An Interview with Beth Hylton, Director of ‘Our New Girl’ Staged Reading TONIGHT at Everyman Theatre

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Everyman Theatre is launching its 2016/2017 Salon Series of staged readings TONIGHT on Monday, September 19, 2016  at 7 PM. The Salon Series’ theme is Women’s Voices; all six plays selected for the program were written by women and will be directed by the female members of Everyman Theatre’s Resident Company. These special one-night-only events take place in the theater’s intimate rehearsal hall and will offer patrons the opportunity to mingle with the cast of professional actors both before and after the performance, at pre-show and post-show cocktail hours.

The first show of this season’s Salon Series is Our New Girl, written by Nancy Harris and directed by Everyman Resident Company Member, Beth Hylton. I had a chance to connect with Beth to discuss Our New Girl, the Salon Series, and why this is a particularly hectic time in her life.

Patricia: How did you discover Our New Girl

Beth Hylton. Photo courtesy of Everyman Theatre.
Beth Hylton. Photo courtesy of Everyman Theatre.

Beth: I actually discovered Our New Girl many years ago, shortly after it premiered in the UK; it was on the shelf at The Drama Book Store in NYC and I started to glance through and found myself so caught up I just sat down to finish the whole thing. (And yes, I bought the script before I left!)  I found it utterly gripping. I occasionally co-produce a series called The Actors Salon in DC with my dear friend Liz Mamana, and we were looking for contemporary scripts at the time, and it really spoke to both of us – many of our friends at the time were making the decision to have children, and some of Hazel’s fears about motherhood just seemed like a conversation women so rarely feel the (societal, cultural) freedom to have.  What if I am NOT good at it? What if it DOESN’T just feel natural to me?  We ultimately never had the opportunity to produce it and it never fit in with quite with our mission, so I am really grateful to have the chance to revisit the script with such a wonderful group of artists here at “home” at Everyman. 

Can you provide a brief, spoiler-free synopsis of the play?

Hazel, a very pregnant and recent stay at home mother to 8-year-old Daniel, is surprised by the nanny her husband, a successful international surgeon, sends for without Hazel’s knowledge – or permission. Hazel believes her son Daniel is troubled, but it becomes clear that everyone thinks perhaps the intense Hazel is the troubled one. The nanny may have an agenda of her own, and Hazel’s husband is not always easy to reach. Our New Girl is a tense psychological and domestic thriller, an unflinching and sometimes dark look at class and modern parenting. 

Starting the project, did you have prior experience directing?

When I was first starting in my early 20s in NYC, I was one of the founders of an ensemble of artists called The Ground Floor Theatre Lab. There were ten of us – writers, actors, directors – and we did all the behind-the-scenes-work, from building sets and marketing the shows, ourselves. Though I was solely an actor then, as an ensemble member I was around all the conversations when we produced, so directing didn’t feel “behind the veil” to me as a theatre artist. In grad school some years later, I directed and produced a project in the summer between my first and second year. I have been producing readings in DC and NYC off and on for over 10 years.

Directing is not my first or greatest love, but I enjoy stepping back and having the luxury of looking at storytelling in the macro way as a director. In fact, I think it helps me when I go “back in” to my point of view as an actor, so I am very grateful to Vinny and Everyman that we are afforded this excellent opportunity to stretch our boundaries and minds in the Salon Series.

The staged reading of Our New Girl, like all the plays in the Salon Series, is being performed in a somewhat informal space at Everyman. In what ways – if any – does the close contact with the audience impact the performance?

What is so great about these informal readings in a more intimate space – without the “rules” of theater-going, (with cocktails and food!), no lights-out illusion of a barrier between them and us – is that they provide the audience access to our process as artists. The actors and I are going to come together Monday for Our New Girl with some ideas and a willingness to collaborate and will spend only 5 hours in rehearsal before the audience arrives to bear witness.

They will see the actors’ very first instincts and impulses, and the barest bones of how we start to put a story together. In an empty rehearsal hall. And yet, what is exhilarating is that the audience does see the story, because they have to use their own imaginations and help us create it when stage directions describe a gleaming ultra-modern all-white kitchen or a dusty desert plain. It’s fun for us as actors because you can really feel that energy, that listening for the story in the audience, in the words we say and in the spaces between them.

What would you like to see audiences take away from the play?

I mostly hope audiences have a great, unexpected evening at Everyman. I think the play has a lot to say about motherhood, the pressures of contemporary motherhood, the idea of having-it-all (and at what cost), and class and privilege. The best thing is that the audience can stick around after the reading and talk to us about the play and its ideas!

Promotional material for the Salon Series says “this year’s Salon selections complement each show of the Main Stage season.” What Main Stage play(s) do you think Our New Girl speaks to and why?

Our New Girl is paired with Wait Until Dark because it is also a thriller. Not in the film noir way, though there is a lot of stage direction about darkness and near darkness, and light slicing through the dark. It is taut, sometimes frightening, and there is an implied threat of violence throughout. It seemed like a perfect fit for Wait Until Dark for that reason.

Would you like to see Our New Girl performed as a fully-staged production in the Baltimore area in the future? If so, would you be more interested in directing or acting in it?

I would love to see Our New Girl fully mounted in production. I would love to act in it for sure, but don’t think I want to tackle a full production of this play as a director. That is a next step for me as an artist, one I am looking forward to taking, but right now I am enjoying focusing my attention on expanding myself as an actor.

Natascia Diaz, Felicia Curry, and Beth Hylton. Photo by Scott Schulman.
Natascia Diaz, Felicia Curry, and Beth Hylton in ‘Collective Rage.’ Photo by Scott Schulman.

It’s my understanding that in addition to directing Our New Girl, you are also in rehearsals for a show at Woolly Mammoth in DC. How have you managed to balance not just your time, but the different hats you are wearing?

Oh gosh. It has been a busy few weeks for sure! Collective Rage opened on Friday. The past two weeks have been tech and previews and lots of rewrites and changes from the director and playwright, so it has been twelve hour days (including homework time). I will have one week of Woolly-only before I start rehearsal for The Roommate at Everyman and at that time I will be rehearsing and performing and commuting between the two!  I have done it before, but throwing in the Salon reading with the tech and previews has meant that I have to use every moment of every day very wisely. I prepped all my meals for the week this last day off so I could grab and go and not have to think; that thought time could be used valuably elsewhere! On meal breaks, I tried to clear my head and give an hour to Our New Girl, though I also gave myself 30 minutes to turn my brain off and take a nap when necessary!

You can catch up with the very busy Beth Hylton at the Salon Series staged reading of Our New Girl at Everyman Theatre TONIGHT – Monday, September 19, 2016 at 7 PM. You can also see her playing the role of Betty Boop 1 in the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company production of Collective Rage through October 9. Finally, you can watch her perform in Everyman Theatre’s second Main Stage production of the season, The Roommate, which plays from October 26 to November 27, 2016.

The Salon Series reading of Our New Girl is a one-night-only affair. Pre-show cocktails at 6:00 PM, professionally staged readings at 7:00 PM, and post-show cocktails at 9:00 PM. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752- 2208, or purchase them online.