Rick Dildine, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis Executive Director, will be directing eight local actors in a reading of the play, as part of the multi-city simultaneous reading at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7, at The Focal Point (2720 Sutton Blvd.). The event is free and open to the public.
To date, more than 40 theaters and universities in 25 states are scheduled to participate in the event, including Texas, North Dakota, Florida, Kansas and Michigan where both gay marriage and civil unions are banned; North Carolina, where the vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was moved up to 2012; and California, where gay marriage was legalized and then overturned by the passage of Prop 8 in 2008. Theatre companies in Australia and other countries will also be participating.
First, some background: The play was written by Tectonic Theater Project whose previous groundbreaking work, The Laramie Project, sparked national discourse about its subject. The company is dedicated to developing innovative works that explore theatrical language and form, fostering an artistic dialogue with our audiences on the social, political and human issues that affect us all. In service to this goal, Tectonic supports readings, workshops, and full theatrical productions, as well as training for students around the country in play-making techniques.
Tectonic Theater Project was founded in 1991 by Moisés Kaufman and Jeffrey LaHoste. “Tectonic” refers to the art and science of structure and was chosen to emphasize the company’s interest in construction– how things are made, and how they might be made differently. Standing on Ceremony was pulled together from various pieces with distinguished writers as Mo Gaffney, Moisés Kaufman, Jordan Harrison, Joe Keenan, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, Jose Rivera, Paul Rudnik, and Doug Wright.
Tectonic Theater Project is an award-winning company whose plays have been performed around the world. The company is dedicated to developing innovative works that explore theatrical language and form, fostering an artistic dialogue with our audiences on the social, political and human issues that affect us all. In service to this goal, Tectonic supports readings, workshops, and full theatrical productions, as well as training for students around the country. Its groundbreaking plays, The Laramie Project, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, and I Am My Own Wife, have sparked national discourse about their subjects and have inspired artists and audiences worldwide. In 2009, Tectonic Theater Project brought The Laramie Project to 100 cities across America, when it was performed simultaneously by high schools, universities and professional theatres.
I caught up with Rick Dildine between his workday at the Festival and a class he’s teaching at Webster University where he has recently been named director of the Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Arts Management. Following are his observations:
Andrea Braun (AB): I hadn’t heard anything about this event until fairly recently. When did you get involved?
Rick Dildine (RD): Probably about a month ago when Greg Reiner, a friend of mine, as well as an executive director of the Tectonic Theatre Project reached out to me. We had worked together on The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later in 2009 and did a big national reading of that. Now, they’re doing another national, simultaneous reading of this new play, and he asked if I’d be interested in a St. Louis-based reading.
AB: Obviously the answer was “yes,” but did you have to think about it at all.
RD: I said, “Give me 24 hours,” because I needed to find some partners and co-producers who will help me. And I found some really great colleagues here in St. Louis who are going to help me publicize the show, act in it, and produce the event. Everyone is working pro bono, and it’s a true community effort. There’s no one company who is pushing it—it’s the whole St. Louis theatre family. Mary McHugh, Kelly O’Connell, Gina Savoie, and Rose Wolownik are producing behind the scenes, and Jerome Lowe, Greg Cuellar, Nancy Bell, Elana Kepner, John Flack, Terry Meddows, Bruce Longworth, and Suzane Mills are the readers.
AB: How did you find the actors?
RD: We have a great network of local actors here, and a few reached out to us. And then we started putting a team together, a company of actors, we thought could put on a great evening of theatre.
AB: So they had heard about it before you got involved?
RD: Some had, some had not.
AB: Explain to me how all this works, please.
RD: The Tectonic Project is opening the show on Nov. 7. They reached out to people to simultaneously read the play with them all across the country as a national event. You know, two years ago for The Laramie Project (sequel) reading was a global event. These events are designed to mobilize a community around an issue.
AB: An impressive group of writers are involved here. Did Greg Reiner put them together too? How did they get involved?
RD: This project was conceived by a man named Brian Schnipper, and it started out as a series of benefit events in L.A. It has slowly grown to now this collection of new plays written by some of this country’s most outstanding playwrights, and it’s all put into one evening now.
AB: What, beyond Reiner’s invitation, made you want to work on this project?
RD: I think as theatre artists it’s our job—our responsibility—to start the conversation. This issue of marriage in America is a conversation that’s been happening for years and will continue to happen. And I just think it’s important for our St. Louis theatre community to be involved in a national conversation. It’s important for us as artists to connect with others around the country. I am so proud of this [arts] community in St. Louis, and I want to share it with the rest of the country. We should be connected with Chicago, New York, San Diego, San Francisco. We are a vibrant theatrical community.
AB: Do you have any idea how this project could reach audience members who might not normally come to something like this.
RD: We’re putting it out there. It’s very grassroots, through online invitation using social media and our press contacts. Do I have any expectations? I expect to put on a great night of theatre. Do I have any other expectations? No. When you have a big idea like marriage, I think it’s a conversation that takes time because it’s really true that things don’t happen overnight. It’s a process.
AB: Certainly over time, “Laramie” has reached people.
RD: Yes! It’s huge. It’s one of the most produced plays in the history of American theatre. So, it definitely has a place.
AB: Do you think this piece has that kind of potential, that is, to be produced and re-produced until the message is pervasive?
RD: I will say these plays are responding to the ongoing conversation, but they’re also funny, they’re wacky, and most important they’re universal. They’re dealing with challenges of relationships and the power of love, which is sometimes very funny itself. Relationships—gay or straight—are something we all deal with. Theatre provides us a platform to have very important discussions. For example, at Shakespeare Festival, we do a show on bullying. When you put a play up there, it provides a way for people to talk about a character, not just themselves. This way it doesn’t get too personal, but the issue is still discussed.
AB: Is this a balanced piece? Are other views given a respectful airing?
RD: This play has a wide lens. Several views are discussed. Naturally, the piece is in support of gay marriage in America, so they do lean that way. But no one is marginalized—I wouldn’t like to do work where that could happen. These are relationships that we ALL can recognize.
AB: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about regarding Standing on Ceremony?
RD: It’s FREE and open to the public. (And he hurried off to teach a class.)
BY: ANDREA BRAUN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT