An Interview with New Voices: Young Voices Director Stephanie Natale Frus
Written by Liza Mitchell
Directing the two young playwrights, Stephanie Natale Frus approached the project as she would any other material; by honoring the content and giving the playwrights space to share their vision.
Frus directs both one-act plays selected as the winners of the New Voices: Young Voices program, designed to stage the works of new emerging playwrights. Winter & I by Lauren Hancock and Barry Bianchi Baltimore’s Best Bail Bondsman An American Tragedy will be staged on the same night.
“They couldn’t be more different so it is a lovely exploration to go really far in one direction and then also get to go really far in the other one, since I am directing them both,” says Frus. “The voices they have written in are so strong and have such a strong point of view and as long as I keep that as my guideline, which directors deal with on all plays, it’s been natural for them to go in their own direction.”
Each piece speaks in its own voice, making it easy for Frus to distinguish the personality of the writers. Before meeting with Hancock, Frus read her script and envisioned the world she created as an alternate reality universe. “She was right there with me. We were very much on the same page. Worth was also excited to see what someone else would take his work and make that look like. He didn’t have a vision off the page very purposely for himself,” she says.
“I think that’s a very unique trait for a writer. Lauren had very specific stage directions throughout the script. Worth’s directions really just lie in the movement through the dialogue. He leaves a lot more openness in the writing. “
The characters in Winter & I exist in the mind of Elinor. The young actors were 13 and 14 when they were cast, turning 14 and 15 on the same day during production.
“We found that to be an interesting coincidence since their characters are intrinsically linked in the show. They have done such a great job handling what is complicated and personal and deep material as Lauren, the author, really speaks from some of her own experiences. It’s a very personal piece for her and they are treating it with a ton of respect,” she says.
“The actresses are really excellent. They are putting a lot of homework into the piece. Lauren uses very sophisticated language. It’s a very mature piece. I had to look up some of the literary words that she chose. I love a piece that challenges me like that. In that way, I feel that it is a very successful one-act play. It challenges the audience, or the reader depending on how you are consuming the material to really keep up with her. It has a poetic component to it. You have to pay attention.”
Both girls have invested a lot of personal time navigating the mature subject matter which deals with mental health. “It’s a beautiful process. We are creating a world that is not based in reality. Lauren’s piece I would put into almost the theatre of the absurd style since her writing is very much just the thoughts of the character. There’s only really one moment in the whole play where we are in what I consider to be the “real world” and not the world of Elinor’s head. They have, with me, created this alternate reality, where we are basing all of the actions on the playfulness of children.”
Frus says Culver’s script Barry Bianchi stands on its own merits. The comedy reads like a film script with the dialogue in place to help move the action on stage, the entirety of which takes place in the office of the title character. Bianchi addresses a variety of characters in a rapid-dialogue style that largely takes place in a narrative of one-sided phone conversations.
The audience is introduced to Bianchi as he exists as the beginning of the play; a stereotype of a man who knows who is and is proud of his ability to care for his mother and his family. Throughout the single-act play, his resolve is tested and his demeanor shifts to reveal a broken man. Culver creates a dynamic social commentary on the decline of everyman set in a decade he has no tangible experience.
“Worth’s piece has been a lot of fun for me and a lot of fun for the actors as well. I’ve put in some theatrical elements with his blessing with some of the actions that we’re choosing on stage. We are really pushing the comedic timing, dialogue and presentation.”
“The character Barry I think is someone who is very relatable. He believes in the American dream still. The time period doesn’t replace. You have this guy who is working for himself and he is heroic in his own eyes. He comes form an immigrant background and built a life for himself. It’s a twist ending so it’s not something we want to reveal. The comedy that makes it so brilliant [is] a stereotype comes out of truth. It’s got this dichotomy that becomes very evident and you see all the things that pummel into Barry and break him down. That’s his plight in life and the plight of so many blue-collar Americans who were at the height of industry [until] everybody started to realize what is going on under the table.”
Throughout the process, Frus says the New Voices program not only created a platform for young playwrights to find their voices, it also provides a valuable opportunity as a director to bring new material to life. “It’s definitely been a joy for me because I love experimenting and new work is a great format for that.”