Supporting creative work by women
The Hunger and Thirst Theatre Collective opens its production of Ivanov later this week in downtown Manhattan at Access Theatre. Patricia Lynn, the company’s artistic director, is directing the piece as well as acting in it. Patricia received her MFA in acting from Brown University’s prestigious program. Since then, she has been tearing up New York stages in classical work and plays with a classical bent (The Battle of Spanktown).
She spoke to Works by Women about understanding Anton Chekhov, why her company is pairing its production with a food bank, and the joys of turning 30.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Why Ivanov? Why now?
PATRICIA LYNN: I read Ivanov for the first time when I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, 22-year-old first-year graduate student and to be honest, I didn’t understand it a single bit. Granted, I didn’t understand Chekhov a single bit either, but this play in particular baffled me. Ivanov just whined about getting old and feeling tired and not knowing what to do for four acts. Why would anyone care about that?
On a whim, I picked up Ivanov again about year ago and read it during a slow weekend shift at my day job. And, to quote Ivanov himself, “it was as though a shell exploded in my conscience”. Whether we like it or not, something changes within us as we approached the dreaded 3-0. You can’t stay out with our friends until 4:00am without feeling extra groggy the next day or putting on more makeup to cover the dark circles under your eyes. You no longer get carded when purchasing alcohol. The jokes that you used to think were so hilarious aren’t as funny any more. You start thinking more about how life isn’t working out the way you thought it would. You realize you may not ever get everything you want. Your life may never better than it is right now. And instead of becoming more energized to change the harsh reality of growing older, you shrug and focus on getting by day-to-day, because you just can’t seem to muster the energy to fight for your life.
It’s a scary, dark thought hidden within what I believe is quite a humorous play. The urge to create a production that explored this idea intrigued me so I began to gather friends and artists who are a similar age (and recently had these, what I’ve dubbed, Ivanov-moments) to help bring this play to life. Because if all of us associated with this production feel the weight of that scary, dark thought right now, in this moment of our personal lives, it will heighten to the theatrical experience for our audiences in a very profound, wonderful way.
WBW: What has been your process in directing the show?
PATRICIA: I firmly believe in letting the actor find their own way. I just help point them in the right direction–think of me as a road map versus a personal GPS unit. I prefer to ask the actors questions or make observations that nudge them towards a personal discovery or epiphany. Because if the actors muddle through on their own (with me looking out for them every step of the way, of course), the journey is so much more rewarding.
Besides (particularly with this amazing cast), actors are really smart. Actors have great instincts. I would rather see what they are interested in creating, jump in with any of my thoughts, and continue the exploration together. It gives the rehearsal room such a wonderful sense of play.
WBW: What should audience members expect to experience at the show?
PATRICIA: To be surprised. Most theatre audiences have the notion that Chekhov is stodgy, static, and to use a word often associated with Chekhov: boring. But in my opinion, this play is actually a comedy. Chekhov himself considered most of his works to be comedies versus drama. I don’t mean comedy in the traditional, slapstick, Neil Simon-kind of way, but in a larger-than-life ridiculous and absurd way. It’s absolutely ridiculous that a thirty-year-old man feels old, tired, and useless. But we all know how that feels and we can laugh at the absurdity of that. That’s the beauty of Chekhov’s plays: they’re so human and honest that we often laugh not necessarily because of the words or the situation, but in recognizing the human behavior we see reflected on the stage. We laugh at these characters, because we know exactly how they feel, which I think will be surprising to most of our audiences.
WBW: You’ve linked your production to food charity. How did this come about?
PATRICIA: Co-Founders Brian (MacDonald), Emily (Kitchens), and I were always interested in having a strong outreach component to our collective. It’s not just about putting on plays: it’s about creating a community of artists and lovers of art, and we want to give back to that community as much as possible.
When we opted on the name Hunger and Thirst Theatre Collective, it only seemed natural that we should focus on a prevalent problem in New York City called ‘food insecurity’. This term refers the thousands of people who are not starving, but do not know where their next meal is coming from. HTTC was founded by artists hungering for a unique form of theatre, but we can’t ignore the fact that they are so many people in the area who are literally hungry and don’t know if and how they are going to eat today. This is why we have decided that at every performance, we will offer a food drive. Those who choose to participate will have the option of buying a special half-price, cash-only ticket to the production. We hope by having our patrons donate, as well as having information and literature available in the lobby, more people will become aware of the issue and help us find ways to assist those in need.
WBW: What’s next for you?
PATRICIA: HTTC will be producing a production of Moliere’s The Misanthrope in spring 2013. I’ll only be acting in that production as we have a great director all lined up for us. And after that, who knows what we’ll inspire us next? But we’re very excited about the future of our collective.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theatre?
PATRICIA: There’s a line from a Jane Martin play Anton in Show Business I worked on in college that I always remember: “80% of the roles in American theatre are played by men, and 90% of the directors are men.” I also remember when we were auditioning for Ivanov, we had an actor walk in and obviously something surprised him about the room. I realized afterwards that he was surprised to find three women running the auditions. There is the long-standing, preconceived idea that this industry is dominated by men (after all, hundreds of years ago, women weren’t even allowed onstage!) that I think we are all still trying to break free of. American theatre is already difficult enough to sustain and adding this preconceived idea to the mix only heightens our challenge. There are so many roles in theatre that everyone assumes should be taken by men, but really, why should they? Why can’t we seem to break free of that idea?
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theatre?
PATRICIA: I have been lucky enough to meet a vast number of creative, driven, wonderful women who work in theatre in New York City. These ladies are my hope. Seeing their success and commitment to this art form is ultimately the most inspiring thing anyone can witness. It helps to remember that I’m not the only one out there who is committed to bettering this art form with a strong female presence.
The Hunger and Thirst Theatre Collective’s production of Ivanov runs October 5 – 20, 2012 at the Access Theater (380 Broadway at White Street). Tickets are $18 at http://www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?showcode=IVA0.