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BWW Interview: Catching up with Writer/Director Spenser Davis of THE SPIN

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“How do we fight the bad guys who are convinced they’re the heroes?”

BWW Interview: Catching up with Writer/Director Spenser Davis of THE SPIN

THE SPIN is a brand-new dark comedy written specifically for the digital medium, commissioned and produced by Interrobang Theatre Project of Chicago. Starting October 30th, it will be available on events.BroadwayWorld.com.

Audiences will have a chance to watch the premiere on the evening of the 30th, and have the opportunity to watch-a-long with members of the Interrobang Ensemble and SPIN Cast and Crew on November 6th, as well as catch the show on Demand from October 31 until November 22nd.

To celebrate the upcoming premiere, we caught up with Spenser Davis, the writer-director of THE SPIN to learn more.


Tell us about the show - what was the genesis behind its creation?

I've been thinking a lot lately about despicable men, particularly those in political power. I mean, it's hard not to - every time we turn on the TV or hop on social media, there they are again, dominating the news cycle as they love to do. And while I had no interest in creating work about them (they don't care if we live or die, so why on Earth should we amplify their voice further?), my thoughts did go to the people who have to face the public every day and speak on their behalf - the PR consultants, the press contacts, the spin doctors, the front-facing aides. How does their job function exactly? When they have to lie for their bosses, do they swallow bile before doing it... or are they perfectly happy to do the dirty work? Do they know they're lying, or do they actually believe what they're saying? And for the rest of us, how do we fight the bad guys who are convinced that they're actually the heroes of the story? These were the questions that led me to write and direct THE SPIN.

How has your approach to the work shifted in creating something to be streamed as opposed to in front of an in-person audience?

When I originally had the idea, the play was set in a hotel room, as a sort of challenge to myself to contain it to a single set. But when Interrobang's Artistic Director Georgette Verdin approached me about actually writing the piece for the virtual medium, I realized it could not only still work but maybe work better... because in this case, the single setting was a computer desktop. One example of a challenge that cropped up? Much of my work as both a writer and director implements overlapping conversational dialogue, and even if we as people might interrupt one another on Zoom calls realistically from time to time, that's really, really hard to replicate digitally. To put it another way, it sounds horrible. So rather than nixing the overlapping dialogue from the script, the actors and I worked extra carefully to orchestrate the lines in such a way that the dialogue still maintained that conversational rhythm, so that we have the facade of overlap instead. We also found ourselves playing with some of the tools these platforms provide us with, such as the chat window, which becomes almost a second location for conversation in our show.

Did anything unexpected happen during the creation process?

Not yet. *laughs, then stops and knocks heavily on wood* Given how familiar so many of us have become with video-conferencing since quarantine earlier this year, we were already pretty primed to deal with the form's limitations: the inconsistencies with participants' wi-fi connections, the always temperamental audio quality, the occasional forgetting to unmute yourself, and so on. Everyone involved recognizes that what we're attempting to do is difficult and that success is a hard thing to measure on this platform. Consequently, there's not a single team member not prepped to roll with the punches that come our way.

What should audiences expect when they tune in? Why should they tune in?

The Interrobang artistic family and I knew that the biggest hurdle we'd have to leap would be for those audience members who assumed this was another "Zoom play," by which they *really* mean, it would be four to six people sitting in chairs and talking at us for 90 minutes. "So many of us have to be on Zoom calls in our day jobs, why on Earth would we choose to sit through a fictional one, right?" Well, trust that we know what you're worried about, and we've got you covered. The show's ensemble and I are very aware of all the things we/they hate about video-conferencing. We set ourselves up as the first line of defense; if we found any moment or decision annoying or boring or found ourselves tuning out, we cut it from the show, no questions asked. We've also crafted the show to keep things moving (actors included, many of whom will drift in and out of frame like we all do on calls like these). No talking heads here. And, as an added bonus, the show is only 55 minutes long, shorter than your average Zoom chat. The show is fast, funny, and fights against all the aspects our patrons might find tedious about video-conferencing.

What do you say to folks who feel like theater shouldn't attempt to fit into the virtual space?

I've actually heard that quite a lot over the past several months: "Virtual theatre cannot replicate live theatre! In fact, if it isn't live, it isn't theatre. Period!" And I'll admit, they're right on that first part. There's nothing, absolutely nothing, that can replace packing into a dark room with dozens of strangers, breathing the same air, and watching an incredible story unfold just a few feet in front of you. I cannot wait until those days return.

But for now, producing virtually is all we have, whether it's audio-only or through video-conferencing. For those of us bursting to tell stories during a pandemic, we'd be doing both ourselves and our audiences a disservice if we rejected the opportunities the virtual space brings, because why? Because of some concept we've had of what makes for quality theatrical work? The world as we know it will never be the same again. So why are we trying to hold onto the same definition for the form we work in? We can either do what artists do and embrace the digital format's limitations as challenges to overcome creatively, or we can sit back and use programs like Zoom for nothing except privately hosted staged readings. It's entirely up to the individual artist. But for me and the folks at Interrobang, we've had a blast pushing the boundaries.

What type of real-world resonances do you hope THE SPIN will have for audiences?

I hope audiences come away recognizing that THE SPIN is not just another politically charged show, programmed *just* in time to overlap with a major election. At its heart, it's about presumably good people who by doing their jobs may be perpetuating bad behavior. It's about women who work in close proximity with deceptively toxic men and place blame on themselves for not seeing the signs sooner. And it's about a team of professionals who, at the end of the day, truly and deeply care about one another's well-being, job and clients be damned. But most of all, I hope folks who tune in enjoy the ride - if we did our jobs right, the journey should be dark, surprisingly funny, and provoke as many questions as it provides answers.


THE SPIN premieres on October 30th, and runs on demand through November 22nd. In addition to the premiere, you can watch-a-long with the Interrobang ensemble and SPIN cast and crew on November 6th. Get tickets and more information at https://events.broadwayworld.com/event/interrobangs-the-spin-10-30-11-22/.

About Spenser Davis: Spenser Davis (Writer/Director) is the Director of Programming for Broken Nose Theatre and an ensemble member at The Factory Theater. He received the 2020 Elizabeth George Commission from South Coast Rep, the 2019 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award from the American Theatre Critics' Association, the 2017 Jeff Award for Best Director, and was named a finalist for the Harold & Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award. He's represented by William Morris Endeavor.


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