it has only been a few days, but what has been your experience of being back in a rehearsal room after a year of isolation?
Dina: Emotional, exciting, daunting. I think when you’re unable to do what you love for a prolonged period of time, you wonder if you even know how to do it anymore. And being presented with the incredible opportunity of doing a solo piece doubles down on that pressure. If I can’t remember what I’m doing, there’s no one else to blame. All that being said, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to do a show in the midst of the pandemic, when so many people who want to be doing a show don’t have that chance. So it’s mixed with all those emotions, and then the emotion of “alright, get to work.” It’s all-encompassing.
Annabel: How are you preparing for your first solo show?
Dina: My deal with myself was that I didn’t want the rehearsal room team to have to wait for me to learn my lines. Looking at the calendar and knowing what a short amount of time we have, I counted out all of the pages in the script and I said to myself “if you can just do a page a day, at home or on a walk, a page a day won’t feel so daunting. That way, by the time you get to rehearsal, even if you aren’t 100% off-book, you’ll have enough in there to start working comfortably.” I didn’t want the lines to be holding me back from discoveries or organic, in-the-moment storytelling. I did a page a day for about six weeks before rehearsals. A page a day and then I’d review at the end of the week to make sure I was ready to rock.
Annabel: Lisa Kron wrote and performed this play based on her own experiences and relationship with her father. Are there elements of this story that resonate with you personally?
Dina: I’m a Jewish person, and you can’t really have a play that involves the history of the Holocaust without it having some resonance. It was a very big part of my history lessons as I grew up, especially in Jewish day school. I think the cool thing about the play is that we’re all sure our families are crazy. You very rarely meet someone who thinks everyone in their family is totally normal; of course I have that in my family. I really like that Lisa specifically says that she wants the audience to be able to imagine their own grandparent or father or mother or aunt. I think that it’s important that she tells these stories but that there’s a way to identify with the people in our own lives. I would love for audiences watching at home with their families to have these experiences because we won’t have the audience camaraderie of seeing the play together inside a theatre.
Annabel: Joanie, what have been the biggest challenges and rewards in directing one of Lisa Kron's autobiographical plays? What will be the most significant differences between your production of 2.5 Minute Ride and the one that starred Lisa herself?
Joanie: One of the challenges of directing an autobiographical solo play without the original creator is that the writer has details in her mind that I’m certain come through in her performance, but we have to build all of that. One of the goals I’ve had in the first week of rehearsals is to create that background so the details are as full for Dina as they were for Lisa when she originally performed 2.5 Minute Ride. When you first approach an autobiographical solo play, you think you should look at where the author is from and her interviews— at first you feel precious about portraying somebody else’s actual life. But then you have to let go of that impulse because it’s a play and she created “character Lisa” that is not necessarily her. So that’s been an interesting journey that one goes on with autobiography and memory plays.
Our production is super different, specifically because it’s on camera. This is written with the performer talking to the audience, so we’ve been working to define who she is talking to now that she doesn’t have an audience. That inspired the conceit that she sets up a camera and is talking to a camera, that she always knows that it’s there. There is a more intimate relationship because cameras pick up so much and magnify things that we wouldn’t be able to see in a theatre piece. We are trying to mine the opportunities of being on film, which is new for us. We are creating a new medium of film-theatre right now.
Annabel: Have your own experiences as a writer and solo performer shaped the way you view 2.5 Minute Ride?
Joanie: When I was in college I took a solo performance class and I started writing. I was really passionate about writing and performing during the same era that Lisa Kron first wrote and performed this play. As somebody who did this work, this play made me excited in a nostalgic way because I haven’t performed since 2007 and it’s a form that I love and am passionate about. I think what Lisa does really well in 2.5 Minute Ride is that she actually makes it a play. She’s pretty articulate about the difference between storytelling and a play. That’s the biggest thrill to me, that this thing is bigger than her character knows and that her character goes through a transformation.
Annabel: Has your directing process shifted for this play? How have you taken on the constraints of directing for the camera and directing during the pandemic?
Joanie: There’s this pure form in theatre where Dina would be talking directly to people, but now there’s this mediator, a camera, in the way. And it’s not just one mediator—it's the camera lens and its editing and it’s the delivery system that audiences use to access the play on the internet. I think that all of that combined is fascinating. I can say that it’s site-specific in a way, and the site for this play is camera on the internet.
Annabel: Is there anything else either of you would like to share about the show? About the process of making film-theatre during a pandemic?
Dina: It’s a really brave thing that we’re attempting this right now. The arts completely stopped for this last year, so it’s important to find ways to evolve so that we’re not completely reliant on waiting for a safe time to be together, because who knows what the future will bring. I hope that people watch and give themselves the experience to see some art in a new, powerful, and brave way.
Joanie: I feel super lucky to be doing this. Theatre is a hard form because it relies on so many other people and I had no idea how fragile that was until this happened. We took it for granted that we could make as much theatre as we could and that we had the audiences that we had. The fact that there is an audience for these new ways of making work makes me really hopeful. It says to me that people really love theatre.
I think there is something sort of pure and ancient about solo performance. Something that feels like it goes back to people thousands of years ago, people telling their stories simply. It’s nice to feel those roots right now.