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BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society

"I loved my time with The Debate Society. They pushed us to something really incredible and totally different. Devising is the best! The whole night of performances was some of the best theater I've ever seen." "Incredible! Fast! Efficient, Effective! Productive! Collaborative! Great way to prove to yourself that you can do it!" "A hightlight-the collaboration felt so pure and the final product was so inventive and original." "One of the most profoundly stimulating experiences I have in my arsenal from NTI. It strengthened a system of creating that makes sense to me and provided a space to create work that I will continue to develop for future projects." "We all brought our A-game and created some of the most interesting theater I've seen. The process was huge on collaboration and I really feel as if we were able to put our best selves forward, our egos aside, and work together to make the best possible piece we could. Lots of struggles. Lots of conquering." "A truly life-changing workshop with an incredible group of artists giving back." These are just some of the ways NTI students have responded to working with our alumni company, The Debate Society.

The Debate Society is an Obie Award winning, Brooklyn based company that creates new plays through the collaboration of Hannah Bos (writer/performer/NTI Fall '98), Paul Thureen (writer/performer/ NTI Fall '98/ MATS '00), and Oliver Butler (director/developer). The company specializes unexpected stories set in supremely intricate, vividly theatrical worlds. The Debate Society's plays include Blood Play (Bushwick Starr/Under The Radar/Williamstown Theater Festival), BUDDY COP 2 (Ontological-Hysteric Incubator; published by Samuel French), YOU'RE WELCOME (The Brick; published by Playscripts), CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT (PS122; published by Samuel French and in PLAY A JOURNAL OF PLAYS), THE EATEN HEART, THE SNOW HEN and A THOUGHT ABOUT RAYA. The Debate Society trio are recipients of a 2012 Obie Grant, 2013 Obie Award (Paul Thureen; Performance - BLOOD PLAY), NEFA National Theater Project Grant, Sundance Institute Fellows, winners of a 2010 "Village Voice Best of Award" for "Best Argument for Devised Theater" and the 2012 Ars Nova Company in Residence. They are currently working on commissions from Ars Nova and Playwrights Horizons. Two weeks ago, NTI and NMTI fall 2014 traveled to New York City to see The Debate Society's latest Off-Broadway play JACUZZI.

Hannah and Paul will return to NTI with their playmaking workshop later this month. Through the magic of theater or time travel, Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen zip back to have a sit-down with their younger selves and learn what impact the National Theater Institute has had on them.

IF WE COULD TURN BACK TIME originally appeared on June 2, 2014:

HANNAH: Paul and I studied at the National Theater Institute (NTI) at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Fall Semester 2006.

PAUL: Hannah.

HANNAH: Fine. Fall 1998. I was twelve. NTI is a semester long, SUPER intensive, study away program. Classes are seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. . . . usually with a 7:30 warm-up as well. We studied acting, directing, playwriting, design, many forms of movement, voice, Chekhov, mask, and more I'm sure.

PAUL: As a way to share our experiences at NTI and talk about how they truly helped shape our lives in and out of the theater, we're sitting down at the O'Neill to interview ourselves from back then. Most interestingly, I think, we-

COLLEGE HANNAH: Just a sec. Can I just say, you're not as bald as I thought you would have been by now.

PAUL: . . .Thanks. So you're almost finished with your semester here. How are you feeling?

COLLEGE PAUL: Good. Tired. I feel kind of like a machine. Not in a bad way, we just-

COLLEGE HANNAH: We do so much all the time, we've lost perspective on good or bad or what you can or can't do. You just do it. And I gotta say, I'm loving it. Sorry. Really quick . . . you guys still hang out?

HANNAH: Of course! We're best friends.

PAUL: I don't want to give TOO much away, but in six years you are going to meet a director named Oliver Butler and the three of you are going to start a theater company called The Debate Society.

COLLEGE HANNAH: That's a stupid name.

HANNAH: You came up with it.

COLLEGE HANNAH: That's a great name.

HANNAH: Thanks! Back to you guys. What are some of the craziest things that have happened here?

COLLEGE PAUL: I don't know what we should tell you. You're grown ups, so . . .

COLLEGE HANNAH: Well Paul threw up doing improv when someone said "hot dog."

PAUL AND COLLEGE PAUL: I had food poisoning.

HANNAH: I remember some meatloaf that was super dense. And we played football with the meatloaf. . . the food is much better now.

COLLEGE HANNAH: You guys come back here to the O'Neill?

PAUL: Yeah, we teach at NTI.



HANNAH: Yeah, it's trippy to be here, because every little nook on the grounds reminds us of performances we-YOU did back in the day and also the special performances students, we've worked with over the past couple years, have done. Ghosts all over the place.

COLLEGE PAUL: Cool. Cool. Sorry guys. We actually have to run. Tai-Chi.

COLLEGE HANNAH: I'm sorry. We can't be late. On time is actually late here. Early is on time.

HANNAH: Yeah, no that's true. Good. Don't forget that!


PAUL: Guys, before you go: keep working hard.

HANNAH: Be nice to everyone.

PAUL: Keep up the playwriting you started doing here.

HANNAH: HANDWRITTEN thank you and/or apology notes.

PAUL: Find people who inspire you and make yourself useful to them.

HANNAH: Buy gold and invest in Apple NOW.

PAUL: That's it. If you forget any of that, you'll be able to read it on the blog.


HANNAH: Don't worry about it.

PAUL: Oh! We have internships if either of you-

HANNAH: That makes no sense.


PAUL: Sweet kids.

HANNAH: Her hair is REALLY blonde.

PAUL: Should we just . . . talk to each other? About our experiences at NTI and how great it's been to come back and teach?

HANNAH: Yeah. I know that it really clicked for both of us being here. I would say it was a major life changer, and I don't think we would be playwrights if we hadn't come to NTI. This was the first place we were allowed to be theater makers without defining our focus. We could try anything and do everything and we did. Writing, design, directing, acting . . . and the deadlines and how much we pushed ourselves made us do impossible things daily.

PAUL: We had so many passionate, skillful, giving teachers, including Rachel Jett who was our Russian Movement teacher and now is NTI's artistic director. Aside from the incredible training, it's where we started to piece together our values. Flipping that switch, as we were told, to work hard. Make something great NOW. Also, NTI brought us both to Moscow for the first time, which was the other major life changer. Our teachers at NTI and in Moscow were the first people who had ever discussed with me the WHYS of what we do.

HANNAH: I really appreciated the fierce commitment to creativity. And ensemble. Investing in your partner and making them look good. That's the basis of what we do and how we navigate through our world.

PAUL: I remember somebody asking David Jaffe (who was in the very first semester in his tenure as Director of NTI) in Chekhov class why her character did something . . . and David looked off into space, thought for a long time, then answered, "Because people are fucking weird."

HANNAH: Best acting lesson ever.

PAUL: And now we have been coming back for the last few years along with Oliver as The Debate Society and teaching playmaking to students.

HANNAH: Yep. We show up and basically take them through a high stakes abridged version of how we make plays and share the creative values that we began to shape here and have developed over our careers. It happens really fast and the work the students do is inspiring. They truly make great theater here seemingly out of thin air and it's refreshing to come back and see it happen over and over again. It's also a restart for us to get back to basics and just do the work.

PAUL: Stop talking, we're at our word limit!

HANNAH: Cool. Let's go walk down to the ocean.

The Debate Society's latest play, JACUZZI, is currently playing to critical acclaim Off-Broadway at Ars Nova. Now extended through November 8, 2014!

Next week: A Day in the Life of the National Theater Institute. A photo gallery chronicling 14 hours on America's Theater Campus featuring students and faculty of the NTI Semester, NTI-Advanced Directing, and National Music Theater Institute.

To learn more and apply, visit and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@NTIRiskFailRisk). The application deadline for fall 2015 semester is March 20. Early applications are encouraged.

high res photos

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Hannah Bos

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Paul Thureen

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Hannah Bos (second from right) with NTI classmates, 1998.

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Student project, NTI, 1998. (Paul on the left with beard.)

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
The fall '98 NTI ensemble. (Paul - top row, third From left; Hannah - third row, third from right.)

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen in their latest play JACUZZI at Ars Nova. Photo Ben Arons.

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen with David Jaffe at the O'Neill.

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
National Theater Institute students perform a play they created with The Debate Society.

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
National Theater Institute students work with The Debate Society.

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Paul Thureen introduces NTI's Theatermakers Summer Intensive, which staged a play in a car.

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Students perform a piece created with The Debate Society.

BWW Exclusive: NTI Alumni Company - The Debate Society
Theatermakers present a play created with Hannah and Paul for public performance at the O'Neill.

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