Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character


In a time when theatergoers can't venture out, Artistic Stamp brings the plays home

BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character The lost art of letter writing becomes theatre in your own home with ARTISTIC STAMP.

Through a collaboration of six playwrights, thirty actors, and a props designer, ARTISTIC STAMP brings interactive narrative experiences directly to the audience. It's billed as "a season of interactive experiences that take audience members on unique journeys via handwritten correspondence."

BroadwayWorld asked Artistic Stamp's West Hyler to tell us more.

BWW: I love the concept! What was the genesis of the project?

The idea began when I was part of the Orchard project's liveness lab, which is a great lab they did over the spring and summer. In it, hundreds of theater makers came together to discuss ways of re-creating the sense of a live experience during this pandemic (in which almost no live theater is taking place). As we explored what
'liveness' meant, certain ideas kept coming up; that the audience were participants and their reactions could affect the performances, that the relationship between performer and audience member was immediate and intimate, that it happened in a shared space, and that it was an experience that involved the senses.

BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character
Artistic Directors Shelley Butler and West Hyler

I realized many of these components also exist in a relationship with
snail mail; there is an intimate connection between the parties writing each other, there is a shared space (even if only the space of an
envelope), it can involve the senses (scented letters, tactile pages),
and because the audience can write back to the performer, they become participants in the story.

When Shelley brought her expertise in new play development and began working with playwrights to craft original pieces we knew we had something exciting and novel on our hands.

We then assembled a team; six playwrights, 30 actors, and an
administration staff to put together all the complicated logistics
involved with mounting what is, in effect, a repertory company that
sends and receives nearly 300 letters a week

Tell us a little about the playwrights.

There are 6 playwrights involved, and all have wonderful careers and
award-winning plays. Shelley and I have been fortunate enough to work
with them all in some capacity and are thrilled to be collaborating with
them again.

BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character Ben Bonnema is the recipient of a Jonathan Larson Grant, the ASCAP Frederick Loewe Award, and the Harold Adamson Lyric Award. The New Yorker raved about his musical The Apple Boys, calling it "a bushelful
of delights" and that he wrote "clever, catchy songs" (book by Jonothon Lyons, 2018 production at HERE Arts Center). One Way, written with Christopher Staskel, was at NAMT's 2019 Festival of New Musicals starring Jenn Colella (Come From Away). Ben wrote book, music & lyrics to Adult Swim's PETER PANIC, a musical video game played by nearly two million people (developed by James Marion). Film: Mary Poppins Returns
(Music Associate to Marc Shaiman, Oscar nom.). Ben holds an M.F.A. from NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.
BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character
November Christine holds a degree in Cellular Biology and Molecular Genetics from the University of Maryland, as well as a BM in Musical Theatre from the East Carolina University School of Music. November's
most recent theatre project is her historical hip-hop drama, Legacy the Musical which was showcased in London in 2017 and won "Best of Fest" at the 2018 New York Musical Festival. November is also a BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop Lyricist and a Sokoloff Arts Fellow.
BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character
Elyne Quan is a writer, actor, dramaturg and director for theatre, film/TV and interactive media. Produced plays include the Sterling Award winning play for young people, Lig & Bittle (co written with Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull) as well as Stray, Look Both Ways, Souvenirs of Home, Trust, What, One Block Radius and a radio play, Direct Dial (CBC Radio).
Her play Frog Life was read and performed at theatres and universities
around the world as part of Climate Change Theatre Action, an
international effort to bring awareness to climate change. Her most
recent play is an adaptation of Jane Eyre.
BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character
Matt Schatz is a writer and composer. His plays and musicals include A Wicked Soul in Cherry Hill (Geffen Playhouse), Untitled (Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, ASCAP Workshop), The Burdens (The O'Neill, City
Theatre, Bloomington Playwright's Project), Georama (St. Louis Rep, Great River Shakespeare Festival, NYMF), I Battled Lenny Ross (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Where Ever It May Be (CLO Spark Festival), Dunkfest '88
(Ars Nova), Love Trapezoid (Astoria Performing Arts Center), and The Tallest Building in the World (Luna Stage). Awards include The Kleban
Prize in Musical Theatre, The ASCAP Foundation Harold Arlen Musical Theater Award, The Reva Shiner Comedy Award, and New York Musical Festival Outstanding Lyrics Award. He is currently working on commissions from Seattle Rep (with Wendy C. Goldberg) and Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Foundation (with Anna Ziegler). As a writer for television and film, Matt has developed for Fox Television Studios,
USA/Universal Cable Productions, TBS/Will Packer Productions, Fullscreen, eOne, and others. He is currently a writer for Netflix Animation.
BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character
Jahn Sood is a New York based writer, composer and music editor (currently in-exile in Portland, ME). Writer/Composer: We Were an Island (short film), The Disappearing Man, In A Sea of Faces (musicals) and more. Music Editor: Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes), Zola (Janicza Bravo), False Positive (John Lee), Aviva (Boaz Yakin) and more; Music Department: Nurse Jackie (Showtime), Bored to Death (HBO), Feed the Beast (AMC), The Good Cop (Netflix), Peg Plus Cat (PBS), The Affair
(Showtime), Gypsy (Netflix), Adam. He is a member of Roundabout Theater Company's "Space Jam" residency and a recipient of "How the Light Gets In" a commission from NYMF and the ASCAP foundation. Sood was a founding member of Ezra Furman & the Harpoons.
BWW Interview: West Hyler of ARTISTIC STAMP, Where the Audience Becomes a Character
Natalie Ann Valentine is a playwright, actor, burlesque performer, mixed-medium fiber artist, slam poet, and theatre-maker. Natalie has worked as a playwright in capacities large and small with Caps Lock Theatre, Orchard Project (NYC); Inkubator New Works Laboratory, Fractal Theatre Collective, Longacre Lea, Pinky Swear Productions, Keegan Theater, Theater Alliance, Convergence Theatre, One Minute Play Festival, Rorschach Theatre, Pointless Theater Company, Young Playwrights' Theater, NuSass, Pussy REP, Spitball Theatre, the University of Maryland, the Kennedy Center's Page2Stage Festival and their yearly Playwright Intensive (DC); Interrobang, Mobtown Players (Baltimore), high schools, universities, summer camps, and more.

What are the capsule summaries of each of the choices?

We have 6 different plays with vastly different themes;

IDA: where you correspond with an early leader of the Civil Rights movement during the Reconstruction,

CONSTELLATION MELODY: a musical mystery in the mail where you help a queer musicologist uncover a melody that exists in the hidden subconscious of three unrelated composers throughout time,

FALL IN LOVE IN FOUR MONTHS: This is the most interactive and even includes one phone call. In this theater game the audience member becomes embroiled in a love affair,

THE HIDDEN SLIPSTREAM: a sci-fi/fantasy show for young audiences,

THE OTHERWISE: which involves an encounter with an other-word spirit and
spell-casting in your living room,

THE WAX BOX: a dark detective comedy where all the clues are in your apartment. This plays on nostalgia and is perfect for those who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

How will it work? Can you walk us through the general throughline of one
of the pieces and how the "audience" members will be involved?

Sure, I like to give the example of THE HIDDEN SLIPSTREAM because I find it less likely that young audiences are reading these articles, so it probably isn't going to have too many spoilers!

In Elyne Quan's THE HIDDEN SLIPSTREAM, a girl from an alternate reality reaches out to you and needs your help. She's cut off from her planet and trying to find her missing partner and get back home. To make matters worse, she has never been on Earth and has no idea how to dress, what to eat, and where to find the information she needs. This is just the beginning, and her needs grow greater as the series goes on, in fact
the main monster she is chasing will eventually come from the imagination of the audience member when they draw it for her at one point.

As the audience writes back, their responses help steer the story and determine the choices she makes--where should she look for her partner? Should she chase after the monster? And to begin with, what should she even wear and eat? Each audience reply gets folded back into the story and determines how the story branches and how the character interacts with Earth.

Of course, the interaction is different for each series, but this gives
you an idea about how it can work.

Do you want to see recipients share their experiences on social media as
it goes along?

We definitely want people to post about their experiences as the piece goes on, we only ask they don't give away the secrets of the story since we hope to re-run these series in future seasons. Ours is a one-on-one analog experience, and the exclusive snail-mail nature of it is part of what makes it so special, but we definitely hope that our audience posts all about their adventures on social media!

What do you hope recipients of the letters will take way from this

I hope it gives them something to look forward to as each installment
arrives in their mailbox. We also hope this gives them some of the same
joy and excitement that they receive from a great theatrical piece;
where they feel like they've gone on a true theatrical journey and had
an experience that, while not live, has some of the elements of
'liveness' that we are all missing. Most importantly, we hope that every
audience member feels seen as they interact with our actors and with the
story, and find a way to truly connect during this time of isolation.

The four month long ARTISTIC STAMP experience costs $100, paid upfront or in four monthly installments. Tickets are on sale at

Related Articles View More South Carolina Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Neil Shurley