BWW Interview: Nicole Rodenburg (Long Pause) of THE FLICK
The Flick is a three-hour play about two young guys who sweep up a theater in the middle of Massachusetts after each movie ends. They tangle with the female projectionist, the edgy and mysterious Rose (Nicole Rodenburg), who has literally risen above the detritus of the theater floor.
The stage is filled with two sections of movie theater seats. Popcorn and spilled soft drinks are swept and mopped over and over again. The actors' conversation is often punctuated with long, long pauses.
A rudderless 24-year-old working to pay off $20,000 of college debt, Rose lords her power over Sam (Danny Wolohan), a 30-something whose career aspirations have peaked between the rows of seats.
Avery (Kyle Beltran), is the brand-new hire, a wealthy, nerdy movie savant who's taking a break from college. The trio communicates with body language, cryptic speech and those long, long, long pauses.
"I think Annie is one of the greatest living playwrights," Rodenburg said of the playwright, Annie Baker, who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Flick. "To work with this amazing play has been fantastic. I have a real love of writers and working on new plays has always been one of my absolute favorite things."
Rodenburg grew up in North Dakota before heading off to the University of Minnesota for a fine arts degree in theater. "When I was growing up the most informative play at the time was ANGELS IN AMERICA. Who knows who in this generation is going to be the next Tony Kushner?" she said. "Acting is more intuitive than intellectual. I take the material I'm given and see how that resonates for me.
"The play is about showing up to work. Rose doesn't really know why she does the things she does. It's been a jumping off place for me. I don't even think Rose knows what her personality is. She acts on impulse. Some of those impulses get her into trouble," she said.
"Some of the pauses we call 'the silent pause,' and my favorite we call 'a horrible, horrible silence' after something really bad happens," Rodenburg said. And some really bad things happen.
"The pauses shift your senses the same way Shakespeare did. People would walk on stage -never the major character -and talk about something that has happened in the play, and it gives your ear a chance to re-tune," she said.
"When I'm up there, one of the things that surprises me is how daring the audiences can be with their reactions. People have walked out," Rodenburg said. "But people don't walk out on mediocre theater. I have to believe that. I've sat through plenty of mediocre plays and have never walked out," she said. "So to get that kind of reaction is a powerful statement that something important happened.
"It's an incredible feeling when you're onstage and in a room with people who are listening. It's really, really cool," Rodenburg said.
"I don't know what's going on with the relationships," she said of the characters onstage. "They're kind of low stakes until they're not. We just work every day together and we've sort of developed a rapport to pass the time. I don't know if there's a bond beyond the workplace."
Steve is the boss who never makes an appearance, the one who, according to Sam, quickly made Rose a projectionist because he thinks she's hot. "They talk about Steve a lot," Rodenburg said. "It's not until things sort of move into higher stakes and it's in the same way you can have everyday relationships.
"Sam has been thinking about Rose constantly. It's not how she feels about him," she said. Avery pushes the stakes higher after Rose's failed attempt to engage him in dance when Sam is away for his brother's wedding. She dances very exuberantly. "Rose dances differently every performance," Rodenburg said. "It's a magical weirdness-I have to wing it. I was told not to fall in love with certain moves, so I have to challenge myself every night to find new movements."
Rose's speech patterns are distinct. "I think the speech is called vocal fry. It's when your voice is completely hooked up to your emotional system." One such emotional moment occurs when Avery is wrongly blamed for instigating petty theft and his job is in jeopardy. He asks Sam and Rose to admit their part in the scheme.
"Avery doesn't need the job to survive. He's only working here until he goes back to school, where he has a free ride," Rodenburg said. "And he's asking a lot of people who have to do these crappy jobs. Rose and Sam don't have the privilege of being able to do that. Class is a difficult thing in this country but Sam didn't go to college and Rose has a degree but is completely in debt," she said.
"I think Rose does things she doesn't plan to do. And that's why it's so terrifying to her. She's forced to reflect and that's scary."
Rodenburg relates to Rose's employment challenges. "I've had all sorts of jobs," she said. "I worked at an eyeglass store and I learned a ton about glasses. The other day I adjusted Avery's glasses when they were falling down." She might not have worked in a movie theater, but her father was a projectionist for 20 years in Fargo. "He was also an attorney. Growing up not only did we see a lot of movies but we heard stories about movies," she said. Unfortunately, because her dad worked with reels, "He has no feeling in his fingertips from being burned when he changed the reels."
Rodenburg has come to respect pauses that happen in real life. "Every single pause is different and can be more important than what we say in real life," she said. "The play is the most human way I've gotten to feel onstage. It's half fun and half terror.
"I feel like it's so exciting to go to things without knowing anything about them. And this is the space. The run time could be scary for people but it's worth seeing," she said. "It's an exciting time for theater."
The Flick is playing at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village.