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Chapel Hill, North Carolina actress/director Katja Hill fervently hopes that the Aug. 8-17 production of Ann Marie Healy's You're No One's Nothing Special, co-produced by her own Loveseat Theater and Chapel Hill-based Wordshed Productions, will start a whole new trend in Triangle theater: small shows performed in intimate settings. The venue for this intriguing joint production will be The Martha Nell Hardy Theater in Bingham Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Hill says, "Our production previewed [July 26 in a private home] to a select audience in the inaugural fete for Loveseat Theater, a small new company that aims to premiere small works in small spaces — literally living rooms — to foster an intimate, immediate exchange between actors and audiences before transposing the work into a more traditional theater setting.
"Our first little play 'in the loveseat' was a delight," Hill claims. "Facing the opening of 'the real show' this Friday [Aug. 8], I am curious to see how the new space informs the play, the cast, and the audience. We are lucky to have such an intimate and malleable space as Bingham Hall for the production's next step in the Loveseat process."
Hill says she discovered You're No One's Nothing Special in a most unusual way. "By day," she confesses, "I'm a secretary at a UNC research department. In March, one of my co-workers lent me his issue of The Kenyon Review, a literary journal that occasionally features dramatic selections, mentioning that there was a play in there that might interest me. It was a lucky find!"
Katja Hill adds, "As soon as I read the play, I wanted to see it come to life somehow; but I didn't have visions of directing anything at that point. I shared the text with a friend in my scene study class to prepare a bit of it for the studio.
"We didn't even realize how funny it was," she admits, "until we tested it on a real live audience. Our teacher's first question was, 'Who wrote that?' I thought, 'Well, if I like this play and the whole class likes this play, maybe more people in our theater community need to find out about this playwright's work.'
"I appreciate the play's honest take on the way people really talk," Hill explains. "The characters are scaled down to purely human size. There are no Electras here. These souls are almost lost, suffering somewhere between muteness and yearning. One feels that if they could only know what they really wanted in life, they might stand a chance at getting it."
Hill says, "This short comedy is a cautionary tale about what happens when you take a one night stand and try to force it into two. Two married people, Chet and Rhonda [J. Chachula and Candice Churilla], reconvene for a weekend rendezvous in a desert town after meeting each other a week ago at a seminar. Once the passion dries up, they discover they don't have much to talk about.
"At face value," Hill says, "such arid fare might not appear to be the stuff of comedy; but the play is in fact painfully funny because it's too, too true. We've all been stuck in conversations we didn't know how to retreat from, so we spin our wheels in constant agreement and chitchat until we can find an escape. Luckily for Chet and Rhonda, escape is available, but it doesn't present itself in the way they expected."
Loveseat Theater artistic director Katja Hill, who doubles as set and costume and sound designer for You're No One's Nothing Special, says Ann Marie Healy's offbeat short comedy presents considerable creative challenges to a production team that includes co-producers Matt Spangler for Wordshed Productions and Katja Hill for Loveseat Theater, technical directors Matt Spangler and Leslie Stewart, lighting designer Dan Wheeless, and photographer Erik Niemi.
Katja Hill claims, "For a short play, the shifts of setting are remarkably dynamic. The play moves from an airport to a hotel room to a canyon and back again to the airport. Fully honoring this path required a simple but flexible set and actors who can change their costumes quickly.
"We decided on a static set," says Hill, "with three distinct playing areas with very simple suggestions of each setting — steps into a canyon of muslin and rocks, an airport bench with a window and luggage, [and] a hotel bed made out of cubes and dressed with ugly, inscrutable upholstery.
"While the playing areas won't move," Hill explains, "the audience's imagination will be guided to explore various aspects of each setting with an intermittent slide show featuring the photography of Erik Niemi. He's taken shots of airports and hotel rooms from different angles to encourage the audience to look at a mundane thing in new ways, much the way Ann Marie Healy encourages us to look at seemingly mundane people with a little more curiosity."
Hill says, "Pictures of canyons will also be incorporated as a visual counterpoint to the action on stage in the canyon scene. Something about this play carries the doomed theme of 'vacation gone wrong,' and I wanted to reflect that in the staging and graphic design. Nothing in the play really suggested a slide show, but I thought it would amplify this theme as well as buy the cast some time to mask the costume changes. I like [Erik Niemi's] work very much and this production presented a great opportunity to collaborate with him."
She adds, "The lighting's main goal is to distinguish interior scenes from exterior scenes. The equipment in Bingham Hall is limited, so many instruments do double and triple duty from scene to scene. Careful use of gels culminate in what I call 'The Budget Sunset' for the play's climax....
"The costumes, all pulled from previous collections due to budget constraints, aim to feature the characters' awkwardness with themselves and with each other," declares Katja Hill. "The play is set in the present, but something about the cast's clothes indicates that they are behind the times, or somehow left behind."
Hill notes that playwright Ann Marie Healy, a member of the Ensemble Studio Theater, will travel from New York City to see the Friday, Aug. 8, and Saturday, Aug. 9, performances of You're No One's Nothing Special.
"I am so excited about this little project," says Katja Hill. "I'm taking it slow with a smallish production and focusing on enjoying the showbiz process, much of which is oddly new to me despite years in the theater. There are so many directing and producing duties I was blissfully unaware of as an actress. If this first show is a success, I'll do another. We'll see!"
Loveseat Theater and Wordshed Productions present You're No One's Nothing Special Friday-Saturday, Aug. 8-9 and 15-16, 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 10 and 17, 6 p.m. in The Martha Nell Hardy Theater (second floor), Bingham Hall, located between Cameron Ave. and South Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (NOTE: The theater is handicap accessible.) $10 ($8 UNC faculty/staff and seniors and $5 students). 919/969-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.unc.edu/wordshed/.