Kicking off our 15th Writer/Director Lab, Jess Chayes directs Evan Twohy’s new play PERMISSION. This is the first in a series of interviews with the participants of this year’s Lab. Come and join us at the first reading at New Dramatists, April 1 at 7PM!
1. Briefly tell us about your directorial thinking on PERMISSION.
Evan’s play PERMISSION is set in a futuristic world, so much of my job as a director is to figure out how to filter its unique set of circumstances through bodies and space, and to communicate clearly the story he wants to tell. We must create our own world for this play, and then see how it resonates with the world we live in. My hope for our reading is to respect the play’s slow-boil pacing, and to dive wholeheartedly into the central triangle of Zane, Lenna and Karsyn. Each character needs something so deeply, whether he or she knows it or not, and I am so excited to feel these characters live for the first time in our amazing cast.
2. What part of the Writer/Director Lab process was the most instructive and entertaining? How are the directors utilized?
Directors are utilized in several ways during the Lab. We brought in readings that inspired us, and used those to spark conversations about artistic work. We also had the opportunity to direct a scene from the play we were developing. Lastly, we acted as sounding boards, giving feedback and observations during different stages of each play’s development.
My favorite director-centric element of the lab was the few weeks in January where we were given the opportunity to direct scenes from our plays site-specifically in the Soho Rep offices. It was a unique opportunity to see each director’s creative voice in service of the plays we are helping to develop. I personally work best in a rehearsal room with actors and a writer, and directing a scene from PERMISSION allowed me to engage with the text in the most active way possible, fielding questions from the actors and exploring the plays’s key moments in three dimensions.
Most entertaining part of the Lab? Ken and Jenny, hands down.
3. How do you think the Lab will influence your future work?
I didn’t go to grad school, so I initially felt some hesitation at responding to plays in the roundtable format. I’m much more used to a one-on-one scenario with a playwright. The Lab has pushed me to become more comfortable stating my observations, with trying and sometimes failing to put my perspectives into words that will help playwrights understand how their work is landing. I have enjoyed learning when to listen and when to speak.
I have also found a real community with my Lab-mates, and I am certain I will continue to learn by seeing more of their work.
4. It’s the 15th anniversary of the Lab! Looking back over the history, which plays that have come out of the Lab are you inspired by and why?
PRECIOUS LITTLE by Madeleine George, TRIGGER WARNING (NSFW) by Matt Korahais, and CREATURE by Heidi Schreck all inspired me greatly, as do many of the artists who have been through the Lab. I am most inspired by the fact that these three incredibly different plays were all supported by the same theater.
5. Do you have any advice for emerging young freelance directors?
Most importantly: make your own work. Make work you’re passionate about in the way you want to make it. Make mistakes, explore your own voice, but don’t wait to get hired. Find your people and do it yourself. Intern and work in theater offices – get to know your community. Say yes. Remember you have this incredible gift of knowing what you want to do with your life.
Jess Chayes is a Brooklyn-based director and co-artistic director of The Assembly. Recent directing includes: THE NETFLIX PLAYS (Ars Nova), SEIZED UP (CUNY, Studio Tisch), SALAMANDER LEVIATHON (Ars Nova, Joe’s Pub), HOME/SICK (The Assembly, NY Times and Backstage Critic’s Pick), and #serials@theflea. She has developed work with The Culture Project, The Civilians, Mixed Phoenix, Extant Arts, Dixon Place, The Shelby Company, P73, The Public Theater, The Working Theater, Old Vic/New Voices and Woodshed Collective. Jess is a member of the New Georges Kitchen Cabinet and a founding member of the Jam artists lab. She is currently the Associate Director on PETER AND THE STARCATCHER and a member of the Civilians R&D Group. Upcoming: THE SISTER with Dutch Kills Theater.
PERMISSION will be read at NEW DRAMATISTS, 424 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036. 7PM Start!