Still Lives in Motion
- By gentleguide
- On Thu 02 nov 2017
Although you don’t think about it when you are watching a movie, a strip of film is just a bunch of still pictures projected in series, and the apparent “motion” is what our brain sees when these slightly different snapshots are shown at speed. Life is like that too, as a series of discrete moments connected by our experiences into a (hopefully) cohesive whole.
But to create “movement” the pictures have to change. To create growth in life, a person has to change. And some people are more open to change than others... which is where we meet the characters of The Flick, Iowa Stage’s newest offering, opening Friday November 10 at the Kum & Go theatre at the Des Moines Social Club.
Concerning the ordinary lives of three movie-house employees who work in one of the last surviving non-digital film theaters, The Flick is a Pulitzer-prize winning play by Annie Baker, who was just recently named a MacArthur Fellow for her insightful body of work. And bringing such a recognized and well-regarded work about life and change is the challenge for director Shawn Wilson, but it’s also a joy to create with such material.
“I think what makes The Flick so noteworthy is it’s simplicity,” says Shawn. “When you come right down to the essence of this piece, it’s a modern version of Chekhov set in a movie theater with millennials. These are minimum wage workers. And, I think, due to their youth, they have problems that are extremely personal and self-centered, which, by the way... I don’t think is just a millennial thing.”
“I think that’s just how we tend to be when we’re young. No real sense of the world. While there is a presence of the future and modernity looming ahead - in relation to the loss of 35mm film and theatres going to digital - the real concern for each of these rich characters is internal.”
“The genius of Baker is that she let’s it play out smoothly and slowly with great humor. Starting rehearsals, we were laughing from day one. She has a great ear for dialogue. It’s Mamet-like in the way that she writes. How she wants these people to sound are crisp and clear in the script.”
“She is so clear and precise in her intent that it makes doing this production less intimidating. What she does is give us this really solid playground to act in. That is such a good feeling to have. There is plenty of room to play, but the foundation is so completely solid.”
Michael LaDell Harris plays one of those workers, Sam. During the rehearsal process, he’s discovered a great deal about both his own character Sam, and Sam’s co-worker Avery, who are both dealing with the coming changes in their jobs and their lives.
“The character of Sam in The Flick is someone I relate with, in way too many ways! When we meet Sam he is lost in a few different ways, and is desperately trying to connect. However, Sam is his own worst enemy. He tends to wilt when it’s time to stand up, and he has trouble finding the right words in almost every situation.”
“Instead of being quiet and listening, he finds himself unable to stop talking. There are not too many moments when he keeps his thoughts inside. Which is almost the opposite of the character Avery, who also has trouble connecting, but his trouble is connecting the thoughts from his brain to his mouth.”
“I find often myself trying to make good impressions,” continues Harris, “and striving to be someone you walk away from saying, ‘I would like to hang out with that guy!’ However, even though I have been surrounded by outgoing theatre people, I am not one of them. I have to try very hard to keep a conversation going. I tend to not open up until I really know you, and I have trouble getting past surface level conversation. I can be very quiet, or trying way too hard to keep up a conversation and just end up not being able to shut up. So I understand Sam and Avery completely, and of course there’s more to both of those characters, but those are some immediate things I connect to.”
Annie Baker is a brilliant writer, and her plays are filled with characters who are funny, thoughtful, and real. For those used to rat-a-tat dialogue and overly theatrical performances, The Flick is NOT that in any way. As director Wilson reminds us, there’s a reason....
“These characters work long hours in crappy jobs. Her writing is very naturalistic, so if it should take you 10 minutes in real life to change a film reel, then it takes ten minutes in the play. The dialogue is very specific about pauses and where the breaks are. We are going to try and stay as true as we can to that.”
As a result, even though The Flick is primarily a four-character play, the pauses and the stillness of these lives practically becomes another presence, with its own silent commentary on these lives and their stilted progress. Wilson wants to use that in The Flick.
“I’ve never been afraid of silence. I think it can be used in really effective ways, heightening humor or tension in a scene. I think you just have to embrace it and feel the timing. There are some places that we are trying to be a little creative to give the same impression in a shorter time, but we’re not shying away from it either.”
“I also think that if we’ve done our job and the audience is wrapped up in these characters, then time doesn’t make a difference. I have been to plays that are 90 excruciating minutes that seem like 3 hours, and others that are 3 hours that just flew by. It’s all in the story, the actors (and we’ve got some great actors in this cast) and the presentation.”
State of the Art House
The Flick is, inadvertently, rather descriptive of where the Iowa Stage theatre company now finds itself. The group is a new organization, advancing from where they used to be last year as StageWest and the Repertory Theatre of Iowa.
“I don’t think it was really thought about so much when we made The Flick a selection in the season,” says Wilson. “But there are some parallels. Iowa Stage is our digital revolution. It’s the creation of something completely new while maintaining something of what was loved in the past. What we’ve tried to do is take the best of both companies and really create something new in the process, while still acknowledging their vast history.”
“We’ve had some anxiety about that. Change is always scary, but in the end... we’ve come into this season strong, we’ve had a good response from [their first show] Company, and I believe The Flick will be just as successful.”
So settle down in your seats, turn off your phones, and get ready to enjoy The Flick. Iowa Stage will present the show from November 10-19 at the Kum & Go Theatre at the Des Moines Social Club. Tickets are available through the Iowa Stage website.