The Filigree Theatre presented Anna Ziegler’s play “A Delicate Ship” at The Santa Cruz Theater in ATX

filigree theatre, a delicate ship

Photo of set from “A Delicate Ship” at The Santa Cruz Theater performed by The Filigree Theatre. Photography: Nicolette Mallow.

The Filigree Theatre premiered Anna Ziegler’s poetic play A Delicate Ship in Austin, Texas on Feb. 15, 2018. A theatrical performance that marked the second production of The Filigree’s inaugural season, their first play was Betrayal by Harold Pinter. A Delicate Ship and Betrayal were both hosted by The Santa Cruz Theater. Champagne and cookies were served after each performance. The cast of A Delicate Ship consisted of David Moxham (Sam), Laura Ray (Sarah) and Nicholaus Weindel (Nate). Directed by Elizabeth V. Newman (Artistic Director) and Produced by Stephanie Moore (Co-Managing Director) the play premiered until closing night on Feb. 25, 2018. 

What is the synopsis of A Delicate Ship and what does this story entail? “It’s Christmas Eve, and Sarah and Sam are celebrating like New Yorkers: flirting over wine and debating the nature of existential suffering. Then there is knock on the door, and Sarah’s childhood friend Nate stands at the threshold. And suddenly suffering becomes a whole lot less sexy. A kaleidoscopic look at one night in New York City that changes the lives of three people forever.” 

Weeks ago that was the exact synopsis I read on the Press Release sent to me by a publicist I’ve worked with many times, and immediately I was intrigued and knew I wanted to attend. Theatrical performances are like taking a mental and emotional journey in time whilst sitting still in the audience. It’s like pulling back the curtain to someone else’s life and being an invisible guest. As beautiful as film and cinema may be and as much as I adore all the arts: theatre arts and theatrical performances hold a beloved place in my heart, like music, because it feels as if I am experiencing a daydream that I can immerse myself into, like diving into an Olympic pool and imagining I am a mermaid out at sea. Like a daydream, theater arts lets me float away in imagination. I can watch the play and forget about my life and my characters for a few hours at a time. Generally I read a play in its entirety before attending a performance to know the exact story, dialogue and characters. But this time I read nothing but the Press Release and did not delve into the minute details. I wanted to walk into A Delicate Ship with an open mind.

Immediately upon entry into the theatre I saw blue windows, blue lights, a brown leather sofa, a guitar, a birdcage, The New York Times newspaper, other trinkets and home decor like books and a modest at-home bar. The stage was set in someone’s NYC apartment and it looked like a cold December night by the wool and flannel jackets hung by the door. The venue space at The Santa Cruz Theatre is very intimate in size and it makes for an evocative, memorable and vivid experience with the audience and the actors on stage so close in proximity the eye contact can feel magnetic. 

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A Delicate Ship was my second experience to see a performance by The Filigree Theatre. The first play was so delightful that I came back for more. This time I attended on the opening night as a member of the Press and I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth V. Newman: Co-Founder, Artistic Director & Co-Managing Director of The Filigree Theatre and A Delicate Ship. 

Nicolette Mallow: The set on stage was beautiful! I loved the integration of music, spotlights, blue lights and windows… Does the theatre intend to keep expanding light and sound into plays? I feel like Betrayal was a lot more subtle in regards to sound and lighting effects. I adored the colors and sound effects in A Delicate Ship

Elizabeth V. Newman: Thank you! As a director, I really love working with my designers to build each distinct world for every show, which are totally dependent on what the needs of the particular show are; i.e. which elements are in the forefront and which underscore more subtly. Chris Conard is our set and lighting designer (also on the advisory committee of Filigree) and Eliot Fisher is sound. We all collaborated previously on the Austin Premiere (and the the Filigree pre-season Los Angeles Premiere) of Any Night by Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn. The challenge of Any Night was to create a world that was evocative of a ‘fever dream’ so I worked with both designers to create a more wild, impressionistic, surreal/nightmarish. (Eliot was nominated for B Iden Payne for Sound, Chris for Lighting for the pre-LA premiere/Austin premiere of that show)… The next performance (Betrayal) for me was all about restraint and repression and about things simmering underneath a very polished, clean, hard surface. For Betrayal I wanted very straightforward, simple, white, almost clinical lighting. I wanted the production to be all about Pinter’s words and the silences between. The only sound was era specific music (English, 1960’s/70’s) between scenes to evoke the era and emotions bubbling up under the surface.  

Eliot and I discussed sound for A Delicate Ship and talked about how it was, in a way, the inverted universe of Any Night. For Any Night, each distinct location in the play had a sound-scape with amazing interstitials of a car crash and glass breaking – we hear the aftermath, in a dreamy/impressionistic way – of a major accident.  In A Delicate Ship, the sound sneaks up on you. Eliot used some sounds from some of the pre-show music and slowed them down beyond recognition and added other elements into the mix to create the design –  to ‘feel’ the nostalgia inherent in A Delicate Ship – familiar but unrecognizable. In terms of the set and lighting for A Delicate Ship – the environment of that Christmas Eve is intentionally naturalistic: cozy, warm and then, lighting-wise, we are pulled out of this Christmas Eve present moment and thrust into a memory space (blue light) as the characters need to reflect upon Christmas Eve. The goal was to provide a visual analog to the ‘woosh’ feeling that the character, Sarah, describes overcoming her at times.Our next show, Trio, by Sheila Cowley, which will be going up at the end of April, is set in an old garage that is inhabited by magical, child-like  beings so the tone and the ‘world of the play’ will be a universe unto itself and the set, lighting and sound design will come from bringing that kind of a world to life.

Mallow: How does The Filigree Theatre go about choosing their selected plays of performance? I’ve seen two performances now, both very different and delightful. They seem to revolve around love, sex, family, the human psyche and time/memory. And they require very few characters, three to four people at most. Thoughts? 

Newman: Thank you! Our Season structure is “Past (part of the theatre cannon) – Present (playwrights living and working today) – Future (new works/world premieres)” with each season revolving around a theme. For our inaugural season the official theme is: Trios/Triangles – but there are ‘secret’ hidden themes that have emerged for Season 1, namely memory, deception, passion/time. Trio will have six actors on stage: two ‘trios’ – one of characters who are actors trying to rehearse children theatre and one of the ‘trio beings’ who are akin to elves or sprits. Right now we are in the process of setting the season/choosing the theme for Season 2. I personally like to direct smaller casts a bit like chamber music: it is ’chamber theatre’. For me, when there are only two or three or four bodies on stage, each look, gesture, silence is meaningful and powerful. We have Stage One, our staged workshop reading series, to have an opportunity to get to know different writers (playwrights/screenwriters – help them develop their work – build a relationship – grow projects). In terms of selecting a play, I reach out to resources: NY based Playwright Eleanor Burgess, our Literary Advisor; Alex Timbers, our Artistic Advisor; New Play Exchange and of course actors, writers, or artists who have a sensibility that is simpatico with my own and with Filigree’s. 

Mallow: What is the auditions process and how many actors/actresses do you have on board right now?

Newman: We had double auditions for Betrayal and A Delicate Ship last May (because we knew we were going to Los Angeles with Any Night for the summer and had to set auditions before we went) it was a kind of big round robin casting two plays at once.  We saw such great talent – and I’ve subsequently worked with some of the actors who auditioned for us last May in our Stage One readings and other short plays I’ve directed in festivals. We recently had auditions for Trio. In May, we will have our Season Two auditions (why cast only two shows at once when you can cast three, right?) We are intentionally not a actors rep. company – there are some great companies who are doing that already. For us, the season structure/theme is the guide and for us, and our priority is it that casting be based role by role as required by the individual plays and that play selection not be based on what fits our standing acting company. That being said, I love revisiting collaboration with actors and designers as we develop a short-hand and common references and I get to see the wonderful range and talent of the folks I’m working with. 

Mallow: From a lot of reading and studying articles about depression, and losing friends to suicide and looking back on their behavior prior to their death… I could tell Nate’s character was suicidal from the get go. I have written stories about unstable characters and I was wondering… Was it difficult or cathartic for both directors and actors to portray such delicate signs of dark depression? Does repeating such intense words night after night ever become heavy on the heart?

Newman: A Delicate Ship definitely deals with some pretty serious topics. In the work that we did to prepare for the show, the cast and I delved into how the ramp up to, and ultimately the playing out of the tragic event affect not only the character of Nate but also Sarah and Sam. I’m very proud of my cast for giving it their all each run and not shying away from the difficult material. They are pros and have the courage and stamina to go there each and every time. In some ways, I would imagine it is tough for Sarah (Laura Ray) and Sam (David Moxham) as it is for Nate (Nicholaus Weindel) as they have to relive the discovery and the repercussions of what transpires night after night;  Nate is convinced that he is going to get his happy ending right up to the horrible moment that, he feels, it is yanked right out from under him. Up to that moment he is living what is, in his mind, a sort of big climax of a romantic comedy or a Nicholas Sparks story/plot. 

Mallow: Why do you think the characters were playing a battle of the wits and playing passive aggressive mind games, taking intellectual jabs at each other to hurt one another, as opposed to directly getting to the root of the matter right from the get go? Christmas Eve nostalgia? Fear? Pride? Inexperience to deal with uncomfortable situations since they are all fairly young? 

Newman: That is such a good question. I feel like Anna’s characters are so nuanced and complex and well-drawn that they function as fully formed humans who are sometimes making choices or using tactics that they are fully aware of and sometimes going at their goals sideways, and at times without any self-awareness. At times each of the characters are reacting from a primal place: self-preservation, fear, anger, lust, longing. Sometimes they act from their ‘best selves’ and sometimes from their ‘worst’. Our job as an ensemble of actors/director is to pick apart these different moments and tease out how aware each character is of their own actions/words and their effect on each other.

Mallow: Memory is a topic that comes up a lot because we all take walks down memory lane every day… but, why does Sarah’s character often block out good memories: sex with Nate, talking marriage with Sam… generally we block out only the bad but her character seems to disassociate a lot even from joy. Why is that?

Newman: One thing that Laura (playing Sarah) and I discussed quite a bit was the process of mourning and grief and how the loss of Sarah’s father (just weeks before sex with Nate) and not even a year before this Christmas Eve has become intertwined with her experience and history with Nate. We discussed how the sexual encounter may well have meant wildly different things to each of them and that the memory and association with it may have each taken on a different hue with time and distance from it.  We joked that really Nate may be ‘The One’ for Sarah if he weren’t such an ‘emotional vampire’ and how that contradiction and conflict might play out for and within Sarah. Similarly, I feel like Sarah’s time with Sam becomes pierced through with the loss of Nate which overshadows any of the happiness Sam and Sarah had.

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Artwork provided by The Filigree Theatre.

For more information about The Filigree Theatre please visit https://www.filigreetheatre.com. The Santa Cruz Theater is located at 1805 East 7th Street, Austin, TX 78702. 

About The Filigree Theatre: 

“Co-Founded by Elizabeth V. Newman (Artistic Director/Co-Managing Director) and Stephanie Moore (Co-Managing Director), The Filigree Theatre is committed to producing high-level, professional theatre in the city of Austin and to collaborating with local artists working across creative disciplines including fine arts, dance, film and music.

The company’s name, ‘Filigree’, meaning “the complex intertwining of delicate threats of gold and silver,” was derived from the Latin words for thread (filum) and seed (granum), which serves as the basis for the company’s dual mission: to serve both as a ‘thread’ by connecting Austin to theatre communities in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London, as well as a ‘seed’by incubating, supporting and celebrating emerging theatre makers in Austin.  The Filigree Theatre is likewise dedicated to forging connections with diverse audiences across the region.

Newman and Moore have structured each season of The Filigree Theatre to be comprised of three shows connecting the “Past” (honoring the theatre cannon) “Present” (playwrights living and working today) and “Future” (world-premieres and new works) that are tied together with a common theme that runs throughout.  For The Filigree Theatre’s 2017-18 inaugural season, the theme is “Trios” and the three productions are (Past) Betrayal by Harold Pinter (Sept. 28-Oct. 8); (Present) A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler (Austin Premiere; Feb. 15-25); and (Future) Trio by Sheila Cowley (World Premiere; Apr. 26-May 6).”

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