Working in the Theatre: White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Working in the Theatre: White Rabbit Red Rabbit


[Music] I have agreed to do a play called White Rabbit Red Rabbit. And the gist is that I have never seen this play or read this play before stepping out onto stage and being handed an envelope and opening it and beginning to perform this play in front of a packed audience. So that’s what’s going on. That’s all I know. Help! Red or white? I think red. I was just told, show up, you’ll get an ostrich impersonation. Bring my own water onstage because I’m supposed to drink the other water at an appointed time. I think that might have been it. My partner, Devlin Elliott, and I go every year to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We like edgy, unusual theatre. And so we go searching for content. Devlin noticed that there was a play written by an Iranian playwright and thought that would be interesting to check out. And within minutes we realized we were seeing something we had never seen before. And we were rivited. And on our way out the door we both said, “We have to do this thing. We have to bring this to New York.” We loved how almost terrifying it was for artists. We know a lot of really great actors who love challenges. And we had never seen a piece where an actor has no prior knowledge of the script. I mean literally they are handed the script on the stage. We believe that theatre entertainment, social experiment means giving voice to someone whose voice may not otherwise be heard and doing it in a way that is challenging and entertaining and exhilarating and we think that White Rabbit Red Rabbit achieves all of that. For my own personal value set I care a lot about voices that have been silenced. Many things affected me and convinced me to write Rabbit. I was young, I was twenty-something and I had this anxiety dream in which I was on stage, I was performing a show and the audience members were like close friends. I recall my mom sitting in the first row and it was a very cozy, private show. I had a table on stage. I had one glass of water and I was directly talking to the audience members telling them, “Look, I’m here to commit suicide.” So I woke up and I was just like, wow, what was it? What if I get everyone, what if I really have some poison in a glass of water and talk to my mom? I can invite her to come and see the show. [Music] I love mistakes. I always remember when I was a student of drama I remember that we had to do many rehearsals And the very first days we were fresh, we had the text, we were in the rehearsal rooms, making stupid mistakes and having fun. For a female reader. Yeah. [Laughter] Life doesn’t have any rehearsals, does it? You just wake up in the morning, today is today, you don’t repeat it tomorrow. If you do, to me, you’re dead. You’re not a live person. On the other hand was my situation of not having a passport. All those things together pushed me to come to a point that if I write a play which can travel on my behalf. It can be written in English. It can be about the nightmare that I had. It can find a way around the Iranian structure of supervising the performing arts. It’s in your computer, you can just email it to anyone all around the globe. And it can be performed. So that’s what I did. Wait, I shouldn’t look through this, right? [Laughter] Just the first couple of pages are okay. The rest are not. Being performed in many languages, but not Farsi. Every day in the evening at eight o’clock I become really, really sad. Like I do my daily life and I’m sitting and I tell my wife, “But I want to be performed in Tehran. I want to go back to my country and tell them my story.” Why don’t they care about me? Because they’re dealing with more primitive problems now. It took me two years to get my visa to come to Berlin. So when you’re dealing with such problems, will you really care that you have an avant-garde playwright who is doing well? You don’t care about it. Us, as Americans, live in a world where freedom of speech is a tenet of who we are as a nation. A huge amount of this world where people can’t say what they want without fear of putting their life in danger or their family’s life in danger. Nassim is a perfect example that he writes this play and he’s not allowed to travel with it. because of his own restrictions in the government and he’s not using that as an excuse and it’s not a comment on that but it’s just the simple fact that he couldn’t is shocking. We loved that in such a divided world that we live in that it’s a person writing about the human experience about how we are all more alike than we think we are by just being human beings. [Music] One of the beauties of the play is that it can be a man, woman, any race, any age, any gender but that person who steps onto the stage is playing several roles one of which is the voice of the playwright. Still, our first attempts to define someone or even ourselves sadly, is talking about nationality, gender and age. When I see a show of Rabbit and see people saying my name is Nassim Soleimanpour, I’ve seen it in at least ten, twelve languages and I look at them, they are black, they are young, they’re old and they are another version of myself. It’s really strange when someone looks you in your eye, telling you that he owns your name you feel like that could be me. What do I know about White Rabbit Red Rabbit? I know the title. I know the name of the playwright. I know that I’m not supposed to know anything so I didn’t do any online research, I didn’t ask around. I’m just kind of showing up and trusting that they’re not here to humiliate me. My only preparation is to not prepare. Not Google, not think about it too much. Actually, I just want to be as vulnerable as possible with it because that’s, I think, the whole point of it. I imagine that this piece, whatever it ends up being, is the kind of piece that works best in its first impression. The spontaneous nature of cold reading the script is part of what makes it so good. The animal I’ve been asked to prepare is an ostrich impersonation. I mean I didn’t spend a lot of time on the ostrich, which will show tonight, my lack of preparation. [Laughs] [Music] By having and promoting a play that you’re not supposed to Google that we basically say, the less you know, the better. There is an idea with our audience coming in, and even our performers that they’re just going to give themselves over to it and everyone who has done it and left has been happy to sort of come in blind and experience it the way it’s meant to be experienced. [Music] We let the audience know that they may find their smart phones to be very valuable during the performance and then we introduce the performer. We tell everyone to keep their cell phones on because they may want to use it during the show. [Music] To me, audience is like one of the pulse. Two hundred people sitting in one room and they all have cameras and phones in their pockets, so that’s something to use. If you could give it to someone like William Shakespeare, he would play with it. He wouldn’t just ignore it. [Music] I think it’s very important that when we look at a script in 2016, if it looks like a script that was written six hundred years ago that means we’re repeating the same mistakes. That means we didn’t renew our way of thinking. Each night a new actor, performer, comes on stage, a random audience is watching this person and the whole mechanism really changes, not metaphorically, theatre is always live and it changes every night. No, it literally changes. [Music] There is a point in the play where the audience is invited to communicate with the actual playwright who is in another country. Opening my mailbox, receiving one, two, sometimes sixty emails from different people around the globe, reading them, laughing them, still crying because people are like great writers. It’s a part of my daily life. And that’s why my new play, Blank, is a response to all those emails that I’ve been receiving for the last five years of my life. I had a straight up actor nightmare last night. The show was happening and I wasn’t prepared and it was kind of a disaster and my mom was there scolding me. I mean, I’m nervous because I still get nervous to be in front of people. I never kicked stage fright or anything. Which is maybe an okay thing. And I remember, wait, this isn’t about you, this is about being of service to something larger. To a playwright who couldn’t leave his own country so he sent the play out to do some work for him. If all goes well, I’d love to drop him an email. It’s a wild ride every night. There’s no predicting what will happen. There’s no director. Anything goes inside that theater and we want to keep it that way. So the less I say, the better. I mean, that’s closer to life than theatre is. We only get one shot to do most things. I’ll just look at this as a special, once in a lifetime experience and do my best. Without further ado, let’s give it up for the great Josh Radnor! [Cheers and applause] Josh, we have a present for you. Voila! [Music]

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