Red Light Winter (2007)

by Adam Rapp

Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter was the first of many things in my life. It was the first time I ever directed a full-length play, the first piece I directed for Single Carrot Theatre, the first time Single Carrot staged a full-length play in Baltimore, the first time I ever directed my wife, Giti, and the first time Adam Rapp’s work was performed in Baltimore.

Founding Carrots: Brendan Ragan as Matt, Giti Jabaily as Christina, and Aldo Pantoja as Davis.

As I cast about for works to populate Single Carrot’s first complete season in Baltimore, Red Light Wintergrabbed me. Superficially, it met certain criteria for what we needed in our first production–we had seven people in the company, which meant enough people for three actors, one director, one technical director/designer, and two others to pick up the pieces. But when I attempt to go deeper four years later about why this play grabbed me, a few things pop out.

  • I was drawn to the epic two act structure. This piece clocked in at two hours and 40 minutes, which for a first time director is akin to a feral cat letting a stranger pet its stomach–you’re working on faith and leaving yourself open for a lot to go wrong. I love the way Rapp writes his characters into the room, and keeps them there until they really have to leave. He has the patience to allow the piece to unfold. It was wonderful for my first go as a director to embrace that rhythm and really sync with the motivations of the characters and draw the

    Christina and Matt at the end of Act 1.

    audience into the experience.

  • In college I wasn’t exposed to a lot of new work, so this show’s relative fearlessness spoke to me. It felt so raw. So present. It’s no wonder so many young theatre companies have produced the show. It has an edge that every college production I was in declined to embrace, and I was so ready for the grit, the sexuality, the mess.
  • Rapp is a really smart writer. I thought this play would be a bold stroke for our company–it turns heads, it captivates audiences. In that way, it was a great piece strategically to really introduce our company to Baltimore. This was a bit of a “make or break” production for our company. We put every last cent into the show.
  • This play scared the hell out of me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Whenever a work inspires both reactions out of me, I feel a compulsion to direct it.

My wife introduced me to a concept a few years back, which I’ve embraced in the work I challenge myself with, and the environment I like to set with my shows for my other artists. Below is a diagram:

Put into words:

    • In the center, is absolute safety.
      • This is like walking down a street you’ve been on every day of your life, the sun is shining, you’re saying “hello” to everyone.
    • Go back a step to the next zone which rings the center circle–that’s where you feel out of your comfort zone.
      • It’s like walking down a familiar street at night, where you know you’re safe, but it doesn’t feel the same. No one is out, but you have absolute faith that if trouble happened, you could knock on any door, and a friend would be on the other side to help.
    • Go back another step into the third zone which rings this middle zone, and you have a place where you feel totally unsafe.
      • This is like being on a street you know you totally don’t belong. People are either coming up to you to threaten you, or to inform you that you should not be there, and that they’ll give you directions to the closest way to a better neighborhood.
  • Now think about these three zones, and apply the concept to trying new things. If you feel totally out of your element, confused, stupid, and unsafe, you’re going to shut down and you won’t learn anything–except that you don’t like what you’re learning. If you feel absolutely safe, you aren’t going to learn anything (although you may feel safe and be having fun, you may also feel safe and utterly bored). The best place to be is slightly out of your comfort zone. When you go slightly out of your comfort zone, you feel braver, you’re willing to try that new thing on for size, because you know things aren’t going to get out of control, and you know you can fall back a level and be okay. Pretty soon, when you’ve been working outside of your comfort zone on something new, you discover that you feel safe there–all of the sudden, your inner circle becomes wider, and you’re ready to push out further–sometimes into territory you would have felt completely unsafe in before.

Aldo (on the right) and I in discussion on a break during tech.

While initially thinking about Red Light Winter made me feel totally unsafe, the process and the environment I created was one where we all felt slightly unsafe. But we felt that way as an ensemble, and it helped set the tone for all subsequent productions for Single Carrot. As an ensemble, we’ve successfully widened our inner circle way out past the original “unsafe” boundaries, and it is still expanding. A recent review on our production of Linus & Alora  does a short retrospective of our last four seasons, and really captures that sentiment.

We rehearsed this production in an artist warehouse our technical director was renting a room in, and also in three different tiny living rooms, in July, without air conditioning, in our first Baltimore summer (oh the humidity!). Looking back it takes a very romantic feel. At the time, though, it really was rather romantic–we were fueled by passion, love, and camaraderie.

My approach to this script, since it was my first time directing, was extremely respectful. I attempted to follow each and every stage direction–which was very comforting to me. I was very much an interpreter, but I was striving to do exactly as the playwright desired. This corresponded with the fact that I’d read Rapp prefers to direct his own work. One of my big goals was to try to understand Rapp, and to direct the play as he would have. This approach served me very well, and in the end it was a very successful production.

Matt breaks down.

The production was successful because we managed to get people we didn’t know (which wasn’t all that hard because we didn’t know anyone) to come and see it; not only did we make our money back,the company made money  on the production (of course we didn’t pay ourselves anything, and if we had, we would have eaten our shirts); our company left the production feeling energized; I left the production proud of my work and the work of my cohorts; and I left with the confidence that if I worked hard, and despite the fact I’d never taken any kind of class in directing, that I could become a good director. Moreover, the press was good, and one reviewer in particular, Bret McCabe with the City Paper, understood our company on a deeper level. He wrote, “If this Single Carrot production is flawed–and it is–it’s only because the company has aimed so high.” That was music to my ears.

Reviews:

Hostel RelationsCity Paper - August 17, 2007

Single Carrot’s “Red Light Winter” is Summer Hot – BaltimoreBroadwayworld.com – August 10, 2007