Monthly Archives: August 2010

After Week One: Where Artistic and Audiences Meet

Our audience perhaps approaches our play with the desire of discovering more behind the titillating title but instead finds something far deeper than a discussion of a vibrator or a drawing room. Many describe finding a story less about sex and much more about love. During our preview week I had the opportunity to host a post-show discussion with Aaron Posner, our production’s director. Much of the conversation centered on the socio-historical context of the play (e.g., hysteria and the use of the vibrator, women of today and yesterday, and the notions of modernism versus romanticism), how Aaron approached the play as a male director (e.g., when discussion became awkward, how our own intimate relationships came into focus in the rehearsal room, and how he’s never said the word orgasm so much in his life than during this rehearsal process). But the conversation, with our very invigorated and intelligent audience, wandered to with which character the audience most identified with: Mrs. Daldry or Mrs. Givings or Elizabeth or Leo. One extremely confident audience member discussed how he could not identify with the main female characters because they were just ideal, while his equally opinionated wife thoroughly disagreed. She felt the two leading ladies were the characters who the audience should sympathize and empathize the most with; she believed that they were trying more than any of the characters onstage to discover who they were; they represented many contemporary women who are in the process of discovering who they are; and they are women that she most located herself.  Now, whether this couple’s marriage mirrored that of the Daldry’s or the Givings’ remains unknown. But it was clear from their candid discourse it hit close to home and to their hearts.

~Kristin Leahey, Production Dramaturg


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VIB Pay-What-You-Can Observations

Monday and Tuesday of this week were our two Pay-What-You-Can performances for In the Next Room or the vibrator play. This time around, a few of our staff members worked the line in various ways with the intention of having engaging interactions with our patrons. I was asked to present the results in a senior staff meeting on Wednesday, and instead of editorializing the content I thought I’d just copy and paste my notes here (typos and all!):

Experience with OMLOTR and what I learned

  • most were happy to chat
  • most were at Woolly for the first time
  • many were slightly bored. I noticed they played with cards, books, iPads, phone. As a solution I passed out the season brochure
  • since the line was inside, people asked if we could open the cafe
  • a few asked what to do in the area before the show started

Intention behind VIB PWYC

  • To resolve issue of what to do, I had the idea to pass out a coupon to Busboys as another way to engage our show sponsor and to help the patrons find a place to eat.
  • Invite connectivity to “connect” with the audience.
  • Continue market research with person to person contact

This is what happened

  • Sales goodie bag
  • Max secret desires on Monday
  • Rachel podcast on Tuesday
  • Alli survey on Mon, Katie survey on Tues
  • After sell-out on both days I (and Rachel and Tom) grabbed postcards in the lobby that had the schedule on the back to assist patrons with being able to more easily select a future performance date

This is what we experienced


  • people upset about us selling out. could we have a counter? Why can’t we let them know?
  • Several people (mostly overflow) asked about other ticket programs. Under 25, stampede seats.
  • most people were happy to talk to me
  • one asked me if i was passing out information on the history of the vibrator.
  • since we didn’t do the drawing on stage as it said on the form, I said that they would have to provide some sort of contact information in order that we get in touch with them should they win. This is the number of surveys that were returned. (show large stack)
  • Didn’t get great qualitative data, but it seemed like it was a fair mix of young and old, first timers and newbies.
  • Some people were anxious about the weather.. would they be moved inside?
  • Someone mentioned that Shakes. does it online now. Why don’t we, do which I responded they wouldn’t be able to talk to us!
  • One was a regular PWYCer. She didn’t know we had moved the time to 6. “It always started at 6:30!” Since she didn’t regularly check our website/FB/Twitter she didn’t know about the change.
  • Maura’s observation about the younger theatre students paying more than the older patrons she spoke to.
  • Steven Roth anecdote about value.

As a result this is what I’d like to propose…

My proposal to the group followed. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on what we do for future PWYCs!

~Alli Houseworth, Communications and New Media Manager

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A View From the Keyhole Seats: a Dramaturg’s Perspective

As a dramaturg, we are often privy to a bird’s-eye view. We witness writers tearing over pages, directors pacing and muttering their actors’ lines, designers measuring unclear spaces, and actors rehearsing silent scenes. Currently, sitting in the on-stage Keyhole Seats, I occupy a literal bird’s-eye view of the set of In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl. It’s tech week, which means the lights and sound and set come to life. As a scene between the character Annie and Mrs. Daldry transpires onstage, composer James Sugg sits at his station adjusting acoustic levels; lighting designer Colin K. Bills alters a light’s position; and costume designer Helen Huang confers with her assistant on how to adjust the lead actress’ (Katie deBuys) stunning pink dress at the end of Act I. I see a magical and detailed world unfold from a row of seats that float above the stage, where real and imaginary collide.

Director Aaron Posner and set designer Dan Conway created the world of the Daldry’s parlor, Dr. Daldry’s office, and an operating theatre that sees all. During the mid-1800s (circa 1870s, when our play is set), an operating theatre was an amphitheatre where medical students and other spectators watched master physicians perform surgery. This is where they learned of whopping cough, fatigue of the heart, removal of the limbs, and hysteria – the disease of melancholy that fatigues many of the characters of In the Next Room… In the contemporary operating room, sterile sinks replace washbasins, gloves and facemasks are worn, and devices such as the electric vibrator disappear from medicine.

Vis-à-vis the Keyhole seats, as when Mrs. Daldry and Mrs. Givings see through the operating room’s keyhole, the audience is able to get an up-close-and-personal view with In the Next Room or the vibrator play. As the dramaturg, from my perch, I continue to watch this work develop and unfold.

~Kristin Leahey, Production Dramaturg

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Reflection on First Rehearsal, From a Woolly Claque Member

Note: This Woolly Blog post was written by a member of the Woolly Mammoth Claque. Woolly has co-opted this old French opera term and redefined it to mean a community of friends of the theatre, formed around a production, who are invested in its engagement of others. Interested in joining? Email Rachel (at) woollymammoth (dot) net.

“First there was electricity, next came the light bulb, and then there was the vibrator.”  This was announced by set designer Daniel Conway on the first day of rehearsal for In the Next Room or the vibrator play.

What is that you say?

Not the first thing you expect to hear about the advent of electricity? Neither did I.

According to Mr. Conway, the vibrator was invented “about five minutes” after the light bulb. Really? you ask. Oh yes. And that’s only the beginning.

I came to this first rehearsal as a member of The Claque, where I serve as a sort of “ambassadress” for the production to the greater community. While I am not directly involved in the production process, I witness the play’s evolution from its infancy in the first reading to the final performance. Over this period, I herald my discoveries back to the world about the play as a whole and its impact on our lives. And write blog posts such as this one.

So: back to the bit about light bulbs and vibrators. In the rehearsal room, I wait patiently to hear how these two unlikely “bedfellows” are related. As a “claquer”, my goal for the first rehearsal is to be a student, fully absorbing the work prepared by the artistic team launching the play’s production. Throughout the first rehearsal, the artists brought me into a foreign world where female sexuality is highly medicalized and women are “hysterical” (apparently, a common feminine “ailment” of the late 19th century, mostly consisting of sexual frustration and general disharmony with life, for which the vibrator was invented to cure.) Very curious, I thought, to say the least.

While I admit that I prepared myself for a play loaded with graphic depictions and excessive sexual material, I found that this is where the anatomical details ended and the tale of disjointed human relationships began.

From here I discovered that in this play, the vibrator is a physical manifestation of the barrier that divides men and women, husbands and their wives. It is a diversion from the real problem—as the play indicates— the problem of true intimacy, where husbands and wives do not communicate well on all matters, including sexuality. I listened to a world where both sexes compartmentalize their lives, albeit in different ways, and live according to social standards and expected gender behavior.

Of course, any play whose central subject is a vibrator must be funny, and part of what makes this play so comically compelling is the juxtaposition between the characters’ ignorance of human sexuality and our modern sensibilities on the subject. Rigid Victorian manners abound, and I laughed at these characters’ ridiculous ideas about sex and relationships.

And then, quite suddenly, it hit me: are we really that different? In our lives, perhaps it’s not the vibrator, but all the other things, both material and not, that divide and keep us from true intimacy on all fronts: intellectual, emotional, and physical.

As the rehearsal came to a close, my brain was buzzing with questions and comments, and I felt excited to see where this production would go. Next stop: I will move from student to audience member and watch this body of work come alive on the stage. Stay tuned!

~Elizabeth El-Hage, Claque member

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On Intimacy

Like most plays, In the Next Room or the vibrator play is largely about love. It was written by the brilliant, panoramic playwright Sarah Ruhl, so it is about a number of other engaging and provocative things, too, but mostly, I think, it is about love.

And I will be honest with you: I find it a somewhat shocking and delightfully dangerous play.

But that feeling has nothing to do with the fact that there are vibrators, orgasms, nudity, strong language, shocking or controversial ideas, or any of the typical things one might associate with the words “shocking” or “dangerous”. No, on the contrary, while I am quite interested and engaged by all those things, I don’t find them shocking or dangerous.

No, I find this play shocking and dangerous (as well as discomforting, sad, beautiful and many other things…), because it is bold enough to ask a simple and powerful question. This question—if fully encountered—invites you to see the world just a little bit differently, and may, like many of the characters in the play, leave you feeling somewhat… exposed.

The question is this: How clearly do you really see the ones you love?

Or put another way: How well do you know those you know the best?

Or put another way: How intimate are your intimate relationships really?

We all know how easy it is to be astounded when we learn things about people to whom we are only semi-close. We’ve all heard interviews with neighbors who lived next door to X for Y years and can’t believe that he/she would really do a thing like that… And we’re genuinely shocked when our co-worker turns out be a this or a that or the other thing we totally didn’t expect. We’re even amazed when family members have affairs, shave their heads, sell off their possessions, or take any kind extreme action of which we did not quite think them capable.

We know people can surprise us quite a bit…

But what about our husbands, wives, partners and lovers? The ones with which we are most intimate, shouldn’t we be able to truly see them completely? We can finish their sentences; we know what they are going to order before they do; the littlest look or gesture can send us into ecstasy or agony; don’t we believe we can actually see and know who they really are???

This play asks these questions in wonderful and sneaky ways. It takes place more than a century ago so you are allowed to watch events unfold with a certain distance. You don’t have to look at yourself too closely right away… but just when you are ready to go ahead and judge these people for their sad and misguided practices and perspectives, you may find that, lo and behold, (as the great playwrights inevitably do), the mirror she is holding up is facing squarely at you.

You just may find that their shortsightedness, myopia, and peculiar kinds of blindness are not that different than some kinds you may have, on occasion, been guilty of your very own self. You may just find that the objectionable actions, attitudes, and inabilities you are witnessing unfold before your very eyes don’t seem half so removed as you might first have imagined.

Or maybe not… Maybe this is just me.

Maybe I am being that awkward guy who admits to some behavior and then turns to the group and says “You all do that, too, right?” only to be met with mumbles and averted eyes. Maybe you all see your partners and loved ones with absolute clarity. Maybe you are as intimate with their needs as with your own. Maybe your very closeness doesn’t make it hard to see what is right under your nose, or staring you in the face. Maybe you actually see, know and truly understand your partner as well as you would really like to… as well as they would like you to.

If so, congratulations, that is wonderful, well done.

And while I think you maybe still will enjoy this play for its delightful sense of humor, keen insight, and sharp understanding of human frailty, you will, while you watch, be able to bask in an easy glow of superiority. You may never have to imagine yourself up there, on the table, under exacting scrutiny, or as the ill-sighted, cockeyed, purblind examiner yourself.

The rest of us, I’m afraid, may not have quite so easy a time of it.

~Aaron Posner, Director of In the Next Room or the vibrator play


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Love in the Electric/Digital Age v. 2.0 : @MyTwitFace I Love You!

Note: On Monday, Production Dramaturg Kristin Leahey posted a blog that posed the question: how did relationships change as a result of the invention of electricity and the new technological devices that emerged as a result? Has the advancement of technology brought us closer together or further apart? It is a question to consider while viewing Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the vibrator play. Today we continue that exploration, looking at the same question from a different angle: social media and relationship-building marketing.

My friend Josh – fresh out of a break-up – said to me over a pitcher of Sangria at Bar Pilar last month, “When you’re single, Facebook is great. It’s a flirtation tool! And, it’s a way to just keep in touch with people you wouldn’t normally keep in touch with. When you’re in a relationship, it becomes a stalking device. Where are you, what are you doing, why did this girl write on your Wall…”

It was hot that night. Temps dropped to around 90 degrees. I looked across the DC bar table at my friend who I had met in NYC several years ago, who had moved to LA almost two years ago, and I, I moved from NYC to DC about three months ago, and I said to him, “I love it. I mean, I adore you Josh, but are you someone I would keep in touch with over the telephone?”

“Probably not,” he said. I smiled back. “I can’t imagine,” he continued, “All the times we would have missed hanging out together if we didn’t have this little technology tool.”

Then, deep in the back of my mind that fear crept in – is a friend really a friend if you don’t call on a regular basis? Do I have a closer connection with most of the people in my life because they are active Facebook users, or am I actually lonely, detached, alone? Of my 770 Facebook “friends” how many are actually Friends?

The real catch is: at Woolly, I get a paycheck to develop relationships with people using online tools. It is my job. I say that a lot, “I love Facebook! It’s my job!” Social networking tools are changing the way we do business, especially in marketing. Today, the savvy Facebook user can see right through a “sell” status, or a “Josh suggests you like His Latest Project” invite. Therefore, at the core, these social networking tools are not sales-generating tools. They must be used as relationship-building tools, and everything I do to satisfy the “new media manager” half of my job must ultimately result in relationship-building.

Even as I type this I doubt the authenticity of my intentions. If I get more “fans” or “likers”, or “followers,” or whatever we all are now, did I do a good job? Do I actually have a relationship with these people? Am I actually closer to the Woolly audience? And, because I am in the marketing department, there is that horrid question I hate to ask myself: Did this relationship sell tickets?

At my old job, where I ran an audience development program at the TKTS Booth in Times Square, I was able to use Twitter in such a way that inspired people to come find me in person at the Booth. Suddenly, “followers” became people. They were tall, short, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, shy, bubbly. They had names – first AND last! They walked around without @s in front of them and spoke in long sentences that certainly exceeded 140 characters. I might be bold enough to say that we developed a deeper relationship with each other when this happened, when they came and visited, and I hope the same experience happens at Woolly.

I love Facebook. I love Twitter. I have my eye on Foursquare. They are my job. But no matter how many fans or likers or followers or check-ins I get, nothing will ever make me feel as successful as someone coming up to me in person and saying, “Hi, I’m So-And-So. I follow you on Twitter,” and reaching out their hand for me to shake it, to touch, to connect. To really connect.

~Alli Houseworth, Communications and New Media Manager

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Love in the Electric/Digital Age v. 1.0: I love you MyTwitFace?

At the proverbial climax of In The Next Room or the vibrator play Mrs. Givings proclaims when Dr. Givings first applies the apparatus, “Kiss me and hold the instrument there, just there at the same time.” In the mannered society of the gilded age (post 1865), modernism triumphed over romanticism, technology became the new frontier, and the relationship between men and women just got more complicated. High Society women and men’s courting rituals included high teas, chaperoned turns around English gardens, and passing glances across newly founded electric ballrooms. And in the immigrant population, men and women hurriedly found each other on tempestuous ship rides to the new world, where sharing the desire for the American dream became more important than sharing a common language. Established men in their mid-thirties married delicate girls in their late teens, while nurses, teachers, and caretakers in their early thirties embraced spinsterhood. Women went from daughters to wives, from virgins to mothers with no space in between for discovery. Hysteria was the rage, with one out six women being diagnosed with the malady, now known as sexual and emotional frustration. As we see with the women of In the Next Room or the vibrator play, via a new fangled gadget, they channel pleasure, joy, and friendship while love and affection from their male counterparts remains hard won. The massager provided a sense of release and relief that women and men were challenged to find between each other. In Ruhl’s case study, the device becomes a catalyst that stirs literal and metaphorical juices and makes the Givings’ question whether they can come together without the aid of a machine.

In the twenty-first century (our “digital” age), are relationships easier or more challenging than they were in the “electric” age? The circumstances have changed; perhaps the power dynamics are more equitable. But the core question remains the same: has the advancement of technology brought us closer together or further apart? Today we live in the age of the social networking device and through the simple means of turning an electronic device on, we are able to connect with others across the globe, with our past, present and future, and at any time of the day or night. Through these devices we can gain knowledge, support, celebrity and kinship. You can witness your friends’ lives across the internet: weddings, new jobs, vacations, break-ups and engagements. But what of these recognitions – these possible connections – play into each of our realties? Can we locate the connections with the same people in the analog world? Or do these devices, these cyber kinships, remain exclusively and safely on-line, perhaps protecting us from sacrifice and risk? Does today’s technology, like the machines of the electic age, become a substitute for contact?

~Kristin Leahey, Produciton Dramaturg and Literary Manager

Ed note: Check back here on Friday to read Alli Houseworth’s (our Communications and New Media Manager) response to Kristin’s questions about love in the digital age.

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