THE HABITAT BLOG
Goings on of The Habitat Community
What is the project you’re working on?
I’m devising a new play called The Nocturnist, with playwright Joshua Williams and our amazing company of performers. It’s based on a true story of an a young, undocumented immigrant who’s been diagnosed with an extensively drug-resistant infection, and forced to live in quarantine. With enough medication to treat his symptoms, but not enough research or funding to find a cure, his hospital stay begins to feel more like a prison sentence. Able-bodied, lonely, and bored, he makes a dangerous choice. He breaks out.
What are the themes in this piece that really excite you?
When I first heard this story, it shook me. Who was this man? How must he feel? Did he know how high the stakes were? And if he did, didn’t he care? If he did know, and did care, and did it anyway… what did that say about how desperately he must need his freedom? And how easily we took it away from him, instead of spending resources to find another solution! Would that have happened to a white, wealthy citizen? I’ve been thinking about how a person can be liberal and empathetic and even altruistic, until the moment their self-preservation is threatened. Fear of disease dehumanizes its victims, and when those victims are “not like us” or “not from here” that dehumanization becomes much more palatable or justifiable. But really it’s xenophobia masquerading as germophobia.
Where is the material for the piece coming from?
The initial material came from an interview I did with a doctor friend who had met this quarantine patient. She had seen him brought in in handcuffs and returned to his “cell”, and had asked around for more details. It shocked us both that very few people in the hospital even knew that he was there.Josh and I have been working to flesh out the story and characters, and we’ve been devising some dialogue and physical vignettes with the actors in the company. The original story took place in London, and part of our process has been reorienting it in space (to the United States) and in time (to the near-future).
What is the meaning of the title?
A nocturnist is a doctor who works the nightshift. It’s a job that comes with an immense amount of responsibility - essentially making sure no one dies over night - but also with a lot of downtime and boredom. Josh and I liked the idea that in the wee hours of the night, a more vulnerable and more human relationship might develop between a doctor and her patient. It also speaks to the life of our patient, who is an industrial night shift worker - part of a seriously overworked and overlooked class of laborer, whose overexposure to artificial light and inhumane sleep conditions may have made him more susceptible to the illness he contracts.
What do you see as the future of the project?
Josh and I are hoping to workshop the piece again later this year, with the intention of getting a production up sometime in 2018. I’ve begun to see this as an immersive piece, because I like the idea of really shaking up an audience’s experience of sharing the same breathing space with these characters (and with each other). Maybe we’ll partner with under-resourced clinics or hospitals to bring the piece into communities most affected by its themes. Then again, maybe we’ll find the most liberal echo chamber possible and ask those audiences to think twice about the limits of their own empathy. I guess we’ll see!
How did you learn about Habitat?
I heard about the Playground from another director who knew I had this unscripted idea I wanted to develop. I had been lamenting how difficult it is to find the resources to get into a room with actors to see if an idea has legs, especially if you don’t yet have a script to submit. I’m just not the kind of creative who can do all of that work alone in my room. I mean - it’s theater, right? The whole point is bodies in space, and collaboration, and exposing a piece to an audience to learn more about it. The Habitat gets that.
What have you gained/learned?
Like many early-career directors, I’ve spent a lot of time in other people’s rehearsal rooms, as an assistant or associate. Those opportunities are invaluable. But they don’t offer the kind of practice, the development of confidence and muscle-memory, that actually creating your own work provides. This residency has gotten me back into shape, so to speak. It’s also been an incredible reminder that developing work takes time. A lot of time. And most of that time is spent failing. That thing you’ve been marinating in your head for two years isn’t going to magically appear, fully formed, on a stage. It might change and morph as you invite more people into it, and that’s ok. You might not recognize it by the time you put it up in front of an audience, and that’s ok too. In fact, that’s probably the best part.