4615 Theatre’s Director and Design Team Discuss World Premiere of ‘Separate Rooms’

True to its current mission of producing a provocative blend of classical and contemporary work, inspiring audiences to explore the echoes and resonances of storytelling passed down through the ages, 4615 Theatre is producing the world premiere of playwright Joe Calarco’s Separate Rooms, said Jordan Friend, 4615 Founder and Artistic Director in a phone interview.

4615 Founding Artistic Director Jordan Friend. Photo by Jeffrey Mosier Photography.
4615 Founding Artistic Director Jordan Friend. Photo by Jeffrey Mosier Photography.

The Separate Rooms premiere, like all 4615 productions, is “about encouraging audiences to take adventurous risks with their theatre-going–in this case, staging a provocative contemporary play,” added Friend. What is Separate Rooms about? Separate Rooms is a meditation on loss, friendship, and the traces of ourselves we leave behind. It is a time-bending, haunting comedy.

Inviting audiences to Separate Rooms, Friend said, “The thrill of this play is that it constantly takes you somewhere you didn’t expect to go, and subverts your expectations of what you think you are watching.”

Friend then went on to note that 4615 Theatre seeks “to provide young artists a space to collaborate and push the boundaries of conventional theatre.” For Friend, those artists include both the actors seen and heard by the audience and the unseen creative designers.

For the audience’s imaginative encounter with Separate Rooms, Friend, who is directing the new production, has enlisted a creative design team he describes as “super sharp, tackling a technically daunting play in innovative ways. The biggest challenge is most certainly the apartment itself. The play requires our ability to view multiple rooms, sometimes separately and sometimes simultaneously, which is especially tricky given the intimacy of our performance space.”

The all-female design team includes include costume designer Jeanette Christensen, scenic designer Jenny Hiyama, who is making her DC debut, and lighting designer Katie McCreary. Friend described their technical design work as evoking a character’s inner life and shared memories, while hopping from space to space throughout the play.

Since the technical design team may not be well known to DCMTA readers, I took the opportunity to chat with Christensen, Hiyama, and McCreary to highlight their creative work with 4615’s premiere of Separate Rooms. 

David Siegel: How would you describe your role and responsibilities with 4615’s Separate Rooms?

Costume designer Jeannette Christensen: I love to tell stories and clothing is my medium to do so. It wasn’t until halfway through undergrad that I discovered that costume design existed as a career and I’ve just been on that path ever since.

Scenic designer Jenny Hiyama: I discovered scenic design and loved having the ability to create worlds. My job is to take what the script has described and what the director envisions and make it into a workable environment. While the script calls for an apartment, my responsibility, along with the director and the rest of the team, is to not only show the audience where we are but make them feel as though they are in the room with us. That includes everything from the color of the walls to the chair sitting in the corner.

Lighting designer Katie McCreary: I always consider (and, when teaching, this is what I tell students) that lighting and sound support the emotional world of the play. At the most basic level, though, lighting directs the audience where to look, where not to look, and where to maybe look (in case there’s something in the background that you should keep an eye on)…

Why did you want to work on the premiere of Separate Rooms?

Christensen: I play a pretty big role as an equal collaborator in the design process. As a costume designer, my main responsibility is to conceptualize the looks and styles of the story’s characters. I do this by either providing clear visual research images, or rendering how I see them for the rest of the creative team to see and give feedback on. I then work with a shop, or independent drapers and stitchers to bring these looks to life. In the case of Separate Rooms, there were not any costume builds. I mostly thrifted the looks and did my own alterations/stitch notes as needed.

Hiyama: I wanted to work on Separate Rooms because of the intensity of human emotion within this short play is so palpable and accessible that you have to connect with and respond to it. Our challenge and at the same time opportunity for this production is scene changes and that’s all I will hint at. And two fellow Ithaca College alumni [Joe Calarco and Jordan Friend] are a part of the production.

McCreary: I am incredibly lucky that my career is a wonderful mix of new works and classics. Having the playwright in the room adds an additional eye to make sure that the entire design team is telling the same story, and that it’s the story they want to tell. The ability to have that resource in the room is amazing! On this one, there are lots of stories to tell…having Joe [Calarco] there makes sure we don’t give away too much too soon.

The cast for 4615’s Separate Rooms includes Alex Mills, Jenna Berk, Stephen Russell Murray, Alani Kravitz, Jacob Yeh, Jen Rabbitt Ring, Reginald Richard, Melissa Carter, and Vince Eisenson. 4615 recommends the production for audiences ages 17 and up.

[Read John Stoltenberg’s review of Separate Rooms.]

Separate Rooms plays February 22 to March 17, 2019, at 4615 Theatre Company performing at The Highwood Theatre – 914 Silver Spring Avenue, Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 928-2738, or purchase them online.