Mr. Nice, We’re Gonna Die: 2017/208 Elevator Project

AT&T Performing Arts Center announced the 2017/2018 ELEVATOR PROJECT season, featuring the work of small and emerging arts groups performing on the center’s campus in the Dallas Arts District. The Elevator Project’s new season will feature productions from eight Dallas-based performing arts companies.

“This is a substantial sampling that arts audiences can really get excited about,” said Doug Curtis, president and CEO of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. “The new season includes a wide range of genres, giving audiences a unique chance to see some of the most innovative work from the freshest talent in Dallas.”

2017/2018 Elevator Project will feature weekend and multi-week engagements from eight of the region’s smaller and emerging companies beginning in September 2017 with Masquerade: Opera Cabaret presented by American Baroque Opera Company and continues with Big Bad Wolf and Les Fairies presented by Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in October. February 2018 brings We’re Gonna Die produced and directed by Jake Nice followed by Guinea Fare: Her Story, Her Ipseity presented by Bandan Koro African Drum & Dance Ensemble in March and ELEMENTAL: Nature’s Rhapsody, a multi-genre work directed by Adam Adolfo in April. May presentations include The Freedmans from Soul Rep and The Alexa Dialogues presented by Therefore Art & Performance Group. The final production, Babel from Cry Havoc Theater Company mounts in July 2018.

Photo courtesy of Clayton Browning

“It’s important that there’s a place in the Arts District where artists can take risks, premier work and find new audiences,” said David Denson, AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Director of Programming and the creator of the Elevator Project. “There’s also a hunger from Dallas audiences to discover these groups and test drive their work. We think the center can help provide that platform.”

There were 41 applicants for the Elevator Project, we caught up Jake Nice, one of the applicants to make the cut, to talk about the process and what the opportunity presents.

PATRON: Can you talk about the application process? 

Jake Nice: The application process was relatively straightforward. They had a submission form on their website that asked for a summary of the project, our mission statement, and a brief history of my organization. That was the tricky part, because I’m not producing this show as part of an established organization. When we did the DDFW tour this spring, I simply emailed Young Jean Lee’s agents after reading the play and asked for a license to produce it in Texas. I immediately thought of Sammy (“Rat” Rios) when I read the play. Her skill set makes her the perfect choice to play the Singer: she’s a very inviting actor, a phenomenal musician, and a captivating performer in general.

After I sent in the application form, the rest of the process took care of itself. David Denson actually called me on my birthday to let me know We’re Gonna Die had been selected. He started with “I saw on Facebook that it’s your birthday today and I wanted to give you a little present.” I knew whatever he said next was going to be good news.

P: What does this opportunity present to you and your company? 

JN: Resources! During the tour this spring, I had to do everything myself: I sought out each of the four performance spaces, I contacted and rehearsed with the band members for each show, I paid everyone out of my own pocket. Sammy and I rehearsed in her living room. I ran what few lights we had access to at each venue, and ran my own sound at the performances when Preston Gray (our marvelous sound designer) wasn’t available.

WGD, Sammy “Rat” Rios at Wild Detectives courtesy of Rob Martinez

Now, thanks to the Elevator Project, we get to perform in the same space multiple nights in a row. And it’s a bonafide theatre space, so it has a lighting rig and a lobby and a dressing room… I even have a budget to pay my team! So the quality of the project, which was very well received during the spring tour, will only get better with these resources.

Furthermore, performing at the AT&T Performing Arts Center gives us a certain level of credibility, and I think it will make people pay more attention to the project. The center’s marketing team reaches way more people than my daily Facebook posts ever could.

P: You’ve shown We’re Gonna Die in various DFW locations, why did you submit this play in particular over another? 

JN: I think this play needs to be seen and heard by everyone. It’s about personal suffering and death, so it’s universal. Every human being can relate to it. And it’s not a piece of theatre that takes itself too seriously. Young Jean Lee’s plays are all self-aware, in that her characters seem to know that they’re performing. This is particularly true for the Singer in We’re Gonna Die. The conceit for this show is that we’ve all gathered to hear the Singer share tragic stories from her life. Her goal is to encourage the audience not to lose hope, to find comfort in the ordinary, and to embrace the face that, yes, we’re all going to die.

P: How does showing at the Wyly impact the performance of the play? 

JN: Each performance earlier this year was held at a completely different venue. The show played in a black-box theatre, an art gallery, a bookstore/coffee shop, and a living room in an old Victorian house. So Sammy and I really got to experiment. What’s the best format for this play? Is the audience more engaged when they’re standing up, so they can dance to the songs? Or does a traditional theatre settings serve the performers best?

In the Wyly 6th Floor Studio Theatre, we’re going back to a more traditional approach. The setup hasn’t been finalized yet, but I think we’re going to do it in a thrust arrangement, with audiences in front of and flanking the stage on each side to provide a more enclosed, intimate environment. And we’re definitely going to make use of the enormous lobby outside the Studio Theatre…

WGD, Sammy “Rat” Rios at Wild Detectives courtesy of Rob Martinez

Another factor at the Wyly Studio Theatre is the audience capacity, which is nearly double the size of the houses we played to in the spring tour. Though I didn’t put a cap on ticket sales at any of the spring venues, each performance was packed out. I don’t think we could have fit anybody else into any of the performances. So we effectively sold out the tour.

We hope to do the same at the Wyly. At full capacity the Studio Theatre is the perfect size to make you feel like you’re included in the action, like the Singer is speaking to you directly, while still maintaining the sense of being part of a crowd.

P: What do you plan to do with the momentum from the Elevator Project? 

JN: We have plans to continue touring this show later in 2018. A dear friend of mine, who’s an artistic director of one of the finest theaters in Fort Worth, is planning to host We’re Gonna Die in late May. My dream is that the tour continues from there, and that we eventually find our way out of North Texas, perhaps to other parts of the state, or to other parts of the country.

P: What do you want to leave audience members after seeing We’re Gonna Die

JN: Confidence in the fact that they are not alone in their daily struggles as a human. That suffering and tragedy are natural and necessary parts of life, but that everybody faces those things in their own unique way. So, ideally, we should try and be more compassionate to each other and acknowledge that each of us is hurting, either on the surface or deep, deep down.

P: Anything else you want to add or mention? 

JN: In our spring tour, the band lineup changed from performance to performance. We’re going to maintain the same lineup for all three performances at the Wyly so the band can really get a chance to finesse their performance. The lineup hasn’t been announced yet, but stay tuned! You’ll also get to hear music from the band members during the pre-show (as we did with the tour earlier this year), and I’ll be posting tons of information about the talented artists I’m working with during the months leading up the show in February.

WGD Blackhouse courtesy of Jeremy Pesina

Jake Nice 

We’re Gonna Die by Young Jean Lee (three performances)

Wyly Theatre – Studio Theatre Level 6

Performance Schedule:

Thursday, February 8, 2018; 7:30 p.m.

Friday, February 9; 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, February 10; 8 p.m.

Synopsis:

We’re Gonna Die is a cabaret-style musical written by experimental NYC playwright Young Jean Lee that celebrates the unifying nature of human mortality. Equal parts stage musical and rock concert, We’re Gonna Die juxtaposes tales of everyday suffering with uplifting indie pop songs. In this 60 minute one-act, the Singer (the only speaking character in the play) directly addresses the audience to share her experiences of tragedy and encourage us that nobody needs to suffer alone. On the contrary: we’re all suffering, albeit in our own personalized ways. The Singer wants to assure you that your pain is totally normal, that life is inevitably tragic at times, and that eventually, we’re all going to die.

We’re Gonna Die premiered in 2011 at Joe’s Pub in New York City as the 11th play in the hallowed 13P playwriting coalition. Young Jean Lee performed the role of Singer in that production backed by her band Future Wife (who helped write the six songs in the show). Since then, notable productions include the 2015 production at London’s Southbank Centre–for which David Byrne of Talking Heads sang the songs while Lee performed the monologues–and Company One Theatre’s touring co-production with American Repertory Theatre in 2016. Jake Nice is the producer North Texas regional premiere of We’re Gonna Die in 2017 starring Sammy “Rat” Rios as the Singer.

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