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BWW Feature: Humor and Heavy Lifting with Original Work DEADLIFT

Local Classic Repertory's new original play DEADLIFT features Aviva Pressman in her own home, telling the stories of her life.

BWW Feature: Humor and Heavy Lifting with Original Work DEADLIFT
Design by Melissa Campbell

Innovative new theatre company Local Classic Repertory continues their digital season with another brand-new play. Deadlift, a new production written by and starring Aviva Pressman, is an autobiographical, one-woman multimedia experience. It's available via LCR's interactive virtual platform and runs September 30th - October 4th.

Zandi Carlson directs the production, and she says "Deadlift is a brand-new show exploring what it means to be weird and Jewish, dealing with grief, and dressing up your father's ashes for Halloween." Funny, heartfelt, and real, Deadlift promises to be an emotional and cathartic experience we all could use right now. Filmed in Pressman's own childhood home, this new work is an adaptive style of theatrical storytelling, and it's an adventurous and bold move for the exciting new theatre.

Production Director Carlson and LCR's Producing Artistic Director Emily Grace Smith chatted with Broadway World for an exclusive interview. Over a Zoom meeting, the two directors talked about artistic expression, what it means to care for and lose someone close to you, and the innovation that's coming out of the current pandemic. That conversation is captured below:

BWW: Tell me about Deadlift! What do you hope audiences will experience?

ZC: The cool thing is because it's a solo show, we're not trying to coordinate with multiple performers online. It's not limited to one location, like a Zoom call, it's all filmed throughout her house, and each room helps tell the story. To be clear, we are not filmmakers; it's almost like a home video meets FaceTiming with your close friend, who happens to be telling compelling stories while making art. These are true stories about her life, told in an intimate, and theatrical way. It's all the fascinating elements of a site-specific theatre performance, without all of us having to cram into her bathroom or her childhood bedroom!BWW Feature: Humor and Heavy Lifting with Original Work DEADLIFT

This is very much a multimedia experience. Not only is it Aviva telling stories and singing, but she's also creating live art pieces in the moment while she's telling the story. She's painting, using charcoal, and doing calligraphy, all while telling these stories. In between each of the scenes, we have home videos from her childhood. There's a touching video of her grandfather in his mid-nineties. You get to see four-year-old Aviva with her curly mop of hair. It's really interesting back and forth between what's happening now and seeing pictures and videos of all these different people in her life.

BWW: Online productions are really showing that theatre is accessible and still possible to make right now. Why do you think that's so important to convey?

ZC: During this process, we (the production team) have been able to work with each other in three very different parts of the country. Emily is on the East Coast, I'm in the Pacific Northwest, and Aviva is in Los Angeles. We are able to collaborate with people that we normally wouldn't have the opportunity to.

Because it's available online, as long as you have a screen and an internet connection, you can watch it from wherever you are. Not only can artists work together across the country, but anyone who wants to see this can!

Also, we are making sure that we have closed captioning for all of the performances. That way our deaf and hard of hearing friends can watch it and have a positive viewing experience as well. We're working to make it enjoyable for everyone.

As a mom of two young kids, ages 4 and 1, working on this show has been amazing, because I don't have to leave my house for rehearsals, and we were able to set up a non-traditional rehearsal schedule which accommodated my parenting responsibilities. It can be a challenge to deal with childcare coverage as a working artist, so that was a huge bonus with this project. Aviva got used to me nursing my youngest during rehearsals!

BWW Feature: Humor and Heavy Lifting with Original Work DEADLIFTEGS: This is why theatre is so important and why it should be accessible. All of us, as a nation, and a world, are going through a traumatic experience. Theatre is this way we can revisit a time in our lives with a sense of play and safety. Being able to revisit that in any capacity is so important, special and valuable.

BWW: I really like the virtual platform that Local Classic Repertory uses for shows. You can get on and chat with everyone while the show is on!

ZC: I'm still a champion of leaving your cell phone off while you're in the theatre, but I do think that there are ways to modify the theatrical experience in various places. When you are home, sure, text your friend about it! Post about it on Instagram. That engagement is fantastic.

BWW: It almost does feel like sharing the experience. You're not physically sitting next to each other, but you're engaging in the same experience at the same time. It incentivizes you to watch it since it's on at a certain time.

ZC: I do appreciate the creative constraints that COVID is giving us. If you have limitations, sometimes that makes you more creative. I appreciate Emily's "Yes, And" attitude with all of our ideas. Each of the shows that LCR has produced so far has had a very different feel. Whoever the creative leaders are in each project can take that and run with it.

EGS: As an artistic director and producer, the way I can best serve the artists I'm working with is to let them do their thing and make what they want to make. I want the artists I work with to have as much ownership over what they're doing as possible!

BWW: So, Deadlift can definitely be described as autobiographical, a one-woman show?

ZC: Yeah! It really is just HER telling these stories and guiding us through the history of her grandparents, and her dad, who was a beloved high school music teacher, and the huge loss she experienced. Aviva's dad was diagnosed with cancer when she was in her twenties, and she moved back home to take care of him. That's really what this story is about- her relationship with the people who influenced her and raised her, and also how that changed when her dad got sick, and the challenges of taking on responsibilities for a dying parent. But it's funny too, I promise you!

One of the things that Aviva and I have in common is our ability to find humor and lightness in spite of challenging life circumstances. Aviva was one of my close friends in college when my mom died, and when her dad was sick she would call me. I was one of the few people her age who had already lost a parent. Then, two and a half years ago, my dad died. So, I've lost both my parents now. But we still send each other inappropriate dead dad jokes!

You can't hold onto grief and pain and sorrow for so long without cracking. You can crack and crumble, or you can crack up. So, I think she does a good job of finding the lightness and humor and ways to celebrate life in a beautiful way in this story.

EGS: I'm so excited to see Aviva's show. I'm the daughter of a funeral director. It's a family business, and it's like death and taxes. It's a very real part of my life. It's not fun to talk about, and Zandi emphasized this as well, but there's so much humor in this play. You'll be deeply moved by it, and you'll laugh nonstop.

BWW: So Zandi you've directed before, right?

ZC: I've directed theatre before, but I've never directed a solo show, I've never directed an original show, and I've never directed a virtual show! I was like, if you still trust me with this, I will do it! This is very different than what I'm used to, which is starting with the text and rehearsing for the stage. Plus, there's the added challenge of being set off to the side on a computer screen while she's recording. Sometimes we film a little bit, she'll upload it, then I'll look at it and give feedback. It's so new and different than anything I've ever experienced. It's a wonderful challenge.

BWW: That'll make an interesting experience for the audience as well! It's new for you, but it's really new for everybody. We're all kind of learning as we go.

ZC: And it's nothing that I've seen before. I think it's really fun and exciting to have all these different creative challenges. And, if you haven't experienced the loss of an immediate family member, it gives you a window into what that's like. Caretaking is not just cleaning and cooking. There's an emotional toll, there's sleep deprivation. With this show, you get to hear some intimate details that you might not read in an obituary. If you have experienced loss, there's something really validating about this show.

It's a story about family and human connection. There are moments when you feel like she's talking right to you. It has those deep conversations, the ones you have with people when you really trust them. That experience is something we are all looking for since we are so very separate and feeling so divided right now. You feel that connection and relatability. While it's very specific to her life, it's also universal in its appeal and how much I think people will enjoy it.

Local Classic Repertory's new original work Deadlift runs September 30th - October 4th on their live virtual forum. For times, tickets, and access to the show, visit local-classic-repertory.mn.co.


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