Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
A seasoned writer works with an emerging company
You might assume that as they try to stand out in New York City, scrappy theatre companies will look for young and hungry writers to help them make their name.
But Stable Cable Lab Co. -- an artistic community whose core is composed of millennials -- has found inspiration with playwright and director Max Baker, a veteran baby boomer.
"Max has become a mentor to many of the Stable Cable company members," says Lisa Jill Anderson, an actor and company co-founder. "We've learned a lot about acting and process through collaborating with him. This inter-generational exchange has, in many ways, become the lifeblood of our work."
Stable Cable is working with Baker on The Conspiracists, a play he is writing and directing at IRT Theater through May 7. Set in a church basement, this mind-bender follows a meeting of the Under-35 Conspiracy Theorists Addict Support Group. As participants explore topics from UFOs to the Mandela Effect, questions arise as to how firmly held habits and beliefs can limit us and even harm those around us.
When she encountered Baker's earlier plays, Anderson was instantly intrigued, citing his "distinct and quirky characters." She invited him to join forces with Stable Cable, but there was one snag. "Our actors are a lot younger than the characters in Max's plays," she notes. "So I asked if he'd be willing to develop something new with us."
Baker enthusiastically agreed but realized that a traditional approach wouldn't tap the full potential of the adventurous company. Instead, he embraced a highly collaborative process, allowing the actors to contribute to the creation of their characters.
"Because Stable Cable is a company of younger actors, I feel I have to access what they're thinking about and what's in their world, rather than imposing a world on them," Baker says. "Their improvisations help me access what is important to this current generation."
He continues, "As a director, I like to give actors the freedom to move and inhabit the roles in a way that feels best for them and not as dictated to them by a third party. I don't believe in blocking; I don't believe in staging; I don't believe in stage pictures. It's more organic than that."
Baker cites conspiracy theories as one of his "favorite go-to places" when searching for material. "It's fascinating storytelling," he says. "There is a sequence of facts and four or five people will put those facts together in a different way and come up with a different storyline."
Baker invited the actors to research conspiracy theories and present the ones that most intrigued them. He then incorporated those theories into The Conspiracists.
The developmental period also included a workshop that encouraged the actors to explore their characters and ensemble relationships through group improvisations and individual discussions with Baker.
"I ask the actors to draw from, not necessarily from their own experience, but the experience of their friends and relations—preferably people who aren't actors," he says. "Because for the most part, I find actors to be predictable in their insecurities and like-minded in their opinions, so they make for far less fascinating characters than, say, a bus driver. Florist. Computer hacker. Someone who works in government accountability. Behind a service desk. Mending photocopy machines. In these people are the stories of life."
Baker has kept the company fully engaged through rehearsals and performances. Anderson says, "Many rewrites occur in the room as the plays come to life in the hands of the actors. If they feel like their character would say or do something else, they have the freedom to express that to Max."
This work has also inspired Stable Cable's future goals. The company intends to launch a commissioning program in which two playwrights from different generations will be asked to write a play on the same topic.
"The plays will be presented either back-to back or in rep," says Anderson. "What excites me about this program is the unique perspective of artists of different generations and how they can learn and grow from each other."
TDF Members: At press time, tickets were available for The Conspiracists. Go here to browse our current offers.
Jeff Potter is an arts journalist and musician living in Washington Heights.
Photos by Alex Wroblewski. Top photo: Ricki Lynée.