For our next upcoming show, Theatre Games, we decided to ask the playwright, Pharyne Stephney, a few questions about her play. This is Pharyne’s debut play and Voices Found Repertory is proud to put on the world premiere of Theatre Games, running May 3rd-7th, 2017!
When did you first get the idea for Theatre Games?
I’ve always been a sucker for revenge tragedies, so the summer after I graduated from college I began drafting one of my own. Very early on I decided to set the play in a theatre, so a lot of the initial exploration focused on creating ways to use the actual theatre space as a character. It was really fun writing for actors who aren’t confined to the boundaries of the stage. They use the backstage, light booth, lobby, and even the restroom in realistic ways that make the world of the play extend much farther than what we see right in front of us.
What was the process for creating each character?
It really came down to picking which Shakespeare names I wanted to use, and then building them out from there. Othello was first; I knew immediately that I wanted to have a white Othello, and that irony helped fuel a character who ultimately acts as our window into the quirky world of theatre. I thought it’d be fun to pair a theatre nerd with Macbeth, which created the perfect opportunity to introduce the idea of the “curse of the Scottish play.” The names Titus, Brutus, and Romeo were picked and their roles expanded based on themes from their namesakes’ plays. Princess was probably the most difficult to design. Her personality went through several incarnations. Unlike the men of the show who were fleshed out and then constructed into the plot, Princess’s character was more heavily shaped by the storyline itself.
Were there more characters that were in early drafts that you later cut or trimmed down?
I always knew the cast was going to consist of five men, the boss, and the daughter, so there weren’t any other characters per se, but Titus was almost Lear and Brutus was almost Hamlet.
What is the significance to each character's code name to you?
Titus was Shakespeare’s first tragic hero, so I loved the idea of having our "Titus" as the most seasoned criminal. He’s been around the longest so naturally takes on the role of leader.
There’s a sense of comedic irony having a white guy play "Othello," one of the most esteemed roles for black actors. So his name is less of an “homage to Shakespeare’s character” and more of an attempt to bring some lightheartedness to a pretty dark show.
Saying the name "Macbeth" in a theatre is a well-known “curse” in the theatre world. And for our Macbeth, it turns out that the curse may very well be true.
Brutus is a (literal) backstabber in Julius Caesar. In Theatre Games, our Brutus plays by the rules at the expense of betraying others.
Our "Romeo" is a pretty hardcore lunatic, which is a fun juxtaposition to Shakespeare’s lovesick Romeo (although to be fair, that kid wasn’t 100% sane either). But despite the madness, in Theatre Games we see a guy who is charming, suave, and confident. I kind of felt myself being attracted to him at times over the course of writing the play. You know, when he wasn’t being a total psychopath…
My senior year of college I played Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost. The ambiguity of the nickname fit perfectly in the world of the play where we don’t know anyone’s real name. There’s also the added sense of her being “royalty” because of her father’s power.
Bill, of course, is a reference to William Shakespeare, the mastermind behind it all.
Do you know an "Othello"?
I know tons of Othellos! I myself was a bit of an Othello in college. My peers and I in the theatre department prided ourselves on being Shakespeare buffs. We ridiculed each other for not “following theatre time” if we were late to things, and were constantly making references to our favorite plays. I think any theatre nerd will see a piece of themselves in Othello.
Why did you decide to make Princess so young?
This was a tough decision, because although I strongly believed it was necessary, having her as a minor really heightens the disturbing nature of the story’s central events. But if you look at women in Shakespeare, a lot of the tragic figures are still girls. Desdemona in Othello is described as “so young” and “youthful” throughout the play. Ophelia from Hamlet is often depicted as young and naïve, and Titus Andronicus’s Lavinia is a “maiden virgin.” However, the most notable and influential heroine I drew from was Juliet from Romeo & Juliet. It says blatantly in the script that she is thirteen-years-old at the time of the story. And no matter how old the actress is playing her, you can’t get around the fact that she’s still a kid and her actions are those of a young girl. Similarly, the most significant events in Princess’s life occur at age thirteen.
But aside from wanting to parallel Shakespeare, there was also an element of necessity. To me it was more natural to imagine a teenage girl measuring her worth solely on the affections of an older man, rather than a fully matured woman. Princess maintains her sense of victimhood due to her young age. Hormones, not reason, drive many of her actions, which makes her downward spiral more believable.
Princess' mother is never directly mentioned or talked about in the script. Do you have a backstory for what happened to Princess' mom?
There is always a need to have some sort of history for each of your characters in order to make them more fully developed individuals. But for Theatre Games, creating complex backstories wasn’t a big concern of mine. I wanted the actors to be able to flesh out their characters in unique ways so I tried intentionally to be somewhat vague. We know that Othello is an actor who loves plays, and that he has a girlfriend. Macbeth took cello lessons and has what he considers a useless college degree. Brutus is a veteran criminal because he doesn’t know how to do anything else. These are little snippets that hopefully inform the actors’ character development without limiting them.
As for Princess’s family history, I always imagined that Bill had her very late in life and it definitely wasn’t a planned thing. Whether as a result of death or other factors, I don’t think Princess probably ever knew her mother, or at the very least, she’s spent the majority of her formative years being raised by Bill and his community of criminals. We know that when Bill was in prison, it wasn’t her mother or another relative who took her in—it was her dad’s employee, Titus. I think the most important thing is that we understand that Princess has grown up without a single positive female role model, which helps us comprehend her actions throughout the play.
Check out Theatre Games as part one of our epic season one finale!
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