The hottest new play in America isn’t on Broadway. Since premiering at Playwrights Horizons in 2009, Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, the story of five people in a Vermont town who get together for a six-week acting workshop, has been in almost continuous production at some of the top regional theaters in the country. The 32-year-old playwright’s innovative script stipulates that performers follow a rigorous and thoroughly notated set of stage directions that includes timed pauses of various specific lengths. Without taking the prescribed seven-, or 12-, or even 28-second pause, Baker asserts that while theaters may be doing something, it’s not the play she wrote. Baker, who has been praised for her reimagining of what theater dialogue can sound like, has been known to record actual conversations in order to better understand and copy some of the ways that people outside the theater actually speak.
I spoke with DramaDog Ken Gilbert, who will be directing this, the first Santa Barbara production of the show, and he gave me many good reasons to see Circle Mirror Transformation, which runs March 21-30 at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo; centerstagetheater.org). Here are three of the best.
1. DramaDogs Knows This World: “We’re in alignment with her process,” said Gilbert of the group and author Baker. “She’s writing about a body-oriented, workshop approach to acting, and that’s exactly what we do as a theater group.”
2. The Writing Is Great — Especially the Pauses: “When we were rehearsing we actually brought someone in with a stopwatch to time those pauses for us, cuing each one by saying ‘start’ and ‘stop,’” Gilbert said. “And what that did was help us to feel how important they were, and how well-written the piece is in that way, because what we discovered was that there was a ‘truth of the pause’ built into every one.”
3. It’s Even More Fun If You’re a Little Early: “The actors will enter at 7:55 p.m., as if they are on time for class,” Gilbert said. “They will be onstage while the audience is still coming in, and they will be acting as if there were a workshop about to begin.”