Review Fix chats with the team behind the upcoming production of Abdication!, to find out what makes it a special one and why it may be the sleeper hit of this upcoming Fall theater season.
About the Production:
The tongue-in-cheek anthology, Abdication!, will be a featured event for the 10th anniversary THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY DREAM UP FESTIVAL 2019. Performances will be at the Johnson Theater Space at 155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), New York City on 09/03: Tuesday, 9pm; 09/04: Wednesday, 6:30pm; 09/05: Thursday, 9pm; 09/06: Friday, 6:30pm; and 09/07: Saturday, 8pm. https://abdication.brownpapertickets.com/
Abdication! written by Naya James, directed by Lucia Bellini, produced by Lucia Bellini, Naya James and Trenton Clark, sports a Multi-Media Team that includes Raylla Chan (Animator) and Loredanna Vacario (AV tech) and is the first presentation of Three-Headed Lion Productions. It’s fitting to have a multi-media team when your show is a multi-cultural, multi-media dark comedy more than reminiscent of Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale, and VR.
Abdication! delivers a tongue-in-cheek three-episode anthology shining a light on social media, human interaction, and finally – as depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale – lack of individualism. These Black Mirror-type tales illustrate potential versions of what life will look like if we give away even more of our autonomy in exchange for convenience. What makes this company so forward thinking and what makes this series of plays so fascinating is that it sits on a scale where fantasy and reality are evenly matched.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Naya James: This project came together largely as a response to walking the streets of Manhattan and being bombarded at every turn by advertisements for products that promise to improve one’s life, both blatantly and subtly. This persistent message to be more, do more, have more resulted in me wanting to explore the lives of people who feel broken on the inside because they are often unable to participate in a competitive and hyper-“productive” society. So often, heroes of tales are the ones who accomplish and achieve the most, at all costs. I wanted to tell the story of what some of those costs actually are—and I wanted to use the backdrop of a technocracy, which only escalates these expectations to be better and faster.
Lucia Bellini: It all started at the end of our latest showcase with WedRepCo, in which I had directed Naya’s piece called Stuck, at the time still a standalone one-act. During the closing-night mandatory drinking session we talked about how much we wished the plays could be seen by a larger audience and still had a life after the showcase. Epiphany struck and from the plethora of plays Naya had written through the years we realized there were two more that combined with Stuck would in fact make a perfect Black Mirroresque trilogy. Fast forward about two weeks later… Abdication! was in the festival. Our motto since then has been just keep plowing through.
Trenton Clark: When Naya and Lu first approached me about Abdication!, there was this concept of stitching together these thematically similar short plays (we’ve come to call them episodes) into one cohesive piece with an identity and perspective all it’s own. Achieving this would mean we’d be challenging what so many people have come to accept as “the norm” in terms of presentation style, play structure, and narrative in theatre. We would be pushing ourselves beyond the limits of our own comfort zones. I mean, let’s be honest, it isn’t every day you see a straight play that uses music, singing, dance, multimedia, and cartoons to tell its story. As an actor and artist, I’ve always felt that that extra push–into the realm of the unknown and uncomfortable–can inspire truly unfiltered creativity. It was the confidence of this writer-director team in the face of the unknown and unexplored, that really attracted me to the production. I thought, “That sounds like a lot, and I know we can do it.”
Review Fix: Which came first the cautionary tale or the fantasy element?
Naya James: In the process of the storytelling, they became one and the same. Because every time I projected from today’s zeitgeist into a near-future fantasy or alternate reality, the tales from that world just automatically felt cautionary.
Lucia Bellini: The thing that struck me the most about the plays from the very start was how very human every character is despite being in a fantastical world. the cautionary element came out of the pieces naturally considering the theme that each episode examines in the current state of things IRL.
Trenton Clark: In the beginning, what resonated with me was how clearly and completely the different worlds of the play had been conceived. The notion that the worlds–or realities–in each episode are just other possible versions of our own (only with a twist) gave me this sense of connectedness to the material. Each world is accessible and familiar. So when we learn of Tommy’s need to escape his life and his family to “go into the Goo”, or Mara’s need to surgically excise her ability to love in order to move on with her life, or Viola’s need to risk her freedom and attempt to get reassigned as one of the Orange elite, its easy enough to follow along and root for them. We are able to buy into these characters’ fantasies and hopes and dreams because they feel real. For me, the cautionary tale aspect comes home to roost after each episode is over, when the audience is left wondering, “What’s more unbelievable: the worlds these people inhabit or the audacity with which they dare to dream?”
Review Fix: What did you learn/are learning about yourself through this process?
Naya James: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned, and is reinforced for me daily, is that it doesn’t matter how talented or intelligent you are if you don’t have amazing people to collaborate with. This has certainly been a labor of love for all involved—and just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes one to raise a good show! And I am very grateful for the village I’m part of.
Lucia Bellini: How everything that happens in your life (personal and professional) can then become a crucial little tile in a future situation. this has been quite the revelation in this process, no matter how simple that may sound. something that might seem totally irrelevant or painful or even dull or silly in the moment could have the power and potential to help you later. any experience rarely goes to waste if attention is paid. In a more practical sense I have also learnt that I am actually capable of doing a bit of video editing on my own which I thought impossible up until a few months ago, and considering it’s always been one of my favorite parts of the process, I am finally – slowly – giving myself the freedom to put together a sequence chomping in my head without always having to rely on someone else. Hopefully practice will make perfect.
Trenton Clark: Collaborating on Abdication! has been full of surprises. Everybody comes to the table with different strengths and weaknesses. Learning how to let go of preconceptions and being willing and even excited to relinquish parts of the creative process to other artists has been an enlightening experience.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this piece for the future?
Naya James: The ultimate goal is for as many people to experience this show as possible, hopefully with a long-standing run. This piece explores a lot of topical themes and challenges that people are struggling with every day, and sometimes the best salve for that is to get together in a space and have that shared experience.
Lucia Bellini: La Mama! Broadway! Ultimately a space where a larger fun set can be built would be great. But I trust Naya’s writing as well as our actors completely so I am confident the stories will come alive regardless.
Trenton Clark: Ultimately, a Broadway run. Our goal is to have a home base, a theater space that would enable us to further develop the visual and physical world of the play. We had some pretty “out there” ideas for the set design and technical elements of the show, ideas we look forward to exploring in the future. The show has the potential to reach a wide variety of audiences with whom it engages in a discussion about our willingness to give up control for an easier experience. But life isn’t about easy.
Review Fix: What’s next for the show and the company?
Naya James: Abdication! will run September 3rd-September 7th as part of the Dream Up Festival. Post-festival, we hope to take this show onward to a more permanent space. As for the company, we have a few other exciting projects coming up—a short film in post-production and another to be shot in the fall, and a new full-length play, also with science fiction elements, to begin workshopping in the winter.
Lucia Bellini: Naya has a new full-length play in the works which hopefully we’ll start workshopping in the Fall. After the festival we’ll also start post-production on a short film we shot this July and we have more short stories that could also potentially be a good fit for the screen. We have all the intentions and material to keep ourselves busy. The collaboration with Naya and Trenton so far has been the most productive, creativity-inducing process that I have never been a part of. I hope we’ll continue this path.
Trenton Clark: Well, first things first. The show opens on September 3rd, so right now the company is focused on that. Beyond the Dream Up Festival, the sky is the limit. We will continue to collaborate with all the various artists involved to develop the show further. And waiting in the wings, another full-length play, a possible television show, and we are finishing post-production on the company’s first short film.