Tristan Jeffers, John Eckert, Chad Raines, and Izzy Fields, our outrageously talented designers from last season, took a moment to chat with Davi Napoleon at Live Design about their work with Fault Line Theatre. The result: a fantastic article that provides a glimpse into their masterful attention to detail and storytelling.
The blog is back folks! I hope you all had an amazing summer. Mine was wonderful, due in no small part to the fact that Fault Line Theatre was nominated for SIX IT Awards. We were all thrilled to receive such recognition in only our second season, but we couldn’t have done it without the support of our wonderful audiences. Thank you all so much, Check out the complete list of nominees here. The awards ceremony will take place on September 24th, and we are all very excited to see what happens.
Our dear friend and collaborator Karl Gregory was nominated for not one but two awards. He received an Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role nod for his performance as Aeschylus in Frogs, and an Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role for his work in From White Plains. Karl took the time to answer a few question before the ceremony:
Those who know you and your work know that you’re no stranger to awards, having won a SALT Award in 2005 for Fully Committed and getting the “Best Local Actor” nod in the Best of Ithaca Awards in 2010. Even so, how does it feel to be nominated for not one, but TWO IT Awards in the same season?
Are you kidding me?! It’s amazing. I feel like Meryl! Yeah, it feels nice to be recognized for what you do. The NYC OOB world is full of new and interesting kinds of plays, and it’s definitely cool to be nominated as one of the best.
What were the biggest challenges for you in creating the role of Aeschylus in Frogs?
Well, I think the thing we all had to grapple with in that show was the level of absurd comedy while still being truthful, to the play and to ourselves. Aeschylus was a freaking nutjob – a pompous, self-aggrandizing whack. Who also happened to have a pretty solid point about the nature and purpose of art in society. So how do you get that message across without losing the richness of character? You put it all out on the table, faults, triumphs and egos, and you let the play do it’s job.
Speak a little bit about the process of creating From White Plains. How did it differ for you from other new play processes in which you’ve participated? Did the fact that the material hit so close to home make it more or less difficult to portray Dennis?
First of all, this was the first time that I had ever signed on to a project without having a script yet. When we all came on board, Michael Perlman (writer/director) had a single idea, the inciting incident of the play. We also had a fully assembled team. Designers, producers, actors, and our writer/director were involved from conception through development, and into the theatre. I’ve never experienced anything like that before, and I’ve got to say, you can feel the effect. We have a play that is so undeniably in our bones, all of us. As for Dennis, well….. there was nothing easy about that part. There’s a lot of me in there, ideas and things that came out of development. I’ve always found it much harder to play myself onstage. You have to be a lot more naked, willing to show all your baggage. That final monologue hurt every night. But I think it’s important that people see that hurt. So I did it. (And secretly loved it.)
Why do you think there was such an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences to From White Plains?
It’s not something anyone has ever seen. I certainly never have. We were thoughtful about crafting the play so that there was no enemy, no ‘bad guy’. Just four human beings with completely different life experiences. And isn’t that what life really is? No one is the same, no one truly understands what you have been through, what makes you who you are. We make other people feel bad, to make ourselves feel good. But we must have some kind of honest discourse about what happens when society says it’s ok to treat people like they are less than human. I think the real gem of the play is that it asks a lot of questions, and asks the audience to come up with more. Because these questions don’t have answers. It’s an ongoing conversation, and From White Plains bravely stepped out front to make sure we are having it.
We’d love for you to join us at the awards ceremony on September 24th. You can get your tickets here. Be on the lookout for more exciting news from Fault Line in the next few weeks!
Communications Director Matt Clevy spoke with The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation about Fault Line Theatre's 6 nominations!
Full of IT
We asked Fault Line’s Communications Manager, Matt Clevy to tell us about this relatively new company.
What are the origins of Fault Line Theatre?
Fault Line Theatre is a collaboration between Craig Wesley Divino, Tristan Jeffers and Aaron Rossini, founded in 2010. Craig and Aaron were graduate students at the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA Programs while Tristan was assisting Eugene Lee and designing for Brown and Trinity. They worked together on several projects, including a production of Henry V that they built together, and about a year after Craig and Aaron graduated, the three decided they wanted to continue producing their own work. Fault Line Theatre was created in August of 2010, and launched with a production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus in February 2011.
You did a version of Aristophanes The Frogs. How did you update it so that it would resonate for modern audiences?
Aaron was first drawn to direct Frogs because it created an opportunity to combine the two things he loves the most: theatre and cartoons. He saw in Aristophanes’ ancient comedy the origins of the vaudevillian performers that made Looney Tunes so brilliant. With that in mind we set to playing with language and movement to find the best way to nail each joke, which was usually the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck way. We also added a musical element to the show: replacing what could be dry chorus speeches with hilarious and rousing musical numbers composed for us by Eric Thomas Johnson. Using familiar comedic tropes allowed us to create a world that anyone who’s ever seen a cartoon would recognize. Once we’d created that world, our job was to tell the story as clearly, immediately and specifically as we could. Through the rehearsal and design processes, we discovered that Frogs is really a play about the purpose of art, not just in the world of Aristophanes, but in our world. The play literally asks why we make art, and if you’re a producer of independent theatre that’s a question that certainly hits home.
Fault Line Theatre created From White Plains. What was the inspiration for that? and how have audiences reacted to the piece?
From White Plains started with an idea for a moment: ‘a man wins an award for a screenplay about the death of his friend, a gay man bullied to suicide ten years before, and in his acceptance speech says the name of the bully.’ Michael Perlman and Fault Line Theatre had wanted to work together for some time, but hadn’t found the right play, and in December 2011 Michael brought us this idea and we decided to develop it together. We brought a cast and design team on board, and for the next four months we talked about what the story could be, who the characters were and what we were trying to accomplish. The entire team contributed source material, including news, pictures, videos and personal stories to a tumblr feed which now serves as a record of the process. Michael brought a first draft of the script to the actors in early May, and that script was collaboratively workshopped and rewritten over the four week rehearsal process, with Michael making his final changes the Thursday of the final week.
The reaction to From White Plains was overwhelmingly positive. Reviews were excellent, and we’re very proud to have received nominations from the NY Innovative Theatre Awards. I think people were affected by the play in very personal and very different ways. From White Plains’ great success is that is not a message play. The characters in the play have vastly different experiences and different perspectives on how to deal with them, and the focus of the action is on their relationships to one another. That allows the play to discuss a very important issue without beating on any particular drum, which in turn gives people a lot of space to choose how they engage. We held talkbacks with scholars from Brown and NYU, and the discussions were very exciting.
Fault Line was nominated for two different productions. What is the unique quality in your work that you think judges and audiences responded to.
I think it comes down to clarity and effective storytelling. We excel at rehearsing plays, we take our time at the table and refuse to let anything go unexplored. Rehearsing well means that we can communicate complex ideas and difficult questions simply and personally, and because we know what we’re doing the audience feels that we’re taking care of them and can relax and really engage. We also prioritize our actors above other considerations, and we’ve been able to assemble really incredible teams of actors for each show. There was a lot of spectacle in Frogs, but its strength came from the people on the stage.
What is Fault Line currently working on?
We’ve got a few exciting things coming up this season. One of our main goals is to find a venue for a larger, longer production of From White Plains, whether on our own or co-produced with another company. The play is important and we want to share it with as broad an audience as possible. This fall we’ll be producing a live performance of a somewhat notorious sci-fi radio show, and we’ve got a great group of people assembled to make that happen. There will be another new play in the late winter, and looking further ahead, we are developing a completely new adaptation of A Christmas Carol that will see production in December of 2013.
Congratulations to the Fault Line Theatre
Did you catch the great review of Frogs today on Show Business Weekly?
By Carey Glitter
“Children have teachers to teach them; adults have playwrights,” says Aeschylus in Aristophanes’s Frogs. The statement strikes us as bizarre today, but it may not have seemed so unreasonable to Athenians in 405 BCE, when the play debuted. The idea of a whole society’s turning to its dramatists for moral and civic guidance was conceivable then. Fault Line Theatre’s energetic staging of Frogs strives to recreate that world.
Lest all of this sound too lofty, remember that this is a work of Aristophanes, which means that its elevated themes coexist with his signature brand of raucous comedy. The god Dionysus (Haas Regen), distraught over conditions in Athens, and the dearth of good poets there, ventures to Hades with his slave, Xanthias (Blake Segal), to find a dead playwright capable of saving the city. Their journey is filled with absurd set pieces, like the singing Frogs who exasperate Dionysus on his ferry ride to the underworld, and lots of scatological humor (“My … cup runneth over,” he says after soiling himself out of fear).
Fault Line Theatre’s mission statement identifies the company’s chief principle as fidelity to the text. This may account for the production’s most notable quality: its earnestness. No ironic commentary or radical interpretation here—just a straightforward, enthusiastic presentation of an ancient Greek entertainment. Under Aaron Rossini’s direction, this fresh-faced approach is ultimately winning.
Regen, as the effete and shallow Dionysus, and Segal, who channels an early twentieth-century slapstick comedian in his portrayal of Xanthias, work up an amusing master-slave rapport. The rest of the small cast do double duty in the many other roles. Karl Gregory’s austere Aeschylus and Craig Wesley Divino’s populist Euripides bring excitement to the poets’ contest that occupies the final third of the play: which dead tragedian will Dionysus take back to rescue Athens?
The showdown between the two playwrights is both the funniest and most stimulating section of Frogs. One gets to see the great Aeschylus and Euripides behave like bickering children, as Aristophanes uses their conflict to air provocative questions about aesthetics and politics. The first two thirds of his text, which rely heavily on silly gags, aren’t nearly as compelling as the last.
Fault Line launched a year ago, and the group manages with the material resources it has. Tristan Jeffers’s simple set, featuring a wooden platform with a red curtain, links ancient comedy to a more recent, familiar form: vaudeville. The Frogs’ outfit—green bathing suit and cap, yellow goggles, brown flippers, orange arm floats—is the highlight of Allison Crutchfield’s varied costume design.
The folkish, upbeat original music by Eric Thomas Johnson suits the production’s good-humored spirit. Indeed, it’s odd, and weirdly novel, to see a show put together by young people who seem totally unconcerned with being hip or edgy or knowing. They just want to do right by Aristophanes. His 2,500-year-old comedy, if not always hilarious to us, holds historical and political significance, and offers a rousing climax and, yes, some laughs, too. Here’s a nice way to experience it.
Our production of Frogs received a lovely review in The Happiest Medium!
Frogs – Ambitious, Auspicious and Amphibious
By Karen Tortora-Lee
Fault Line Theatre’s new production of Frogs - the Ancient Greek play written by Aristophanes – is reminiscent of Cupcake Wars. Wait… stay with me here – I promise this will make sense in a second. So, Cupcake Wars is all about taking the basic ingredients and saying “There … there you go. You all have the same items. Now go create something magical and wonderful that I would never have expected from this. And make it radically different from the guy standing next to you”. That’s the challenge of taking a play written in 405 BC and making it both exciting, relevant and modern while still keeping the time-honored tenets in tact. Director Aaron Rossini and company not only succeed in creating something magical and wonderful, they excel.
The plot itself isn’t very complicated; it begins with Dionysus (Haas Regen) and his devoted – if overtaxed – servant Xanthias (Blake Segal) hatching a scheme which involves Dionysus pretending to be his half-brother Heracles (Matt Clevy) in order to gain safe passage to Hades to bring Euripides (Craig Wesley Divino) back from the land of the dead. So, think Crosby and Hope in “Road to Hades” where the goal isn’t so much to get the girl in the end as it is to get the dazzling poet who (one hopes) will come back topside and make everything right because if there’s one thing everyone knows … the only way to stop civil unrest is with a poet.
There’s a lot of hijinx but really … let’s get to the part you’re waiting for. I know it’s the part I was waiting for: the frogs. Are there frogs? Of course. Frogs abound as Charon ferries Dionysus across the river and out they pop in their green glory with a chorus of Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax and all manner of instruments (ukulele, guitar, accordion) and soon there’s a rollicking good time as the troop in their emerald swimmies frolic around like a 1920s musical review while still holding true to the original theme.
And this is just the beginning of the romping. Once Dionysus sets about making his way through Hades in search of Euripides the musical numbers keep coming — and with all of the company doing double- and triple-duty as actors, singers, dancers and sometimes even musicians there’s no doubt that this talented bunch is both show-stopping as well as downright foot-stomping. Each musical number is performed with incredible energy and conviviality; this is a likeable bunch and they win you over at every turn. All the original music, by Eric Thomas Johnson, is catchy, upbeat and rousing. It moves the story along and gives it a playful and bouncy edge which is in perfect balance to the longer scenes which play out later.
Back to the story …
Once in Hades after more hi-jinx and switch-a-roos (and, I’ll admit, a few too many scatological jokes for my particular taste) we find that Dionysus has stumbled into a pre-existing mess … while unrest abounds up top seems like there’s a little rivalry going on down below as well. Oh, this bickering. Can’t it ever be escaped?
AEACUS: Fighting and arguing. Screaming and debating. There’s serious trouble among the dead at the moment … the best artist, best singer, best playwright, whoever is the best in each of the Fine Arts disciplines has the right to have his dinner or whatever in the Great Hall right up next to Pluto’s throne.
Euripides has only just died, but as the new kid on the block with a chip on his shoulder he sees no reason not to try and oust the (in his estimation) stuffy and overblown Aeschylus (Karl Gregory) from his place. Since Dionysus is down there to gain a poet, it’s only right that he watch the competition. Sure, he came for Euripides but since there’s a competition going on anyway, maybe he’ll leave with Aeschylus instead. So, in essence, he becomes the guest judge on American Idol. (Or, you know … Cupcake Wars.)
Watching Aeschylus and Euripides verbally spar for the title was absolutely where Frogs turned the corner from delightful musical romp to brilliant theatre. Just one would be fine but to have both in one evening is absolutely a gift to theatregoers. Gregory’s Aeschylus is all pomp, circumstance and arched eyebrow … he’s got a smugness that you both want to revel in as much as you want to slap it off his face. He’s like that showoff in class who always has his hand raised and while you’d rather have anyone but him answer the question you know he will give the most eloquent answer. Of course, this is exactly Euripides’s issue:
From beginning to end, it’s gibberish … Scamanders, sepulchers, bronze-clad vulture-eagles, words like the wall of a fortress, impossible to batter your way into.
Divino’s Euripides is much smoother. Still full of himself, sure, but in a 60s jazz hipster poet hep-cat way. He’s rebellious, questions authority, and it is this exact behavior that Aeschylus feels makes Euripides unfit.
AESCHYLUS: Decent women, married to decent men driven to suicide in your plays.
EURIPIDES: Did I invent the story of Medea? Phaedra?
AESCHYLUS: No, but you put them onstage. Didn’t hide them. Children have teachers to teach them, adults have playwrights. We must set good examples.
All turtleneck and leather jacket, Euripides acts like he couldn’t care less but of course he couldn’t care more about this competition. He needs to win. He needs to have his words be deemed weightier (which is how they are being measured, and which is how, ultimately, the competition is to be won).
Dionysus is at odds:
“I don’t know what to do. I like them both so much. I want to be friends with both of them. How am I to judge? How can I? One is so clever, the other so satisfying. One a master, the other I just love.”
Well, you know, we’ve all been torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool … you’ve got to choose. And he does of course. I won’t give the ending away … (It’s a 2500 year old play, but still, I’ll play along) but suffice it to say, Dionysus leaves with his poet and the chorus asks “Let his majestic brain help us end war and pain.”
From start to finish the entire ensemble is winning; while the main characters certainly steal the show at times there is no doubt that without the buoyancy of the hugely talented group creating a full, rich night this would be quite a different piece.
Fault Line Theatre is both a relatively new as well as a relatively young company but beyond a doubt they have a clear vision, a strong voice and a talented ensemble. After seeing Frogs I look forward to more productions.
Written by Aristophanes
Directed by Aaron Rossini
Fourth Street Theatre
83 4th St. (b/t 2nd Ave. and Bowery)
November 4—19, 2011
Click here to Buy Tickets or call 212.868.4444
We're so happy Blog Critics like our production of Frogs! Check out the review from today.
Frogs - Who Needs Euripides?
By Kate Shea Kennon
Apparently there is a classics craze going on in Manhattan these days, a Greek one. Perhaps in reaction to real world economic issues, we find solace and strength in old world masterpieces;The Iliad prepares to wage war at the New York Theatre Workshop, and Lysistrata opens up on Broadway as a musical. And speaking of Aristophanes, because, really aren’t we always when it comes to comedy, it became very clear during the croaking of the Frogs, a rarely produced comedy, that the Fault Line Theatre Company is making an impact in the cacophony of off Broadway theatre companies.
Although only in its second production, Fault Line, through ambition, talent and dare I say a dramaturg, is taking some old routines and never failing as the first line of Frogs goes. Their first effort was Doctor Faustus to a great reception. This time around is something only less weighty in that it is a comedy. But remember, comedy is hard! Musical comedy is even harder: “What do you do when the good comics are gone and the present ones are dim” and the European Union teeters? Sing and dance.
The basic plot of Frogs (sometimes called The Frogs) in case you missed that day of Greek Civ in college: the god Dionysus, who we usually think of as being the deity of drunkenness, puts on his crocus yellow scarf to be the god of drama. He tries to rescue the playwright Euripides from Hades (the afterlife) to “pull off some dirty work” as the Fault Line loosely translated text explains. The dirty work in question is rescuing Athens in the Peloponnesian war – heavy lifting for a playwright to try and stop the downfall of one of Western Culture’s great democracies (Are you busy in Heaven right now, Mr. O’Neill?)
Dionysus is played by the entertaining Haas Regan (above, rowing, with Craig Wesley Divino as a demonic Charon) whom I saw as a memorable Lady Bracknell a few years back. There is an archness to this performance, indeed to the whole production, but then again, this is a play with an undue amount of flatulence jokes, enough to make Two and a Half Men seems like a somber study in behavioral science. Perhaps archness is just what’s needed to balance out the scatalogical references.
The comic journey of god and servant (the mere mortal Xanthias played by the divine Blake Segal) culminates in the land of Pluto (Scott Raker) where a contest brews between the talents of Euripides and Aeschylus. Imagine, if you will, an Ancient Greece Has Talent and it’s all down to two playwrights. Sophocles, probably the playwright that is most well known to a modern day audience, is not invited into the verbal brawl because his resurrection would inconvenience his struggling writer of a son. Talk about the anxiety of influence.
Karl Gregory is the yummy character of Aeschylus. Aeschylus would probably not want to be described as yummy but his pomposity is delicious comic fodder, just ask any fan of Monty Python’s stuffy bureaucrats. Craig Wesley Divino is a yummier Euripides – all leather jacket and long Tom Brady hair with the added conceit of a Williamsburg inhabitant. The contest comes down to whose words are weightier, and to quote the playwright, I couldn’t stop laughing although I was biting my lip in two.
The rest of the cast includes a realistically substantial Heracles (Matt Clevy), Rachel Christopher as a Frog which isn’t as dubiously amphibious as it may sound, Rebecca Gibel as the Landlady, and Rudi Utter as Aecus, a kind of groundskeeper for Pluto. All work well together as a chorus whether amphibian or as the well-fortified Bacchanalians.
Making Frog into a musical has been done before. There is a Sondheim version with typical Sondheim music, something along the lines of Out of the Styx. Frankly, no matter how much that version protests, there is nothing adorable about Sondheim’s frogs. Here they actually are adorable: green Speedos, yellow goggles and fins. Comedy is hard to repeat myself, but it’s harder to dance in fins. The original music, by Eric Thomas Johnson, is pleasantly familiar in a show tune way but not cloying or cliche.
Under the direction of Aaron Rossini, who along with Mr. Divino and Tristan Jeffers are Fault Line’s originators, Frogs has lots of relevant, seemingly modern touches. Many of the cast and crew are recent graduates of Brown University’s Trinity Rep. While there, did they see “The Younger Generation, Scribbling away, churning out plays by the hundreds of thousands. Miles more words to the minute than Euripides.”? Is this the twitter generation that Aristophanes refers to?
I don’t even need 140 characters to say it: The Fault Lines’ Frogs. I’m mad for it.
Frogs runs through Nov. 19 at the Fourth Street Theatre. Photo Credits by Jacob J. Goldberg.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re open! Weeks of hard work and collaboration on Frogs culminated in a great opening Sunday night. The cast and crew killed it, the audience was incredibly generous and our good friends at Stillwater Grill across the street provided a wonderful opening night party venue. It was truly a FROGTASTIC time. We couldn’t have asked for a better evening. Don’t fret if you missed us on opening because there are plenty of opportunities left to catch this amazingly talented ensemble in action! We play through November 19th.
Our dramaturg for Frogs, Brandt Adams, chatted with Lanie Zipoy of nearsay.com about translating Aristophanes from the ancient Greek and fart jokes.
By Lanie Zipoy
Fault Line Theatre, hailed as an “ambitious new troupe” by Show Business Magazine, opens its second season with the rapid fire hilarious production of Frogs November 4 through 19, 2011 at the Fourth Street Theatre in the East Village. Classic Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote characters that belong in the same breath as comedic titans Three Stooges, Mel Brooks and Looney Tunes, and Aaron Rossini directs a bold production that underscores these elements.
Brandt Adams, who serves as the production’s dramaturg, gives some insights into what to expect from the dynamic show and how Fault Line Theatre creates its work.
LZ: What excites you about the play Frogs by Aristophanes?
BA: Frogs is a great play that really asks the big questions about great plays: Why are they important? And how do they serve us best? As a theater artist, these are questions that I am constantly revisiting whenever I approach my work. Aristophanes was clearly reflecting deeply on them when he wrote it and it led him to produce a really thrilling piece of theatrical satire and criticism. It’s also funny as hell.
LZ: Fault Line Theatre company is dedicated to text work. Will you explain what that means, particularly for people who’ve never been in theater?
BA: I’ve never worked with a theater company that had such a deep appreciation for the words on the page. Fault Line really focuses on putting up the play the author has written, so they spend the first chunk of their process sitting around a table hashing out each individual moment. Even after they have started building the play on its feet, director Aaron [Rossini] makes it a point to remind the everyone, “The table never goes away!”, by which he means that if, at any time, the company feels lost or confused about the moment we’re trying to build, we can always go back to the words on the page. Using this approach the company is able to craft exceptionally clear moments that, once strung together, gel into clear and complex stories that are as close as possible to the author’s original intention.
LZ: How did you approach Frogs? What were some of the challenges?
BA: Frogs is deeply rooted in the historical moment in which Aristophanes wrote it, and it’s full of jokes, so the first thing I had to do was carefully pore over the text to figure out what each reference meant to a 5th Century BCE Athenian audience. It’s remarkable, really, how many of these jokes require little or no knowledge of the historical context, but many of them depended on word-play that is difficult to translate or direct references to 5th Century Athenian politicians, and so much of the table work was dedicated to figuring out how to translate that material in a way that was true to Aristophanes’ play but also resonant with our audience. Sometimes this meant tweaking a word. Sometimes it meant grabbing a whole speech from a different translation because it captured the idea more clearly. It was really incredible to watch the play transform during that first week, especially. The cast immediately took ownership of the script and went through tweaking it almost line by line to make sure the words and rhythms were just right.
LZ: What should audiences expect from this production that is different from the norm?
BA: Well, probably a dozen more fart jokes than you get in you standard Off-Broadway fare. But more importantly, I think people will be pleased to find a really sincere exploration of the nature and purpose of theater. The whole show, from the style of performance to the production design, really owns the meta-theatricality that Aristophanes wrote into it. Too many plays try to mask the fact that they are plays, and it’s such a waste of an opportunity—an opportunity to recognize and lift up the event that is actually happening, which is a group of people physically coming together to tell each other stories, and own all that potential that moment has! From the first moment ofFrogs to the last, it will be very clear to the audience that they are in a theater watching a play, and that’s sort of the point.
Frogs opening soon!
As you may have gathered from the title of this post, tech rehearsals for Frogs have begun! We had a great first day full of spacing, costume changes and singing and dancing in full Frog attire. FINALLY!
The play happened at the table, in the rehearsal room, and now we’re putting the final pieces into place to make it happen in the space! Our friends at New York Theatre Workshop have been very hospitable and we couldn’t be happier working at the 4th Street Theatre. We have our first audience in two days! Come see us! You’ll have a Froggin’ good time. Get your tickets here.
Aaron chatted with New York Theatre Review about the importance of storytelling and Warner Bros. cartoons!
AARON ROSSINI: Fault Line Theatre's Frogs
By Jody Christopherson
JODY: Why do you make theater?
AARON ROSSINI: I make theater because I believe that the way in which our species understands the world is through storytelling. All the ups and downs, the awful and the beautiful, everything that happens in the world is understood through the shared action of storytelling. It’s so exciting for me as an audience member to stand up and scream, that’s me up there on that stage in this book, in that poem, on that screen, wherever it happens to be. I enjoy the great responsibility of being an artist who tells that story. I make theater because I loved being an audience member so much and wanted to participate in that.
JODY: Tell us about your process for rehearsing Frogs.
AARON ROSSINI: The process for rehearsing Frogs or any play that we would ever do or have done is to begin with the words, start with what is on the page. It’s a slow process, and we start at the table, reading the words, discovering what they mean, what the thoughts are that are attached to each word, sentence and phrase. We explore how those thoughts are being communicated to the other characters onstage and to the audience, and from there we build the play up from a read through to table work to more table work to standing on our feet, how we are going to physically communicate this. You can’t just stand up and say it, you have to build your physical life from a profound understanding of the language and of the story you are choosing to tell. You have to know how the grammar works, how the words connect to that moment, how that moment connects to the rest of the play. With this play a lot of work went into making sure we took responsibility for both of the major aspects of this story, the wild comedy that’s happening but also the deep human needs of the play, the hard look Aristophanes is taking at his civilization and, by extension, ours.
JODY: Clearly Fault Line is a theatre company dedicated to the exploration of language and text. In addition to this consideration, what made you choose to produce Frogs?
AARON ROSSINI: I would be lying if i shied away from the fact that we chose to do Frogs, just like we chose to do Faustus, because no one does these plays. We’ve got a bit of a chip on our shoulder about that. They have survived for a reason, because they’re good, this play has been around for 2500 years and it’s still here and I’ve never seen it. That excites me as an actor and a producer and a theatre goer, check it out, they’re doing that. So I think there’s a little of that in it. I also think that this play is extraordinarily relevant, my mind is always blown away when something so old is so vibrantly and elegantly speaking about right now. Also, I’m a cartoon addict and the first time that I reread this play when I was choosing our season I couldn’t help but think that it should be produced by Warner Bros, it should be Bugs and Daffy and Elmer as a theater company producing Aristophanes’ Frogs. There’s a beginning to all this comedy stuff and Aristophanes is a part of that beginning. I’m going to jump at the opportunity to direct a cartoon because, well, I can’t draw, and Aristophanes has given us a great gift here.
JODY: Tell us about the original music in Frogs?
AARON ROSSINI: Greek plays all have chorus speeches, and I can think of nothing more boring to me than a large group of people in masks and robes speaking in unison. Eric Thomas Johnson has done this incredible job of creating original music that has made the choral moments pop and move the story forward in a way that I don’t think the traditional chorus can do. The content is all intact, and very important, but the human element is so much more vibrant. Accordion, ukulele, guitar, melodeon, slide whistle, kazoo; the music enhances the play without distracting from it. What I have learned from the music and from this process is that what one is supposed to do as a director is to hire brilliant people and let them do the thing that they are brilliant at doing. ETJ’s ideas were never about him but about supporting the play and the company of actors communicating a story. Music can express so much all at once, different thoughts and emotions and voices together and it buoys the story in a beautiful way.
JODY: Favorite places below 14th street?
AARON ROSSINI: 440 Studios, where we rehearse plays, is #1. Death and Co, because they make the best cocktails, period. We go to Swift for Guinness and oysters.
Hearth. Because it’s incredible.
Fault Line Theatre Presents;
directed by Aaron Rossini
A rowdy, bawdy romp through the underworld, FROGS is a celebration of humor and a poignant examination of the purpose of art. Inventing what would become the finest traditions of modern comedy, Aristophanes brings to life characters that belong in the same breath as the Three Stooges, Mel Brooks and Looney Tunes. A night of original music, jokes and capable storytelling, FROGS is a comedy event 2,500 years in the making.
Fourth Street Theatre
83 East 4th Street
between Bowery & 2nd Ave.; Subway: F to 2nd Ave., B/D to Broadway/Lafayette or 6 to Bleecker
November 4 through 19, 2011.
Director: Aaron Rossini
Cast: Rachel Christopher*, Matt Clevy*, Craig Divino*, Becky Gibel*, Karl Gregory*, Scott Raker*, Haa Regen*, Blake Segal*, David Rudi Utter*, John Tracey:
Set Design: Tristan Jeffers | Costume Design: Allison Crutchfield
Lighting Design: John Eckert | Composer: Eric Thomas Johnson
Vocal/Speech Coach: Jimmy King | Assistant Director: Brandt Adams
Production Stage Manager: Jamie Steffen
Fault Line Theatre is a collaborative group of artists dedicated to producing plays, classical and modern. The core of Fault Line Theatre is the text. The company converts the potential energy of a playwright’s words into action, creating productions that engage and inspire. Fault Line Theatre strives to understand and transmit a story from within the text — shear the unnecessary and seek the essential.
Last year, the company kicked off its season with a lauded production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.
“After such an auspicious maiden voyage, we can expect many, to quote Marlowe, more ‘sweete speeches, comedies, and pleasing showes,’ from this ambitious new troupe.” — Show Business Magazine