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Interview: PigPen On Camaraderie, Roles, & THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON

Interview: PigPen On Camaraderie, Roles, & THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON

PigPen Theatre Company will be bringing their latest show THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON to The Wallis March 2, 2019. The seven-member PigPen Theatre Company, together since meeting in 2010 as undergrads at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, have become so tight-knit; they finish each others' sentences. So, it's only fitting in this round-robin, free-for-all of an interview that everyone answers at once, or in partial sentences. In this organized chaos of a Q&A session, I will attribute all the answers simply to the collective "PigPen," of which these charming seven go by their individual names of Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Ryan Melia, Matt Nuernberger, Arya Shahi and Dan Weschler.

Guys, thank you for taking the time for this interview. How did THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON come about?

The seven of us made it up! Ryan had an idea. Dan wrote a song. Curtis made us laugh. Matt told a story. Ben built a puppet. Arya repurposed a pizza box. And of course, Alex did everything else.

I watched the YouTube video of your 2013 TEDx Talk. The snippet videoed of your performance had like a thousand moving parts - puppetry, props, musical instruments, singing. How tightly scripted are your performances?

Interview: PigPen On Camaraderie, Roles, & THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON Very tightly scripted. Pretty much every move, shift, pause, head turn, or puppet moment has been tried 50 different ways before. One of the greatest compliments we receive is when people in the audience think we're making it up as we go. That's the essential spirit of the storytelling, but the play is very much a well-oiled machine.

The seven of you first banded together in your freshman year at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2007. How big was your class and what like-mindedness do you think brought the seven of you together?

Our class was small enough that we were the majority of the freshman male acting students that year. We still don't quite know why the chemistry was so strong, even early on. Something we came to realize a few years later is that all seven of us had at least one brother growing up and we all had our own high school bands! We all had different tastes, but our decision to create something, and to have fun doing it, was unanimous. Right time, right place?

What roles do each of you play in your group dynamics? Who's dorm monitor? Who's cook? Who's the prankster? Who's the instigator? Etc., etc., etc.

All of the roles are double-and-triple-cast, and we play them in rep.

Do you have scheduled creation sessions? Do you take turns initiating ideas to develop?

We like to meet five times a week (unless people are doing individual writing). Lately, we've been focused on finishing group ideas rather than pitching new ones, but 2019 marks a big shift for us. We finally get to share three new projects we've been working on for years! Hopefully after these shows find their legs in the real world, we can go back to pitching new ideas to each other.

Interview: PigPen On Camaraderie, Roles, & THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON Do you guys make it a point to hang out together a lot when not onstage? Or do you need to periodically have your own individual space?

When we met, we were all in our early 20's. Now we're almost all in our early 30's. We've spent an unbelievable amount of time together socially, living, traveling, and working together. We're all still the closest of friends, but care enough to make sure everyone has their own space and time to do whatever they want. Usually, that thing ends up being creating new stuff for PigPen.

When you first started performing as PigPen, did you ever envision yourselves involved in a high-brow Shakespeare production, as you were invited by Sir Trevor Nunn in 2016 for his first acting company's production of PERICLES?

No, of course not. That was a surreal experience and a true pleasure.

Do you have regular pre-show routines or rituals?

Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

What's the status on your two new stage musicals, one based on The Tale of Despereaux and the other on Water for Elephants?

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX will have its world premiere right here in California, at The Old Globe, in July this summer! WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is moving along quickly as well, though we can't announce anything officially yet! The thing that excites us more than anything about both of these shows is to be working with new performers and creative teams that are bringing our ideas to life in ways we never could alone. Can't wait for you all to see them!

Interview: PigPen On Camaraderie, Roles, & THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON Is there any difference between a PigPen "concert" and a PigPen "show"?

Yes! A concert is a concert at a venue where we plug in and play with no costumes or plot to follow outside of the songs themselves. We play covers, music from our albums, some tunes from our musicals, and some songs that have yet to be released. By PigPen "show," most people probably mean a full musical/play production - which has costumes, plot, lighting, story, puppets, and usually a make-believe sword fight or two.

Can you pick any audience responses to your shows that took you by surprise?

"That was so beautiful! I just want to go home and dream."

Your performing credits are listed alphabetically. Dan, have you ever thought of changing your last name Weschler to a name starting with a letter from A to E?

Dan Weschler: I'm much more comfortable on this side of the alphabet. Been eyeing that "X" for a while actually, maybe even "Y." Daniel Xeschler, or Yeschler. We'll see.

How about you, Arya?

Arya Shahi: In fact, my real last name starts with an "A." My stage name is simply an exercise in humility. (I just want to be closer to Dan.)

Is there any place you haven't toured that you're anxious to hit in the near future?

Interview: PigPen On Camaraderie, Roles, & THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON We went overseas for the first time in 2018. We performed and ate a lot of food in Italy. We'd like to do more of that.

What emotions would you like the Wallis audiences to leave with after THE OLD MAN AND THE OLD MOON's curtain call?

A life-affirming sense of wonder and potential. We can say that, right?

Thank you again, Guys! I look forward to experience your multi-faceted wizardry in storytelling.

For ticket availability and show schedule through March 17, 2019; log onto www.thewallis.org



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