Swimmers: First Day of Rehearsal Meet and Greet
The first day of rehearsal for any play usually begins with a welcome greeting from the artistic director of the company, followed by the director and the designers sharing their vision for the play before the cast reads through the play for the first time.
Marin Theatre Company Artistic Director, Jasson Minadakis:
Swimmers is particularly special to our organization because the first time I read the play was for our Sky Cooper New American Play Prize, which is a $10,000 prize. Swimmers happened to be the first thing I was supposed to read on a cross country flight. I started reading it at 6 o’clock in the morning, I read it 3 times by the time I landed in San Francisco. As I was deplaning, I was getting in touch with Rachel’s agent to ask to produce the play.
Swimmers director, Mike Donahue:
Rachel and I met a year and a half ago to talk about working on her play The Wolfe Twins, and I immediately fell in love with both that play and Rachel’s writing. I think Rachel has such an incredible gift. Her ear for the rhythm and the way in which people speak, but more importantly, the connection between that and how that reveals and rips open their humanity. She is unbelievably astute and precise and has such a profound understanding of all sorts of different people, and how they work. Through these sort of seemingly innocuous daily interactions, these profound shiftings of tectonic plates in people’s lives are revealed. I think her work is wonderfully funny in this character-driven way, and that it can be palpably sad and life affirming and just, richly human. I think it’s a great gift for all of us that we get to work on it.
At the end of the day, no matter how different we are and where we are in our lives and where we’re coming from, it’s sort of equally shitty to be a human being. At the end of the day, part of the job of being human is to recognize and allow for the shittiness of it, and to accept that, because then you can actually start to work through it and move forward. In doing so, it is critical that you not silo yourself. That you not cut yourself off from other people, that connections to other people are actually an incredibly important part of finding a healthy way to move forward, and to forgive yourself for not being as okay with things as you think you should be -- or for being in a place in your life where you think you should be, or for being as far along as you think you should be.
As all of these different people intersect, there’s this wonderful interplay, which is true in a lot of Rachel’s writing, of the danger of being intimate and the danger of being vulnerable. These people spend very large chunks of their lives together, in the same office or the same building for 8, 9, 10, 11 hours a day. There’s this strange line that develops between public and private, because they are people who spend so much of their lives together, but in an ostensibly professional context. But they do get to know one another so deeply that you start to take for granted certain intimacy and vulnerability that’s still never a given, set, easy thing.
Playwright, Rachel Bonds:
I wrote the first draft of this play in 2011, and have written many, many drafts since then. I have also been in supported in a number of ways by other theaters throughout the development process. There was a reading here or a workshop there...but many of these other producing organizations encouraged me to conflate characters or to strip characters out—to find ways to make the play smaller. Marin never asked me to do that. They wanted to do the play that I had written—they wanted to do the play as it was intended to be done. Each of the characters in this play is important, because the play functions as a kind of accumulation. Every single character, even if they are just in one scene, contributes to the arc of the play. They make the world feel lived in. And Marin trusted that. They trusted me. And that's a really big deal. It's a big deal for me and, I think, really important for the American theatre to take risks like this.
Director Mike Donahue speaking on behalf of scenic and costume designer Dane Laffrey, who was unable to be in attendance:
We looked at a ton of office spaces to get a sense of the shared elements, because a number of them do share similar, even the same, pieces. The great challenge of the play spatially is that you have to move from floor to floor to floor, but the play can’t be hunkered down by big massive transitions. We needed the visceral feeling of being inside the office, under the ceiling with pop out tiles and fluorescent lighting, on that sad carpet, with sad filing cabinets and a weird fake plant. But the difference from being inside the building to outside the building was actually the most important shift in the play to pull off.
So we essentially have a box, which is specific enough to be evocative of this office world, but simple and stripped enough to be able to shift floor to floor with as little moving pieces as possible. Something that became important for us to calibrate was how oppressive versus how expansive this building feels. Because it can’t be so compressed and small that it feels like the life is being snuffed out of it, but it also can’t be so large and vacuous that you lose the intimacy of the play.
When asked where the inspiration of the play came from, playwright Rachel Bonds responded:
I wrote the first draft of this play during a very trying time. I was feeling stuck and frustrated with my career and a little hopeless. There was an element of “Screw it! I’ll just write a giant play with 11 lonely people and no one ever has to see it or know it exists.” That difficult time gave me freedom to write something I would never have dared to write otherwise and allowed me to get at something really personal and unique and strange. The play initially came out of loneliness, fear about the unwinding and unknown future, a need for some guidance, and a real need to connect.