An Interview With
Suspicious Package: Rx
Gyda, I am so pleased that we are including your work in this anthology, because I have known you for practically your entire NYC career. It has been so exciting and rewarding to see you blossom! When I first met you, you were a young actress who loved musicals. Now you're a playwright/director in addition to being an actress, and your main focus is indie/experimental theater. First, am I reading the arc of your career correctly there? How have you evolved as a theatre artist, moving toward this interest in avant-garde/innovative work?
I still love musicals, though after attending tons of auditions, it seemed like there wasn't a lot of room for me in the musical theater world. There seems to be a lot of work for these cookie-cutter singer/dancers, which I don't really fit—and most people casting in that world don't tend to think outside the box (despite classic stars like Carol Channing and Gertrude Lawrence who definitely don't fit that mold!). I guess the big change in my career started when I started working at The Brick. The three musicals I've done there (Ich Liebe Jesus!, Greed, Lord Oxford) are wonderfully dark and subversive, and the artistic community at The Brick is so warm and welcoming. Artistic Directors Michael Gardner & Robert Honeywell have always encouraged me to create my own work, and so I started directing first, and then writing (out of necessity, more than anything—no one is writing the plays I want to direct!).
I don't know how many people know that you are Outreach Director for The Brick. Can you tell us what you do in that capacity? Why is The Brick an important part of the NYC theatre scene, in your view?
As Outreach Director, I basically try to get The Brick's name out there as best I can. It's amazing how many people have never heard of The Brick, despite the amazing press and work that goes on there. To me The Brick is really an amazing place. Some of the most interesting, high-quality work happening in indie theater happens there, especially with the strong focus on new, innovative work.
How did you first get the idea to create Suspicious Package?
Suspicious Package was basically born out of my disappointment with interactive theater. I love the concept of interactive theater, but I find it's almost always not really interactive (or very good!). Either a few people are plucked out of the audience while everyone else watches, or you're placed in this anonymous group. I wanted to create a piece where everyone who attends gets to participate and even star in the show. SP was my way of doing that.
One of the key aspects of Suspicious Package: Rx is the level of collaboration it involves. You work with various writers, designers, videographers, and a whole host of actors to create the material that will be used in the show. What's the secret of being a successful collaborator? How do you manage the many egos and opinions that must inevitably pop up in pulling together a project of this scope?
I have to say that working at The Brick has certainly made that easier. There's an understanding there that there's no room for diva behavior or big egos. Everyone is generally positive and dedicated to whatever the project is at hand, and very easy to work with (and we all have a history together). I guess I have the final say about everything, but everyone I've contacted has been happy to help in whatever way they can. I also think that since most people don't see the big picture of how everything fits together, they're happy to work on making their piece of the puzzle awesome in and of itself.
Suspicious Package: Rx takes theatre interactivity to a whole new level, in that the audience members play the roles in the show. Have you been particularly impressed by the acting ability of some of your participants over the years? Have there been any disasters?
I actually think the show is more fun when you don't worry about the acting, and just worry about having a good time. More of the actors who've come have said they've found it a bit stressful to try and give a grounded, polished performance on the fly. No big disasters—even when things go wrong, they always get a big laugh at the end!
If someone wanted to mount a version of Suspicious Package: Rx in their community, what would be the most important things they should think about before getting started? What resources do you have available to help them with such a production?
Well, finding the locations is probably the most important part. You need a block with a variety of stores and places to go into that isn't too loud, or too busy (and participants shouldn't be crossing any streets). We can provide videos and more information for anyone who wants to put on the show.
What's next for you? Will we see you on stage or again behind the scenes for your next project?
Next I'll be directing something at Tiny Theater at The Brick, and fundraising to bring Suspicious Package to Edinburgh.
Interview with Gyda Arber was conducted by Martin Denton April 2010