You’re an actor who’s supposed to perform in a play tonight. But you’ve never read the script; you have no idea what the play is about; and there’s no director to help you. There’s not even a set.
Add in some missing pants or a final exam, and this probably resembles a nightmare we’ve all had—but you’re not dreaming. This is White Rabbit Red Rabbit, an experimental play by Nassim Soleimanpour, which begins a three-week run at Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Co. this Friday, Feb. 25.
Soleimanpour’s work shares the experience of being part of a generation of computer-literate, well-informed Iranians who were born during the Iran-Iraq war, who have never known another Iran other than the Islamic Republic—and who are forbidden to leave the country. The script distills the experience of an entire generation into one play, performed by only one unprepared actor on a bare stage.
Every actor slated during the run of the show gets only one chance to perform. They read the script cold for the very first time during the actual performance, having had no opportunity to rehearse. Afterward, they leave it all on the stage—and never do it again.
“From the first moment we got a whiff of this show, we knew we had to do it, for a couple of reasons,” says Christopher Daniels, GLM’s executive director. “One is because the structure itself is so different. And also, here at GLM, we’re really trying to push boundaries, to examine the relationship between audience and performer, and we’re really trying to do more groundbreaking work—more original work, things that haven’t been seen or performed before—and to constantly keep our audiences guessing about what they’ll experience in our space.”
Daniels says that even the contract for the piece is different from anything else he’s seen; it includes an expectation that GLM will provide a report about each performance and the audience’s reactions.
Since Daniels will perform the Friday, March 4, show, Daniels is in the unique position of promoting a show he hasn’t seen or read.
“When we were selecting this show, we had to go, ‘OK, who has no desire to (perform in) this show, ever?’ And we actually created a smaller screening committee that read the play, and they can’t give anything away,” he says, explaining that both he and producing artistic director Joe Atack are performing the piece. “So as producers, we’re asking things like, ‘Is it a comedy? Do we need to issue content warnings?’ I think it was such a beautiful experience for us to have faith in the team and trust the process.”
Just 48 hours prior to each actor’s performance, they will receive production notes regarding issues such as costuming and props. But only after the house lights dim will the actor step out onto the stage and open the envelope addressed to them, which contains the script, and only then will they perform it aloud—on their very first reading.
So how does an actor prepare for such a moment? Daniels, who has experience performing solo in his shows as Miss Ginger Devine, feels somewhat comfortable owning the stage—although those shows are always written by him and rehearsed numerous times. He confesses to “suffering from perfectionism,” of which he hopes this show might cure him. Nonetheless, he’s preparing by doing cold readings of old scripts from the GLM archive.
Opening night will bring Yassi Jahanmir, a University of Nevada, Reno, assistant professor of theater history, literature and theory, to the stage.
“Some of my research is in Middle Eastern theater, so I’ve heard of this play for a while,” Jahanmir says. “I think the play is so cool, because the playwright can’t easily leave Iran, and he has come up with a creative way to produce a play that allows the performers and audiences to feel those same limits and restrictions.”
Jahanmir explains that in addition to being drawn to theater that smashes expectations and takes advantage of live audiences, she was interested in this play because she, too, is Iranian. “Like most Iranian-Americans, the revolution has had an effect on me and my family. My grandfather, who lived with me until I was 7, was imprisoned as a result of the revolution and came to the U.S. under political asylum. So I’m curious to see how this play addresses that issue of the revolution, and how it will affect me emotionally as an Iranian-American actor.”
Kristopher Perez will perform on Wednesday, March 9—his first stage appearance in nearly eight years.
“You can’t limit yourself, and that’s how I’m preparing,” says Perez, adding that having no opportunity to rehearse with a script has actually provided him more freedom, because he can’t impose boundaries on his performance ahead of time. “Whether you are given a script three months in advance or three seconds in advance, the power doesn’t come from knowing the words and the story ahead of time. Rather, it comes from believing in the words and the story as it unfolds.”
Says Daniels: “It’s so raw and vulnerable and exposes you as an actor. As an audience member, how incredible is it to get to see something that no one else will ever see again? You are in real time, seeing an actor in the barest form, making choices in the moment and being absolutely present. You just have to trust and relinquish control—because you don’t have any.”
White Rabbit Red Rabbit will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Feb. 25, through Saturday, March 12, at Good Luck Macbeth Theatre Co., 124 W. Taylor St., in Reno. Tickets are $25 in advance, or $30 at the door, with discounts, and champagne seating available. For tickets or more information, visit www.goodluckmacbeth.org.