subUrbia Interview with Director Wolf Sherrill

Q: What is subUrbia about?

A: It is a play about a group of young people that hang out in suburbia, meaning any suburban city. It could be anywhere.

Q: Is this “suburbia” set specifically at a 7-Eleven®?

A: Yes. Of course we can’t use the 7–Eleven® logo, so it will look like a 7–Eleven®. We allude to the fact that it is a 7–Eleven® … a convenience store. The show takes place in 1995 where a lot of those (and I remember very well) fields were being turned into, or had recently been turned into, strip malls … where generations before had been able to go out and play in the woods. Then all of a sudden it became, “where do you go to hang out?” My generation hung out in houses that were being built, so instead of a corner, we would poach the developments that were being built. We were like, “Hey, that one looks open. Let’s hang out in that one!” They were these big nice houses that we could take over for an evening.

Q: You were in one of the original productions of subUrbia in the ’90s. Could you talk about that production?

A: A contemporary American theatre company in Columbus, Ohio somehow got wind of this hot new play. I believe that we were the first regional theatre to get the rights to do the play. I think it was the first regional theatre in the country to get it after the initial production. Eric Bogosian was an up-and-coming, performance artist/actor. This was his first real play that had taken off-or seemed to be taking off–and he was really excited about it … so much so that he came to CATCO (Contemporary American Theatre Company) to do a benefit. He came to see the show and was really excited about that fact that someone else wanted to produce it. It’s ironic because now it’s been produced all over the country in regional and collegiate theatre. I remember him very specifically as interesting when he came to the benefit, and we got to meet with him and talk with him. He wasn’t really planning on being a writer and when an agent approached him to manage him as a writer, he thought it was for his acting. But of course, now he’s a well-known name on stage, on Broadway and on film and TV. He also updated this play in 2005. We actually had to petition to whomever had the rights to the play to allow us to do the 1995 version, the earlier version, because the rights were available for the later version.

Q: Is it a rare thing to be able to do the original version?

A: Yes, that’s a unique thing as far as I understand.

Q: What did you play in the original production, or how were you involved in the original production? How has that influenced your directing of this show?

A: I played Buff, who was kind of the outgoing, fun-loving character in the play. In that moment of time–being cast in this production changed my life. I had gone away from theatre and was working as a ski bum/season pass guy. I had done shows here and there, but wasn’t really sure I wanted to do that as a career anymore. This show, and the cast, and the director changed my view of acting, changed my view of the craft. It was a chance for theatre to be an art form in a way that moved audiences. It made people think. And for me, that is what I hope good art does … maybe not the cathartic moving, the emotional response–that’s a nice thing, too … but ultimately figuring out, “What is my value system? What is my moral compass? And do I make choices that are different than the choices I’m making now?.

Q: Do you think subUrbia forces one to do that, or encourages one to do that?

A: I think it certainly can encourage one to do that. The language is what I call “urban poetry.” It’s certainly not pretty at times. These young people talk about sex and drugs and drinking, and joke about those things and everything else. Not that I’m not judging that … it is what it is. But I think that we as adults think that we’re so far beyond our youth and that we’ve learned so much. And I think as much as we like to think that, everything we learn we really do learn in kindergarten–and we never really get out of middle school. We’re still finding whom we like/whom we don’t like–the cliques, the power struggles. So, it’s a play about all of those things.

Q: Could you talk about the scenery for subUrbia?

A: ohn Burgess, who I’ve worked with numerous times, is the set designer. I think we’ve really found an interesting way to bring this 7–Eleven® to life that gives us different areas to work in, but yet a realistic feel to the world–and we really need that in order to tell the story and have it resonate. We have to be transported as much as we can to this convenience store where these kids hang out.

Q: Besides Buff, who are the main characters in the play?

A: Really they’re all main characters, and that’s kind of the fun thing about this play. It is an ensemble cast. If one of these characters doesn’t make sense or fit in with the relationships with the rest of the world, than we’re falling flat. So, that’s both the challenge and the joy in the play is that there’s no lead characters or minor characters. Some people have a little more stage time, but this is an ensemble world just like any group of friends would be. The friends come and go, but it’s still this group of friends. Maybe there’s an alpha at one point … maybe there’s not … maybe that changes. And the play explores some of those themes.

Q: Who comprises the cast?

A: The majority are seniors.

Q: Why do you think that is? Is it due to the nature of the play itself?

A: The characters are all older, so that’s part of it–20-something. These seniors are closer to 20-something or are 20-something. Also it has a lot to do with our training. This play is not something they can act quite honestly. If they “act” this play, we’re going to be in trouble, because it won’t be interesting. They’ve got to figure out how to embody their characters and fight for what they want. It’s a good test of their training in their senior year. There are scary places that some of these characters go mentally. It takes maturity and strength to be able to give yourself permission to go to those dark places. Not everybody in this play is happy. They have some moments of figuring out, “How do I deal with this relationship. How do I deal with this betrayal or this anger?” You could take these issues and put them anywhere. Timeless and universal issues make it more visceral. It’s coming out of the mouths of a generation that we tend to then look to as, “Gosh, you’re the next generation. You’re the new adults who will be making the choices that guide where we end up.”

Q: What audience or audiences to you think this play appeals to?

A: It would definitely appeal to a 20-something audience. How often do they get to see plays about themselves? So, I think that’s a huge draw. That being said, the people that I remember when I acted in it … who were really moved by it … were the 40-something folks,… who remember their youth … who are trying to figure out, “I’m still there … or I’m trying to get back there … or I haven’t let that go … or I haven’t dealt with some of the issues … some of the baggage I collected while I was there.” So, I think it could attract a universal audience. There are adult themes. There’s “urban language,” so if there’s a patron who would be offended by that, then it might not be the play for them.

Q: Did you find the play challenging to direct?

A: Yes, I’m still finding the play challenging to direct.

Q: How so?

A: There are very specific relationships, and I think they’re three-dimensional and well-written, which makes them challenging. It’s challenging for young actors to find the personalization of, “How does this really work on me? How do I as an actor feel about this character’s world? How do I let something get to me? Where do I find the joys or the sorrow in the fight?”

Q: Do you give them tips?

A: We do a lot of talking through things, exploring imaginary circumstances to get into the given circumstances of the play … finding the specificity of each moment. This is a truncated production process. We only have three weeks before tech, which is a little shorter than usual. And for the journeys, it’s challenging. And we’re right where we should be. We don’t have any leeway. That being said, this cast, every rehearsal is growing in ways that as an acting coach and as someone who has worked with most of these students for years now, is making me really proud.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: I think it’s going to be an exciting production. I’m glad that I waited this long to direct it because it allowed me to put the production that I know as an actor away and create a new version, which is different.

Follow Us on

Join our e-mail list
Volunteer at Forbes
Tour the Forbes
Give to the Arts
Box Office: (540) 568–7000
June 2013 calendar
July 2013 calendar
August 2013 calendar