Interview: Tamilla Woodard
Tamilla Woodard is a director, actor and adapter. She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, an alumnus of The Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and a founding member of The Internationalists
, a collective of directors from around the world creating an interactive global theatrical community. You may have seen her work recently at HERE where she directed the New Georges’ production of Nightlands
by Sylvan Oswald as well as Saviana Stanescu’s Polanski Polanski
Later this week, Hotel Project
, an international collaborative site specific theater piece for one spectator at a time, will receive its United States premiere at two Tri-State area hotels — The Grand Summit Hotel
in Summit, New Jersey and the Washington Jefferson
in midtown Manhattan. Tamilla is one of the co-founders and directors of the project, which originated in Querétaro, Mexico last summer.During the Hotel Project, audience members are treated to three short plays specifically created for three different hotel rooms, but this theatre piece is unlike any other because only one audience member at a time is in each room. Therefore, spectators are like flies on the wall, peeking into a room that they normally wouldn’t be allowed to.
Tamilla talked to Works by Women about the Hotel Project, its challenges and future.
WBW: How did the Hotel Project come together?
TW: Well, the idea came about from both need and inspiration. Ana Margineanu, whose original concept this is, had just completed a show for one spectator at a time and we, as a company, were in the middle of programming the next 12 months and dealing with all the headaches of finding affordable space and the disappointment of not having sold out our festival. At some moment Ana said she had an idea: a play in a hotel room (a fairly inexpensive and rentable venue) for one audience member at a time (instant sell out!). I invited Ana to travel with me to Mexico City to meet some of my collaborators and we shared the idea with them. They were excited and we began to lay down plans that very night over sopes and tequila. We’ve since developed the artistic structure and the collaborative structure into this present form. And it continues to grow and become more rich. For example, for New York City we have added a director/playwright team to create for the spaces between the rooms. Very exciting progression of the original idea, for us.
WBW: You are directing a piece in New Jersey and another one in New York. What are the challenges of directing a short play in a hotel room?
I love the possibility of engaging the room in a way that also invites the spectator to stay mobile and not just plop down on the bed to view the whole thing. An obvious challenge of directing, especially in New York City, is the size of the rooms. We will be in some teeny tiny spaces so I’ll look for ways to keep movement going and not have the spectator squashed against the closet door! There is one particular thing I am extra mindful about in the space of four walls, actors and one audience member: authentic emotional connection balanced by heightened gesture. Just because the environment is real and super close up does not mean that the way the plays are acted needs to be naturalistic. We tell the playwrights the same thing. We are not obligated to naturalism in writing style or performance. The New Jersey hotel, The Grand Summit
, is HUGE! Total opposite situation there. My challenge there is to eat up all that space, to make ever inch count and to entice the audience to follow and not perch on the comfy settee!
WBW: This project premiered last year in Mexico. What was the audience’s reaction?
TW: Tremendous! We were astounded, really. We asked audiences to give short interviews afterwards and almost everyone wanted to tell about there experience. We asked people to sign the “HOTEL REGISTRY ” and every single one of them did and wrote remarkable comments. They said such amazing things about the experience– things we’d hoped to hear and some we’d never thought of. Some people thought we had even choreographed the street scenes between hotels. (in Querétaro, we were in three different hotel room properties so audiences had to walk a few blocks between each room). One of my favorite quotes is from a playwright and critic who said in his interview that we “brought theatre back to life for him.” He said it was like going to the theatre for the first time and he envied the spectator who came after him for not knowing the delights that were in store.
WBW: How is it different producing Hotel Project in New York/New Jersey than in Mexico?
Well rooms are HARD to get in New York City. We were in contact with over 100 hotels: E-mails, cold calls, pitch sessions before we got the Washington Jefferson
and that was because our producer had a previous business relationship with the hotel. Also in Mexico, we were working with two companies who had a fantastic base of actors and production staff at hand. All volunteer. Here we are casting and hiring a lot of folks who don’t have a previous relationship with the company and it’s harder to assemble the team– actors, translators, production assistants …
Also our tiny budget went a LONG way in Querétaro. Not so much here. But we still have a tremendous team with the partnership of Neighborhood Productions
and The Internationalists
. It takes a village no matter what country we’re in.
WBW: What’s next for Hotel Project?
TW: Romania, we hope. This summer we are supposed to go back to Mexico at the invitation of one of the regional ministries of tourism. We are trying to work that out. Our plan is certainly to be in Europe in three cities consecutively in 2013. If anybody has connections at a great hotel somewhere, let us know! But Hotel Project is created to be a mobile collaboration. It is essentially an invitation to artists around the world. So call us. Hotel Project will travel.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
TW: The same challenges facing all artists, only perhaps more magnified. The opportunity to work, to be funded to create work and to be paid a living wage for the work you do. Frankly, I have a lot of fantastic opportunities to work but fewer opportunities to work for a living wage. Sigh….
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
TW: Watching my contemporaries rise in the commercial market. Leigh Silverman and Daniella Topol were enrolled as directors and at Carnegie Mellon University while I was there as an actor. So to see the trajectory of their careers tells me the path for women directors to succeed is growing. And they are not my only contemporaries who have wedged their foot in the door and pried it open through force of will, perseverance and talent. People like Leigh and Daniella and Liesl Tommy and Kate Whoriskey totally inspire me and give me hope for what’s to come!
Hotel Project performs January 27 – 29, 2012 at multiple times at The Grand Summit Hotel in Summit, New Jersey and at the Washington Jefferson hotel in midtown Manhattan February 3 – 5, 2012. For tickets and more information, visit www.hotelproject.co.