Thursday, January 23, 2014



A Site-Specific Theater Event
About Long-Distance Friendship
Performed Up Close

January 17 - February 9, 2014

Written by Will Arbery
In Collaboration With
Shelley Fort, Elly Smokler, Emilie Soffe, 
& Lisa Szolovits

Directed by Lisa Szolovits

Emilie Soffe and Elly Smokler 
Photo credit Crystal Arnette

Following our notes is a description of the play as seen by the creators, with credits for the writer and director (lightly edited and in dark blue italics). 

The story, as I see it, is about a relationship between people who want to be friends and want to communicate, but have few common interests and nothing much to communicate, except to try to understand their "friendship" (which is more about conflict than resolution). 

It’s not so much a “failure to communicate” as a failure to have anything that can be successfully communicated. We learn a lot about their communications with each other, but little about the characters themselves, or, for that matter, exactly why they were ever friends (or BFF's for that matter). They mostly communicate about communicating.

The best and most striking feature of the production is the high energy and great spirit the two actresses put into the performance.

For the first part of the play, the characters are separated and tele-communicating remotely by phone and Internet; the actors, however, are next to each other and interacting. Their physical life was interesting to me because although I could not discern any literal interpretation of what they were doing, (especially when the actors were physically interacting), yet it seemed appropriate to the play, to their words, and to their characters. That ability (to make something which is literally incomprehensible seem nevertheless appropriate) is one of the mysterious facilities of a good director paired with fine actors.

The play is performed in a private apartment. For the first part of the play, the essence of the apartment is screened off; for the second part the screen is removed and the action is played in a little bit of the apartment. The audience is on folding chairs (and a few lounge chairs). It is a friendly and comfortable space, in close proximity (at least in the first few rows) to the actors and the action.

As it says in the title of the show above, this play is about “a distant relationship performed up close”. The performance is not, however, really “site-specific,” since there is literally nothing specific about the way the site is used. (Indeed, some very interesting furnishings are completely ignored.)

This kind of presentation is more accurately called "Apartment Theater" (a term I thought I just made up, but a Google search reveals there's already an Amazon Kindle book on the subject – see the link below). For a long time now (millennia, actually) people have had musical concerts in their homes – “House Concerts”. “Apartment Theater” is essentially the same, using a private space to stage a play.

The restaging of COWBOY MOUTH not too long ago, was also better described as Apartment Theater than as “site specific” or “immersive theater,” because (as in this play) – the audience sat on folding chairs and lounging chairs, close to the action, but the space itself was not really used at all, and the set decoration could just as well have been on a stage.

The term, “site specific theater” should really refer to a production which either uses an existing space in an essential way because the production fits in perfectly, or one where the space is constructed to be used in its entirety in an essential way by the production.

For example, the Gotham Opera performed an opera that takes place on the moon and staged it at the Hayden Planetarium; one that takes place outdoors at the Botanical Gardens; an erotic opera at The Box; and other operas in -- well -- sites that were specific to each production. Examples of the other kind of site specific theater, where the entire space is constructed to be immersive and specific to the production include, from a long time ago, TONY ‘N’ TINA’S WEDDING -- staged as if it were really happening, with the audience as guests; TAMARA, a mystery which takes place all over a house; and currently the epic production of SLEEP NO MORE, in a large space in which each room is intricately and meticulously and very specifically designed and decorated, and the action takes place all over the space, with each room used in its own specific way.

Here's the description of WE WERE NOTHING from the play's creators: 

People used to send telegrams. They'd end every sentence in "STOP.” Drawing from actual emails, chat transcripts, and text messages, WE WERE NOTHING is an intimate site-specific theater experience about two childhood friends staying connected and losing touch. 

The piece was written by playwright Will Arbery in collaboration with Shelley Fort, Elly Smokler, Emilie Soffe, and Lisa Szolovits. The production, directed by Lisa Szolovits, stars Elly Smokler (STOP THE VIRGENS at St. Ann’s Warehouse; member of The Bats) and Emilie Soffe (IN THE BLOOD at the Kennedy Center). 

The creative team includes Lighting Design by Isabella Byrd (Assoc. on 13P/Sarah Ruhl's MELANCHOLY PLAY) and Costume Design by Clara Fath. 


WILL ARBERY (Playwright) is a writer, filmmaker, and theater artist who is working towards an MFA in Writing for the Stage and Screen at Northwestern University. 

He lived for two years in New York, and his plays there included: THE CONFESSION (reading at The Creek and Cave/Platform Group, semi-finalist for Princess Grace Award, O’Neill Playwrights Conference), YOU’RE SADDER THAN YOU REALIZE (Dixon Place, dir. Lisa Szolovits), YIELD, BITCH! (Communal Spaces, dir. Stella Powell-Jones), THE DUST VEIL OF 536 A.D. (#serials@theflea, dir. Nathan Shreeve), BLEAK (Tiny Rhino, dir. Jess Chayes), PAULA & STROM (co-written with Elena Belyea, NextFest in Alberta, Canada), HOW KIM SA-RANG GOT HER NAME (Hearth Gods, dir. Knud Adams), a site-specific performance of WE WERE NOTHING! (dir. Lisa Szolovits), and Six Windows Presents A HERO OF OUR TIME with Calliope Theatre Company (dir. Will Dagger). 

He's performed at the Kennedy Center, Invisible Dog, Jimmy’s No. 43, Nylon Fusion, and Dixon Place, and for the Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure and Good Cop/Great Cop. 

 His writing has been published by Better: Culture and Lit, decomP, Thickjam, Every Day a Century, Snow Monkey, Chronogram, The Awl, The New Professional, Red Branch, Hypervocal, Defenestration, and D Magazine. Two of his short pieces, HOW TO BE A MAN and THE LOGIC, were recently part of Teatro Vista's Late Night series. 

He grew up in Dallas, Texas, the only boy with seven sisters. 


LISA SZOLOVITS (Director) is a Brooklyn-based director and developer of new plays. She has worked on the East Coast with the Playwrights Horizons Resident Workshop, Ars Nova, Dixon Place, Columbia University, NYU, The Assembly, UglyRhino, Tugboat Collective, Lost Theater, Manhattan Shakespeare Project, and Williamstown Theatre Festival, as well as with Theatre of NOTE and Circle X Theatre Co. in Los Angeles. In New York, Lisa has assisted Leigh Silverman, Trip Cullman, and Emily Mann as a directing resident at Playwrights Horizons, as well as Thomas Kail (Lincoln Center: American Songbook), Jean-Michele Gregory and Michael Sexton (The Public). 

In addition to WE WERE NOTHING! and YOU'RE SADDER THAN YOU REALIZE, about Justin Bieber and an 18th century French cannibal, with Will Arbery, Lisa is currently developing THE EXQUISITE CORPSE PROJECT, a transnational collaborative theater piece performed in Google Hangout, with Amy Clare Tasker and Wolfgang Wachalovsky, Dido & Venus, an adaptation of Virgil’s AENEID and Shakespeare’s VENUS AND ADONIS poem devised with Aubrey Saverino, and a social psychology experiment employing laser tag technology in a performance about the power of the Gaze with NYU's Social Perception, Action, & Motivation Lab. 

WE WERE NOTHING! plays a three-week engagement January 17 - February 9, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm. The show is performed inside a private residence near Union Square. Exact address and directions will be released only to ticket holders. Tickets ($20) are available online at






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