As Pit & Balcony Community Theatre continues to bring both the magic and intimacy of live performance back to the creative canvas of the stage where it rightfully belongs, audiences will be presented the opportunity to witness a truly unique theatrical experience in a series of performances of playwright Annie Baker’s award winning contemporary masterpiece The Flick, which will run from May 14-16 & 21-23.
After it debuted Off-Broadway in March, 2013, The Flick received the 2013 Obie Award for playwriting and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, largely because of a script that renders the depth and richness of its characters with dialogue that is as equally nuanced as it is entertaining.
Set in a run-down movie palace in Worcester, Massachusetts, The Flick follows three underpaid movie ushers - Avery, Sam & Rose (who also runs the film projector) who ceaselessly tend to the humdrum and tedious labor necessary for keeping the theatre running, including toiling to clean spilled soda from the floors. Within this context, the show deftly evolves as a comedy of the mundane delivered in bits of conversation that might be considered insignificant because it is so cleverly understated.
Moreover, by using the actual physical space of Pit & Balcony theatre itself to stage this production while using the stage for seating audiences, this lack of traditional theatricality serves as one of the many strengths of The Flick, as each of the characters blunder in and out of each other’s isolated bubbles, making contact in any way they can to alleviate the oppressive drudgery of their tasks.
With a cast that consists of Chris Krause in the role of Sam, Joshua Abram as Avery, Erica Close performing the role of Rose, and Brian Bateson as Skylar & the Dreaming Man, for Director Chad William Baker there are numerous distinguishing qualities to this Pulitzer prize-winning script that distinguish The Flick from other contemporary theatrical ventures.
“What I think distinguishes it most from other contemporary theatre is that it doesn’t concern itself with finding “action” for all of its scenes,” states Baker. “In a way, it is a character study, but you learn about each character in very realistic ways: the conversations between new coworkers who slowly reveal things about themselves as they get more comfortable, gossip between coworkers about someone else who isn’t in the room. We get imperfect views of all of the characters the same way we do in real life. You create your perception about them based on what you know, with the knowledge that there is probably a lot more you don’t know. It’s a very unique approach to playwriting, which I think Annie Baker has pioneered in a lot of ways.”
The Flick also breaks a lot of traditional theatrical norms regarding length, setting & staging, and also an apparent lack of action and content pertaining to its narrative. Given these factors, what does Chad feel are the qualities it possesses that make it deserving of such high critical accolades?
“The play takes place in 2012, which might seem dated nine years later, but it specifically talks about the movie theatre industry’s movement from film projectors to digital projectors,” notes Chad. “One of the characters believes that projecting film is maintaining the authenticity of how the movie was meant to be seen. This is used as a metaphor for the characters’ struggles to remain their authentic selves, while also trying to figure out what those authentic selves actually are. I think that metaphor, and the unique way that Annie Baker chose to present it, is where the accolades come from.”
Because The Flick offers an intricate character study based upon the conversations between Sam, Avery, and Rose that collectively weaves a unique mosaic between the threads of each character, Baker establishes the context that colors each of their roles.
“Sam is 35 years old and still lives with his parents,” explains Chad. “He is fully aware that he is in a dead end job but struggles with what to do with his life. He has some kind of history with Rose, the other employee we meet, which we see hints of throughout the play. He also finds himself opening up to Avery, the new employee he trains. Chris Krause, who plays Sam, just recently moved back to Sanford and spent the past few years in New York City. He brings a lot of interesting emotional intricacies to the role that I didn’t initially realize when I first read the script.”
When asked why he was drawn to the role of Sam, Krause says a lager reason was because it’s been almost two years since he’s been able to be on stage. “I was chomping at the proverbial bit to act again. On top of it, this is a very layered script with a lot of meat for an actor to really chew on. It's one of those plays where a lot of the subtext is left for the actors and director to decide, and that is always exciting.”
As for his character’s defining qualities, Krause says “Fear is honestly the first thing that comes to mind. He's a person who feels stuck. He's in his mid 30s, working at a dead end job, but deep down he's terrified to try anything else. He's terrified to open up to another person, I think he's even scared of being honest with himself and how unhappy he is. He's a character defined by his fear to try and move forward.”
Regarding his biggest challenge with the role, Krause says part of it was just getting into the process of muscle memory so he could memorize scripts again. “It’s been a minute,” he laughs. “But outside of that there are definitely parts of Sam that hit home to me. Like any character, you look for the parts of them that you can bring yourself to, and it's always uncomfortable when we look at a character and deem them to be defined by "negative" traits and realize maybe we have more in common with them than we would like to admit.”
“So in that sense, part of the struggle is not judging Sam too much, because you can't act a role you're being judgmental of. A great bit of acting advice I got from a coach years back was that ‘if you find yourself judging a character, it's usually because that character is doing something you do yourself, and you don't like that you do it.’ Reminding myself of that helps me not be as hard on Sam, and try to get into his headspace.”
“The character of Avery is 20-years old and the newest employee at The Flick,” continues Chad. “He inadvertently causes a bit of a rift between Sam and Rose in his struggles to connect to people. We get a bit of a hint into his struggles with mental health and family troubles. Joshua Abram, who is a recent SVSU graduate, plays Avery. I have always wanted to work with Josh because he brings a lot of heart to every character he plays. I think Avery could easily be played as a bit of a downer, but Josh brings a quirkiness to the role that makes Avery very endearing and someone you want to root for.”
“I'd first heard of this production through another friend who’s done theatre in the area, and he explained how this show allows you to be a fly on the wall to witness what would seem to be three nobodies sweeping up a movie theater, but underneath the surface have much more in common with one another than they'd all like to admit,” reflects Joshua when asked about what piqued his interest in the role.
“If I had to choose some of the defining qualities of Avery I'd use the words "Anxious, meek, and analytical". Avery has a lot of love and quirky personality to share, but often finds himself struggling to connect with others around him. If he had it his way the everyday would be a perfect Hollywood movie ending.”
Joshua says his biggest challenge as an actor is bring authenticity to his role. “Avery is a character who deals with mental illness, and it can be tough sometimes trying to find the right balance between authenticity and overall performance choices. It would be very easy to pick a stereotype and run with it, but in the end it wouldn't be an accurate representation. Avery is much more than his nerves, and I hope that future audiences are able to see that as well.”
As for the character of Rose, she is 25-years old and the projectionist at The Flick. She is also someone that men have a tendency to see as the “manic pixie dream-girl” type and she struggles to come to terms with that in a lot of her relationships.
“Erica Close plays Rose and she is an SVSU theatre student,” explains Chad. “I love the humor that Erica brings to the role while still maintaining the rough exterior that Rose protects herself with.”
“Brian Bateson is our final actor in this production and he plays two roles, Skylar and The Dreaming Man,” concludes Chad. “Skylar is a new employee that Sam trains toward the end of the show - another person who is more into the job than Sam will ever be. The Dreaming Man is a patron who Avery and Sam catch asleep after the movie is over. The roles are two separate characters but seem to be Annie Baker’s reference to an old Buster Keaton movie called Sherlock Jr, where a film projectionist falls asleep in the theatre and dreams about touching the screen and being sucked into the movie. Brian hasn’t been onstage at Pit and Balcony since 2014 and we are so excited to have him back.”
“This role offered me sort of a perfect opportunity, explains Bateson. “I was a fan of the script. The dialogue is very smartly written. A lot of it is subtext and is written in a way that is really fun for actors to explore. And I felt confident that the creative team at Pit & Balcony would be able to produce a really impressive finished product.”
“My characters both really represent the world outside of The Flick,” adds Bateson. “They show up to ready show contrast to the mail characters; so for me the biggest challenge with these two roles is in creating fully rounded characters with a small amount of dialogue to inform me of who they are.”
When asked what the biggest challenge is involved with shaping such a unique production and what key themes he is trying to emphasize as a director, Baker points to many elements. “The interesting thing about the script is that Annie Baker LOVES pauses,” notes Chad. “The key thing, and what has been the biggest challenge, is discovering what is happening in the pauses. Is the character uncomfortable with what is being discussed? Are they not sure what to say next? Are they angry? There are so many options and discussing with the cast what their characters are doing and feeling during each pause has opened up a lot about what this show is about.
In terms of what he hopes audiences will take away from this production, Chad points to the fact of how everyone at every age struggles with who they are and what their place is within the world they occupy.
“I think this play is a peek into the lives of three people who try their hardest to make their lives the best they can be, but just aren’t successful. That kind of struggle, and the ability to see yourself in one or more of the characters, always makes for good theatre!”
The Flick is a deeply moving and ground-breaking piece of theatre about transition, loss, and how the tiny battles of these three characters, along with their not-so-tiny heartbreaks, play out in the empty aisles of a rundown cinema with one of the last 35mm projectors in the state, and how their very real and interpersonal dramas and tragedies become more gripping than the lackluster, second-run movies that appear on the screen.
With keen insight and a finely-tuned comic eye, The Flick is a hilarious and heart-rendering cry for authenticity in a fast-changing world, which is why you do not want to miss that regional premier running May 14-16 & 21-23rd.
Showtimes are at 7:30 PM except for Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $20 and available by phoning 989.754.6587 or visiting PitandBalconyTheatre.com