Taking Stock with Marcus Gardley

by Shannon Gibney
from the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Volume X. Dec-Feb 2014

A Conversation with the Playwright About the road weeps… Rolling Premiere

THE ROAD WEEPS BULLETIN (RWB) recently had the opportunity to chat with playwright Marcus Gardley (MG) about the many manifestations of the road weeps…the well runs dry, particularly community engagement, and what he has learned thus far from the experience of the rolling premiere.

RWB: What were some of the most interesting features and approaches of some of the road weeps… productions across the country? How were they different and how were they similar?

MG: Each production of the road weeps… had its own unique value and effect on the community. For example, in Alaska, I think the natural world of the play resonated more with the citizens of Juneau because they are surrounded by a profound sense of nature –  mountains, lakes and glaciers. They loved the bear moment in the play when a grizzly roars – we used the actual sound of a bear roar in the production and I heard that it jolted some folks in the audience because they truly know what it sounds like. We also cast Native Alaskans in the play and they brought a beautiful spirit of community and cultural specificity that made the show deeply moving and unique.

In the Minneapolis production, the show was cast with a diverse group of stellar actors who had always wanted to work together and the play was directed by legendary director Marion McClinton. This, coupled with the idea that the play would be presented in a bare bones fashion, allowed for a show that was very much about the muscularity of language and multi-leveled performances. The show, in an exquisite way, leapt off the stage and riveted audiences.

Likewise, the most recent production in Los Angeles, took an astounding visual approach. It was performed on an immense set with a lot of gorgeous design elements and was cast with grade-A actors who were both Native and African American, and they brought a deep sense of the migratory theme and character relationships to the play.

RWB: As far as the “Rolling Premiere” phenomenon is concerned, now that you have experienced it with one of your own plays, what are your thoughts on the efficacy of this model for community and professional theaters?

MG: I think the rolling premiere model is very useful in that it allows the playwright the opportunity to keep working on the play. Most plays take several productions to grow into a finished product. The rolling premiere model is intense in that you have to stay focused and concentrate on every detail for a specific amount of time.

RWB:  Describe some of the community engagement approaches and activities at the various sites. What worked, what didn’t, and why? What can we, as various community sites, take from this, going forward?

MG: Most of the community engagement projects centered around talking to young people in the high schools and colleges. We also did workshops, and meetings at cafes and a library. All of the events emphasized writing, coming to the show and encouraging people to explore both their lineage and personal narratives. I think it was successful in that it got people to come see the show.  Going forward, I think a lot of theaters should consider doing more community engagement projects that provide some type of interactive experience for their specific communities.

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