Photos by Jessica Keyes
Is Glass Mind Theatre just another starving store front theater exploring boundaries, taking risks, engaging community, and encouraging dialogue with its audience? Or are they more than business as usual, and if so, in what way? They’re certainly more fun than most. When they fail, they fail big, which I admire. With one season under their belt, it’s time for them to take their game to the next level.
I came early to a rehearsal (and stayed to watch some) nine days before the opening night of the first play of their 2nd season, Den of Thieves by Stephen Adly Guirgis. It’s the Baltimore premiere from the playwright of Broadway’s The Mother Fucker With The Hat. I wanted to get a feel for their purpose, process, and culture.
What’s theater supposed to do?
Excite – Ignite – Make you think – Inspire – Entertain – Tell a great story – Make you feel
I’ll gladly pay if you can make me feel something.
GMT (Alex Scally – Actor)
…and move you-
-emotionally and physically. We want to move people. That’s why we do it.
As performers what’s in it for you?
GMT (Sarah Ford Gorman – Actor)
– No, you’re not. (this indentation with no name means it’s someone from the ensemble I couldn’t identify when transcribing the tape)
To be able to create emotion onstage you have to be able to understand emotion. There’s a lot of personal reflection, and it can open doors to things that you don’t know you had inside you.
– It’s a release
Why Den of Thieves?
– Britt submitted it.
GMT (Britt Olsen-Ecker – Director)
I did! It was one of the first plays I ever purchased at a drama book stop. I liked the yellow cover and read the entire thing at the store. I knew that one day it was going to be my baby, and I wanted to produce it.
I think what’s interesting about the play is that there are so many different ways to interpret it, stage it, and I love every character in it. It’s an interesting play. A real commentary on life.
You look at it on the surface and it’s a satire. The more you read it and work on it you realize how much heart it has. How it truthfully is relating to the subject. You can laugh at addiction and sympathize at the same time. It makes you question what you’re addicted to, and your behavior, and your relationships with people. And definitely the things you need to apologize for.
Is the apology accepted…how do they handle it when it’s been offered?
What do you want to say with this play?
What jumped out at me as I wrote the proposal was that these characters are really trapped…trapped in their respective worlds. I thought, what is addiction and its different stages? Besides alcohol and drugs, there are other addictions, psychological ones, cages that these people are in.
When I explain your production to people, will I tell them your play was about addiction or something else?
It will speak to people differently. Some addictions are invisible. It’s a great story.
It’s also about redemption. What to do when the stakes are high. When you feel like it’s a life or death scenario, how do you come to terms with that and the people around you? The idea of these people being trapped together is a huge thing. Some are instrumental and others are strangers. How does that affect the end?
What makes Den of Thieves a good fit for Glass Mind Theatre?
GMT (Andrew Peters – Artistic Director)
This is the kind of play that speaks to the dangerous side of theater that we need more of in Baltimore. The writer (Stephen Adly Guirgis) doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time, he has a kind of poignant world view. He gets that underdog feeling, the world view of people who are down and out and gives them a clear voice. And it’s a really funny and biting play.
We want to start the season strong. This play is Glass Mind Theatre hitting our stride. This also represents our published work of the year. As we get into the season, we’ll debut new work.
No matter what, we want to show Baltimore something new.
Why does Baltimore need more danger in its theater?
This is a gritty, urban, raw town and the space (the lof/t) we’re in has that character…like the city.
When it comes to art, there’s a lot of stuff all over town that has a strong DIY vibe and I think mixing in an outside voice and giving it the danger that Baltimore brings and DIY energy is something more companies could benefit from.
GMT (Lynn Morton – Managing Director)
Baltimore is dangerous and our theater choices are safe. Baltimore theater needs danger because, as a person living in one of the toughest and most violent cities in the world, the art I see doesn’t provoke me to take a look around. We become complacent with situations, and we accept things for how they are.
Sometimes a little danger is healthy. Keeps you sharp, focused. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.
I remember a couple of seasons back it seemed like everyone was doing a (Neil) LaBute piece. Sure I love LaBute as much as the next person, but he writes about middle-aged white people. His more daring works (e.g. In a Dark, Dark House or Bash) I don’t think would ever be performed in Baltimore. We take the easiest path in our theater.
Art isn’t meant to be easy. If it were easy, it would be worth doing.
One of the things Andrew and I discussed was how to transform the space into a theater. How to make it a complete experience the moment you walk in the door.
Make us enter it from the alley?
Or cut out half of the room…it’s so big.
How to elevate the space is something we’re going to explore the entire season.
This season of plays moves from NY basements, to nurseries, to ballrooms. Then who knows where Brainstorm (3) will take us.
This season will be an exploration of how to transform this space.
And how we perceive space. I’m interested in atmospheric space versus traditional set design. I’m learning it’s the intangibles that make theater what it is.
On any given Saturday night, I have many choices how to spend my time and money: a rock show, dinner date, Netflix at home, more established theaters…why choose Glass Mind’s Den of Thieves?
The danger we talked about is something we want to tap into because it’s something Baltimore people are willing to explore if they feel it connects to them on a personal level. Bringing them into this space gives them a feeling they’re not going to get in a more established venue. We’ll give them atmosphere and a quality experience.
GMT (Hollis Robbins – Dramaturgy)
There’s a lot of emphasis on sincerity, connection , and a personal engagement to a play. In this case, I think what Britt has done—which is extraordinary—is make a play that starts out as excellent theater, and is totally entertaining and funny. I think that’s what people will want. It’s a good time.
With Glass Mind, you’re always going to get something that’s a creative, smart, fun, and whimsical, even if the subject matter is dark. You’re also going to be invited to have a drink with us afterwards. We want your opinion. We want out audience to be part of this, go with us on this ride. As young artists, figure out how we’re defining theater, and make it evolve…shape it, and play with it. We want everybody in on that.
I think people will come because I have a great friggin’ cast!
– We’re really good!
It’s a company and we have two guest artists (actors) who are very strong. Chris Kryzstofiak and David Padgett.
It’s exciting to see the cast take risks and make exciting choices I never would have thought of.
– Infectious energy
– It spreads
– The give and take
GMT (J Hargrove – actor)
We’re creating people, not just characters.
GMT (Peter Blaine – actor)
The show is cheap AND quality!
Dave, why are you with GMT doing this show?
GMT (Dave Padgett – guest Actor)
I was invited by Jesus Christ.
Hard to say “no,” eh?
Chris, what brought you into the mix?
GMT (Chris Kryzstofiak – guest Actor)
They invited me. Some of the company members and I have been talking and looking for ways to collaborate.
You having a good time?
What makes Glass Mind different from the many other theaters you worked with?
They make it fun. I can’t say about the others. Plus, their process involves things I haven’t done since college, or that I forgot about, or that I don’t practice anymore. Now, they’ve brought them back to me, including new approaches to working that I’m finding beneficial. I’m learning again and that’s important…to take something away with me.
Where is Glass Mind Theatre in 2 years? What’s different?
Be great to enjoy longer runs.
Making sure we’re keeping on top of our game with work we might not have thought we’d do, and constantly surprising ourselves as artists.
We’re doing that now!
How can we take our collective knowledge and keep raising the game?
– Take risks!
Interacting with our audiences in new ways. How can we change the format?
– Because theater is everywhere!
– Theater is everywhere!
– Theater is everywhere!
Whether it’s a dance battle or a storytelling event-
– Or a drag show. (a recent fund-raiser)
How can we show the theatrical element in any event or interaction in the city.
I’d also love a place that was uniquely ours. Having a training ground, too, not just a performing space. A place we can each go to work on something or our craft. A home with our blood, sweat, and tears embedded in it.
Money would be nice, but it’s hard work that gets us there. Carve out our own place in this city and make sure we’re giving back as much as we want to receive.
What makes Glass Mind Theatre different?
A willingness to figure out new ways to interact, not just with actors onstage and audience in their seats. Using social media and videos as a way to get you into the world of the play.
How can we challenge ourselves and the audience about what theater is and what it means? What it means to be an artist in Baltimore.
Short and sweet – GMT is keeping the play in play.
– Put that on a t-shirt.
– Tattoo it right here.
We’re never satisfied. We want it to be more fun, more interesting, and more dangerous. We aren’t going to stop until we change the world.
What does your character want?
(J Hargrove as Paul)
Acceptance, love, and to be a good person.
(Chris Kryzstofiak as Flaco)
I want money and her. (Points to Sarah as Maggie)
(Liz Gaulardi as Boochie)
Boochie wants a life of comfort and a lifestyle of leisure and financial success.
(Alex Scally as Little Tuna)
He wants to be his own person.
(Peter Blaine as Sal)
He wants a big rush, whether from approval or from a roll of the dice.
(David Padgett as Big Tuna)
He wants it all.
(Sarah Ford Gorman as Maggie)
She has no idea. I think she wants salvation, but she would never admit that.
(Andrew as producer)
I want a sold out show!
* * *
Nine days after the conversation, I attended opening night to compare what they said with what they did. Glass Mind has arrived! I thought their production was better than the play. The players operate under a shared belief system and aesthetic. They pretended big and found universal truth (and at times transcendent moments worthy to be called Art) in the pretending.
I’ve seen and worked on multiple Glass Mind Theatre productions. I have always appreciated their ambition and liked working with them. However, I’ve always thought that their shows had more concept than they knew what to do with. Something had to give and it was usually story and/or character development. Not this time. I give the credit to first-time director (and professional photographer) Britt Olsen-Ecker. She loves Den of Thieves for what it is, rather than for what she wanted to do with it. She made sure the actors understood the story, their role in it, and let them do their thing. They are skilled and joyful in their performances. On opening night, they nailed it.
GMT is committed to transforming the lof/t space and they did. They used about 55% of the room and turned it into a black box with a minimal brown set that looked designed, not cheap. The acting space was meant to be claustrophobic to the actors, but the theater was not to the audience. The audience was placed on two sides of the stage facing each other. At first I thought this would bug me, because the stage was very thin. I found it quite intimate. This made a difference in Act 2 during the climax.
The story is this: When an eclectic quartet plans a heist that goes wrong, the ensuing situation asks them: who of the morally ambiguous crew deserves to die? Each character makes the case for what the world would lose by their absence. This is when the audience set-up and Olsen-Ecker’s staging gain full advantage. We are active witnesses to their testimony. It’s poignant and hilarious. Theater wants to be a shared experience where a group of strangers sitting in the dark make difficult ethical decisions together. We did that and survived.
On the surface, it’s a biting play about selfish addiction and a satire about the pseudo-self-actualizing language of recovery. Underneath, it has soul and is about discovering the dynamics of true power.
All theater companies claim to take risks. (Yawn.) GMT also wants to inject a bit of danger in their theater. They always have. The danger and violence in Den of Thieves isn’t gratuitous. Without it, the characters (and the audience) wouldn’t get the elusive and bracing experience of being fully awake and alive. The run ends this weekend. As theater, it’s very satisfying. As entertainment, it is indisputably the best value in town. Glass Mind Theatre has arrived, and you should be there to welcome them.
Photos by Jessica Keyes