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All or Sans Everything?

Posted February 1st, 2017

Lightning Rod Special is no stranger to innovation—their most recent work Underground Railroad Game just wrapped a wildly successful stint in New York after two sold-out runs here in Philadelphia.  Founding company members Alice Yorke and Scott Sheppard were kind enough to sit down to chat about the genesis of their new world premiere,  Sans Everything – a collaboration with Strange Attractorrunning at FringeArts February 9-11.

FringeArts: What was the initial inspiration and where did that take place for Sans Everything? And what was the moment that you realized this could be made into a full-length show?

ALICE: A few years ago Aram Aghazarian (of Strange Attractor Theatre Co.) visited Pig Iron’s Dan Rothenberg while Dan was in New York City working on a production of As You Like It in New York. The studio was in a crazy high-rise building and the rehearsal room was tense–everyone was angry at each other but still working, still doing As You Like It. Aram talks about looking out the window at the vast sky and while listening to AYLI. The absurd thought struck him, “As You Like It in space.” Not setting AYLI in space, but doing it in space–more to the point, a big, outside force compelling a group of people to do it. That maybe there was some voice forcing you to do something frivolous as if it was serious. Though it would be easy to make this prompt a high-camp romp, the show has taken on real themes of life and death, due in no small part to the fact that we took a year-long hiatus from the piece when Rebecca Noon (of SATC) was diagnosed with cancer. When we returned to the piece last year, we wanted to make a show that didn’t acknowledge that directly but that explored questions Rebecca had been asking herself– why do we artists DO this? Why do we make new work and, even more so, why do we return to centuries old work when we have boundless creativity available to us? For us in Lightning Rod Special, those questions were just the kind of juicy, investigative line of thinking we love sinking our teeth into.

SCOTT: On a legendary day in Alaska, when Strange Attractor Theatre Co. was dreaming up ideas for future shows, Aram Aghazarian, resident provocateur, proffered a mystifying dare: “What about, As You Like It…in space?” As absurd as this idea sounded, over the past few years Strange Attractor Theatre Co. and Lightning Rod Special stirred this mad dramaturgical cocktail until an alluring logic began to form. As the groups obsessed over 1970’s sci-fi films, the singularity, and the themes of As You Like It, we began to dream up a world. As it does for so many readers, Shakespeare’s “All the World’s a Stage” soliloquy compelled us, and we began to imagine it as a sometimes brilliant, sometimes faulty guidebook for non-human life to understand humanity. This made us wonder, what if in the future, disembodied artificial intelligence decided to return to the relative simplicity of the human form. What would surprise “them” about experiencing life at such a slow place from a fixed and carnal point of view? What if they unabashedly fell in love with the nostalgia of humanity? What if they fell in love with theatre? With Shakespeare? When we peer into the future, we are always, inevitably, examining something from our past.

FringeArts: Tell us about the world of Sans Everything. What do you  find compelling about this world?

SCOTT: The world of Sans Everything is alien, stark, and working desperately to be human. The timbre is that of a thriller, but it wavers with tense fragility between the comedic and the uncanny. We witness all the things that make us human: rage, fear, passion, love, and art, but they are enacted by beings who do not fully understand human life. The characters’ struggle is both deeply empathic and terrifyingly unfamiliar.

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