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BWW Interview: Source Material's Samantha Shay Navigating IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES

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BWW Interview: Source Material's Samantha Shay Navigating IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES

Source Material's IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES will world premiere via Zoom July 25, 2020 at 4p PST/7p EST. Directed by Source Material's artistic director Samantha Shay, IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES posits the state of theatre in these COVID-19 times using a mash-up of Chekov monologues, drinking duels and coronavirus memes. Performers, spread out in the U. S. and in Iceland, include company members James Cowan, Miles Hartfelder, Annelise Lawson, Stephanie Regina, Raven Scott, Victoria Sendra, and Grace Tiso.

I had the chance to ask Samantha what's currently predominating in her creative mind.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Samantha!

You were originally scheduled to world premiere IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES June 13th. How did the national awareness of the George Floyd killing personally affect your decision to reschedule to July 25th?
I will say first and foremost that our postponing was not passive, but a call to action in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. It was a choice made by BIPOC (black indigenous people of color) members of Source Material to focus solely on dismantling white supremacy and to make company members available to participate in supporting the movement.
Originally the show was timely, as it relates directly to COVID-19, but when the uprising in response George Floyd's murder happened, it became clear that the most important thing for us to do as a company was focus on anti-racism. It felt unthinkable to promote this piece during the biggest civil rights movement in our nations' history. To pretend the show is about Black Lives Matter would be a gentrification of an important movement, because the show is really about the uncertainty created by COVID-19 and how that affects the lives of artists. We have BIPOC artists in the ensemble and leadership of this show, and it was imperative to respect that not everyone in the ensemble was having the same experience, and so it was also an act of solidarity and care for BIPOC company members.
We are thrilled to see the movement continue. Although this piece is mostly about Covid-19, I imagine that somewhere the spirit of BLM will breathe within IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES. We always make work in response to what is present for us.

How are you keeping creative and sane staying safe at home?
I am feeling very creative, and am lucky to have a place to stay home. Sanity? I think I drift in and out of it. But overall, I feel very lucky that I am healthy. Keeping creative is one of the ways I feel sane.
I think it is easy to become very disassociated during this time. My goal is to stay whelmed - like that kind of catharsis where you cry, but then it becomes lightness. That is the place I always try to create from, to think from. That soft place where you are beyond the breaking of an emotion, but the synthesis of it. The lightness and beauty of feeling touched by something.
I'm watching a lot of films, reading lots of books, and trying to live in a state of inspiration. Quarantine has given me that revelation - to always work from that space of being whelmed and just loving something very much.
I am lucky to live about a 15-minute walk from a friend. We meet up in a park from time to time. Facetiming friends is also so good!

BWW Interview: Source Material's Samantha Shay Navigating IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMESYour company Source Material is based in New York, Los Angeles, and Reykjavik, Iceland. What city are you staying safe at home in?
I am in Brooklyn, New York; but our cast is all over the country.

What was the initial impetus for your founding of Source Material in 2014?
It really started because I started making my own work in school, and over time, there was a clear community and shared interests we were exploring creatively. So, it made sense for us to identify ourselves as a company. It was an organic process.

How many people did Source Material involve in the beginning?
It was me and a group of actors. I think nine or ten of us. Some have cycled out, many have cycled in, and some from my very first piece remain involved. Our Managing Director was in my very first show, even before we had the company, and two of the actors from this piece were in our first show, INTO THE FOG in 2014.

How would you describe a Source Material production in a three-line pitch? Or can you?
Source Material is an evolving nomadic group of artists carrying diverse backgrounds and lineages in artistic practice. We began as a container for our desire to broaden the aesthetic horizons of performance. Much of our theatre work is anchored in reverence for the classical canon, often adapting literature-based performances with highly original staging.

Would you describe IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES in a three-line pitch?
IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES is a digitally-devised theatre performance, made specifically for its medium. It is a new dramaturgy defined by dystopia, and it is a love letter to the art of theatre. Stemming from a group of artists wondering if COVID-19 is the death of theatre as we know it, IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES is a tragicomic, Chekhovian Zoom performance.

What was the original spark that birthed IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES?
It started in two ways, which I actually think, is very representative of the work!
Firstly, as a joke. I was on FaceTime with one of my actors, Annelise Lawson, and we were talking about how much we enjoyed performing one of the company's original pieces I SHOULD HAVE A PARTY FOR ALL THE THOUGHTS I DIDN'T SAY. It's a devised piece about the social awkwardness of grief, largely inspired by Chekhov's writing (and so relatable to the times we find ourselves in). She said, "I thought of you the other day because I had this idea, if we ever did the show on Zoom, I could jump on this trampoline in my Dad's garage in a black dress that I brought with me on this trip, you know, in case I had somewhere nice to go (we both chuckled at that), and I could do shots of vodka on the trampoline." To which I said, "Lets adapt the show for Zoom!" Since then, the piece has become its own, but the aura of it and some of the material, is from the live show. And yes, Annelise does jump on a trampoline in her Dad's garage in the performance! And there's lots of drinking.
Secondly, it was a way for us to connect to one another, and to process what's happening. The show is in no way made in spite of COVID-19 or avoiding it. We are making a piece about it, in response to it. It's been a touchstone for all of us to be in a creative space, while not avoiding what we are going through together as a company, and as friends.
The reason I say these two aspects represent the work is because the work is hilarious, but also tragic. Just look at the internet and the amount of jokes about 2020 being the apocalypse. There is nothing more Chekhovian than a hilarious joke that deep down is about a massively horrible truth. That's the show in a nutshell. Someone jumping on a trampoline doing shots of vodka. It might be funny, but it's really because she's an artist who has lost all of her trajectory and can't leave the house due to a pandemic. Maybe you will laugh so hard you cry, or cry so hard you laugh.

BWW Interview: Source Material's Samantha Shay Navigating IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMESWhat unique methods came into play for your development process of IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES?
Once we decided to do this, I approached Zoom as a site-specific space. If I was making a piece in a site-specific location, we would ask ourselves what is possible in that space. So, the most unique thing was acknowledging the medium we are working in, discovering all of its expressive possibilities, and utilizing them as a driving force to tell our story. I was not interested in doing a reading of a play or making a makeshift theatre piece in spite of being limited, but in actually using the limitation as an entry point, where the form is an expression of content.
I certainly don't claim this show is a theatre piece, but it is about theatre at this time, and it utilizes what I've learned in the theatre in order to create itself. Acknowledging the space, regarding everything as much as possible, and making choices about what I see right in front of me.

Which is applicable here: the IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES cast developed the script? Or the script dictating the casting?
The cast and I developed the script. We do a lot of improvising together. I give them prompts to create, but the script is truly co-written. We write on our feet, record later.

Has this been the shortest gestation period for a production you've had a hand in creating? Or is this a normal pace for you?
Actually, this has been one of the longest processes I've ever been able to have! Although the idea was very immediate, and so I might say in that sense, it's fast. But in terms of rehearsal time, I typically have a very short amount of time to make work, say, a workshop here or there, a week or two. This has felt luxurious. It has made me think about how cost prohibitive live theatre can be, and in some ways, it's felt like a relief to have more time. Although, I can't wait to be back in a rehearsal room!

Do you use your film director's eyes (as opposed to your theatre director's perspective) to frame what's captured on the Zoomed screen?
Absolutely. The show also is a mixture of pre-recorded film pieces as well as live. It's all about visual composition, and the actors are learning that too. I have always been a director who makes imagistic work whether on stage or screen, so my actors know I will be picky about that. But it's been a new skill to learn it on Zoom.

Does the IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES cast all have the same technical set-ups for their performances (mikes, selfie lights, green screens)?
Oh my gosh, it's pretty low tech! We do not have selfie lights or green screens, I think there is a makeshift green screen made from a yoga mat, no joke. A couple have some mics, but only because they had them already. We are using what is around us. There are even some days the actors will be in different places, because one of them had to make the decision to move out of New York City, and will be doing so on our opening weekend. Those chance happenings feel important, because this piece is a snapshot of this time. But that's the thing! That is how theatre works. I think the best theatre artists can sift anything ordinary for gold. So, for example, one of my favorite scenes in the show is outside, because one of our actors is on the sea in Cape Cod, we actually time the show with a sunset (for the evening shows). That is way more exciting to me than a selfie light. Again, using the medium, using the time we are in. No avoidance. Maybe it's Grotowski's poor theater on Zoom!

BWW Interview: Source Material's Samantha Shay Navigating IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMESWhen we all start coming together in theatres again, what Source Material show would you love to premiere?
We had a residency in August to begin working on a production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD at A Noise Within in Los Angeles. It had to be postponed. As I look back, I am shocked at how perfect that is for one of our next projects. It's a play that takes place at the precipice of change. A play about nostalgia for a past that is entirely unsustainable and built on the backs of slave labor. So, I think it would be a perfect show for us to do next! We'll have to wait and see when and how that will be. I'd also love to remount my older performance of LIGHT. It's about the human race as a light source, performed mostly in darkness. It is so cathartic. It just feels like the dark womb people need to be enveloped by right now. It also doesn't require crowds, so it's a practical thing too. We will see what happens!

Thank you again, Samantha! I look forward to Zooming into IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES!

For Zoom access to view IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES July 25 through August 2, 2020; log onto

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