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FIVE MINUTES WITH... Next Up director Brad Akin

by Anna D. Shapiro

Anna D. Shapiro: why is this an important story to tell? Brad Akin: The divide between rural and urban America—as well as between working class and middle class America—is especially sharp right now. I don't see many plays set in small towns; even the ones that are, treat the community with a degree of condescension. We're a theatre community with an urban audience, so making room for voices like Thurber's helps us to bridge that divide. as: what themes are you exploring in this production? ba: Home, family and community. These words carry a lot of political weight these days, but they're even more complicated than we acknowledge. Thurber's protagonist, Lilly, has found herself in a situation where neither home, family nor community give her the things she needs to live a happy, healthy life. All the characters in this play struggle with the question: what am I willing to sacrifice to make a place for myself? as: what do you hope people will take away from your show? ba: When people with privilege look at others who are stuck in horrible circumstances, there's often a little voice asking, "why don't they just leave?" This play takes a hard look at what it means to leave and why it's so much more complicated than walking out the door. For someone who might be in a situation that they need to leave, I hope the way that struggle is treated in this play is ultimately encouraging. as: what do you think is your greatest challenge in approaching this piece? ba: I think the greatest challenge is putting the full dynamics of the life of these people on stage. As a director, I tend to get jazzed about small, intimate scenes. But offstage, the rest of the world doesn't go away when those intimate moments happen. This play is propelled forward by multiple stories happening at the same time. Their intersections cause explosions. So my challenge becomes: how do I let the small and big moments live together on stage to make all of those stories clear? as: how is this production connected to your work over the last three years? ba: Every play I've worked on has dealt with how community is made and broken; how we define things like "home" and "family" for ourselves; what happens when those definitions break down. Theatre has the power to expand our definition of ‘we': to remind us how interconnected all of our lives are. It's often the people living just outside our circle of concern who are most affected by our actions.