Award winning director Bijan Sheibani brings the Northern Premiere of Annie Baker’s critically acclaimed play Circle Mirror Transformation to HOME’s stage from 7th to 17th March with previews beginning from Saturday 2nd March.
In a small town in Vermont, New England, five unlikely strangers come together in their community centre for a creative drama class for adults. The free-spirited Marty, recently divorced Schulz, former actress Teresa, the self-conscious high school student Lauren, and Marty’s quiet husband, James. Over six weeks of drama exercises and games ranging from the hilarious to the heart-breaking, their lives become entangled and transformed in the most humorous and moving ways.
We sat down with cast members Anthony Ofoegbu who plays James and Yasmin Paige who plays Lauren during a break in rehearsals to hear a little more about that play which won writer Annie Baker the 2010 Obie Award for Best New Play, and was voted one of the top 10 plays of 2009 by the New York Times, Time Out, and The New Yorker.
ON (Opening Night)- How are rehearsals going?
AO (Anthony Ofoegbu)- They are going great, I think the laid back persona of Bijan Sheibani our director keeps us all calm, he’s so giving and thoughtful, he sees the vision that maybe we can’t at the start then collectively through the process we start to see it too, it’s been a wonderful reciprocation of ideas and minds, incredible minds, I feel very privileged to be part of it, I’m pinching myself still.
ON – Can you tell us a little about the play?
YP (Yasmin Paige) – The play is very naturalistic, I almost want to be able to watch it but obviously I can’t as I’m in it, it’s quiet but there is loudness within the quietness as well, it’s definitely a play about feeling, it’s about life.
AO – The title itself Circle Mirror Transformation is interesting, the operative word being mirror, Annie Baker writes in such a true way, everything is said in the silences; it’s an incredible piece of work. As actors we get to look at ourselves within this work and for an audience it mirrors life but offers so much choice for interpretation dependent on where you’re coming from in your walk of life dependent on your experiences, you might connect with something different to the person sat beside you. The silences within the play are so important in terms of internal thought, internal process, internal practice, it also allows audiences watching to connect with that and feel that, that’s the beauty of this piece I think.
YP – It’s very much about stillness, at times in life there may seem like nothing is happening but there is so much happening, just thinking about something like a still life painting, like a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers, in itself there may not be much happening but that fruit will eventually rot, those flowers will decay, that stillness will go on its own journey. When we reflect on life today where everything is so busy all of the time, we’re all always running around, talking, dashing from here to there, the tempo of life is so fast paced but in Vermont that’s not so, it’s the opposite so it’s a different world for us to inhabit, it strips everything back and what seems still and quiet actually is quite extraordinary and perhaps so with life’s journeys, we don’t realise or see that it has been a journey until we have gotten to the end and reflected on how far we have travelled. It’s a great insight into our internal journey in life.
ON – What can you tell us about your characters?
YP – My character is the youngest member of the group who goes to this drama class in Shirley, Vermont. She’s 16 and professes that she’s joined the class because she wants to become an actress and she is quite insular and shy but strong minded and very intelligent. Just because she’s quiet and shy doesn’t mean that she doesn’t observe what’s going on, she’s very ambitious and restless. She’s young and almost waiting for life to happen then suddenly she’s in a room with these older people for whom life has happened, it’s really interesting to see how much they all learn from each other. I don’t want to give anything away but I feel by the end of the play she probably grows the most.
AO – James I think is an unsettled soul, trying his best but I think the skeletons in his cupboard are continually rattling and I think he starts to see and understand that more in the process that takes place within the play that’s augmented by his wife Marty who runs the adult drama class in which the play takes place.
ON – Will the play stay with its traditional setting in Vermont, New England?
AO– Yes, we’re in Vermont, hats off to our voice coach Michaela she has just been sensational. We have had a lot of fun getting to grips with the accents.
ON – Have you enjoyed exploring the writing of Annie Baker?
YP – Yes, so much, she writes so beautifully about human experiences, she has a special sparkle within her writing, she like to put hope into her writing.
AO – She has a great understanding of humans, whatever we’ve been through, whatever experiences we’ve had there can be hope still. She has a wonderful way of giving us the remembrance of hope and being hopeful, she has a very skilled way of showing us through her writing what we can do to perhaps rectify whatever odds we think we’ve made in our lives.
YP – There’s s a lot of light and there is also darkness, it’s about searching in the darkness and remembering that darkness is interesting and there can be safety in darkens as well as in light and exploring the importance of both. I think being able to explore art is so important everything I’ve learned that has informed me has come from reading books, watching films, seeing theatre; it’s taught me so much about myself. Art is so self-reflective; it teaches you not only about yourself but about the world around you.
ON – Are you largely on stage for the entirety of the production?
AO – Yes, it’s one setting in which all the action takes place.
YP – Although we are in one place it’s set over 6 weeks, so there are weeks to show the growth and progression and journey.
AO – Although you never see outside of that room you really don’t need to, it’s all explained, it allows for the imagination to be rampant in scope.
ON – Have you ever performed at Home before?
AO – No, I’ve performed at the Lowry, but only briefly, we’re here for a month so I’m really looking forward to exploring Manchester as a city. The architecture of the city, this beautiful building we’re in particularly really interests me. My dream was to be an architect but that didn’t happen so I always look at buildings, Manchester has some wonderful buildings.
YP – I haven’t either but I’m so excited, HOME itself is beautiful, I really want to see and explore Manchester, I can’t wait. There’s so much art and culture here.
Mirror Circle Transformation begins preview on Saturday 2nd March with an official opening on Wednesday 7th and runs until Saturday 17th March tickets available here.