By Lisa Mikulski
Sitting in the seat of a darkened theater, I rarely give thought to anything other than the performance I’m about to see. There is no acknowledgement in my mind about the process behind the presentation of a theatrical performance. I do not consider the hours of rehearsals, the staging, the writing of a script, or the psychological preparation of character development. I simply sit and wait for the actors to take me away to the world of the story.
The founders at Theatre 4 consider all these things and more. And after having spoken with a series of artistic directors, playwrights, and actors, I have a much greater appreciation for that which must occur in order for opening night to be not just a success, but to happen at all. This is especially true when the performance is a world premiere. It’s hard work. It’s highly collaborative and everyone from the actors to the lighting director has a job to do as part of a well-managed team. Theatre 4, a small New Haven-based theater company founded by Rebecka Jones, Mariah Sage, and Jane Tamarkin, is taking on a big challenge this spring. The company, established in 2007, has had great success with its Acting Out events.
“Those events are often sold out and people love them,” says Tamarkin.
Now, however, Theatre 4 is moving more toward commissioning new works. Its principals tell me they love the energy and excitement of working alongside playwrights. The company is currently presenting the world premiere of award-winning playwright George Brant’s Salvage, which the company commissioned. The play is described thus on the Theatre 4 website: “Danny’s sister and mother have just laid him to rest and now find themselves racing against time to rescue his prized possessions from the family basement before a flood hits. Enter Danny’s high-school sweetheart to lend a hand – but is she here to pay her last respects or to keep Danny alive forever?”
The play, which was written specifically for Jones, Sage, and Tamarkin, was inspired by Henry James’ The Aspern Papers and is directed by Maryna Harrison. “There are very few plays written for only three women,” explains Sage. “So we had to create one for ourselves.” “The three of us have never actually acted in a play together,” adds Tamarkin.
But the company’s principals want to do more than just act in plays.
“By … commissioning playwrights to write plays that include at least one female character, we are creating a body of work which we intend to contribute to the American theater,” Tamarkin says. It is an involved process that, in this case, began when Brant agreed to write for Theatre 4.
“I don’t get hung up on whether or not I’m writing for men or women,” says Brant. “I’m writing for people.”
“I’m a big rewriter,” says Brant. “I’m always trying to make the play the best it can be.” In July 2011, the Jones, Sage, and Tamarkin “spent about a week with George,” Tamarkin says. “A draft was created and during (a) workshop the actors read, with the director present, and George sat and listened. He took notes. And the next day he would produce new copy.” Rehearsals for Salvage began at one location and then moved to the performance venue. Because Brant lives in Ohio, they communicated much of the time via e-mail and video chat. Before opening night, Brant was to travel to New Haven to once again lend his assistance. As opening night neared, the company worked to ensure that Brant’s thought-provoking story line would be successfully communicated.
With Salvage, Brant hopes “that audiences will enjoy the emotional nature of the play, its dark humor, and its many twists and turns. And if they leave the play with a determination to sort through the guilt and regret in their own lives in order to release themselves from any long-standing impediments to their happiness, well, then that would be wonderful too,” Perhaps the next time you sit in a darkened theater you’ll take a look around and imagine the hard work that went into entertaining you.
Visit t4ct.org for information about upcoming performances of George Brant’s Salvage.