Last weekend, in a small apartment converted into a theater, “Dead Sharks,” a play by student Will Dubbs ’14, opened Off-Off-Broadway as part of the Manhattan Repertory Theater’s Winterfest Play Festival to sold-out houses. The play, which is Dubbs’ first and so far only foray into the world of dramatic literature, is a comedy about a first date between two young people, Ben and Amy. Throughout the one-act piece, three other characters representing different aspects of Ben’s personality provide commentary and helpful—or not—insights on the situation. The Argus sat down with Dubbs and director Dakota Gardner ’11 to talk about the play.
Argus: Will, what was the inspiration for “Dead Sharks?” How did you come to write this show?
Will Dubbs: Well, I wrote the play for my freshman Intro Playwriting class, and I guess my inspiration for it is the feeling everyone gets when they’re on a date and there’s an awkward silence, they don’t know what to say, and there’s almost that whole inner monologue going on in their head. I really am confident that everyone’s been there.
A: And how did you get the team for it together?
WD: Well, funny you should mention that, because I didn’t actually think that my play would be accepted to the festival. And I put down—without their knowledge—I put down the two names of the production team as my two friends Richie [Starzec ’14] and Peter [Cramer ’14], friends that had taken BPT [Basic Production Techniques] or that I knew had done a lot of theatre. And then when I got accepted—again, I didn’t think I would—they just kind of joined in because I’d put their names down. Oh, and then we led a campus-wide search for the director.
Dakota Gardner: I got an email from [Professor] David Jaffe, and he told me that I should e-mail these kids and tell them that I should direct for them. And we met, we talked about it, we thought it’d be a good fit, and then I brought in my design team of Evan Francisco DelGaudio [’12]—
WD: The best in the biz.
DG: He is the best in the biz. Peter became the stage manager, and we had auditions. Richie auditioned, and he ended up getting cast, so it was a collaborative effort to find our design team.
WD: Very much a collaborative effort.
A: Has this been a good experience for you, working on an original play like this? Have you done this before?
DG: I have. Well, sort of. I worked in high school on original texts, but it was at a very low level, and then in the Directing II class it’s all about adapting written work to the stage, so I had the experience of doing that. Having a new work is subtly different, but kind of similar in that you have the playwright there to answer any questions you might have about dramaturgically what’s going on. And Will’s been great about that, if the actors’ have been moving a character in a particular way, he can go into the draft of it and subtly shift it. So for example, the female characters in the play were sort of less of the focus when I first read it, and then we cast Sabina Friedman-Seitz [’11], who is a very good actress, a very strong woman. She helped sort of develop them into what they are now. A new work is great, because you’re sort of able, as an ensemble, to help create it and help [the playwright’s] voice come alive.
A: Have you guys faced any serious challenges with putting up this show?
DG: Well, with regards to our casting…we’ve gone through two members of our cast who are no longer in it.
WD: It’s kind of a “Spiderman” thing. We actually believe that it increases our credibility if we have a larger turnover.
DG: One actor had an injury, and he had to drop out a week before our first performance. We replaced him with another actor who then had some scheduling conflicts and had to drop out of our second two performances. So one of our roles has now had three actors play it. They’ve all been completely different, and they’ve all been really good. That’s really been the main struggle. It’s actually in a surprisingly advanced state for having been created in only two weeks. I’d be lying if I said the first week and a half weren’t absolutely terrifying, I thought we were never going to get it done, but we did. And I couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s at the state it’s at right now.
A: Have you guys had a good experience working in New York?
DG: Yeah…the space is very small. How would you describe it?
WD: …The space allows for maximum creativity.
DG: That’s a good way to put it.
WD: It has a very high creativity per square foot ratio.
DG: The living room in my house is bigger than our stage. But I actually have fallen in love with the theater. It’s small, and dank—
DG: You hear the street, the windows are blown out and there’s kind of a mattress there to block the noise and temperature shifts. There’s an AA meeting down the hall, that’s pretty exciting. The organization, though, is pretty great. They’ve taken us in. We don’t have to spend anything except transportation costs.
WD: And we’ve had two sold-out shows already. And it’s been a really cool experience; it’s the first New York experience for all of our actors and for Dakota and I. It was just an amazing thing to be going through as college students, and an experience that many people might not be able to have in their entire lifetimes.
A: This is quite a collaboration, a freshman playwright, senior director; have you had any challenges working with a purely collegiate team?
WD: No. And that was a worry for me, you know, working with people who are older than me, and a lot more experienced than I am, and how am I going to deal with it? But when we found Dakota, everything just kind of fell into place. And I’ve never had a situation where I disagree with what he’s saying. I think he really gets the play, and buys into the image. It’s been a really great experience.
DG: I mean, the text is strong, you know? When he applied for this, I wasn’t even on the team at that point. So we’re in this festival because of the strength of the text. And that’s always kind of been the driving force for me, that at the end of the day this is theater, not film. We have this gem that we need to kind of polish down. And after we see the same run we often have the same notes. It’s been actually a surprisingly easy process, and I think we’ve all really come together as an ensemble. We have everyone from a freshman up to a grad student, and it’s been a blast. It’s been a real blast.
A: Anything else you guys want students to know about the show?
DG: That they should come Saturday. The performance is at 9 p.m., in the Manhattan Repertory Theater. 42nd and 8th.
WD: There’s going to be a bus that’s open to all students.
DG: It’s across the street from the Port Authority, so they should all come see it and support their fellow students’ theater.