By Mason Rosenthal
I joined Next Year People co-writers and performers Katie Bender, Rachel Mars, and Gab Reisman, along with director Caitlin Sullivan for dinner. We talked about their upcoming Fusebox show, and though the piece doesn’t deal directly with the subject, I couldn’t help but think about another spring dinner in the Jewish tradition—Passover. I’ll be joining them again for a Seder on the 19th. The Seder is the traditional Passover meal, and in my family includes six specific foods for thought: Beitzah, Maror, Charoset, Z’Roa, and Karpas.
Photo Credit: Giulio Sciorio
an egg (destruction and renewal)
KB: We three met at the Orchard Project in 2015. We were putting up a show, Gab and I, Church of the Passionate Cat with our company Underbelly.
RM: And I was trying to make the show that became Our Carnal Hearts which then opened at Fusebox the following year.
GR : We liked Rachel very much.
KB: Then the first time we worked on this piece together, it was for a week in 2017.
RM: It was post fucking disaster in both countries. NEXT YEAR PEOPLE has been tracked by Brexit and your Whatsit Man. That’s been underneath this whole process. Brexit happened and I cried on the beach.
GR: I cried on someone’s floor because the Trump thing had just happened.
RM: There was a lot of weirdly being around each other during terrible disasters.
GB: Then every time we came back together to work it’s been like, where are we now with the shit happening around us? Which was constantly changing. Which has meant we have had to constantly throw out material and start again.
an herb (bitterness)
KB: That first workshop, we were like how do we do this. Because we had come through some pretty shitty collaborative processes, and, Gab, you specifically were interested in working on more personal stuff. I remember you saying, “I want to write just for me.”
GB: Oh I thought that was both of us, but yeah!
KB: I am saying you were because it was a big inspiration for me! I was like, oh shit, that is totally true.
RM: And I have no playwriting training so I was like, what’s a character? I have an understanding of story, but I have never written it. So I was like, what can I learn from these people? And simultaneously I am irritatingly allergic to plays. So I am an irritating presence in those ways. Because I at once want to learn and I am also like—UGH, pretending!?
GR: In our process Katie and I had been stuck in these kind of argument loops. So adding Rachel we were like great, there will be three of us. We can rely on Rachel to pick sides!
They all laugh.
KB: Rachel, choose which one of us is right!
RM: And I’d be like, I don’t like this! Stop deleting each other’s work on the Google Drive without reading it aloud!
Everyone laughs again.
KB: Yeah, there we some rough patches…
a sweet mixture of apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and red wine (mortar, togetherness)
MR: During these times of working together, you were also living together?
GR: Yes, when we got residencies we would say we have to live together!
RM: Because the work happens here as well.
Rachel gestures to the dinner table.
KB: And we set up events to do together. Like we went kickboxing. Or had a Passover Seder.
GR: In the making of the play, the lines blur, the hangouts and the process are muddied.
RM: And we were like we can’t do it without an outside eye.
GR: And Katie was like I want a director who is like an authority figure who can say this is the way we are moving forward. And Caitlin is phenomenal!
unleavened bread (exodus, freedom)
RM: So the piece grew out of this despair. England is fucked. The U.S. is fucked. Where can we move to? And also a kind of feeling of multiplicity.
GR: Each of us as individuals feeling like the one perfectly lovely life we were living wasn’t enough. And we wanted to lead another simultaneously lovely life at the same time.
KB: I was at [a redacted fellowship] in which I was supposed to live in [redacted city], but obviously I have a family in Austin. So I was sneaking back and forth!
GR: I had been splitting time for many years between Austin, New York, and New Orleans. I am always also somewhere else.
RM: I have always felt more at home in New York than anywhere. And often more at home in America than with people at home in London…it will make me cry again…
Rachel starts to tear up.
I feel like a splitting of self.
And I thought, well I can’t move to New York, but I could be there more often. I’m trying to marry this terrible gap that I feel at home with all the joy that I feel at home, and the sense of self I feel in the States. And this piece to me is about that. Ugh, fucking hell!
KB: It’s your first time!
RM: I’m notorious about crying the most and I haven’t this week yet. Now the score’s one all bitches!
They all laugh.
MR: Why do you feel more comfortable with Americans?
RM: There is an expansiveness. I mean, obviously America is like a hundred different countries, but there is a kind of New York Jew community that I do not have in London. I use this expression, “Permission to be yourself all the way to the end of yourself.” I often feel shut down as an expansive Jew in London. That is not an identity that is welcome or available to me. It’s a rhythm; it’s a tempo. This NY tempo just feels at one with the tempo in my body.
a shankbone (an offering or sacrifice)
MR: What have you all learned about letting go and starting over?
KB: Every single time I have been amazed about how much work comes out of the first day. And yet, every time I come to the room I feel like I have no fucking idea what to do!
There is also something about the nuclear option that I am really interested in in. Why is it so easy for us to imagine apocalypse? Why is that such an immediate response to the future? And actually our play has been about what comes after THAT. It’s actually not so bad. Not everybody dies. It’s not The Road. And actually we just get back together and try to do the next thing.
RM: And the flip of that is that conflict is what drives theatre. And when you don’t have conflict there isn’t anything.
I think we have been wrestling with these points. We don’t want to make the conflict show where these three women—thank you—fail to collaborate and bitch and pull each other apart and the world ends goodbye! But watching people love each other? How can that be theatrical. We are still trying to figure this out I think.
CS: Well we never really start over after we have thrown something out. I think that is a thing that I am learning about starting over. It’s a lie. The nuclear option for yourself is death. If you’re still alive you are still carrying with you the way you’ve been socialized, the things you’ve learned, the relationships you’ve had. There is something important about a deep attending to those things. The things you want to carry forward and the things you want to leave behind. The American mythology feels very much like, “It is better now! We’re on the other side of it now.” But there is something counterintuitive about going forward. We have to acknowledge that yes we are starting over, but yes I am still here with all my same stuff. Because otherwise it will manifest itself again if we do not attend to it in some way.
RM: Yeah, like, same shit different bucket!
a vegetable (hope, freshness, renewal)
CS: Now, after all this new work, the show feels very different to us. But then Peter, our sound designer, came in and watched the beginning and was like, “Same show different episode!”
They all laugh.
GR: Same characters!
KB: How many ways can Gab, Katie, and Rachel arrive on an island on stage?
RM: But I think progress is a lie.
A long pause.
KB: What do you mean?
RM: In the world I think progress is a lie.
GR: Like on a social scale or personal scale?
KB: I dunno how I feel about that.
RM: I think we cling onto that in order to keep writing the next show. But actually there is no path really. I am totally speaking for myself, but ultimately you have to be as happy playing somewhere fancy as you are a pub because it is just going to go round and round. Or maybe it is just me and I have to come to terms with my own failure?
GR: I will say that is true.
But this week I have felt so much better at not interrupting you at check-ins in a way I never have before. So progress?
They all laugh together.
RM: I have never noticed that you did that, and have never noticed you not doing it now!
CS: Maybe there is a difference between change and progress. Progress has a very objective bent to it.
GR: Well this feels like a small modicum of personal growth.
RM: Mazel tov!
Mason Rosenthal is an original performance maker, director, actor, and teacher from Skokie, Illinois. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Performance as Public Practice at The University of Texas at Austin.