Emile Adams and Laura Skoch met me at the Phoenix the other day and we talked about Heller’s upcoming show I Wish You Actually Liked Me (and other Familial Impossibilities). Laura’s directing Emile’s script, and I was interested in the fact that this young playwright is being produced by an established group in town, and not only that, but that this will be the second time the show has had a mainstage production, this time opening at Henthorne and performing May 19, 20, and 21 at 7:30PM and May 22 at 2:00PM.
FRANK: So Emile, this show’s been produced in Tulsa once before.
EMILE: It has.
EMILE: I do have a semi-theatre company, Effervescent Productions. I call it semi because we don’t have a bank account or a theater or anything to go with it, but we try to do a show every year. Last year it was this show, which was part of Fringe, and Laura did not see it--
FRANK: That was my next question.
EMILE:--which I am thrilled about. Which means it’s going to be two totally separate shows. I’m just very excited about that.
FRANK: Are there differences from the first production? In tone, or in cast, what impresses you as differences between the two productions?
EMILE: Well, I have not been as directly involved this time. I came to auditions and the first read through, but the only other rehearsal I’ll have been to is tonight.
FRANK: That’s surprising.
EMILE: I’ve been getting updates from Laura, so it’s not like I’ve been completely removed. From what I could tell from the first read, there’s a different tone, but not to a huge degree. It’s hard to be too different, due to the material. It’s about an abusive family, but it’s funny . . . It’s always going to be a dark comedy. Last time we leaned more towards the comedy because that’s . . . how I roll . . . but I was the director last time.
FRANK: Let’s talk about the process. Laura, Emile may not have been at rehearsals, but obviously you’ve communicated. Talk a little bit about how that process has gone. Also, if you’ve ever done that, either as an actor or director, working directly with the playwright.
LAURA: Many, many times as an actor, working on an original production. That was half of the work I did in New York, working with new plays and playwrights. I’m very used to the collaborative work, having respect for the playwright’s words, but being able to say, “This line isn’t fitting in my mouth right, what can I do about that?” Love it. But as a director I haven’t done it before. It was interesting to hear from Emile that she’d done lots of rewrites and she was comfortable with where the play was, and I think the play’s great, I didn’t feel I needed to do much with it. I was willing to work either way, either having her at rehearsals or not, but she’s involved in another project right now, so it was like, “If we hit any walls, I’ll write to you with suggestions.” Sometimes we discussed lines that weren’t working or didn’t make sense to us. I’ll send an email and she’ll either approve the change or say no, keep it.
EMILE: It’s probably been about 50-50 on that. There was a couple of times I really wanted to keep the line, but most of the time I tried to be open to the suggestions. I’m trying to let go of my writing more. It’s a flaw that I hold on very tightly, I’m trying to train myself to be more open.
LAURA: I think it’s a very different process, if we were to rework the play with a dramaturg involved . . . because that’s done with the intent of reshaping the script. It’s where the playwright comes in and says, “This is a living being, I want to see where it goes with other hands, working together.” Where this, Emile is comfortable where it is, so my job is to interpret the play as it is.
FRANK: I’m completely unfamiliar with your history. Talk a little bit about what you’ve done and where.
LAURA: I’m from Tulsa, I left and got a BFA in acting at USC. Then I became an itinerant actor, basically a drifter, joining up with different theatre communities--
FRANK: Making your living as an actor?
LAURA: Oh gosh no. No no no, I did everything. I worked in California for awhile, and Colorado, and Florida, and Chicago. And ended up in New York, I was just meaning to pass through, be there for 3 months and then go to Austin to start a theatre company with some friends, and it turned into 17 years. In New York I started out with the Barrish group, then went back and got an MFA at Columbia. I started working a lot downtown, the new works theatre scene.
FRANK: Quite a history. And now you’re back here?
LAURA: Well, I met this wonderful guy, and all of a sudden we had twins, and Tulsa seemed like a good place to go when you have babies.
FRANK: How long have you been in town?
LAURA: Two years.
FRANK: And who have you worked with here?
LAURA: I did Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike and 39 Steps.
FRANK: Both great shows.
LAURA: And the Heller Shorts, I directed George’s (Romero) and Nick Lutke’s play.
FRANK: Another great show. And Nick is in this one, yes? As the brother, yes? Will?
EMILE: Ben. The character’s name is Ben. (laughs)
FRANK: And I want to get to that in a second. Ok, I haven’t read this play, which puts me at a disadvantage, but instead of just talking about the plot, I’d like you to describe the play by talking about the main characters. Tell me who they are.
LAURA: The main character is Olive, and she is a young woman who’s come home for Christmas holidays. Advisedly or inadvisably . . . home is a dangerous place to be. Her father and stepmother, it’s never been a happy place, for her. Everybody’s back together, uncle, brother, sister, step mother, half sister . . . All the tinder is there for a fire to start at any moment. With a lot of alcohol keeping it together as much as possible until it all explodes.
FRANK: All right, I want you to bring up one of your actors so we can focus on him for a second, and so you don’t have to pick, I’m just going to pick at random. Who’s the actor playing the father.
LAURA: His name is Bryne Zuege.
EMILE: I fought for Bryne.
FRANK: Good, I picked lucky.
LAURA: He’s a really sweet guy. He hasn’t had a major role since high school, so it’s new to him, but he’s jumped in with both feet.
EMILE: At the auditions, we had several people come in and do brilliant auditions. But Bryne just totally had the dad down. I said “Please Laura, I will not interfere with anyone else if you just let me have Brian. Please.” So I hope he’s working out (laughs). I felt very strongly that he was the guy this time. Last time it was played by Craig (Walter).
FRANK: Really? That’s so wonderful that you are getting talented people like that to work with.
EMILE: I got lucky.
FRANK: So. About the play. Does art reflect life?
EMILE: Art of course reflects life. Are always reflects life.
FRANK: Yeah? Talk about that.
EMILE: The three siblings are the most thinly veiled fictionalized accounts of my siblings and I that I’ve ever written, and I’ve written probably half a million words now. Like all of this absolutely, full stop, bar none me a few years ago, when I was in a really bad place, I was coming off a suicide attempt, coming off of dropping out of college, recognizing that I’d grown up with an eating disorder, realizing some abuse that I’d endured . . . I was not in a good place. This show takes my siblings and family members from a few years ago . . . now we’re all in much better places and we’re all much happier people . . . at least the ones I’m still in contact with.
So there’s Olive as me, she’s so sardonic and so angry at everyone. And Ben, a thinly veiled account of my brother, who’s just trying desperately to keep himself together, very tightly wound. And then we have Sophia, who’s trying to keep the whole family, and trying not to acknowledge that that’s not going to happen.
FRANK: Why do artists do that, write their lives?
EMILE: I think it’s because it’s the cheapest form of therapy there is. Artists don’t make any money, so we can’t talk to therapists, so write our lives on paper instead, ‘cause paper only costs ten cents at Kinko’s.
LAURA: It’s fascinating to me, because we’re dealing with such heavy issues, and trying to make light of it.
FRANK: Is it a comedy or a drama?
LAURA: It’s a dramedy. But here’s such a serious edge to it you can’t just call it a comedy, like Chekhov calls his plays comedies, it’s not just that. You have to play this light, that’s the crux of anything that happens onstage, you have to play it light to survive. So if an actor comes at it with a heavy hand or sad, it’s no, no, stop. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we’re doomed. But what’s come out of the conversations is how everybody relates to it. I haven’t known an artist that can’t relate to this darkness in some way.
FRANK: Those issues in parent/child relationships are universal, and when they are particularly severe it seems to produce the artistic temperament.
LAURA: Or maybe artists are just the freest in talking about it, because we have to be in touch with those feelings in order to be able to do the work.
FRANK: Emile, tell me about the next play you’re involved in.
EMILE: The next play is called Entr’acte and it’s going up June 10 and 11 at the PAC. It’s produced through Summerstage and by my theatre company. And it is the first play that I have written that I’ve also acted in ever. Never done that before. Very nerve wracking. It’s about a support group for people with depression. It’s another dramedy, about people talking about their lives, their stories. Where this play was a response to my frustration with the idea that “It’s your family, you have to forgive them,” Entr’acte is born out of my frustration with the representation of people with depression in media. Frequently it’s depicted as people sad all the time, listening to “My Chemical Romance,” or constant suicide attempts. That’s not what it is. It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life, and the play depicts the places where it’s become difficult for me.
The character I’m playing is very uncomfortable with her body, and she’s dating someone who’s asexual. So the crux of her conversation is that she’s grown up in a society where women are products, and men are made to be consumers. And not in a good way. Like “Boys can’t control themselves; women are products, men are consumers.” No one likes that, men or women. And now she’s in a place where she is not a product because she’s not attractive, and her partners’ not a consumer because he’s asexual. So it’s this weird crossroads that they reach and how they get past it. That’s one of the stories in the play.
FRANK: Back to you Laura, do you have any projects in the near future, and who are you working with?
LAURA: Well, I’m teaching theatre at TU, I’ve met a lot of interesting people there. I’m working with Michael Wright on his next evening at the Nightingale, with his original monologues. And then I’m going to do a SummerStage piece, an original play by Michele Dill. Like two weeks apart! Bam. And I’m directing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamboat, for Theatre Tulsa, children’s program this summer.
FRANK: They have a really challenging season coming up.
LAURA: And I’m directing Caberet for them.
FRANK: Oh, that’s so cool. You’ve just come in and taken over, good for you. So, Emile, finally a question about the near future and your offstage family. George (Nelson) and Sally (Adams) are moving to Virginia. Is that going to affect you?
EMILE: I’m currently a little up in the air. My sister is in New York, my brother’s in school in Texas, my partner’s in Missouri. The only people left in town is my partner’s family, whom I love but I don’t want to stay in Tulsa. So, I’m planning a three month long cross country road trip, September through November, 14,000 miles, and I’ll be camping in every state in the contiguous United States. Cause I’m young and I’m able to do that.
FRANK: Every state of the 48!
EMILE: Well, every one but Rhode Island, because they don’t have winter camping. Damn Rhode Island!
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