Last fall, Red by John Logan, the first play fully produced by Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center was presented stage-on-stage at the Bankhead Theater. The powerful, emotional work, a two-man piece about the artist Mark Rothko, was directed by Misty Megia. This fall Megia returns to direct Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker at the Bothwell Arts Center. An Obie Award winner for Best New American Play in 2010, Baker’s play has been called “a quiet masterpiece.” At a six-week-long community center acting class, four students and their teacher find that their seemingly simple acting games take them on a deeper exploration of what it means to be human and the transformative effect our actions have on one another.
A Conversation with Director Misty Megia
Q. The title of the play is a theater game commonly used in acting classes. Can you explain what the game is and what other things you take away from the three words in the title?
A. In the game, one person starts a noise or action and the group mirrors it back. It’s about observation and connection and also is the only time in the entire show that is improvised! It’s kind of fun to see what the actors throw out in this moment for the other actors to deal with there is no out and you have to accept the sound and the movement that someone is putting forward. The play embodies this as each character digs deep into the core of their story to observe and understand who they are, forming connections within themselves and with each other. There is no escaping from your truth or seeing your patterns your peers reflect back to you. Then there is the circle, to me, it represents time passing and how we may repeat our mistakes over and over, until we can move on. The mirror is something that reflects who you are that you can’t hide from and the transformation is you taking the necessary steps to accept, heal and grow to move on. In this show while not everything is resolved, everyone transforms in some way.
Q. In her notes, Annie Baker says the silence and long pauses are of “extreme importance” in this play. Why do you think this is true?
A. This play’s story is told through the subtext as much as the words. The silence provides the breathing room needed to tell the story that words can’t communicate. The pauses allow for the experience of real life awkward moments, they provide the space for romance to bloom, and to see the powerful moment when someone digs up the courage to break their circular habit for the first time. Everything in the pause is as important as the word that disrupts the quiet.
Q. Baker acknowledged the long pauses may feel uncomfortable. How do you address that?
A. Typically stage action tends to move forward constantly. But this show has a 20-second pause with no one on stage or 30 second pauses with no words but just action or deep reflection. It can feel as if someone missed their cue. That’s rare and awkward, but it’s purposeful. That silence sets up the moment that follows so well, you feel rewarded for the wait! There are other moments when the pause allows the audience to sink into the story. My approach is to help find the story in the silence, so the pauses feel justified, understood, and appreciated.
Q. When you first read the play, which of the characters did you connect with most?
A. I feel all the women in the show are me at every age. Like Lauren, when I first started acting I didn’t understand why it took so long to start doing scene work. It drove me crazy, but as I grew I realized that acting is so much more than the written word. That’s why acting classes start with exercises that help tell a story without words. I think most people can relate to Theresa’s story, the heartbreak, the fast romance, and finally discovering who you are through your mistakes and being able to stand up for what you want. I adore Marty for her calmness and the safe space that she creates for her class to explore tough topics. As a director, I try to create an environment where actors can play, discover, and dive deep. It’s important for me to lay the foundation for them to bring their ideas and expertise to the forefront and for me to be the mirror to let them know how it’s coming across.
Q. As with Red, the play will be presented in a transformed space, a unique semi-circular stage setting inside the Bothwell that will put audience and actors in close proximity. How will this enhance the experience?
A. I love intimate theater spaces, you become a fly on the wall watching these lives unfold in front of you. It allows for greater connection to the play for both audiences and actors. The stolen glances, the touch of a hand, the pain someone is trying to hide, these are much more exposed, more raw and tangible when an audience is within breathing distance. You have to tell stories that everyone can walk away with. There are moments in this show that are unscripted and improvised, which means each performance will always be unique. But in this staging, depending on where you are seated and how you see the stage, each person in the audience will also see each character’s journey from a different vantage point, creating a unique and powerful experience every time.