Arizona Theatre Company’s “Albatross”

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The Albatross is a play based on the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and it had a run at one of New York City’s leading Off-Broadway theaters. It will be presented by the Arizona Theatre Company starting March 16 at the Herberger Theater in Phoenix. Hear more about the play from writers Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett.

TED SIMONS: "ALBATROSS" IS A ONE-PERSON MULTIMEDIA PLAY BASED ON THE POEM "THE RHYME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER." IT WILL BE PRESENTED ON THURSDAY BY THE ARIZONA THEATER COMPANY AT A THEATER IN DOWNTOWN PHOENIX. JOINING US NOW IS THE MATHEW SPANGLER, WHO WROTE THE PLAY WITH COWRITER BENJAMIN EVETT AND THE STAR OF THE ANCIENT MARINER. THIS IS A SAGA THAT I THINK PEOPLE ARE SOMEWHAT FAMILIAR WITH. WHY? WHY DID YOU BASE OFF THIS PARTICULAR PIECE OF LITERATURE?

MATHEW SPANGLER: IT'S A PIECE I WANTED TO DO FOR A LONG TIME. I WRITE PLAYS BASED ON WORKS OF LITERATURE, AND AT THE TIME I'D WRITTEN TWO BIG CAST PLAYS, A PLAY BASED ON THE KITE RUNNER, AND ANOTHER PLAY BASED ON T.C. BOYLE'S "TORTILLA CURTAIN." AND I WANTED TO DO SOMETHING SMALL, SOMETHING THAT WOULD BE A ONE OR TWO-ACT SHOW.

BENJAMIN EVETT: I CAME TO MATT SAYING I WANTED TO DO A ONE-MAN SHOW. I KNOW WHAT I WANT IT TO BE LIKE. I WANT IT TO HAVE MULTIMEDIA, BE EXCITING, HAVE GREAT CHARACTERS, A STRONG POWERFUL STORY, BUT I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT STORY IS. SO MATT CAME UP WITH THE IDEA AND SUGGESTED IT, BECAUSE HE'D ALWAYS WANTED TO.

TED SIMONS: YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO THIS POEM? YOU ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS SORT OF VISUAL?

MATHEW SPANGLER: THERE WERE TEN OR 20 THAT I ALWAYS WANTED TO DO, AND THIS WAS ONE OF THOSE. WE WERE TALKING, AND HE SAID I WANTED TO WRITE A PIECE THAT'S FOR A SMALLER CAST. HOW ABOUT THIS?

BENJAMIN EVETT: SO I WENT AND READ IT, AND I SAID THIS IS PERFECT.

TED SIMONS: NO KIDDING, THIS IS A VEHICLE. FOR A ONE-MAN SHOW, THIS IS SOMETHING.
BENJAMIN EVETT: IT REQUIRES EVERYTHING AS AN ACTOR THAT I HAVE, AND THAT'S A GREAT, GREAT CHALLENGE THAT I LOVE.

TED SIMONS: IS IT DIFFICULT TO DO A ONE PERSON -- I MEAN, IS IT DIFFICULT NOT PLAYING OFF OF --

BENJAMIN EVETT: IT'S DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHALLENGES. YEAH, THERE'S NO OTHER ACTOR OUT THERE. THE AUDIENCE IS THERE, AND ACTUALLY THE AUDIENCE IS A VERY, VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER IN ANY THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE. I MEAN, WE FEEL YOU WHEN YOU'RE OUT THERE. AND YOUR ENERGY HELPS CREATE THE ENERGY OF THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE. SO THEY ARE THERE. AND THEN ALSO OUR DIRECTOR RICK LOMBARDO CREATED A WONDERFUL ENVIRONMENT FOR THE THING TO HAPPEN IN, SO THERE'S AN INCREDIBLY RICH SOUNDSCAPE THAT HAS LIKE 18 DIFFERENT LEVELS OPERATING SIMULTANEOUSLY, AND THESE WONDERFUL VIDEO PIECES THAT WERE CREATED BY GARRETT HERZIGER.

TED SIMONS: THE MULTIMEDIA ASPECT, DID YOU HAVE THAT IN THE ORIGINAL?

MATHEW SPANGLER: I DIDN'T, BUT IT FITS PERFECTLY FOR IT. I MEAN ONE THING I LIKE ABOUT THEATER IS WATCHING A PIECE THAT IS IN SOME WAYS TOO BIG, TOO EPIC FOR THE STAGE, AND THAT'S THIS. I MEAN, THERE MUST BE 40 OR 50 DIFFERENT LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT THE -- THE SHOW RUNS ABOUT 80 MINUTES, AND IT MOVES TWO MINUTES THROUGH EACH LOCATION.

BENJAMIN EVETT: BRISTOL TO ACROSS THE EQUATOR TO SOUTH AMERICA TO THE ANTARCTIC AND BACK AGAIN.

TED SIMONS: AND YOU'RE STRAPPED TO THE MASS AND IN THE SHIP ALL OVER THE PLACE.

BENJAMIN EVETT: YEAH, AND WE TRY TO RE-CREATE SOME OF THAT.

MATHEW SPANGLER: THE SHAPE OF IT IS REALLY CINEMATIC, LIKE WATCHING A MOVIE, BUT IT'S CREATED LIVE ON STAGE.

TED SIMONS: THE TECHNOLOGY, FOR FOLKS WHO AREN'T NECESSARILY WITH THE POEM, DOES THAT HELP THEM A LITTLE BIT?

MATHEW SPANGLER: I DON'T KNOW IF IT HELPS THEM. THE TECHNOLOGY WORKS FOR THE OVERALL FEELING OF THE SHOW, BECAUSE IT MAKES IT MORE CINEMATIC, LIKE I WAS SAYING. IT REALLY MAKES IT LIKE WATCHING A FILM, EXCEPT IT'S DONE LIVE, WHICH IS THE MAGIC OF THIS.

TED SIMONS: ARE YOU CONCERNED THOUGH, WHAT WE JUST SAW, THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL LOOKING SET AND THE STAGE IS THE SCENERY IS FANTASTIC. AS AN ACTOR, COULD YOU GET UPSTAGED BY THAT KIND OF STUFF?

BENJAMIN EVETT: YOU COULD. AND SOMETIMES WITH THIS KIND OF SHOW THAT HAPPENS. I THINK THAT THE -- THE CREATIVE TEAM HAS DONE AN AMAZING JOB WITH IT TO MAKE IT SO THAT IT FEEDS THE STORYTELLING, THAT IT MAKES -- YEAH, THAT IT MAKES THE STORY MORE VIVID WITHOUT, LIKE, PULLING ATTENTION AWAY TOO MUCH.

MATHEW SPANGLER: WELL, YOU'RE BEING MODEST. YOU DON'T GET UPSTAGED BECAUSE YOU COMMAND THE STAGE!

TED SIMONS: BUT YOU HAVE TO DO SOMEONE TO DO THAT.

MATHEW SPANGLER: TO DO THIS KIND OF PIECE OF THEATER, YOU HAVE TO HAVE A VERY SPECIAL ACTOR, WHICH BEN IS, BUT YOU HAVE TO HAVE AN ACTOR WHO CAN COMMAND THE STORY, TELL IT, AND NOT BE UPSTAGED BY THE OTHER THINGS GOING ON ON STAGE, THE VISUAL ELEMENTS, THE SOUND DESIGN. THERE'S A PRETTY AMBITIOUS SOUND DESIGN FOR THE SHOW.

TED SIMONS: YOU HAVE GOT A LOT OF NUANCE IN THE POEM, REGRET, ISOLATION, MINDFULNESS, ALL OF THIS KIND OF STUFF. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

BENJAMIN EVETT: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, I THINK THE STORY DOES IT FOR YOU, AND IT IS A STORY THAT I THINK IS ACTUALLY REALLY IMPORTANT TO BE TOLD RIGHT NOW, DEALING AS IT DOES WITH, AS YOU SAID, WITH MINDFULNESS AND THIS UNDERSTANDING THAT EVEN OUR MOST THOUGHTLESS ACTIONS ARE WHAT WE THINK OF AS JUST NOTHING LITTLE ACTIONS HAVE THESE REPERCUSSIONS ON NOT ONLY EACH OTHER, ON OURSELVES, ON EACH OTHER, AND ON THE WORLD. YOU KNOW, THERE IS A -- I THINK THAT THE AUTHOR WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST ENVIRONMENTALISTS BECAUSE THE SUBJECT IS HOW THE -- HOW WE MUST LOVE THE NATURAL WORLD OR THE NATURAL WORLD WILL REVENGE ITSELF ON US IN A TERRIBLE WAY.

TED SIMONS: OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

BENJAMIN EVETT: OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

TED SIMONS: OUR EFFECT ON ALL LIVING BEINGS IS A FACTOR IN HERE AS WELL

MATHEW SPANGLER: OH, IT IS. THE SMALLEST DECISIONS THAT WE MAKE HAVE RIPPLE EFFECTS THAT COME BACK AND EFFECT US IN WAYS THAT WE COULD NEVER IMAGINE LATER, AND YET YOU COULD TRACE THE RESPONSE TO THE ONE DECISION THAT YOU MAKE EARLY ON THAT CREATES THE INITIAL RIPPLES.

TED SIMONS: IN YOUR MIND'S EYE, WHEN THIS FIRST STARTED, IS IT SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU ARE SEEING NOW ON STAGE?

MATHEW SPANGLER: NO PLAY EVER -- THE SHORT ANSWER IS NO, BUT THAT'S THE WAY PLAYS ALWAYS ARE FOR A WRITER. YOU WRITE A PLAY IN YOUR LITTLE OFFICE AND YOU ARE WRITING ALONE AND YOU ARE IMAGINING ONE THING, AND WHAT'S REALLY SPECIAL ABOUT THEATER IS YOU TAKE IT IN WITH A GROUP OF PEOPLE, DESIGNERS, SOUND DESIGNERS, COSTUME DESIGNERS, THE ACTORS. AND YEAH, YOU HAVE WORKSHOPS AND THE AUDIENCE IS QUITE -- IS SEEING SOMETHING QUITE DIFFERENT THAN WHAT THE PLAYWRITE STARTED WITH IT.

TED SIMONS: IT'S YOU, BUT IT'S NOT YOU, IT MUST BE VERY FASCINATING.

BENJAMIN EVETT: IT WAS INTERESTING HOW WHEN WE STARTED WRITING, WE STARTED WITH THE POEM AND WE READ THE POEM. BUT WHEN WE REALLY GOT INTO DOING ALL OF THE RESEARCH ABOUT THE PERIOD, ABOUT THE AUTHOR HIMSELF, ABOUT SAILING IN THE 1700s, IN THE POEM THE MARINER LEAVES ENGLAND AND LIKE FIVE STANZAS LATER, HE'S IN THE ANTARCTIC, AND SO ONE OF OUR FIRST QUESTIONS WAS HOW DOES HE GET THERE, BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, A SINGLE STORM CAN'T BLOW YOU FROM THE NORTH SEA TO ANTARCTICA. SO WE BEGAN TO EXPLORE WHAT THAT JOURNEY MIGHT BE LIKE, AND SO THAT WAS -- SO, IN FACT, MUCH OF THE PLAY, REALLY UNTIL ALMOST THE FIRST TWO THIRDS OF THE PLAY, ARE PURE INVENTION, BASED ON THE RESEARCH THAT WE DID ABOUT THE LIFE AND SORT OF ANSWERING THAT QUESTION: HOW DO YOU GET FROM HERE TO THERE?

TED SIMONS: GET MORE REALITY INTO THE SAGA.

BENJAMIN EVETT: EXACTLY.

TED SIMONS: YEAH.

BENJAMIN EVETT: AND IT WORKS REALLY WELL, ALSO, I THINK TO UNDERSCORE SOME OF THE THEMATIC ELEMENTS IN IT, BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, TALKING ABOUT, YOU KNOW, WHAT A DIFFICULT TIME THAT WAS TO LIVE, BUT ALSO HOW MANY WAYS SIMILAR, YOU KNOW, THE -- WITH VIOLENCE AND THE DISREGARD FOR THE NATURAL WORLD AND WHERE THOSE CAN LEAD US.

TED SIMONS: WELL, IT'S -- I KNOW IT'S GOT SOME STRONG REVIEWS, GREAT REACTION. I JUST THINK FOR THAT PIECE OF LITERATURE ON STAGE, IT JUST SOUNDS FANTASTIC. CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR SUCCESS. GOOD LUCK HERE IN ARIZONA. THANKS FOR JOINING US. WE APPRECIATE IT.

MATHEW SPANGLER: THANK YOU.

BENJAMIN EVETT: THANKS.

MATHEW SPANGLER: THANK YOU SO MUCH.

TED SIMONS: AND THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

NARRARATOR: ARIZONA HORIZON IS MADE POSSIBLE BY CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE FRIENDS OF ARIZONA PBS, MEMBERS OF YOUR PBS STATION. THANK YOU.

Matthew Spangler: "Albatross" writer
Benjamin Evett: "Albatross" writer

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