As a playwright, Caryl Churchill believes her job is to ask questions. She views the theatre not as a refuge, or an escape from life, but a more direct and challenging medium to look at life itself. Churchill plays with form and process and believes it should evolve as much as we do. By constantly playing with these conventions, she disrupts our expectations.
Churchill’s plays have minimal guidelines. Vinegar Tom contains very few stage directions (except ones that indicate physical violence). From the beginning of my process with the play, looking for these unspoken details was
terrifying. I was staring at pages of words and saw darkness I didn’t know how to brighten. There were a lot of questions in the darkness that I needed to know and was often too afraid to ask.
How did the company and I handle these intimidating questions and hidden details? Together we made the rehearsal room a playful atmosphere to workshop and discover the specific nature of the play. We tested boundaries and explored possibilities to find the play’s emotional life and danger. Sometimes during rehearsal I saw Churchill in the corner of the room holding a knife. Other times she was hunched over laughing.
We take risks when we look for these answers. It is this opportunity to fail, and hours of failed attempts, that shines light on a dark room. The discomfort of failure in art and in oneself is what provokes, confronts and elevates change. Sometimes the answer was nothing I expected, but everything we needed.
First photo: Hailey Suggs and Kit Bulla. Second photo: Erdin Shulz-Bever and Rhianna Gallow. Third photo: (top row) Natalie Tischler, Carter Caldwell, Erdin Shulz-Bever, Jake Sellers, (bottom row) Kit Bulla, Glyne Pease, Rhianna Gallow and Maria Lozano.