The inaugural season of international theatre programming by ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage continues with the Boston premiere of Rude Mechs’ “The Method Gun,” Ensemble members Lana Lesley and Shawn Sides, who also directed this production, sat down in the Paramount Theater with Blast to provide some insight about what to expect from the show, the production’s unique back story, the dynamics of creating theater in a collective, “experimental” theater, and the best parts of Texas.
BLAST: You are probably asked all the time to tell what the show is about, what the “The Method Gun” is. Do you have a standard spiel that you give out?
SHAWN SIDES: Ah yes, the elevator pitch. It goes a little something like: “The Method Gun” is about Stella Burden, who was an acting guru, a teacher, from the late 1960’s and 70’s who created a suite of exercises that she called “the approach.” One of the exercises in the approach is called “the method gun.” But as we were creating the show it became less and less about Stella herself and more about the company of actors who worked with her. So, it’s evolved since the elevator pitch was made.
BLAST: So this is based on real people, real followers of her?
SS: Loosely based on real people. It’s from research that we’ve done and then from extrapolating from experiences in our own lives. It’s become intensely personal. Frighteningly personal, sometimes.
LANA LESLEY: In “The Method Gun,” we look really hard at this company of actors who followed Stella Burden as they were making their production of [Tennessee Williams’] “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Their version of it did not include Blanche, Stella, Stanley and Mitch, the four main parts, because one of the things Stella Burden believed was that even the smallest roles should be infused with sex, and death, and what else was it?
SS: Beauty and danger . . . which is the same thing as sex and death. She’s so redundant . . .
LL: But she ended up abandoning the company of actors. She went away to South America and left them on their own to rehearse that production. Our play looks at their lives together in the rehearsal room as they are working on the play. We reenact a lot of the exercises that they used and moments that we put together from their rehearsal notes, and then we do a reenactment of their final performance of that show.
BLAST: Can you describe what you mean by these “exercises”? Can you give me an example of—you’re laughing already…
SS: This is not an exercise that is a part of “the approach,” but, well, part of what happened while we were working on the play is that we were using our own lives for source material. One thing that actors have to do a lot is throw an “energy ball” around the room. Or the “this is a what” game, where you have to put a hairbrush or something in the middle of a circle, and has to pick it up and say something like, “This is a phone!” And you put it to your ear like it’s a phone, and everyone else says, “a what?” “A phone!” “A what?” “A phone!” “Oh, a phone!” I was talking to my friend about that exercise once, and she said, “We have frittered away our youth.” There are a lot of exercises that are very important, and fun and meaningful, it’s just that they’re mixed in with games like “energy ball” and “this is a what,” and you have to take the good with the bad.
LL: It’s true. And those “this is a what” type exercises come very early in an actor’s introduction to acting. One of the other things that Stella Burden’s company was interested in was not being afraid of danger in the theater. A lot of time you run into people who are so worried about safety and actors not getting hurt, or not getting tired or sweaty, even, so that was sort of a refreshing thing to find out about the company—that they weren’t afraid of intense physical risk. That was one of the things we really dug about them.
BLAST: In an Austin Chronicle preview written in 2008, there is a scene described that involves Rude Mechs, a gun, and a map. So, that’s one pretty concrete example of danger. Could you describe that scene?
SS: That’s a real thing that we Rude Mechanicals did. We were copying Stella, who in her youth took a gun and shot a map to decide where she was going. So we got a gun and we got a map and we shot it to decide where to follow her to conduct our research. Lana shot the “dad” out of Bagdad, but we said no, we’re not going there! Kirk [Lynn, who wrote “The Method Gun,”] shot Iceland, which wasn’t doing it for us. Madge [Darlington, co-producing artistic director,] shot an island in the South Pacific, and we really wanted that one, but we couldn’t afford it. And then . . . was it me? It was you, you shot again. I don’t remember where I shot.
LL: Canton! You shot Canton.
SS: Oh, in China though! We say it that way because I grew up in Canton, Texas, which is a tiny town of 2600, 60 miles east of Dallas. The Jerry Springer Hellmouth . . . there’s too many Canton stories to even begin.
BLAST: Sounds like another play.
SS: Absolutely, another play. So Lana, because she shot—I’m sorry, now I’m just telling your story for you.
LL: No, no, tell away.
SS: She shot Bagdad, so she got to shoot again, and that’s when we landed on Ecuador, and so that’s where we went to do our research on Stella Burden.
BLAST: That just sounds funny, because it’s like, are there more Stella Burden resources in Ecuador, or is just in the spirit of shooting at a map and then going there?
SS: That’s what she did, so we followed her, and we thought that following in her footsteps literally and figuratively and metaphorically would inspire us. One aspect of her personality is that she is fictional, but she was very passionate about the theater. She abandoned her company because she wanted to make more room for them to make art. Well, they called it abandonment, she just called it leaving. She was a little bit coy about what any of her exercises meant, or what she was aiming at with “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
LL: Like most gurus, I think. Coy in that way.