Let’s Chat! with Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Enough about the Tonys, already—let’s go back Off-Broadway!

While lots of big, downtowny institutions sit dark over the summer, plenty of scrappier companies buckle down and brave the hot months. Case and point: Colt Coeur, a can-do ensemble founded in 2010 now on its third production, Eliza Clark’s Recall.

Colt Coeur’s first outings, Steven Levinson’s Seven Minutes from Heaven and Lucas Kavner’s Fish Eye, earned the company the kind of pull quotes many an uptown theater would kill for. The Times called Heaven “so real you almost believe it was written by one of its characters” and New York Magazine titled its review of Fish Eye, “Bringing Sexy Back to Off-Broadway.”

Behind this bringing back of sexy is artistic director and founder Adrienne Campbell-Holt, who directed all three productions. I chatted with her after catching a preview of Recall, a chilling, dystopian take on childhood psychosis (think We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Minority Report). Our phone conversation covered the play, the downtown scene, falling scenery, and everything in between. Enjoy excerpts, below.

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Why did you want to produce Recall?

I’ve always been a bit of sci-fi nerd—I love Philip K. Dick—so when my agent sent me the script, I fell in love with it right away. I had also just read the book Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which made me feel drawn to Recall’s alternate presence world and the menacing possibilities of it. I also really loved the book The Road, and I felt Eli’s writing had elements of that sci-fi alternate presence, while also being really firmly grounded in reality and truth. At its core it’s a mother/daughter story, a love story where all the characters are trying to protect someone.

The play’s pretty freaky—how do you go about making scary theater?

In theater there’s this opportunity to let things go unseen—it’s scarier what we don’t see, like in The Blair Witch Project. So, [in the play’s climactic final moments] not seeing the room fill with water is scarier and makes us think of more different things. Some people have said, “It made me think of the gas chambers,” or, “It made me think of burning people.” All these horrible things!

It’s so delicate. If we had a much a greater budget and unlimited resources, maybe we would’ve had to choose to be sort of expressionistic. Instead, our constraints forced us in that direction.

What’s the terrain like for young companies like Colt Coeur—is New York hospitable, or are things tough?

You probably got a sense on Saturday night of how tough things are. Everybody worked around the clock in the few days before previews started to build the set, but part of it fell on an actor’s head five minutes before 8 o’clock. That’s terrifying for me because, of course, safety first, and because it rattles the company. That night was also a really small house, and we had been full the night before—I feel like that’s representative of how hard and uneven it is.

When I was twenty two, I started a company in New York called Nest. It did well and it was fun, but I was naïve and had no idea how hard it was. When I started this company, I was in a different place maturity-wise and with connections, and it really helped to start it wish a group of artists that I trusted. I think that’s the most important thing when you’re starting a company, that you’re all working around the clock for zero dollars, and believe in it, and that you’re having a good time with each other.

Fortunately, the first two shows were received well. Some of the powers that be, like the Roundabout people, have been really positive, which helps. Also, a lot of the actors in the shows ended up signing with big agents and our costume designer just won a Tony for Peter and the Starcatcher. So, it’s cool that they still want to work on these shows.

Do you get the sense that the things for downtown companies are different now than they were 10 or even 20 years ago?

I used to work at the Wooster Group, and when they would talk about the 60s and 70s, I would get so jealous and nostalgic for that time—it must’ve been great for there not to be like 300 million different downtown theater companies! Now there are just so many.

Also, there are so many people that are so supportive, but sometimes it’s like, how do we get the people that don’t know about us yet to come? We all go to each other’s shows and it’s a really a great community but it also sometimes feels like we’re making work in a vacuum. That’s one of the reasons why I felt it was important to do a longer run [for Recall], hopefully to expand our audience more.

Are there other companies that have served as models or inspiration for you guys?

Not exactly artistically, but [operationally], companies like Elevator Repair Service and The Civilians are two that seem very well-functioning. The artists that were part of the company from the beginning are still involved and still supportive, but also feel that they can have independent artistic lives.

Is there a dream space you’d like to produce in?

So many! I really try to choose the theater based on the play. I love the New York Theatre Workshop space and the Rattlestick space. I’m very sad the old Ohio space is gone. I also want to do a show at Playwrights Horizons, or the Roundabout, or Lincoln Center, and I would like to do a co-production with LCT3. I think it’s really smart for some of the institutions to take notice of the downtown theater companies that have younger, dedicated, and enthusiastic audiences. I’m also excited about the Flea’s new space.

What was the last good play you saw?

The last play I love loved was The Realistic Joneses at Yale Rep. I also liked Title and Deed a lot.

­_____________________

Recall, by Eliza Clark
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
At the Wild Project, through July 7.

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