Over the past month, I have had the tremendous honor of helming the LA premiere of Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat, produced by Artists at Play.Â I was approached at the beginning of the summer about my interest and availability to direct Edith, which had opened at the 2011 Humana Festival of Actors Theatre of Louisville and immediately went on to five other theaters as part of a “rolling world premiere.” But Sacramento was as close as that production got to LA.
I was asked to submit a proposal.Â I had never read the play, but after doing so, I knew I had to be a part of it.Â You could say that the play leaped off the page and in the very definition of inspiration, called my spirit to action.Â Â What an amazing opportunity for someone of Filipino heritage to direct a play by a Filipino-American about Filipino-Americans!
My parents were born and raised in the Philippines.Â My father is ethnically Chinese with a splash of Malay-Arabian blood, and my mother is a typical Filipina of Spanish, Malay, and Chinese stock.Â I grew up speaking Tagalog in a multi-generational household.Â A life pursuing theater and art was definitely not what my family had imagined for me when they emigrated from the Philippines. Nonetheless, here I am, an Asian-American artist in Los Angeles –Â ultimately very much like them, I might add, in pursuit of a dream.
Back to the play”¦
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, at its simplest level, is about growing up in a small community, and deals with a myriad of issues including abandonment, homosexuality, bullying and ostracism, isolation, teen angst, young love and the meaning of family.
One of the greatest challenges came at the beginning — casting. The playwright specifies that the teen-age characters should not be played by teens, but by young-looking adults. Â The material requires skilled actors who can handle the challenging text, are emotionally convincing as young people and can play the depth and range required of the high-stakes situations of the play.Â I have definitely mulled over the challenges of storytelling a dramedy in which adult actors play kids and the adult characters are specified as puppets and sounds.
Edith is set in the mid ’90s — making it a period piece ““ yet it lies in a very recent past that any adult audience would have lived through.Â I thought that I could find a way to use the first few minutes when an audience is adjusting to the “rules” of any play (and settling into listening mode) to journey collectively.Â Using sound and lighting, the audience would time-travel with the actors and all traverse the span from adulthood to the teen years as we retrieve the heightened events of memory alongside the characters.
This approach has helped me immensely in the overall staging of the episodic scenes, traveling between the multiple locations on a single stage, and figuring out the emotional moments between real actors and inanimate objects.Â The idea of memory has also been a liberating gift in allowing me and the designers to push the envelope of heightened emotional realism in an attempt to capture the essence of the events of the play.
I cannot wait to share this glimpse into under-represented American lives and hope that the play strikes a far-reaching chord as it has with the entire cast and me.Â The process has truly been a labor of love from the producers to the designers and of course to the cast and crew. Edith has been carefully brought to life by the people and for the people it was written to represent.Â How special is that?
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, presented by Artists at Play. Grove Theater Center, 1111-B Olive Ave., Burbank 91506. Opens October 20. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Through November 10. Tickets: $10-20. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/269111.
***All Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them production photos by M. Palma Photography
Jennifer Chang is co-artistic director and a founding member of Chalk Repertory Theatre, www.chalkrep.com. Â She is an actor, director, writer, producer and soon-to-be mother. She received her BFA from NYU and her MFA from UCSD/ La Jolla Playhouse.Â www.changinator.com.