The idea of a collaborative, spontaneously-created script is evident in almost all aspects of HEIST PLAY, directed and written by Skylar Fox ’15. The three-act play follows a group of criminals, not unlike the teams in heist movies we’ve come to love, as they plan and execute a heist.
Yet HEIST PLAY, which is still being workshopped by Fox, ventures beyond the cliché world of heist films. Each character is unique and idiosyncratic, brought to life in an unparalleled way due to the intense connection formed between the character and the actor. There is no “lead” part, though Evan Finkle ’15 plays the team’s beloved leader; instead, all of the actors work together as a team, each bringing their own unique personality and contributions to the story.
In an interview, Fox was quick to praise his dedicated cast and crew, citing them as integral collaborators in the devising process. “What happens in the play specifically revolves around the people who auditioned and what they created… I thought I knew something about a character and I thought I knew how I wanted them to do something, and then I’d be like ‘oh no, that was way more right than my idea.’”
This ubiquitous collaboration transforms HEIST PLAY into a uniquely mortal experience. “Coming from the very two-dimensional world of characters in heist films,” Fox remarks, “I really wanted them to be able to develop into very three-dimensional, interesting, strange characters. I thought the best way to do that was to develop them with a company of actors.”
Such a collective creative process led to a rather unconventional rehearsal schedule. When walking us through the devising process, Fox detailed a timeline that included three weeks of improvisational work, one week to focus on each individual act, a week and a half for rehearsing and changes, and a week to tech. The show faced various rewrites and changes, which were to be expected from a show written in such a short time frame, yet it still soars above expectations and leaves a lasting impact.
The story hinges on equal contributions from all of Fox’s team, not just the cast. HEIST PLAY‘s evolution into an in-depth exploration of identity and purpose is conceived and brought to fruition by the entire cast and crew. As Fox explains, “So we have the cast, we have my Assistant Director Carrie [Adams ’17], and we have my stage management team that make up the primary room. And it really was a pretty evenly based creative process, and the way we built things was to go through a series of exercises and then we’d sit down and talk about the things that intrigued us, or the things that we were interested in.”
Miranda Friel ‘15.5 designed the set, which–much like the play itself–is fluid and evolving, constantly manipulated by the cast. The floor, which is literally designed to emulate a blueprint, provides us with the notion that we, too, are in on the plan. The atmosphere of Leeds Theatre only adds to this, making the warehouse setting seem both believable and appropriate. “The design kind of wrote the play for me in a big way,” Fox acknowledges, “where I could see what was being created by our set designer, our light designer, our costume designer, our video designer. Where it was like, oh, well that shifts my way of thinking about what I’m writing and how I’m going to write it and what it can do.”
The idea to do a heist film-inspired play, a genre that seems to recycle more ideas than it creates, would seem peculiar to the outside eye. This is a notion which Fox not only acknowledges, but plays on with various technical stylizations throughout the piece. The production features several distinct and complementary mediums, including visual projections, dramatic lighting and a very contemporary soundtrack, which together emulate the synergetic ideology behind HEIST PLAY‘s creative process. “I love Ocean’s Eleven and the remake of the Italian Job. Just terrible, great movies about heists,” says Fox, who thought of the heist idea before deciding to devise it with a cast of actors. “I was trying to figure out what made them so exciting… and it’s these people doing these impossible things. They’re like mortal human beings that are doing something amazing and I got really into that idea.”
Looking forward, Fox hopes to rewrite and continue workshopping the piece, a luxury that was not afforded during the show’s limited timeframe. Regarding the short process in which HEIST PLAY was created, Fox comments, “I look at this play even now and say I’m proud of what we made and I’m so excited to keep working on it, but we’re in opening week. So now I kind of have to throw away my playwright hat for a second and keep on the director hat and say, let’s make this thing the best version of itself that it can be right now.”
For now, however, HEIST PLAY stands as a truly authentic production. Almost every component of the show is specific to Fox and his cast, which makes it infinitely more relatable and powerful. All of a sudden, the play is no longer just an interpretation of somebody else’s story; instead, it’s an opportunity for a group of people to transform a premise into their own unique story. “[The actors] believe in the world they’ve built so strongly, ” Fox comments. “I don’t know if this could ever happen with a play they didn’t create themselves.”
HEIST PLAY is at Leeds Theatre on December 4th at 8 p.m., December 5th at 8 p.m., December 6th at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and December 7th at 2 p.m. Check out the cast and creative team’s blog, where you can hear more about the creative process behind the play directly from the cast and creative team.