Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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24 Church Street, Box 2452, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 | 508-696-6300

No Script, No Director, No Problem

by Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

Last month, Brooke Hardman Ditchfield directed a cast and crew of some 75 students at the high school Performing Arts Center for a musical version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This weekend, she steps onto the stage alone, opening an envelope containing a script she’s never seen before.

“She literally will know nothing about the play,” said Scott Barrow who proposed the work White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour to Ms. Hardman. “The play lives in an envelope and as soon as the envelope is opened, the play begins.”

Mr. Soleimanpour was under house arrest for refusing military service in his native Iran when he wrote White Rabbit Red Rabbit. He decided to write a play that did not require a director or set, and could incorporate a different actor for every performance.

“He wanted to have his plays out there and performed,” Mr. Barrow said. “I would describe that as a very modern problem, and he came up with a modern solution.”

A longtime collaborator and friend of Ms. Hardman’s, Mr. Barrow played Hamlet at the Tisbury Amphitheater last year and is currently directing a production of Julius Caesar in Brooklyn. Steeped in Shakespeare, he is also a member of the Tectonic Theater Project, which has developed contemporary plays including The Laramie Project and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. He co-authored the book Moment Work: Tectonic Theater Project’s Process of Devising Theater.

In other words, Mr. Barrow embraces challenges to traditional stage realism. “We need access to modern storytelling techniques to discuss modern problems,” Mr. Barrow said.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit, for instance, is scripted but not naturalistic. “The script is workable with or without [the playwright] there, with or without a set,” said Mr. Barrow.

Actors who have performed White Rabbit Red Rabbit in the past include John Hurt, Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane and F. Murray Abraham.

Martha’s Vineyard will experience three performances of the play, Mr. Barrow said. Following Ms. Hardman Ditchfield’s performance on March 16 at the Performing Arts Center, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival while host a show on March 23, and the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse host one on March 29.

Mr. Barrow chose Ms. Hardman for the first performance because “she’s so good, spontaneously and improvisationally.” Actors for the other two dates have not been revealed, but Mr. Barrow said he expects audiences will want to see the play again after watching Ms. Hardman’s performance.

“She’s emotionally available, she’s daring, she understands the actor-audience relationship as both a performer and a director.”

It’s a challenge Ms. Hardman Ditchfield accepted with joy.

“Acting is the quest for the truth,” Ms. Hardman Ditchfield said. “The quest is always how can you be in the moment and not anticipate what’s going to happen.”

White Rabbit Red Rabbit will give her the opportunity to “really, truly be there in the moment with the audience and dare not to know what’s going to happen. That doesn’t come around every day.”

Ms. Hardman Ditchfield said her usual process when working on a play is all encompassing, but for this play there has been no process at all. “I haven’t been thinking about it,” she said. “It’s been so nice, kind of the complete opposite of what you would normally do. I’m trying to embrace that.”

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