Jumping Out Of Airplanes: Trey Lyford on theater, life, and upcoming Doll’s House
“The movement was precise and beautiful,” Trey Lyford says as he recalls the first time he saw Jo Strømgren’s choreography. Lyford is an actor based in Brooklyn, New York. He is the co-artistic director of rainpan 43 performance group and has performed throughout Philadelphia and New York. This fall, Lyford takes a break from his typical role as a contemporary clown and returns to Fringe Festival in Jo Strømgren’s recreation of Henrik Ibsen’s famous play, A Doll’s House. I recently gave Lyford a ring and we talked about everything from Philadelphia’s theater scene to jumping out of airplanes.
Lyford’s history with Strømgren stretches back to 2005. It all began when Lyford saw Strømgren’s The Department and The Hospital in Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. Struck by the playfulness and precision of the choreography, Lyford returned to the US with Strømgren’s ideas still in his head. After keeping in touch with the choreographer, Lyford and Strømgren formed a creative partnership. “We got stuck in a four hour traffic jam,” Lyford shares. Those four hours spent trapped in the car marked the beginning of their collaboration. Later on, Lyford was asked to be a part of Strømgren’s production of A Doll’s House.
“It’s been a while since I’ve done something this classic,” Lyford says about his part in A Doll’s House. Lyford plays Krogstad, a worker at Torvald Helmer’s bank and the tortured villain of the play. While Strømgren preserves and respects the original play, he also hacks away at the script, eliminating pages of archaic language to reveal a show that is less about a windy narrative and more about a few prominent emotional threads. Beyond the script, Strømgren also tells the story of Krogstad from a different angle. Lyford shares his initial reaction to playing the role and says, “It’s fun to play a villain.” As rehearsals began, however, Lyford gained Stromgren’s more complex view of the villain. “He is the noble heart of the play,” Lyford explains. “Everyone keeps knocking him down.”
When I observed a rehearsal a few weeks ago at Asian Arts Initiative, I watched Strømgren and Lyford tweak Krogstad’s character to expose undertones of desperation, goofiness, and humility. In addition to the changes in script and character, the set for A Doll’s House is physically constricting—a miniature house that flips and converts into a multitude of spaces. As the actors inhabit the different rooms, they struggle to stand up. “It’ll look different on me than it will on Pearce or Leonard,” Lyford says as he thinks about how the actors will work within the petite house differently.
While Lyford lives in Brooklyn, Philadelphia is his artistic home. He has performed in many shows throughout Philadelphia, such as original works with Pig Iron Theatre Company. During our conversation, Lyford talks about his ties to the Philadelphia theater scene and Nick Stuccio, the artistic director at FringeArts. Lyford discusses the experimental nature of FringeArts and the importance of a community that supports works-in-progress. “It was a city that could sustain that process” Lyford says. The Philadelphia community and Fringearts has enabled him to create unique work and share that work nationally and internationally. “Through the support of Nick and the FringeArts my company rainpan 43 has developed all of our shows there to date. He’s willing to take a risk on new work and that’s not easy to find in the U.S.” Lyford is constantly returning to the city and housing his close artistic friends from Philadelphia when they make trips to New York. “Philly never let’s you go.”
Lyford is also a parent and a teacher. Outside of performing, Lyford is a guest teacher at Pig Iron Theatre Company and a professor of acting at SUNY Purchase. “Students there have become a part of my creative work,” Lyford states. His role at SUNY Purchase involves clowning and getting students to exchange their hyper-serious acting personas for laughter and play. Beyond theater, Lyford is also a father and husband. Lyford is married to Suli Holum, co-founder and former co-artistic director of Pig Iron Theatre Company. Suli in fact plays Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House. The two have a seven-year old daughter.
Since Lyford and Holum are both actors, it is challenging to balance family life and creative work. “Something has to be worth it to engage in,” Lyford says as he talks about only accepting specific theater opportunities, so he has time to spend with his daughter at home. Raising a child has in some ways slowed down his career, but his daughter has also influenced his creativity. “She’s like my mentor,” he says as he goes on about the way she uses her imagination.
Lyford is not a planner. He does not tend to structure his longer life trajectory, instead taking opportunities as they come. When asked about his desires for the future, he mentions possibly playing around with film. As he expands upon the logistics and the financial difficulties tied to film work, he has a new idea. “If I could, I would love to jump out of an airplane,” he says. Despite Lyford’s fear of heights, he continues to imagine himself skydiving as we reach the end of our conversation.
A Doll’s House
By Henrik Ibsen
Jo Strømgren Kompani
Directed by Jo Strømgren; performed by Suli Holum, Trey Lyford, Leonard C. Haas, Mary Lee Bednarek, Pearce Bunting
140 North Columbus Boulevard