Supporting creative work by women
Tonight through Saturday, you can catch Jason Pizzarello’s play After People Like You, directed by Anna Brenner, on stage at the East 13th Street Theater (between 3rd & 4th Ave.). Brenner’s directing credits include: The Hotel Colors (Bushwick Starr), The Glass Menagerie (Theatreworks Colorado Springs), Crime and Punishment and The Idiot (Classic Stage Company), Peter Gil-Sheridan’s Cockfight (PlayPenn and Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab), Stone Open House with Laurie Anderson), The Misanthrope (PS 122, undergroundzero Audience Award). Anna adapted and directed Robert Altman’s 3 Women (Columbia Stages), Chekhov’s Anyuta (Philadelphia Shakespeare), and devised Terra Incognita (CPR), Disquiet (Living Theatre), Are We Here Yet? (PS122). Anna directs and teaches at SUNY Purchase and is the Artistic Associate at Classic Stage Company. Resident Artist of undergroundzero, Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab alum, MFA Columbia University, BA University of Chicago.
Works by Women interviewed Anna Brenner about her work and After People Like You
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about After People Like You.
ANNA BRENNER: After People Like You is about four old friends reunite on the R train one late night in a near-future New York. It’s a post-apocalyptic world, where natural disasters are frequent, and where corruption is rampant and government support is limited. It’s a stressful place, but inside all of that these are just four people trying to live their lives with some semblance of normalcy. It’s a story about human behavior and relationships, and how each of them deals with suffering, disappointment, and hope.
The cast is incredibly hard-working, good-natured and committed so being around that every day has been a joy. I show up early to rehearsal and the cast is already there running lines. It’s a fast process, but I feel really good about it. The play is like a chamber piece, a string quartet, the restriction lets each element come to the surface and play off of each other. I love discovering all of the layers of information available in the play. One little look or smile reveals new information.
WBW: How have you created a post-apocalyptic New York?
AB: The characters are on a long train ride and no one else gets on the train. It is just eerie. The language of the play is rather spare, but also very intentional. In a world that is so unreliable the characters have to listen closely and pay attention to everything. We’re trying to create a heightened, tense atmosphere with language, physicality and design, so that every subtle change is really felt.
WBW: Would you want to live in a post-apocalyptic New York? What would be especially challenging for you?
AB: I definitely would not want to live in a post-apocalyptic New York, but I’m a little bit afraid that we could. I think it would be challenging to keep hope and joy alive when daily struggle is so present.
WBW: What is your favorite subway story (or wildest thing that has ever happened while you were on the subway)?
AB: I’ve had a few amazing coincidences, like where I’ve spotted the same total stranger twice in one day–once somewhere random in the city, and then later on the train next to me. My latest favorite subway thing is this sound installation at 34th street on the N/R platform It’s called Reach. I’ve been on that platform waiting and playing it with total strangers. I love it.
WBW: What’s next for you?
AB: I’m further developing a piece about Chelsea Manning called Won’t Be A Ghost with Francis Weiss Rabkin. I’m also working at Classic Stage Company, and we’re doing a Brecht Fest this February. Also, my partner and I are renovating a house and planning a wedding!
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
AB: It feels like we’re all grasping for one little piece of the pie. There isn’t enough for us all to have a piece, so on top of that challenge we compound it by not supporting each other. Sexism really is alive and thriving in New York theater. Staying focused and confident so that I can find a way to make my work in a society that doesn’t support the arts and a theatre community that doesn’t actively support women is a challenge. A feminine sensibility and collaborative style is not celebrated, and certainly not programmed equally. The system makes you feel that in order to succeed you have to either be more like a man, or cater to them.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
AB: I know so many talented women writing, directing, acting, producing, and designing…and a lot of amazing men who are feminists who are making great work. I mean eventually we are bound to improve the situation.