Want to end your summer on an artistic high note? Check out the newest production from Off Square Theatre, which is presenting a staged reading of Lauren Gunderson’s critically acclaimed play “The Revolutionists” in the Black Box Theatre from Sept. 16 through Sept. 18 at the Center for the Arts.
Directed by Allison Watrous, “The Revolutionists” features four women who lived in Paris during the height of the French Revolution’s “Reign of Terror.” The play tackles subjects including violence, legacy, feminism, art and terrorism, all while maintaining an uproarious sense of humor.
In advance of the production’s opening night, Watrous and Off Square Theatre’s Associate Producer—and one of the actors in the play—Sadie Frank joined us in the KHOL studios.
Listen above for more and check out a transcript of the interview below. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KHOL/JACK CATLIN: So, Allison, as a director, how do you approach and execute a play like this? One that’s been described as cleverly written and insightful while at the same time wild and raucous?
ALLISON WATROUS: Whenever I’m reading a play and get excited about directing it … images leap off the page. And what Lauren has written, it does that instantly. I mean, she’s obviously working within the framework of the ‘Reign of Terror,’ which put images of war, violence, and class systems completely out of whack. And the guillotine is really at the center of the storytelling. So then you get to ask these great theatrical questions of, ‘How will I stage that image and how do we best tell the story and the journey that the play takes?’ So that’s really an exciting thing. And then also to partner with her on the page, there’s always the thing when you’re in rehearsal with an ensemble that the playwright is the other person that’s collaborating with you as you’re developing the play. And she’s such an incredible writer and I’m so drawn to her writing and always have been, and I’m so excited about her continuing to write. She’s a contemporary playwright that is writing constantly. We see her plays that are being produced and produced nationally. ‘Book of Will’ to name one of many, many, many, which is so exciting. [S]he helps you and guides you as a director from the page that she writes, such fully developed characters that it’s such a gift to the actors. And then we just get to do that job and communication of ‘How do we lift that? How do we really use what Lauren has given us and bring it to life on stage?’ And the text, especially in this play, is central in the sense of how they’re communicating.
So really it’s about text first and activating her language of the play and activating that communication on stage and folding it together. And that’s really what’s beautifully written between the four women. And I also really want to celebrate what Lauren has given us in terms of female voices on stage and female voices in the theater and how fantastic to come to Off Square with their incredible female leadership of this theater company and really celebrate that. And Lauren has really partnered the journey of this play with ‘Hmmm, let’s really look at women in theater and where are the voices of female playwrights? Where are the voices of female leadership? Is it equal?’ I mean, there’s a lot in this play that if you go back to the French Revolution where it’s about ‘égalité.’ My French is horrible! But it’s about ‘Where is equality?’ And I know we’re going to get to it, but that’s where Marianne is a huge part of that journey and a huge part of this story of who is at the center of history and storytelling and who is the writer of history, and have we captured the full story and who is not at the table and who is missing? And Lauren’s really putting that at the forefront in this play. So it just … pops off the page, which is so exciting.
KHOL: Sadie and Allison, without giving away too, too much: What is each of your favorite moments in the play?
ALLISON WATROUS: I always think as a director and also an acting teacher, [what] I always look at when you’re analyzing a play or breaking it apart is, where are there opportunities that the human beings in the play give each other gifts? I mean, sometimes they’re literal gifts, but sometimes there’s also just a moment of, ‘Oh, I see you in a brand new way. Oh, my gosh, whoa, we’re having a blossoming friendship that I just never expected, I never expected to connect to this person. I never expected to use the image we all are thinking about now of like going across the aisle. Like, I never thought we would ever find common space as human beings.’ And Lauren gives so many of those in this play and so many beautiful nuggets and it’s so fun as a director and an ensemble to just go, ‘Oh, let’s heighten that. That’s fantastic.’ Like, lean into that because it’s all about humans and it’s all about beautiful people and it’s all about relationships and how relationships carve and form our lives. So I think that it’s a string of many, many, many moments together, but those are the ones that are my favorite. Sometimes they’re small, sometimes they’re huge, but they’re really powerful.
SADIE FRANK: I think my favorite is a small example of that exact thing, which is my character Charlotte has a line, she comes in and she has all this energy. She’s ranting and raving: ‘I need help. I need help. Help me.’ And then at one moment, she takes a step back and she goes, ‘You know, sorry, I’ve been acting all aggressive. You are the first women I’ve ever really liked.’ And I just feel that in my heart. Like, as someone who grows up being told girls are snarky, girls are mean, and then, you know, you have these moments with beautiful women around you and realize, ‘Oh, right, like we’re really cool. We are forging relationships.’ That’s a moment that touches me personally and is a great example of the importance of breaking down barriers and forgetting about your expectations and just entering into relationships and loving moments with people around you.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Off Square Theatre’s Allison Watrous and Sadie Frank.
This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.