No. 11 Productions hasn’t wasted any time leaving their mark on the Indie Theater world. This intrepid group of undergraduate theater majors from Skidmore College arrived in New York last summer and hit the ground running with their Big Apple debut, We Three, at FringeNYC 2008. They quickly followed it up with the original shadow play, Claire and the Ornithological Shadow, this past December. In between, they paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of The New York Theatre Experience’s Plays and Playwrights anthologies with a series of commemorative play readings all over town.
And all of that was just the tip of the iceberg. Now, the group is poised to tackle their biggest challenge yet: a new revival of Antonin Artaud‘s experimental play, Jet of Blood or the Ball of Glass, which opens this week at Horse Trade’s 2009 FRIGID Festival. In the midst of pre-opening preparations, No. 11 company member Julie Congress made a pit stop at the ol’ blog to talk about the show, the company, and life in the big bad city. Take a read…
Considering the title and who the author is, dare I ask: what is Jet of Blood about?
It’s about 5 pages.
To us, it’s a study in violence, how violence starts small and can turn into something huge. At the beginning of the play, the Young Man grabs the Young Girl’s wrist. The violence keeps escalating, until you ultimately have the destruction of God and the apocalypse. As humans, we always have a choice. We can act in a selfish or violent way, because that’s the culture we’ve been raised in, or we can make a choice (and a sacrifice) and make the cycle end.
Hopefully, ever audience member will get something different out of this production. There are an infinite number of ways to interpret Artaud’s ambiguous (yet highly charged) script. But as artists working on this project, our through-line has been the idea of violence starting small and growing.
We are also embracing the Artaudian idea that theatre is the collaboration of all art forms. Acting meets song, dance, original music, puppets, visual art, and even smell. This is an extremely visceral production that engages all five senses.
What made No. 11 decide to do Artaud?
We read this play in our Theatre and Culture class at Skidmore College and just thought it was hysterical. The play, as written, is completely unstageable. The stage directions are priceless:
“A silence. A noise like that of an immense wheel turning and creating wind can be heard. A hurricane separates them. At this moment, two stars falling into each other can be seen and a series of legs of flesh fall as well as feet, hands, scalps, masks, colonnades, porticos, temples and stills fall but slower and slower as if they were falling into empty space. Then three scorpions one after the other and finally a frog and a scarab beetle that fall at a desperately slow speed, a slowness that could make you vomit.”
So it’s been this running joke with us, whenever we’re trying to choose a play to do, to suggest Jet of Blood and then we all laugh. Except this time we all thought – let’s try it. And Ryan Emmons was up for the challenge of directing it, so we decided to dive in head first and go for it.
You directed the last No. 11 show, but you’re in this one – and you co-produce all of them. What interests you in wearing so many hats? And is there one you prefer over the others?
When I direct, I learn about acting and when I act I learn about directing. I’m also designing the costumes for this production, which I’ve never done before. Part of what I love about being a member of a company is the opportunity to take on so many different roles, to get to experiment and to grow as an artist. I love theatre and telling stories, and I am so lucky to get to approach it from so many angles. I couldn’t tell you what I prefer the most – when I’m acting all I want to do is direct and vice-versa.
You’ve said before that No. 11 has no defined style or aesthetic. Why did you all decide to do things that way, and what are the benefits of that approach?
Our goal at No. 11 Productions is to do a production and follow it by another show that is the polar opposite. In theory, by continually pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, we’ll also be continually learning and growing. Just because we’ve graduated, we don’t want to stop learning and experimenting. In order to prevent stagnating as a company we have to keep challenging ourselves. I also think it is more interesting for our audiences this way. Ideally, you’ll never know what to expect when you go to a No. 11 show and there’s something fun and surprising about that.
You only just moved to New York in the last year or so, right after graduating from college. How’s the big bad city treating you so far?
It’s great! I’ve always liked to keep busy, and I certainly am in the city right now between my day job at the National Yiddish Theatre–Folksbiene, trying to break into voiceovers, reviewing for nytheatre.com, and, of course No. 11 Productions. A product of the suburbs, I love being able to walk everywhere! My only complaint is that, despite the size of the city, I have found it harder to meet new people and make new friends than I had anticipated.
How did you first become interested in the theater?
Despite being a very shy, reserved child, I always loved theatre. I had played a beaver, a witch, and Oedipus all by the time I reached 4th grade. I have always loved getting into the mind and body of another person and getting to use my imagination. When I began directing in high school, the thrill of getting to imagine and create a whole new world was irresistible. And I was very lucky to come from a family that loves the arts, particularly theatre.
What are No. 11’s plans after this?
We’re going to have our first fundraiser (something classy with live entertainment), and perhaps do a one-man show. Then we go to Saratoga Springs in June with a new Greek-inspired outdoor play Ryan Emmons and I are writing called Mythunderstood. And we’ve applied to four other summer festivals, and are just waiting to hear if we’ve been accepted. We’re also going to become a non-profit fairly soon, so there’s lots of grant-writing in our future.