Supporting creative work by women
Akia is one of the most inspiring women in theater. She is the artistic director of Rising Sun Performance Company, which is producing an ambitious eight play cycle in an Upper West Side hotel through November 3rd. Hotel Suite features the first production of Tracy Letts’ Bug since its Off-Broadway premiere, Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and Room 128, an evening of short plays centered in hotels. Audiences sit among the action in a room at Hostelling International (891 Amsterdam Avenue at 103rd Street). In addition to producing this three-week event, Akia directs Bug. And, you may also know her from her work with the New York Innovative Theatre Awards, which celebrates the work of independent theatre in New York.
Akia spoke to Works by Women about why she has wanted to direct Bug for five years, how Hotel Suite came to be and how the New York Innovative Theatre Awards has built community.
WORKS BY WOMEN: How did the idea of Hotel Suite develop?
AKIA: It happened in stages, I’d been wanting to Rising Sun to do Bug for five years, and somehow the timing never quite worked out. I kept going back to the play, and it struck me how the play needed to be in a small theatre, there are such quiet intense moments that the audience really needs to inhabit the space with Peter and Agnes, I started picturing the hotel room/stage in my head and realized that I wanted to explore a non traditional play for this story. I wanted the audience to experience the story in a different way. From a logistical and ensemble point of view, we wanted to produce a show that the whole ensemble could be a part of which would be difficult to do with a five-person cast. It then grew into a theme of “hotels.” the thought of exploring story telling inspired by a particular type of space, everyone has a hotel story, some memory of travel or a connection with someone. So the idea got bigger and bigger and we expanded to include our annual one act series and a second mainstage, Fool for Love which had also been on the table for awhile.
WBW: In addition to producing the whole event, you are directing Tracy Letts’ Bug. What have you wanted to do the play for five years?
AKIA: I love this play so so much. There are so many angles and nuances. I told my actors from day one this is a story about two people connecting in a way that they can’t with any other person. I also think of it as a love story, two people pushed to their very limits of reality but never faltering in their faith and hope for the other person. I imagine some people would think I’m quite twisted for calling it a love story, but in the end, its Agnes and Peter against external and internal forces. They travel this amazing twisted gruesome journey together. Yes there is definitely more to the story, and there are some horrible things that they do and inflict on others, but in the end its about this thing that they share with only each other. It’s them against the world and the bugs. Tracy Letts creates a really vivid environment to play with, and the space in which they inhabit is so clear. It’s been such an amazing gift to work on this play.
WBW: What should audiences expect regarding their Hotel Suite experience?
AKIA: Immersion. The audience “checks in” from the moment they walk into the lobby to the end of the play, they should be open to being swept away from reality for a little bit. Each of the plays in Hotel Suite offer a little something different, but they share a commonality in the sense that they are all just a bit off kilter and explore stretching reality and taking one out of the every day. Fool for Love has a fantasy element to it, Room 128 has great funny farce and camp, and Bug clearly pushes the boundaries of ones comfort zone.
WBW: Tell me more about Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and the evening of short plays with hotel themes, Room 128.
AKIA: Tim Butterfield leads an awesome cast in Fool for Love, and it’s such an interesting contrast to the other two pieces. It’s a heartbreaking love story, of two people that can never be, but its want they want most in the world. It has a dusty Americana charm to it.
Room 128 is silly campy fun, Ghosts, Bellhops, Revenge, Sex and Donuts. It runs the gamut and has the largest cast. It really offers some great light hearted fun as well as some dark intense moments.
WBW: You work so diligently on behalf of the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. What makes them special?
AKIA: I feel absolutely honored and privileged to be a part of such an amazing organization. Eight years ago the Indie Theatre community really felt fractured, we were all working in silos, and for the most part not connecting on the level in which we are now. I really credit the IT Awards with bridging the gap and bringing the community together. We ARE a community now as a result of this organization. I think it’s also raised the bar and expectation of what we as producers and the audience and press expects of Indie Theatre in NYC. Eight or ten years ago, people didn’t expect much of Off-Off Broadway, but now it’s a respected maker of theatre. People have a better understanding of THIS is where art is being made, this is where the next generation of theatre greats are coming from, people are getting published on a much more regular basis without their shows going to Broadway first. I work so hard, because I believe in this community, I believe in this organization and I believe in the three people (Shay Gines, Nick Micozzi and Jason Bowcutt) who brought us all together.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theatre?
AKIA: I think there still seems to be a Boys club mentality in the fields of tech and directing in Broadway and Off Broadway. You don’t see a lot of women directors out there, you have a handful of women who seem to get the work, but it seems harder for women to break into commercial theatre on the other side of the curtain.
It’s definitely changing for the better and that’s exciting. I’m not sure what the real barrier is, perhaps perception?
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theatre?
AKIA: It’s a changing landscape, I’m seeing more and more women branching out their skills and trying new things. I see more female directors and playwrights names out there. I think the indie theatre community is helping to break down walls for women in theatre and change perceptions and expectations. What gives me hope? Literally the eight amazing female interns that worked for me this past summer with Rising Sun and the IT Awards.
I’m seeing some brilliantly talented ladies coming out of university programs in all sorts of fields: Dramaturgy, Stage Management, Direction, Company Management, Playwriting, Design. These girls are powerhouses at 20-years-old and haven’t even lived up to their full potential. The fact that these young women are finding Indie theatre, and putting themselves out there, and exploring and working is inspiring.
Tickets to Hotel Suite range from $18 to $30. Visit Rising Sun Performance Company‘s web site for more information and tickets.