PCS Blog

“A Small Fire” Meet & Greet

Posted by Alice Hodge | 29 January 2014

On January 28, Portland Center Stage staff, the cast and the creative team for A Small Fire gathered in the Julie Vigeland Rehearsal Hall for the Meet & Greet, marking the official start to rehearsals for the next Main Stage show. PCS' Associate Artistic Director and A Small Fire Director, Rose Riordan, led the Meet & Greet — introducing the play, creative concepts and the cast to PCS.

But it's not like it's a Lifetime-Movie-of-the-Week

Rose Riordan (RR): Basically, it's a story of a relationship between her [Emily Bridges] and her husband [John Bridges] and what happens when someone who, not only have they been married a long time, but she runs a construction company, she's super independent, kind of a hardass and has a lot of conflict with her daughter Jenny, who is getting married, is losing the things that help her be really independent. And to lose it very suddenly - I think it's traumatic for anyone, but it's incredibly traumatic for this woman. And how does her family reorganize and her job and her life reorganize around that?


But it's not like it's a Lifetime-Movie-of-the-Week. It's really about watching the evolution of what happens to this family. I think why it feels so intuitive is that it strikes at the thing we all worry about: what would happen if? What happens to the human part of you when everything changes around you?


Speaking Bock

RR: We have a long relationship with Adam Bock, the playwright of
A Small Fire. I've directed, I don't know, three or four readings and several productions of his work. I'm super excited to work on this show. We started a commissioning program about two years ago with Lauren [Lauren Weedman] and that's where People's Republic of Portland came from. And then one with Adam— they were commissioned at the same time. He will be here for the first week of previews…he said that was plenty of time to give notes. [laughs] And then he’ll be coming back again to workshop the play he's writing for us.


Adam Bock is so fluid and natural that sometimes its a bigger struggle to get actors to figure out how to "Speak Bock" - "Speak Bock" that's what I call it. So, learning how to speak him is part of the process.  He'll do things like "Blackout" as an entire scene. I did a play with him in San Francisco and the scene was "Day Passes". That was the scene. There was no dialogue, just "day passes". I, personally, love it. It's totally open to interpretation and the blackout when she goes blind, how do we interpret that moment?  I have an idea…[Rose says with a coy smile.]


Scale model for the "A Small Fire" set designed by Tony Cisek.

Elegant, Effortless and Not a Play About Furniture

RR: Tony [Tony Cisek, Scenery & Prop Design], Diane [Diane Ferry Williams, Lighting Design] and I have had many conversations about how to make this feel elegant, effortless and not a play about furniture, but, no matter what we did, it sort of still felt like a play about furniture. So, we realized we needed to strip away as much as we could… All the furniture is supposed to move effortlessly on and off the stage. But even so, there is a conversation that’s happening with you and the audience, even in the transitions, so how do you continue to tell the story, not impose anything and keeping it moving forward?  That's another challenge we'll be working on in rehearsal.

And then the big conversation will be about Emily and what happens when you lose your senses…I don't know if any of you have had an experience where your body is betraying you - you're certain that you're the only one in the world this has ever happened to and everyone else's life is perfect. And it's very isolating when something like this happens to you, and can be somewhat suffocating and claustrophobic, in my mind. The conversation was how to make this world feel like it has no walls, no safety and, for me, that was about expanding the way it feels. The idea is that this wall, in the beginning, will be quite close, and we have a false proscenium here, so it will move everything forward. As things happen with Emily, the walls will slowly move back and create a void around her. At times it will only be her and nothing else on that stage.

Who's that really weepy lady who does all the dog commercials? Sarah Mclachlan? Yeah, that won't be happening.

Casi Pacilio, Sound Designer (CP): Did you all have hearing tests when you were kids? Rose and I were talking about using frequencies and tones in transitions…that ring you get in your ear: as it starts fading away, you are actually losing those frequencies. So, we have a couple of ideas - Rose found this song with hand clapping that she found from the film Ain't Them Body Saints…we want something more organic as opposed to songs or something composed. 


RR: There's a tension that connects through all the scenes. And so, I heard this — I don't even know where — and I had this idea. I know it sounds really crazy but we think it will work...and if it doesn't work, we won't use it. 

CP: So we might do some of our own hand clapping or incorporate some of this hand clapping, but something more organic.

RR: Who's that really weepy lady who does all the dog commercials? Sarah Mclachlan? Yeah, that won't be happening. 


Is it revealed in the script what her illness is? 

RR: No. I asked him [Adam Bock] about that and I don't even think he cared. It wasn't about the illness for him. I don't want to focus on it. I know it's super intriguing and we're going to get asked a lot of questions about it but I fear if we focus on it, it's going to be about the illness and not about what happens.


They Looked Like a Little Family

RR: When Brandon [Brandon Wooley, Producing Associate] and I auditioned them in New York, we didn't see Peggy [Peggy J. Scott] and Hollye [Hollye Gilbert] together. It was interesting walking in this morning and seeing the three of them [Peggy J. Scotty, Tom Bloom and Hollye Gilbert] standing there and talking and they looked like a little family, so that's awesome. 


Does anyone need to talk about their feelings?

When there were no further questions, Rose ended the Meet & Greet by asking "Does anyone need to talk about their feelings? No? Okay, well get out of here so we can get working!" And with that, A Small Fire is underway.



A Small Fire runs February 22 – March 23. Tickets available HERE.


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