Wasteland, Susan Felder’s searing prisoner of war play, opened at TimeLine Theatre in Chicago in 2012, and she wrote it like a veteran. It delivers unforgettable visceral impact in portraying the mind-warping suffering of two young American soldiers imprisoned and isolated from each other in Vietnam, while examining the universal themes of connection and isolation. The prisoners come from contrasting social backgrounds with totally different perspectives on their roles and duty as soldiers, and they remain separated throughout the show. Having an actor play a key role totally offstage draws in audiences in a unique way. It encourages them to experience the play’s action right alongside the solo onstage actor. Voila, engagement.
Recent Oklahoma City University theatre graduates Ty Fanning and Drew Feldman created a nomadic, rambunctious, collective-style theatre company last year called unMasquedTheatre. They mounted the Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing with the help of Fractured Atlas funding, and ended up with money to carry them forward into other productions. The intrepid nomads will perform Felder’s Wasteland in Fort Worth at Stage West’s studio space August 20-23. They then move to Oklahoma City to perform it at alma mater Oklahoma City University’s Black Box Theatre August 27-29. From there they head to Colorado Springs, finishing their tour at the Rochester Fringe Festival in New York. Co-founder and lead actor Drew Feldman describes Unmasqued.org’s mission: “We want to build a close-knit bridge between the audience and actor through performance art, one that allows the audience to deeply engage with the story told on stage, not just “showing” but touching them.” Felder’s unusual two-person play gives Feldman and Fanning the opportunity to explore this mission to the max, and for different audiences across the country.
What appealed to the duo about a prisoner of war drama set in the Vietnam era? After both artists read the play it made them think about the meaning of defending freedom. Feldman comments, “ We both were drawn into the characters, intrigued by the differences in their social backgrounds, their different philosophies about “serving their country”. Both characters are our age, experiencing the same sort of things and feelings we might have had if we served. I doubt I would handle the situation as well. How can anyone hold onto sanity in this situation?”
Talk about the challenges of an off stage actor and about Dallas’ Jeffrey Schmidt as director. The play runs c. 75 minutes, no intermission, in a sequence of ten scenes. We’re placing the always-offstage actor behind the audience, which will draw them directly into the interaction. We found in rehearsal some moments weren’t coming together just right with the one character off stage. Jeff had us first rehearse those problematic scenes face to face and then re-enact them with the character off stage. Jeff was a special gift. We interviewed directors in LA and NYC but a trusted friend recommended Jeff. We loved his cohesive approach to the work We spent three full days of intensive developmental work on a Hill Country ranch to become a tight unit, which was exhausting and intense, but well worth it.
Feldman and Fanning plan to hold talkbacks after ever performance across the country and film them as a documentary of response. In Colorado Springs they will host dialogues with those serving in the military through Citizen Soldier Connection http://citizensoldierconnection.org/
Wasteland will have its Texas/Regional Premiere in Fort Worth
at the Studio at Stage West
August 20-23 at 8pm
For tickets, venue info: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1761880
More info about the production company, visit: unMasqued.org