Breaking down the production on the goals and inspiration behind it, Sanchez lets us know what makes this play extremely special.
For more information on the production, click here.
Review Fix: What made you want to be a part of this production?
KJ Sanchez: I have wanted to direct this play for a very long time – years in fact. I was working in Vancouver, directing The Oresteia there when I encountered this play and met the playwright Kevin Kerr. I fell in love with it. Then I started following the work of Project Theater – I went to see their production of Ken Ferringi’s Occupation and became a big fan. I thought this would be a good fit so I gave the script to Joe Jung to see what he thought. Unity 1918 needs a strong, adventurous, inventive ensemble with a good sense of humor who can also be honest and real and these are all the things Project Theater does and is.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Sanchez: I do as much research as I can – and with this play there’s a ton of fascinating research about the time, the flu, the war, Canada’s role in it, etc – but when I get into rehearsal I set aside all that homework, all the months of conceptualizing and drafting staging ideas – I set all that aside and build the work off of and with the actors. I love actors and invite them to the table as generative artists. We have built this show together. Each day I’ll give then an exercise, like, “come in tomorrow with three different ways to make the sound of a train rolling into the station and make this sound out of found objects in your kitchen.” The next day each one will present their ideas and I’ll build the sound score and staging off of what they’ve offered. What a great job I have, right? That’s half of my process – building the production with the actors, hand-in-hand. The other half is thorough examination of the characters, their history, back story and looking at who they are and what they want in a – well, for lack of better description – a tradition rooted in realism. Even though the play has poetry in imagery and editing, the scenes are very honest and so my job as director is to help the actors tap into that very real, very human experience. It needs both realism and poetry and I think that’s where my process works best, is in the combining of those two.
Review Fix: What makes you different from other directors?
Sanchez: Since I began my career as an actor, I believe in giving actors ownership and creative voice. I also have had a very eclectic career — I write documentary plays, I run my own company (American Records) I do not only new plays but classics, I was in the SITI Company, I also did lots of kitchen sink plays and my very beginnings were in Ballet Folklorico dance. So I bring all that diversity to each production and work to make each production have a style, genre and tone all its own.
Review Fix: What makes this production special?
Sanchez: It’s a perfect fit, the ensemble’s talents and creative impulses are a perfect match with Kevin Kerr’s black humor, generosity of spirit – the way he finds love and joy in the darkest places – and his language. The cast is perfectly equipped to travel between the banal and the profound, just as Kevin’s writing does. All the stars lined up for this one.
Review Fix: How is your cast unique?
Sanchez: They are unique because they are a company, and a company that makes a lot of different work together. They also all have many talents – not only as excellent actors but Alicia Dawn Bullen, who plays Mary, is the props master (and an artists as such) Joe Jung who plays Hart wrote the music and Jessi Gormezano who plays Bea is a writer and producer in her own right, etc. It’s one of the things I love about this cast – they’re all renaissance people.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Sanchez: That I’m most comfortable living somewhere in the twilight between hope and despair. Ha! Not as a person. As a person, I’m a rather cheerful but boring person. But as an artist I’m most comfortable in stories like Unity 1918, stories where people are in their bleakest hour – facing an apocalypse is pretty bleak, right? – yet there is no melodrama, no self-pity, there’s lots of gallows humor and there is always a ray of hope. There’s always life down there in the darkest places, and those are the places I love to traverse. I like living in the gallows.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the production?
Sanchez: First and foremost that this great play gets the audience it deserves. It’s hailed in Canada – winning the Governor General’s Award – yet few too people know about it here, and that has to change.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy it the most?
Sanchez: Oye. It’s cliche to say everyone but really? Everyone.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Sanchez: Next I direct Laura Eason’s Sex With Strangers at Cincinnati Playhouse in the park and then I get ready for my play about football X’s and O’s which is being produced at Baltimore’s CenterStage, with Tony Taccone directing.