“The Other Two Men”: The Director

The funny thing about my play “The Other Two Men” (review) is that it’s a story about an arranged marriage – that started out as a kind of arranged marriage.  The Players Ring wrote me that Tomer Oz would be my director.  Tomer arranged to meet and started right out with the two issues that cause the most conflicts in relationships:  money and sex.

“We’re paying the actors.”  He said, after introducing himself.

As a disciple of Yog’s Law in science fiction circles no other possibility had occurred to me:
“Of course we’re paying the actors!”

We moved on to how he wanted to approach the play.  “I’m not so interested in the gay stuff.”  He said.  I decided to ask what he meant rather than take instant offence.  (This is the director who added a kiss and a down-on-one-knee proposal to the staging:  he has no problem with same-sex material as a producer, director, or actor.)  What he meant was ‘I don’t see this as A Gay Story – this is not a niche production that would only interest an LBGT audience’.

“I agree.”  I replied.  “In fact you’ve understood all the main themes of the play perfectly.  So tell me your ideas for putting this play on stage.  How can I help?  I’ve typed brief casting notes on 3×5 cards, as a start ….”

We quickly moved on to casting, callbacks, the table read, and a startlingly compact rehearsal schedule.  I found it to be wonderful (everyone I’ve worked with at The Players Ring is kind and professional) and very difficult:  I had to trust Tomer before I knew or liked him.  As producer and director he made every key creative decision, as producer he had say over the production’s budget and finances, and while I quickly had good reasons for trusting him, extending immense confidence to a near-stranger was a hard thing to do.  Worse, we grew up on different continents and came from different artistic worlds:  so there were two cultural differences that could have created difficulties.  (My grandparents were from different continents so I knew that kind of difference well.)

The difference between writing and theater culture was the most difficult part for me – writers (see Yog’s Law) always suspect that publishers are not being above-board with shared creative decisions and finances.  Theater is collaborative and each person – stage manager, actor, producer, or light tech is trusted to do their job and work as a team.  Tomer explained (as a fellow playwright) that if I believed my script was a finished work then I should trust that a theater could stage it without my guidance or intervention.  In fact he did let me sit in on every step of the process, told me his ideas and showed me what he working on, and asked what I thought about each stage of the process (this was a courtesy, not a consultation).
Over rehearsals I quickly discovered that Tomer is an excellent manager; an organized, prompt, on-top-of-the-details boss who is clear without being overbearing.  He has a sense of humor, he is flexible (when the lights were stuck on ‘blackout’ one day during Tech Week he had no trouble shifting gears to an equally valuable alternate type of run-through), and he translated my high-concept science fiction (whose ideas about history and predestination he compared to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy (!!)) with lots of strange emotional territory into to-the-point guidance that made immediate sense to our two leads.  He changed much of the play’s stage directions (even after James Patrick Kelly’s advice I had too many of them). (“Well, you’re limiting what I can do as an actor.” Emery Lawrence explained when I asked for his and Bailey Weakley’s feedback on the script.).  I had set the play on a traditional proscenium stage with two legs and a border in the wings – the Players’ Ring has a bare, black box 3/4 thrust stage with entrances at three corners.  Tomer changed the geography of the set and did a beautiful job turning the space between the actors into a metaphor for the two characters’ sorta-romantic relationship.

Tomer’s also … a lot of people talk about tolerance now; what a different, truly egalitarian American society would look like.  Without any grandstanding Tomer treated me as a full human being and fellow professional (even when I said, “Look, I don’t know any of the rules around here:  you’ll just have to tell me everything about how theater works.”)  Every culture I grew up with – whether it was Spanish or Southeastern U.S. – has a role for women (and for men).  During rehearsals Tomer had no box I was supposed to stay in.  It was very disorienting.  I had a job (the playwright) but I was an entire human being.  He also did a second thing that I put down to culture:  he understood the theme of fundamental human decency in the script with the clarity of noon daylight.

Tomer Oz is a good person to work with and an excellent producer and director.   By Tech Week I liked him – after trusting him entirely for three week with one of the most personal things I’ve written.

It turns out The Other Two Men is Tomer’s first directing and producing gig in the Seacoast.  He is a familiar and sought-after actor with a wide range:  a player with the comedy improv troupe DARWiN’S WAiTiNG ROOM, the role of Musa in the Players’ Ring production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (VIPA).  His upcoming shows include:  Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun (Aug 4-14) with ACT ONE at West End Studio Theater, A Christmas Carol (Dec 2-23, 2016) at the Players’ Ring, and Metamorphoses with the New Hampshire Theatre Project (Jan. 13-29) at West End Studio Theater.  I urge you to see him in any of those roles. He will also produce Hurly Burly (March 10-26, 2017) at the Players’ Ring, which should not be missed.

I knew only two things about Tomer Oz before I met him:  I had watched him act in Bengal Tiger (“If you can act like that — and interpret a script like that — then you can direct *this* 45-minute play blindfolded with one hand tied behind your back.”  I said to him.)  And Alex from the reading had assured me:  “He’s great.”  (This means a very different thing in L.A.)

Alex Pease, one of the actors from last November’s reading, came on as our alternate light tech.  At one point during Tech Week he sat down in the theater seat next to me, and observed:

“This is a hard thing to do, to make the jump from short stories to scripts.  It’s also a hard thing to make the jump from publishing to the theater, they’re different cultures.  You’ve done both.  Normally I don’t allow the author to be a part of the actual production, because oftentimes you feel like you have to consult them with every choice or note, which can suffocate the director. This project is different; you’re one of the few who actually understands these limitations, and from what I can tell you’re one of the most understanding and accommodating playwrights I’ve ever seen.  This works.”

I replied:  “This has been everything I’m bad at and everything that’s difficult for me.  I like Tomer, though, he’s been worth trusting.”

Alex said: “I told you he’d be great to work with – we came into theater at the same time, only a month apart.  I’ve worked with him before.”

That’s the other cultural difference between theater and writing:  authors will overlook many flaws in collaborators and business partners as long as they’re competent professionals.  In this local theater culture the first criteria for hiring someone is ‘are they a decent person’ – everyone already knows who can do their job — but what matters is whether they are difficult, don’t keep their word, or are bad at getting along with people.  So they knew all that beforehand about Tomer and I didn’t.

I will work with Tomer Oz again any time.

-Lisa Shapter

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