Review Fix chats with Jonathan Judge-Russo, who details the creative process behind his new production, “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.”
About the Production:
Animus Theatre Company (Jonathan Judge-Russo, Founding Artistic Director), an ensemble of young, dynamic artists exploring the resilience of the human spirit through new and under-represented works, continues their fourth full season with Frank McGuinness’ gripping drama about ideologies held hostage, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, directed by the acclaimed theatre professional, Alan Langdon.
An American doctor, an Irish journalist, and an English academic are being held captive abroad, but their captors aren’t the only reason for tension. The cramped confines of their cell intensify their national biases and prejudices, fostering internal resentments and recriminations. They must band together and build a world of fantasy to help keep their sanity… and focus their fight.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Jonathan Judge-Russo: The inspiration for this project comes from the central tenet of our mission statement, wherein we aim to produce plays that highlight the resilience of the human spirit. “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” examines the captivity of three men and their journeys toward survival, especially in light of their limitations over control, not only of their physical freedoms, but even more so, their mental freedoms.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Judge-Russo: As a company, the process of seeking and selecting plays begins fairly simply, with all ensemble members encouraged to bring material to the table that is in keeping with our mission and provides opportunities for at least some of our members. Following that, Animus holds an annual retreat at Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires where we read, collectively, somewhere between 8-12 plays over 5 days and follow them with open-forum discussions about each and how they might serve the ensemble, the upcoming season, etc… Finally, and with all the above information considered, I try to assemble annual programming that features as many company members as possible while staying true to our mission. “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” represents the first play in Animus’ history where no fewer than 5 company members independently championed/recommended the piece.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special from the original?
Judge-Russo: The original writing and production of this play came as an illustration of a very specific, and still ongoing, hostage crisis in Lebanon in the 1980s and early 90s. Its resonance then was specific to the events on which it is based, whereas now, it resonates as an unfortunately timeless narrative, highlighting such global travesties as the recent kidnapping and murder of aid workers by Boko Haram as well as the tragic story of Jamal Khashoggi. This being the NY revival, the timing of our production seems particularly poignant considering the events above.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Judge-Russo: I continue to learn about the importance of telling timely stories that are, above all else, good stories, and ones committed to investigating substance rather than optics. It is, maybe now more than ever, an essentially important time to be a storyteller, and while I repeat that seemingly every year, it does seem to get truer and truer.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production or your company for the future?
Judge-Russo: As with any production, my goal is for an audience member to leave the theatre considering the play as a whole and its impact, first personally within the beholder, but also how it might serve as a conversation-starter about some/many elements that loom over the world at large. There are so many important conversations happening at present, and while we can’t address them all in one play, what we can do is continue to implore everyone to listen – openly and freely – to the words and the artists committed to speaking them. Ideally, listening can be catching, and thus what begins at the theatre can carry beyond its walls. Sadly, these days we are too often consumed by volume coming from all directions, and so much noise makes it impossible to do what we need most: listen.
As for the company, the goal is to continue to cement ourselves in the Off-Broadway landscape of NYC, the most competitive market in the world. We count ourselves deeply fortunate to be producing in our fourth full season (a mark which fewer than 1% of theatre companies in NYC ever get to achieve), but hopefully there are many more to come wherein we get to collaborate with the best writers, actors, directors, designers, and technicians and can one day provide a living for them all while staying true to our mission and telling stories that stand alone on their merits.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Judge-Russo: Moving forward, as it regards programming, we have a few irons in the fire that will likely include a reunion with Shakespeare, and of course returns to our most frequented venues at the Cherry Lane and Broadway’s Circle in the Square. Keep an eye on our social media pages and website for exciting announcements – I don’t want to give too much away right now. As pertains to our ranks, we’re always invigorated to meet artists as hungry as we are and hopefully will be growing our membership to include some of said artists, especially some with whom we’ve had the great pleasure of working this year.