Broadway Bullet Interview: The Sublet Experiment

"The Sublet Experiment" is a romantic comedy with a twist. It's set in a real New York City apartment and each weekend the location changes. The play moves from neighborhood to neighborhood and is performed for an audience of 12 at a time. The play is about two young people who find each other on the way to finding themselves.

Michelle Tattenbaum has worked at MTC, Lincoln Center Directors' Lab, and Williamstown just to name a few. She is a member of the First Look Theatre Company and is a two time Drama League Directing Fellow.

Ethan Youngerman received his MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU. His plays have been workshopped/performed at MTC, The Hanger Theater, Irish Arts Center, PSNBC, and Brooklyn Rep. His screenplay "Is He For Real" is currently in pre-production and he is a writer for the second season of theburg.tv.

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Broadway Bullet Interview: Michelle Tattenbaum and Ethan Yongerman of The Sublet Experiment

Broadway Bullet: We all know how much we love getting a knock on the door from the Jehovah's Witnesses. And if you're a theatre fan maybe you'd appreciate a knock on your door from this company that is producing a play called "The Sublet Experiment" (http://www.subletexperiment.com/) in various apartments around Manhattan. We have with us Ethan Youngerman who's the playwright and co producer as well as Michelle Tattenbaum who's the director and co producer here with us today. How are you doing?

Michelle Tattenbaum: Hi.  We're great.

Ethan Youngerman: Hi. Thanks for having us.

http://www.subletexperiment.com/EricandMelanieKitchen.jpg

BB: What made you decide to go ahead and perform this in different apartments for what I understand a maximum of about 12 people?

EY: We can actually squeeze in a few more. We're in a loft this month is Soho. We can actually fit about 40.

MT: But the smallest we've done it for is 12. You know what New York apartments are like. You can sort of imagine a bunch of people in your living room and that's how many people.

EY: But I wrote the play thinking it would be a play for a regular theatre. It's a play about a guy who serially sublets apartments in an attempt to sort of figure out who he is. At some point in the process it occurred to me it would be pretty crazy to do it in apartments. And to do it traveling from apartment to apartment.

MT: Because the character is in the process of traveling from apartment to apartment in his own life, we knew that if we were going to do it in apartments the only reason to do it was in order to do it in multiple places. So then when Ethan gave me the play to read back in the fall of 2005, I think it was, and I really responded to the play very strongly.

EY: Very strongly.

MT: Very strongly. And really loved it. So he said, "My idea is to do it in apartments." And I immediately saw how that could be a great way to do a play and also a great way to deal with the issue of space in this city. It's just so hard to find space to do anything. It's hard to find space to live in. It's hard to find space to produce a show in. Space is incredibly expensive. And if we can use a space for a purpose other than its initial intention, not only sort of gets around the New York space crunch but also your experience of that space and what happens in there is totally different.

BB: So how do you find your spaces? Do you call up and strong-arm your friends, and go, "You know, you owe me like 50 bucks from last week"?

MT: We never strong-armed anyone. I think that was one of the hardest things.

EY: It was my general impulse is to strong-arm people so… No, we asked every single person we knew. And almost every single person we knew said, "no", but we know enough people that about a dozen people so far have said, "yes".

MT: And the people who said, "yes" were really excited about it. So you had to really ask everybody and most people said, "no" and you're like, "Okay. Totally fine." It's just, I was consistently surprised by the people who were really thrilled to do it.  And found it to be a really rewarding and fun experience. We never wanted to pressure anybody because what we've been doing is performing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. So your days are pretty much fine but your evenings if we're in your home are a little bit shot. Like you've either got to watch the play, or lock yourself in your room or leave the apartment. So by then end of the weekend I pretty much think our hosts were happy to have had us but glad to see us go. Like houseguests who've stayed just a little bit too long.

EY: It's the old expression. Houseguests and fish, stink after 3 days. A play stinks after 4 days.

BB: Do you have any hosts go, "Oh wait a minute. I really want to watch CSI. I forgot about CSI"?

EY: We did have someone who had to get work done in their apartment and like stayed in their bedroom and worked during the play.

MT: But I think if anyone and specific TV requirements I think we would just DVR it for them. Somewhere else. Or provide them with a videotape. We're like full service houseguests, so we try to meet people's needs.

BB: Now you opened the show in November?

EY: Yeah that's right. The weekend before Thanksgiving.

BB: And we talked before the interview. I actually thought the word "opened" was odd given the project, but it is. You have been doing a regular schedule. Pretty much every weekend, every night. I guess the only question is where people have to go to find the play.

MT: Exactly. Well we send everybody to our website which is (http://www.subletexperiment.com/) all one word.

EY: Wait, what was that again?

MT:  http://www.subletexperiment.com/ and we've been keeping people's addresses just on the website in order to protect people's privacy a little bit. You know you can only find the addresses where we're doing the play if you're interested enough in the play to go to our website. And when you're there you will not find an apartment number. And we have someone who waits at the front door of the building and checks in everybody who's bought tickets. And when you go to our website you can link through to buy tickets online. We don't really do a lot of walk up business but every once and awhile.

EY: It's like a speak easy.

BB: You don't have people handing out flyers on the street in front of the apartment? "Come on in! We got macaroni salad!"

MT: Not so much.

EY: If you're coming you want to come. There's no marquee. We've performed as high as, I don't know, the 20th floor. But it's very underground despite that.

MT: Which I think is very fun for the audience. You can sort of see on people's faces as they make their way down a strange street. Or people who live across the street and come in with these big smiles on their faces because all they did was leave their apartment across the street and cross the street to see a play.

Often there's a slight mystery for audience members. Like ,"What's going to happen to me now? I'm coming to this address and something's going to happen."

http://www.subletexperiment.com/EricandMelanieCouch.jpg

EY: And we've killed very few of our paying audience members I would say.

BB: Now do the hosts often invite a lot of their friends, "Yo, I've got a play. I'm a theatre now."

EY: Absolutely. They are hosts. A couple have had 5 or 6 friends to a performance and everyone applauds, the actors leave, and the friends stay and drink wine. And there's a real sort of grandeur to the gesture.

MT: And also it's fun for other audience members too. People are always curious who's apartment it is so it's fun when the host is there and people get to find out who's apartment it is. But we always let people know when tickets have gone on sale for their apartment so they have the opportunity to contact their friends.

EY: It's kind of sad if your apartment gets sold out and you can't go.

MT: But that did happen to someone whose apartment was very small. And he wasn't able to get his friends to mobilize quickly enough and the place sold out so fast. That was very tragic.

BB: Now you actually use the apartment and the various rooms as the actual set pieces for your show. Now has the different layouts caused any interesting occurrence while you've performed the show?

MT: Each place has it's own character and the actors are really good at adjusting themselves to the space. Certain tactics that they use for smaller spaces and certain tactics that they use for larger spaces. So you know they're pretty good at adjusting in that way the first weekend we did the play in Ethan's apartment. And he had hardwood floors that were unbelievably creaky. It was the creakiest apartment I have ever been in.

EY: It's like being on a ship.

MT: So we had to create this rule that you couldn't talk while you were moving. And you couldn't move while someone else was talking either. So there are little things like that you have to figure out what are the quirks of this space and sort of adjust yourself. Like if you walked and spoke at the same time no one would be able to understand what you were saying.

EY: Yeah they all went on a crash diet before that performance.

MT: They all learned how to tiptoe. He taught then all sorts of tiptoe techniques to avoid the creakiness. So sometimes things like that.

BB: So in March you're going to actually be performing in one space the entire month. How is that going to screw with you?

EY: We're settling down. We're getting old. We wanted stability. We wanted a piece of the American dream.

MT: Well it's been pretty exhausting each weekend doing this kind of guerilla theatre situation.

EY: Exhausting artistically too for the actors to have to…

MT: Adjust every week. I mean, the play has had this fluidity to it because it's had to adjust each week . The text pretty much stays the same except for a few lines here and there. The staging and the business that the actors do is a little different every time, so it'll be nice to give the play the chance to solidify in one space. And also we're looking forward to having more people be able to see it. So having a great big space like this loft is allowing a lot more people, I mean still a 40 seat house is tiny by any standards but for us it's huge. Every week when we've been moving, Ethan has a car and we'd fit the entire show in his car, and drive, we'd unload the car on Thursday evening, then on Sunday we'd drive back and load everything back into his car. So for half the week, Ethan's car is full of junk. And he's driving all over the city to every neighborhood.

EY: Please, props.

MT: Props. So even eliminating that logistical business is going to make a huge impact on us.

BB" You could write another play in the time you save unloading.

EY: True. I probably will.

http://www.subletexperiment.com/EricHarryandTheMan.jpg

MT: It's also a very very cool space. It's very old fashioned. Like back when real artists moved into lofts in Soho and were very raw kinds of spaces, it has that old kind of loft feel. Not like a multimillion dollar dot.com millionaire bought a loft and completely gutted it and renovated it.

BB: All right, well I thank you guys for coming down. And it's http://www.subletexperiment.com/ to find out…

EY: How did you remember that?

BB: Best of luck with the continued run and I hope some of ours listeners check this out. It sounds like a very fun project.

MT: Thanks so much.

EY: Thanks so much.

You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 105. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

 or MP3 Feed with XML

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