Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dainty Cadaver Director Postmortem: Hope Cartelli

Well, it’s going to be hard for me to write an intro for Hope Cartelli, seeing as how she’s my wife, my creative partner of 13 years and the mother of my impending child. Maybe I’ll just say that she’s the co-Artistic Director of Piper McKenzie, that she’s directed some of our hit shows – most recently Bethlehem or Bust and Jeannine’s Abortion – and that she’s acted in pretty much all the rest. And she directed Dainty Cadaver, Team B. Did I miss anything, honey?


What projects have you worked on in the past that have prepared you for the speed and strangeness of the Dainty Cadaver process?
Without a doubt, it's my participation as actor, director and producer in the Vampire Cowboys Saloon lo these past four years with Piper McKenzie and, this past season, playwright Crystal Skillman, that most prepared me for the whirlwind timing. Also talking/scheming over numerous brunches and glasses of wine and middle-of-the-workday Gchats with Jeff about how he wanted to try to do this crazy-ass thing.

You all found amazing casts who seemed game for anything and completely keyed into the concept behind the project. What’s the secret?
Promise free donuts and coffee and chocolate for rehearsals. Really though, I've just been damn lucky to constantly find actors who are very open to such projects over the years. I enjoy selling actors on the role I have them in mind for too - it helps me even more clearly define the character for myself. Also, stressing the parameters of such a project up front (the amount of time we were going to have - which can be a great selling point as, hey, it's only a week! - the resources available, and advertising the want to keep things fun and open for everyone involved) definitely helped.

What was the biggest surprise you encountered when reading the script for the first time?
How quickly the conceit that this was all taking place in 1993 was lost over the course of the script. Coming in a close 2nd: how the final scene reduced the cast list to just three characters out of what had previously grown to be 13 people. Oh, yeah, and the fact that the rules are changed completely by a character named The Blue Fairy right smack dab in the middle. Can I pick three biggest surprises?

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you actually started to stage the plays?
Scheduling 11 actors! And striving to present the six scenes somewhat seamlessly in the end - a repeated compliment the end product received from numerous audience members was that they weren't sure where one writer ended and the next started for large swaths of the piece and how enjoyable that made the whole affair.

Did you go into the process with any sort of overarching interpretation of what the story and action of the play were about, or did you just let the chips fall where they would?

The actors and I just let the script guide us and made decisions as questions came up. We were willing to entertain the incongruities and just let the piece evolve from a thriller into a sort of magical realism. It didn't hurt one little bit that the final playwright, Qui Nguyen, gave us the best out ever to explain what the audience just sat through: time travel. Works every time.

On a similar note, how aware were you of the individual voices of the writers while you were directing – did knowledge that the script was penned by six different writers affect the staging and performance style?
I know all of Team B's writers and that knowledge definitely informed how certain scenes were handled. For instance, it was very apparent to me that Matt Freeman's scene, featuring a couple who is brought back to life after being shot in the head, needed to play out as a typical lovers' spat if his (typically awesome) brand of comedy was going to play just right - it couldn't be labored or overly dramatic. But, for all the different places the script went, the writers stayed pretty damn true to the characters throughout, even though those characters were sometimes very different stylistically from each other: Dragnet cops and grungy teens and fairy tale mothers and Jersey truck drivers turned British time travelers. Yep.

If you received the unlikely news that we’d be bringing your Dainty Cadaver script to Broadway or BAM, what would be the biggest budget item you’d want to spring for?
I need the time machine from the final scene to be amazing and real - the fearless time traveler, Al, his "daughter", Lindsay, and the cop, Dellogrosso, need to lift off over the audience in their machine and hover there and then the finale could feature the three of them along with the rest of the characters from the show plus people and creatures from across time singing "Seasons of Love": FDR, Don Mattingly, any dinosaur, the Marx Brothers, St. Joan, Betty White, a Viking, etc.

Which dead or super-famous playwright would you most like to include in a future Dainty Cadaver?
Paying homage to my own Piper McKenzie, it would most certainly have to be Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz.

What changes or innovations would you suggest for future iterations of the Dainty Cadaver? Do you think the writers or directors should be given any additional kind of formal restraint?
I wouldn't change a thing. I realize I got to see a bit more of the process than a lot of the folks involved, but the rules as they were this time around really encouraged the writers to balance continuing the play with putting their own stamp on it, and let the directors and their actors find their own ways through the scripts. It made things challenging and exciting and just plain fun.

What’s next on the docket for you?
First, I get back to a bit of the ol' acting for Trav S.D. in his newest production at LaMaMa in March. Then I'm supposed to, like, chill out and have a baby in mid-April. At least that's what my midwife tells me.

Anything you want to add that wasn’t accounted for in these questions?
We're already figuring out Dainty Cadaver II, Electric Boogaloo. Keep your ear to the ground for more info on that. And thank you again to all who participated in this first one! ROCK.

No comments:

Post a Comment