Coping by Jacob Marx Rice
This Is Water Theatre, Summer 2017
A Regional Premiere
Stage Manager - Forrest Gamble
Costume Designer - Rayna Dexter
Scenic Designer - Nate Krogel
Sound Designer - David Paul
Why this show?
Every once in a blue moon, you read a script that takes your breath away. This script, which has a fascinating plot device that allows the story to function as a choose-your-own adventure of sorts for the main character, grabbed my attention from the first turn and didn't let go of it until the heart-wrenching conclusion at the. As someone who has been suicidal several times, it was also incredibly important to me that this script didn't shy away from showing the pain of losing someone to suicide or the feeling of inevitability once your mind has convinced itself that death is the only option.
The script is in and of itself a concept: a theatrical setting (not unlike boom by Peter Sinn Nachtreib) for a non-theatrical story. This allowed us to be quite Brechtian with our design, letting the audience see the backstage, reminding not only the audience, but the main characters as well that this wasn't real.
Of larger concern to me was the responsibility we had for the mental and emotional wellbeing of our audience. So many people in our world today have been affected by the suicide and suicide attempts of those they know and love, and while we did not want to be paternal, we also wanted to make sure that they felt supported. We made the decision to do talkbacks after most performances, and set out a prop from the show (a textbook) that belonged to the young man whose suicide set the play into motion for the audience to write notes to or about those they had lost if they chose to do so. Not every audience member participated, but we were told it was very meaningful and cathartic. As we continued to use that prop throughout the show, it came to mean even more to the cast as well.
This was the first time that I ever had to handle an actor conflict issue that escalated to the level of violence. We were incredibly careful during the rehearsal process to create tools to help us avoid taking the heavy work we were doing home with us, but a hidden conflict that had been brewing months before we began rehearsals bubbled over one night late after the show, and I was forced to make a very difficult decision regarding the future of the production. There were those that disagreed with how I handled it, but overall I felt it was the right decision, and to my knowledge the actors involved still hold me in high regard.