Coz Deicke ’15 has stormed through the Wesleyan theater scene throughout the past five semesters. He’s tackled palindromes and homicidal beauty queens in his past directorial endeavors, but next semester he hopes to dramatize a much more relatable theme: family. “Family Frenzy” (a working title) is Deicke’s latest project, which he plans to write this winter break based on interviews about family with his four starring actors: Jessica Cummings ’17, William Dubbs ’14, Emma Hagemann ’17, and Ava Kikut ’17. Through a true Wesleyan theater connection love story, May Treuhaft-Ali ’17 and Maya Herbsman ’17 have jumped on board the project as stage managers. The team sat down with the Argus to talk about writing techniques, theater experiences, and who is really in charge (hint: it may not be the director).
The Argus: What’s one thing that each of you find interesting about families?
May Treuhaft-Ali: [The concept of] nature versus nurture, and how people are really products of their parents’ strengths and weaknesses.
Maya Herbsman: Secrets within families, and the way that those come to light, particularly as children of a next generation get older. And even not, even when things just sort of pop out of the blue, and it totally rocks the entire family.
Coz Deicke: Conflict, and how you handle conflict from families. The huge obstacle when characters have that family factor in dealing with an enemy of a kind, perhaps.
A: Coz, how are you approaching this writing process?
CD: I’m going to interview these actors these last two weeks, kind of hearing their stories, hearing their skills, the roles that will challenge them, thinking about what kind of role I’m going to craft that will make sense the most for them. And then I’ll be spending the beginning of winter just kind of thinking about how I want to arrange the characters into this family…and what I’m interested with them character- and conflict-wise and developing the plot. And then I’m going to start writing towards the end of winter break. I’m going to come back with a draft. The actors are going to start putting voice to text, reading it out loud, and we’re going to spend the first week doing some intense workshopping. And then taking that written work at the end and then rehearsing….
A: You took a similar writing approach to the show you wrote and directed last spring, “About Face.” Is there anything you’re hoping to change this time around?
CD: I think that I could have written more challenging characters for the actors, for sure. And I think that some of my dialogue could have been a little bit stronger, and I think that’s just true as a developing writer. I think as you develop as a writer, you get a better and better sense of what you want to say, what you want your characters to say. I think I was very good at sub-textualizing and knowing what I meant, but some of my word choice probably could have been stronger….I really hope that I can create the same kind of ensemble feel that I had with that show. I’m also kind of excited to break up a little bit of the writing and the acting. With “About Face” it was kind of ongoing; the writing was shifting, and we were rehearsing kind of together. This time it’s a little more separated, doing that workshopping first really intensively.
A: As stage managers, were you nervous to come on board to a show that hadn’t been written yet?
MT: I think it’s sort of difficult when people ask you, “So what is this play that you’re working on?” And you’re like…Family Frenzy?… I think right now we don’t really know what our job entails. Like we do know what it entails because we talked about it with Coz, but I don’t know. When I got my script for “The Seagull” I was like, guess we’re dealing with some fake blood; guess that’s a thing we’re going to do…. I don’t know what’s going to be required from me in terms of the specifics of the show.
MH: I agree, and I feel like what balanced that for me was from the very beginning of me being involved in this project, Coz was just like, “I got this. Like I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I know what I’m doing.”
MH: He just very much started off with being very confident and very firm, and despite not knowing exactly how the script and the intricacies of what the show was going to turn into, he came in…with such a clear concept. That was what made me be like, alright, I can just go along with it.
A: Where do you hope to go up?
CD: The ’92. I feel pretty good about getting it. I’ll know soon enough. I think I have a good design team.
A: Who are some of the members of your design team?
CD: Cicily Gruber [’15] is doing lighting design. She’s great; she has tons of experience. Anders Dohlman [’15] is doing set design. He recently designed a fantastic set for “Next to Normal,” actually. Tawni Stoop [’15] will be doing props. She actually is the props master, props secret samurai. And I have Alexa De la Cruz [’16] doing costumes. And I will be sound designing.
A: What do you think are some of the advantages to directing something that is your own work?
CD: Well it is a double-edged sword. I think that in terms of developing, in both, one can rely on the other for me. One of my stage managers here is also a director and playwright, May, and when we first spoke I thought it was very interesting, she said to me that she doesn’t like to direct her own plays. She likes to write her own work and have it directed by other people, and direct other people’s work. And I thought it was very interesting because I’m constantly interpreting my own work and reinterpreting and shifting it. So I think it’s very different.
MT: I think that I’m constantly reinterpreting my work too, but in having someone else direct a play that I’ve written helps me to reinterpret it. Because, you know, I’m only going to have one vision for it. And knowing that a director can take a play that I wrote and have a completely different vision is reaffirming for me because it means that the play has multiple meanings and is complex. Like if a play only means what I intend it to mean, then it has limited meaning.
CD: Obviously our philosophies are different. For me, I think that when I do a play, I explore many different ways, and I’m trying different things and going different ways with the text and I’m discovering. I feel like I’m getting that of watching a performance again and again because I’m constantly seeing it change in front of me. But then I’m ultimately picking one of those, not saying “this is the way it should be” but “this is the way I’m going to try it now.” I feel like if I was directing a play, it wouldn’t be one time. I did “About Face,” and if I was going to do that same script right now, I think I would go way differently. I would have made it way more surreal…. I would have tried a different vision, essentially, as I’ve shifted as a person.
A: Do any of you have any advice for other Wesleyan playwrights?
CD: Yeah, I do. [To MT] Do you have advice for Wesleyan playwrights?
MT: No, I want your advice.
CD: Oh yes. I think the thing about writing is that a lot of people don’t think they’re writers. I think it’s a very funny thing, because I think that if you start writing, you become a writer. And if you start writing again and again, your writing gets better. It’s just kind of how it works. I don’t think you need to necessarily take a ton of writing courses…. There’s no other way to it other than writing and embracing what you think and the ideas you have and putting them down on paper and being open to criticism and getting your work workshopped and working hard on it and moving forward and trying again. And I think it’s also what you want to get out of it.
A: What do you see as being the ultimate success of “Family Frenzy?”
CD: I really want people to come in, and I want them to sit down, and I want them to watch this play. And I want them to be engaged; I want them to be like, O.K., I’m following this plot, that’s interesting. And I want them to laugh a few times. And then I want them to clap, and be excited, and congratulate me, but when they walk out of the theater I want them to be thinking about their own family. And I want them to be questioning some of their relationships and seeing if they’ve been hiding behind a word. I think it’s very easy to say “family” as this blanket statement you throw over this group of people; it’s like this universal wool pulled over your eyes. And I want them to start thinking about those relationships, and I want them to think about how family is unique.
MH: I’m really excited for the process. I haven’t done a process like this before, and that’s what I’m most excited for really. Just sort of going through this fairly intensive process, working with our lovely ensemble. I’m excited to see what comes out of it and how significantly things will change from my initial read.
CD: I have to say that I’ve found that things change more than you expect them to. Like you think that you’re only going to change a little bit, and then you end up writing something completely different. The process is so key; a good process makes the whole production worth it.
MT: I would say this sort of unconventional process is good for a stage manager. I think as a stage manager, you sometimes don’t feel artistic ownership over the play. You feel ownership over all the technical elements, but you don’t really feel invested in the ideas and the magic that is happening on stage, which is problematic, for me at least, because if you’re not invested in the artistry of it then why are you doing theater? So I feel like because we’re more involved in the workshopping process and the collaboration and the artistic part of it, that’s a good way to reconcile that for me.
CD: Can I interject something here?
A: Go for it.
CD: I’d really like to speak about my stage managers. I just think that in terms of collaboration, I’ve always been really interested in having stage managers who I felt like could have a hand in some other parts of the process, not just the technical aspects of the production and some of the organizational aspects. And I think that with these two, they both have directing experience. May has a lot of writing experience, which I think will be good at the beginning and will be easier to split between them. And Maya has much more acting experience… It’s nice to see that they have slightly different feels and they’re able to kind of step in. It was really great discovering them. They both did these One Day Plays, and I just thought that their direction was really good. I was really impressed with what Maya did with my own and what May did with Will Dubbs [’14’s play]. I’ve never had two stage managers before.
Family Frenzy will be performed next semester, pending the acceptance of the show’s application through Second Stage.
This interview was edited for length.