PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 18, Constellations

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Chris: Hello and welcome to episode 18 of the PMA podcast. Today we’re discussing Constellations, a play by Nick Payne. I’m your host Christopher Christensen.

Lindsey: And I’m Lindsey White.

Chris: And today we are joined once again by Julia Dunetz.

Julia: Hi everyone! Excited to be here.

Chris: How many times on the podcast now?

Julia: Uh, this is my third time.

Chris: Third time, and as you were saying earlier, possibly your last time.

Julia: Possibly, yes.

Chris: Because you are…

Julia: I am a senior and I’m graduating, so yeah.

Chris: Very good. Reed Rosenberg.

Reed: Hi.

Chris: Second time on the podcast?

Reed: Second time on the podcast.

Chris: Fantastic. What’s been happening since, uh, last we saw you?

Reed: Uh, no—no shows and no reason to come to the podcast—

Lindsey: [Laughs].

Chris: Okay, very good.

Reed: [continued] I’m afraid.

Lindsey: Welcome back.

Chris: And Nina Leeds.

Nina: Yes, first time on the podcast.

Chris: Very good, well, welcome to the podcast.

Nina: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Chris: Yeah. Uh, Lindsey.

Lindsey: [Clears throat]. So Julia is directing Constellations, which is November 1st through 3rd at the Black Box Theatre in the Schwartz Center. This is a cast of two, so this is different. This is unique. Very small cast. [Laughs]. Almost as small as you can get, uh.

Julia: Basically.

Lindsey: [Laughs]. So, uh, Reed, you play Roland.

Reed: Yes I do.

Lindsey: Okay.

Reed: I do.

Lindsey: And Nina plays Marianne, right?

Nina: Yeah.

Lindsey: Okay. Um, so let’s just jump into it. Can you—any one of you that wants to jump on the mic there—just tell us a little bit about the play? I know it’s very complex—

Julia: It is.

Lindsey: [continued] but maybe as best as you can summarize it.

Julia: Yes, so basically Constellations is formed around this theory called the Multiuniverse String Theory, which basically suggests that there are an infinite amount of universes that exist, um, and every choice you’ve ever made exists in all of them. So basically throughout this play, we see the lives of Marianne and Roland unfold together throughout these different universes. So we see these different parts of their lives, and we watch them happen in different universes. So as they make different choices, different things happen, and their lives can go in totally different directions. So it’s a really awesome play with lots of cool and different moments and unique aspects to it, and I think it’s really fun.

Reed: I would—I would second that it is fun. I’m enjoying it.

Nina: Definitely agree. Definitely makes it exciting to be an actor, uh, in a play like this. Not only just that you’re following kind of one relationship, uh, with two people, but also that you’re following just how it can unfold in so many different ways. It makes it really exciting to be able to make different choices in different universes and just, it’s really challenging and exciting as an actor.   

Chris: What are some of those challenges?

Reed: I think, um, the idea just that—the idea that you’re playing the same character, but also not the same character, playing like, you know, ten or so versions of the same character, which is weird.

Chris: Mhm.

Reed: You know, I’ve been in plays before where I’ve played multiple characters, and that’s more, I’d say that’s simpler than this is, you know? Um, at the same time I do think it’s more realistic in a way, like I think that there are, you know, different versions of everyone’s self, like just in real life, regardless of multiple universes. Um, but I think—I think it’s been very cool in this play seeing, um, how all those versions can come to life except in this different multi-universe setting.

Nina: Yeah, I definitely agree with that, and kind of going off that, um, you really have to have a really strong sense of self in the character. Uh, so you have to really know the character extremely well to know how they’d react in these different situations. It’s very easy to kind of go, like a different way and just like, be doing a semi-different character in like a different universe, but you have to know, like no, this is the same character, she’s just made a different choice now. So how do you react in that situation but still knowing the deepest desires of your characters, and the deepest like, the root of your character and their base personality, really?

Chris: Okay.

Lindsey: So Julia, this is a really fascinating play. I’m curious, how did you first encounter Constellations and what made you choose this play to direct?

Julia: Yeah, so I saw the play first on Broadway in, I think it was 2015, and I loved it. I thought it was super cool and different, and the actors were fantastic, and it’s just a play that’s always stuck with me because of its, you know, abnormal format. Um, so when I was deciding which play I wanted to direct for my final full-length play at the Schwartz as a senior, I knew I wanted to do something that would be a challenge and something that a lot of different people could challenge themselves with. So that’s basically why I chose it. Um, because it is this crazy play that goes through all these different universes, uh, it allows, you know, not only me but also the set designer, the actors, the lighting designer, the sound designer to create these different universes through their own medium, which is really amazing and allows for each of us to explore and do things that we probably wouldn’t do in a linear play. Um, so that’s really why I chose it.

Lindsey: Great. Um, so you started to touch on this, but what is it like trying to stage this play? How do you even begin to approach it? It just seems like such a gargantuan task?

Julia: Yeah, it was definitely a challenge [laughs]—

Lindsey: [Laughs].

Julia: [continued] but I think it all started with deciding on the set with our set designer Mabel Lawrence. Um, so basically we came up with this concept, I don’t want to spoil anything, but basically we have these five platforms on the stage. Um, they move around a little bit, which you’ll have to come see the show to see what happens with them, but basically we decided to stage the play around these platforms, and so each scene takes place in a platform, so you see all of the universes within that scene on one platform and because it is a thrust space, it’s the Black Box, we definitely use a lot of diagonals and different angles, and it was definitely a challenge, but I think we’re all really happy with how it turned out and the way we used the space to tell the story in a clear but also exciting way.

Chris: So what have you learned from this play? Or in other words, how has it affected your outlook on life, or has it in any way, shape, or form?

Reed: This play has—being in this play has led me to like, give less of a damn if that makes sense. [Everyone laughs]. Um, you know, personally, and I think I speak for most people, um, I, you know, spent a lot of time like, worrying about my interactions with people and, you know, how things could’ve gone different if I said something else or did something else. Um, and I think a lot of people worry about that type of thing, especially in like, romantic relationships. This play, by the time this play is over, you’re kind of just like, “who cares?” There’s another universe where this did work out, or even if there isn’t, whatever happened before is what was going to happen. Whatever happens now is what’s going to happen. That’s just the way it is and there’s not much you can do about it—

Chris: Mhm.

Reed: [continued] so don’t worry about it. So I’m worrying less. Thank you, Constellations. [Everyone laughs].

Chris: How about you, Julia?

Julia: Um, I totally agree with Reed. I think, beyond that, it’s also taught me to kind of live life to the greatest extent possible because life is so short, and we see how these characters’ lives can go very different ways, and you don’t really have much control which is also part of the play I think. Um, so it’s just a reminder to just keep living and loving, and I think that’s a really big takeaway from the play.

Chris: Okay. Nina?

Nina: Yeah, similar—similar to both Julia and Reed, I guess it has made me, I think, a little more optimistic, which I like to believe, at least I’m hoping that I believe that that’s—sorry—hope I believe that I become more optimistic from it because, um, the play really just proves that no matter how many different ways different things can go and little choices, how they can change different things, uh, the big things that are meant to happen will still happen—

Chris: Mhm.

Nina: [continued] and, um, so a small choice that you make, while it can affect many different things, uh, you’ll still be on the right path, and the things that are supposed to happen will happen. You’ll take away what you need to take away from them, and there’s some beauty in that, I think.

Chris: Okay. Any of you have to take a Philosophy 101 course while you were here? No, don’t have to? Oh, grimaces all the way across...mmm, no [ Everyone laughs].

Julia: Yeah, I think that definitely would’ve added some color to the production—

Lindsey: [Laughs].

Chris: Yeah.

Julia: [continued] but we came with our own, you know, choices and pasts, and I think each of our experiences has led to a production that’s sculpted by each of us, and I think that’s kind of the beauty of it. It’s highly personal.

Chris: Mhm. Oh, fantastic. Well, I’m just gonna keep rolling with that one then.

Lindsey: Yeah.

Chris: So when I took my first philosophy course at college, the thing that really rattled everything about what I had sort of built up my whole worldview on was the idea of determinism. Right? You’re talking about the multiverse, the idea that all these potential, uh, outcomes could’ve occurred, but in determinism, it’s that what is occurring is occurring and nothing but that could’ve occurred. So in any given multiverse, that’s exactly how it would’ve occurred, and I know that that made me feel really unsettled. I remember hearing—the first time, I thought “No, no, no, no, that can’t be. That can’t be.” Um, and it really kind of rattled my foundations a little bit. So I’m guessing that that’s sort of a feeling that you’re having with this play in a way, yeah?

Reed: I think, on the contrary, I’ve—it settles me. I feel settled.

Nina: [Laughs].

Reed: I don’t know. The idea—I would compare it to the way it makes me feel like, the most to like Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot.”

Chris: Mhm. Yeah, it’s wonderful.

Reed: Yeah, yeah. Just like, I—[laughs]. This version of me, if there are, you know, infinite other versions of me, and Nina, and Julia, and whoever else, um, you know, who cares what like I do here in this version of me, you know?

Chris: Mhm.

Reed: I’m not important and like, I feel comfortable in that, you know? The stakes are lower, I think. Um, not in the play, but uh—[everyone laughs]—in my life the stakes are lower. Um, so I do find comfort in that, on the contrary.

Chris: Okay, very good. I should say for the record that I actually came to peace with that and I’m fine now, but boy, when I first heard it...very unsettling.

Julia: Yeah, I actually agree with Reed but for a different reason. Um, I think what the play has taught me is that things have a way of working out—

Chris: Hmm.

Julia: [continued] and whether in this universe or a different one, something else is happening. It’s just gonna work out, and something’s gonna happen the way it’s supposed to happen, and I think that’s pretty settling in its own way.

Chris: Okay.

Nina: Yeah, I also agree. I think it has made me feel a little more—feel a little settled, um, in that sense. There’s a line, uh, in the play not to—not to give anything away—

Chris: Mhm.

Nina: [continued] but loosely, it basically has to do with, um, the choices we do and don’t make determine which of these universes we actually end up experiencing, and I think there’s something very exciting in that—that we have the power to like, 'cause it’s already—what happens is only happening to us right now based on the choices that we make, so I think it’s really exciting to know like, we can experience all these different things, but we decide what we experience based on what we choose.

Chris: Okay.

Lindsey: So Reed, your character in the play, Roland, is a beekeeper, and he mentions that he is envious of bees’ relationships and their very simple lives, and they each have a determined role, and they do that role, and they have a short life, and they die. Um, so can you tell us a little bit more about that, and why do you think that’s significant in this play?

Reed: Yeah, I mean, I think it goes right along with like, this multi, um, universe theory, right? And what, um, what Nina’s character Marianne talks about in her various monologues about predeterminism. It’s a simplified version of this very complex idea that Marianne introduces. Um, and I also think, you know, it’s humbling in the same way that the idea that there are an infinite number of versions of you out there is humbling as well. Um, I think Roland as a character, you know, is—feels that he is without purpose in his life. Um, I think that’s a relatable thing for many people, many college students. I don’t know, you’re just like “what am I doing?” You know? “Where is my life going?” Um, so I think that’s a pretty commonplace, um, I think most people would be envious of that, just like, having a very simple—”here’s what you’re supposed to do”—you know, just do it. You know? Um, yeah. Like I spent so much time just worrying about, I don’t know, what do I want to be? What am I gonna do? And like, I absolutely get like, I am envious of that too, like Reed is, not just Roland, I would say, yeah.

Lindsey: [Laughs].

Reed: These are great.

Chris: One of my favorite questions is what do you hope that the audience will walk away with? What do you hope that the experience will be for them?

Julia: I hope that the audience will leave thinking and talking. I want it to be provocative and give them something to think about afterwards, and I hope it also inspires them to live fully because that’s what the play has done for me, and I hope it makes them want to open their heart and to do those things that they have been waiting to do or haven’t been sure of because life is short, and we have the power. We have the choice. You can do what you want and make that choice. Be brave, and I think that’s what I would love them to walk away thinking.

Chris: Okay. Nina?

Nina: Yeah, definitely agree. Um, I think the hope is to leave them talking and questioning. There are definitely still moments in the play that the three of us still talk about often that we—some of us think some way, some of us think something else about it. Um, so it’s an extremely insightful play in that sense, and I really think it could—I think people could leave really talking about it, really debating what they think happened, and I hope it, again, I hope they’ll kind of take away that optimism that it seems the three of us have taken away from it, even though there are obviously very dark moments in this play and also some light moments. Um, all in all, I think we have left with a little bit of a more optimistic view with it, uh, and I hope the audience gets that as well.

Chris: Okay.

Reed: I mean, I—yeah, I completely agree. That is definitely what I hope, and I’m very curious to see, to ask people what they do take away, you know? I feel like most love stories, personally, when I see like, you know, a cute love story film or television show, I’m just like “I want to go on a frickin' date right now”—[everyone laughs]—”like someone marry me.” You know? I’m just like, that’s my takeaway. But for this play, I don’t know if it’ll be the same thing, you know?

Chris: Mhm.

Lindsey: [Laughs].

Reed: So I am curious, um, to hear what generally is the reaction, and I do hope that it is what Julia and Nina said. Um, I think it will be, yeah.

Chris: Okay. I don’t know if you mentioned this, Lindsey, or not, but is there a talkback after any of these performances or?

Julia: We don’t have that planned right now, but we’d love for people to come talk to us and—

Chris: Yeah.

Julia: [continued] I would love to hear their thoughts.

Chris: Just hearing you all talk about it, it seems like the kind of thing that might stir up something in the audience, and they may want to chat afterwards, eh?

Julia: Maybe, yeah.

Lindsey: So there’s this section of the play that is done in sign language, right? Can you talk about that?

Julia: Yeah, so we talk about that a lot in rehearsal. Um, it’s in the script, so it’s not a directorial choice—

Lindsey: Mhm.

Julia: [continued] it’s something that Nick Payne wrote in. Um, and we think that—I mean, what we’ve discussed is that it’s like this alternate universe where both Marianne and Roland are deaf because all these things can happen, these different choices can be made, and things can lead them down different paths. And it’s really awesome. It’s actually in British Sign Language, so we had to learn British Sign Language for this little universe—

Chris: Hmm.

Julia: [continued] which has been really cool. Um, and it’s been a fun way to tell this story and show these moments through a totally different way, and I think it’s been an acting challenge for both Nina and Reed. You guys can elaborate on that a little bit.

Nina: Yeah, I can talk about it a little. It’s definitely been a challenge, uh, not just to learn the actual movements, but also, um, I feel like when you’re doing British Sign Language your facial expressions change as well ‘cause you're not just—you have to communicate in a way like, you can’t use your words, so you have to be really expressing everything with your actions and your face, um, which is extremely challenging for an actor. A lot of the times, actors depend on not just the words but also the movements, but a big part of it is the words, so not being able to have that—not exactly as a crutch—but kind of as a crutch is extremely challenging, but it also makes it really exciting because the point in the play where it happens—I won’t give away details—it’s a very, um, meaningful part of the play. Uh, so to be able to express it through these movements and just using all—every part of your body to express it makes it, I think, even more powerful than if it had just been said through words because you see it said through words in one universe and then without it in the other, and it just makes it have even more of an impact, I think.

Reed: Yeah, Nina and I are fluent, which is pretty cool, so [everyone laughs].

Chris: I was gonna ask how fluent are you?

Reed: Yeah, if you have—just come up and ask us questions. Yeah, I can say “okay” and “right.” That’s pretty, that’s pretty cool. Um, yeah it’s honestly—I think it might be one of my favorite parts of the play. Um, and when I—there are other scenes when I’m like, saying similar things and I want to be doing the sign language. Um, it was interesting. I found myself watching Nina’s face when we were running the scene, and I was like, wait like, that’s not where the language is happening. I had to like, watch her hands which was like, obviously, of course I should be doing that, but that was not, you know, my instinct. Um, so that was pretty fun, um, to figure out. Um, it had me thinking about, um, the movie “The Artist,” which, it was a silent film that won Best Picture in like 2012. Um, and like a modern silent film. It had John Goodman in it. And they would—I remember like, they told the actors like, to like, be ridiculously expressive because it’s a little different obviously, right? Like, there’s no—you can’t hear the language, but they are still just speaking. Um, yeah, they told the actors to like over-overact. They told the actors to completely overact, um, to get that across. Um, and I feel like that’s kind of what we had to do, at least facially, what we had to do for this scene. Um, but definitely had me sort of thinking about that, yeah.

Chris: I get the sense—let’s see—the play opens next week? Yes.

Lindsey: Yes.

Chris: I have this sense. Usually there’s this feeling that maybe things are ready to go, maybe things are still sort of in the works, but it feels like everything is really kind of locked in at this point. I get this feeling of confidence across all three of you. Is that true? Am I reading that wrong? [Everyone laughs].

Lindsey: Now they’re smiling and laughing. [Everyone laughs].

Julia: I think for where we are, I think we’re in a very, very good place.

Chris: Uh huh.

Julia: Given that this play is a two-hander and that the universes happen multiple times and there are only slight changes, it has been very, very challenging line-wise for the actors, obviously, but they are doing a miraculous job. Like, for where we are right now they’re doing incredible, and the tech for this show is also really, really intense because of the changes in universe, the light, the sound. It’s really insane, but we’re—we just finished our second day of tech yesterday, and I mean, things are in a really good place. I think now, seeing it all come together—we just got our platforms in yesterday—um, we’re starting to see a glimpse of that final picture, and I think we’re all really excited about it. So I think that’s that confidence that we feel right now.

Chris: Okay.

Julia: I don’t know if you guys feel differently, but…

Reed: I feel the same way. Um, yeah, I just really hope Nina learns her lines. [Everyone laughs] It’s been—it’s been a real burden on the production, as has she entirely.

Lindsey: Aw.

Nina: Oh my God.

Reed: So let’s hope for the best. Say your prayers. [Lindsey and Nina laugh].

Chris: Wow.

Nina: Watch it.

Chris: Scratch everything I said a while ago.

Nina: [Laughs]. No, I definitely agree with Julia [Lindsey and Julia laugh]. We’re in a good place. It’s definitely, um, I’ve been fortunate to partake in many different plays, and luckily line learning had never been like, the biggest issue. It’s been something I’ve found to be fun, but in this play it’s definitely been one of the biggest challenges of the play just because, as Julia said, there are such subtle differences in different universes and certain scenes will have up to eight or nine different universes in them, and they change so fast, and you just have to know exactly what your intentions are going into it. You can’t figure out where you are in the middle of it. You have to know exactly at the start. You have to know what you’re doing, know what you’re gonna say, now what you’re gonna say differently and how you’re gonna say it. Um, but I hope—I think we’re feeling good if Reed would just get his stuff together and learn his lines, I think we’ll be good, but [Everyone laughs].

Chris: I keep thinking about—now in the multiverse like, the podcast is happening in a different universe—[Lindsey laughs]—how that’s all going and how that question was completely answered differently and uh, anything else? Great wisdom and interest to ask?

Lindsey: No, nothing.

Chris: Really? That’s it? We’re done?

Lindsey: [Laughs]. Shut it down.

Chris: Boy, that’s a lackluster ending.

Lindsey: [Laughs]. Well, what’s—what Reed was saying earlier, right? Like, what’s the point? Why are we even here?

Chris: That’s true.

Lindsey: [Laughs].

Chris: Boy, we could just sit here and just ponder that one for a while. I mean, as far as we know, there are no windows in this room. I mean, everything else outside of that door may have just completely—

Lindsey: Oh my gosh.

Chris: [continued] completely disappeared in the time in which we were…

Julia: Alright, this is…[everyone laughs]. I really hope not. [Laughs].

Chris: Open the door to sheer blackness and void.

Nina: Yeah, it’s definitely a play that’s left us leaving rehearsal sometimes in minor existential crisis.

Lindsey: Right.

Nina: Who knows? What even is this? [Laughs].

Chris: Well that’s a really interesting point in all of this, right? When you engage in something like this, you do have those—those little mini or large existential crises. Anything affecting your dreams at all?

Lindsey: Hmm, that’s interesting.

Chris: Or are you finding that you’re having interesting, uh, dreams?

Reed: I haven’t slept since October, so [everyone laughs]—

Chris: Oh, good!

Reed: [continued] I can’t help you with that.

Lindsey: Sleep deprivation, that’s good.

Chris: Mhm.

Julia: I haven’t been remembering my dreams often, but maybe that’s a product of this play. Who knows? [Laughs].

Nina: No, nothing exciting to report there, sorry [everyone laughs].

Chris: Oh, you’re lucky.

Nina: No.

Chris: My dream state is so bizarre ever since I was a kid. I should’ve written many a novel since childhood.

Lindsey: [Laughs].

Nina: I’ve definitely been having some stressful dreams, so maybe that’s related to this [laughs].

Chris: Okay.

Lindsey: Hmm.

Nina: Who knows?

Chris: Okay, well thank you very much for being on the podcast today. It was a bit of a shorter one than usual, but uh, Julia, thanks for joining us once again. Maybe the final time, maybe not.

Lindsey: We should bring you back. We’ll come up with something.

Julia: Well, it’s been a blast. Thank you so much for having me back here.

Chris: Absolutely.

Lindsey: Of course.

Chris: And Nina and Reed, thank you so much for joining us.

Nina: Thank you so much for having us.

Chris: Yeah.

Reed: Thank you very much. It’s been fun.

Chris: Absolutely.

Lindsey: Alright.