Our 2020 winner of the Players New Play Festival, The Mantle, by Jalex Scott is making its stage premiere July 7-9 at The Players Studio 1400 Blvd. of the Arts, Suite 200 (second floor) Sarasota, FL 34236. I sat down with director extraordinaire Amanda Schlachter to learn more about this locally written show and the process of creating a brand new, never-before-scene production.
Amanda Heisey: What is it like working on a brand new show?
Amanda Schlachter: It is always exciting to work on a new play. It is an extremely collaborative process between the playwright, actors and the director. I love that we are able to dialogue with the playwright and ask questions when needed. Working with Jalex Scott is a dream because he is also an actor and a director. We can discuss the work on multiple levels from the staging to the text to the design elements and we speak the same language. And it is such an honor to be trusted with his new play as it is such an intimate experience.
AH: What are the challenges?
AS: I think because the play has never been done before, we are finding everything for the first time. Sometimes when I have directed plays that have been done many times, I already have images and past experience with the play that sets me up for a basic structure in directing. With a new work, I am deeply researching the themes and concepts throughout the show to make sure the work is authentic and real. But these are not really challenges as much as the excitement of discovery with a new play. Working with a playwright that you share a similar vision is always a bonus. I think that is why when working on new plays, it is important to find a director who has a similar aesthetic and understanding of the play to help to bring the playwright’s words to life. And that the director can always have easy dialogue with the playwright if something in the script needs greater clarity or might be challenging to stage. It is always about communication.
AH: What do you love about this piece?
AS: I love a lot about this play. Jalex has written about Mental Health/Illness in a way that is honest and relatable. We know these characters. They make sense to us as an audience. Plus, there is a poetic nature to the writing that has incredible imagery and metaphors. The dialogue uses humor in a way that is very true to life. Plus, I think Jalex has done a wonderful job of creating a well-made play. The structure is surprising and interesting. And, without giving the end away, the play brings hope. Which I find refreshing and needed right now, more than ever. It is truly quite beautiful.
AH: Why do you think live theatre is important? There is something about being in the room with a group of actors, living honestly under imaginary circumstances, that is an experience like no other. I love television and film yet there is something about live theatre that stays with me in a different way. It is a deeper experience because I am part of it. For the audience, more is required to watch a live play. There is a presence that must occur. Putting down cell phones and really “being” with a group of people for two hours, sharing a story. Theatre can create a very profound connection for both the audience and the ensemble.
AH: What is your concept for the show?
AS: With this being a workshop production, we went with a very minimalistic setting for the play. We are using projections to help the audience know the locations during the play but with the projections, we are working with a style that mirrors the internal world of our protagonist, Benny. He is a sensitive, loving, somewhat shattered person and we want the lighting, projections, and overall atmosphere to reflect this in the production. Also, we are working with the idea of cycles and circles. Mental Illness has a cyclical nature to it, and I have created the setting and the staging to mirror this sense of being caught in a cycle and what it takes to break destructive patterns. As for the acting, the work must be honest and subtle. We are performing in the new Black Box Theatre at The Players Studio, so this allows us to explore small, internal shifts in the acting that are true to life. There is a multi-media element with videos that is called for in the script that we are exploring as well. This is a group effort, working with the playwright along with actor Victoria Flounders and Audio/Visual Designer Dorian Boyd, to make these images come alive. And the cast is fantastic, so I believe it will be a powerful weekend of theatre.