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From Idea to Stage: ‘Triple Threat’ & ‘Bread Crumbs’ Open at The Scratch

The Scratch, a free festival of new works, starts off tonight with two personal works by some of Seattle’s hottest artists: Nicholas Japaul Bernard and Jasmine Joshua, with development assistance and direction by Eddie DeHais. The two autobiographical pieces — Triple Threat (by Bernard) and Bread Crumbs (by Joshua) — will play as a double feature at 18th & Union, for three performances only (tonight through Monday). 

DeHais shared insight about Triple Threat and Bread Crumbs, and guided NWT through the development process of each.

Triple Threat and Bread Crumbs run through August 19. The Scratch festival, featuring new work from seven playwrights plus a night of short works from eight young playwrights, runs through August 27.

 

 

The Pieces
Triple Threat – Nicholas Japaul Bernard 
Nicholas Japaul Bernard, author of ‘Triple Threat’. Photo by Brett Love.

About the playwright:

Nicholas Japaul Bernard (he/him) is a Seattleite of two years now. Since moving to Seattle, Bernard has worked with a wide array of theatres in the Seattle area, and garnered a Gregory Award nomination for his work as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch with ArtsWest within his first year of moving to town.

As a disabled, queer, and Black artist, Bernard is interested in fostering an artistic world in which marginalized people have the space to tell their own stories but not be regulated to that alone. We are more than our pain.

About the show (from the playwright):

Traditionally a Triple Threat is described as one who can sing, act, and dance. The term threat, as I’ve come to understand it, describes the threat of this individual getting cast over you because of their ability to do and be it all. These are the people they tell you to watch out for. These are the people they say you don’t want to go toe to toe with. But is that it? Black, Gay, and Disabled? Immigrant, Son, Poor? Educated, Tired, Angry? Do you feel threatened? You should.

 

Talking Through the Piece: NWT Q&A with director Eddie DeHais   

What is Triple Threat about? 

Nicholas was (and is) an extraordinary dancer. He went to ballet school and his dream was to be a ballet dancer, but shortly after graduating he was diagnosed with a tumor. During the surgery for this tumor, there was a complication, and it caused paralysis in his legs. He now has a disability where he can no longer flex his feet and generally has to wear braces in order to walk safely, which extinguished his aspirations of ballet. This is a piece about Nick navigating the journey of his feet as he also navigates coming out and being Black, while becoming the person he was always meant to be. 

What’s the mood? 

This piece is like blood pulled directly from the earth. It is wild and unpredictable and intense. It’s also very funny and irreverent, and Nicholas lets the audience into the internal conflict he deals with on a daily basis when trying to process his trauma. Nicholas does this with a lot of mischief, and it is delightful to watch him jump through time and space as he figures out how to tell his story. He dances beautifully. 

What insight does it give from a unique or underrepresented viewpoint?

We talked a lot in this process about the exploitation of marginalized bodies in art, and how exhausted we are that queer, Black, and disabled pain are constantly being put on display for other people’s entertainment. Nick wanted to address those issues while also getting to the root of his story, which is wrapped up in being gay, Black, and disabled. Nick has done an extraordinary job of thinking about how to come at his story in a way that feels like it is for him rather than in a way that exploits him. I’m consistently amazed at his thoughtfulness, curiosity, and grace.

 

Bread Crumbs – Jasmine Joshua 
Jasmine Joshua, author of ‘Bread Crumbs’. Photo by Brett Love.

About the playwright:

Jasmine Joshua (they/them) is the Artistic Director of the Gregory Award-winning Reboot Theatre Company whose mission is to test new interpretations of established works through nontraditional casting and design. They have been seen on stage in Seattle at Intiman, Book-It, Seattle Musical Theatre, Annex, and more. Jasmine graduated magna cum laude from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Creative Writing. They are currently working on a transgender musical as a part of the 5th Avenue Theatre’s First Draft: Raise Your Voice program. Jasmine will direct Cafe Nordo’s Christmas show, opening December 2019.

About the show (from the playwright):

What even IS nonbinary anyway? A computer program? A tropical drink? A word that caused you to have an existential crisis when you finally realized oh my god, I think I might be one of those, but I’m married and have two kids already and what am I supposed to do now I have SO many bras? Join drag artist Harvey Gent (Jasmine Joshua) in a hilarious and wholly autobiographical queer spectacle, featuring pregnancy, trekking across tidepools in your underwear, and peeing one’s pants in front of Very Important People.

Read NWT’s earlier interview with Jasmine Joshua here

 

Talking Through the Piece: NWT Q&A with director Eddie DeHais   

What is Bread Crumbs about? 

Jasmine’s show is about coming out as non-binary when they were 33, after having lived as a woman and giving birth to twin girls. They tell us the story of their pregnancy, their escapades while trying to live as a woman, and their experiences while coming out of the gender closet. 

What’s the mood? 

Jasmine has this uncanny ability to tap into these old-timey clichés that are absolutely hysterical, but can also be deeply poignant. When I was trying to set the tone for the piece, I described it as Eddie Izzard meets Hannah Gadsby meets Ethel Merman meets Johnny Carson. It is very presentational and embraces the tropes of stand-up comedy, drag, musical theatre, and vaudeville. It is big and funny and loud, while also deeply tender, warm, and full of heart. Sometimes I laugh so hard while we’re working that we have to go on break so that I can recover. 

What insight does it give from a unique or underrepresented viewpoint?

I am also transgender, and I feel like there is a real dearth of stories out there about transgender people that actually represent our lives, rather than our pain. When I began working with Jasmine, I kept pushing them to dig into what their daily life was like, how they were raising their kids, how they met their spouse, how they dealt with intrusive questions from family and other parents. For this version, we also wanted to craft a story that would be accessible to people who may have never met a transgender person before. We wanted to make it approachable, a way in for people to understand an experience that was very different from theirs without creating any sense of judgment. I think this is a play that could travel pretty much anywhere in the country and help people from very different backgrounds understand that trans people are just regular people trying to figure out how to fall in love, raise kids, and live their lives as best they can.

 

The Process
Directing Triple Threat & Bread Crumbs – Eddie DeHais
Eddie DeHais, director of ‘Triple Threat’ and ‘Bread Crumbs’. Photo courtesy of The Scratch.

About the director/collaborator: 

Eddie DeHais (they/them) is a nonbinary director, choreographer, and producer who creates bold stories for the stage by developing new works and radical interpretations of classic plays. They believe in empowering others through a process of radical empathy and collaboration. They are an MFA Directing Candidate at Brown-Trinity Rep where they will direct their new adaptation of Macbeth in the fall. Eddie previously served as Director of New Works for Café Nordo, and as Founding Artistic Director of DangerSwitch! Eddie was an SDCF Observer, a two-time Metcalf Fellow, an Intiman Theatre Emerging Director, and a 4Culture Grant recipient.

 

NWT wrote to DeHais with two open-ended questions: Can you talk about the development process & path for each of these shows? and What was your role in the development of each of them? In response, DeHais provided a compelling, in-depth look at the generative process of the two pieces — along with a beautiful narrative of friendship-building through artistic collaboration. 

 

by Eddie DeHais 

I first started getting interested in solo work in the summer of 2017 when I worked with Sara Porkalob during the Intiman Emerging Artist Program. Prior to that, my work had been these massive ensemble projects with huge scale designs, big spectacle dance numbers, puppets, and large casts, but I had been considering applying to graduate school and wanted to see whether being in a more educational setting would inspire me. I was also interested in learning about the process of developing and directing solo shows. Turns out, it’s a lot of fun and something I really enjoy.

During my time at Intiman, I met Nicholas Bernard and we began the first tiny baby steps towards developing his solo show. Nicholas had never done any solo work and wasn’t very confident in his skills as a writer, but he’s actually extraordinarily poetic, and just needed someone to help guide that poetry into something more structured. We became close collaborators and together built a 10-minute solo show that would later be the cornerstone of Triple Threat, and the cornerstone of a strong and incredible friendship. 

Then last spring, I was preparing to leave Seattle for graduate school in August as well as preparing for top surgery in June — which would make it impossible for me to take big directing projects, since so much of my directing involves choreography and I wouldn’t have access to my body to do that work. At the time, I was working with Nick on ReShape, an installation I produced surrounding mental health. We would have these long conversations about how so much of his mental health continues to be wrapped up in his trauma around never quite fitting in as gay, Black, and disabled, so his story was very much in my head. Simultaneously, Jasmine reached out to me to do movement direction for a show, and while we were meeting, we began lamenting that we’d been friends for so long but had never worked together professionally — and now that I was leaving Seattle, we’d missed our shot! At the time, Jasmine had started developing these short bits of material about their experience coming out as nonbinary at 33 after having had kids, so I told them: Hey, before I leave for grad school, let’s not only work together, but let’s turn your incredible story into a solo show. 

The important thing about developing personal material (or really any material) is that you must have deadlines. Personal stories are the absolute hardest things to write because you are editing your own life in a particular way for other people, and there’s a lot of baggage wrapped up in that, and wouldn’t it be easier to just watch Netflix? I told Jasmine that if we were going to do this, we had to make sure that a public performance deadline was involved to hold us accountable. We’d heard via Gavin Reub that Andrew Garrett was starting a new works series called The Scratch and looking for people with material they wanted to develop, so we pitched it, got a slot in early August, and that gave us one month to generate, write, and rehearse a show. 

 

Personal stories are the absolute hardest things to write because you are editing your own life in a particular way for other people, and there’s a lot of baggage wrapped up in that. 

 

I was still recovering this entire time, so Jasmine would come over to my house while I would sit on the couch wrapped up in bandages and zoned out on pain meds, and we would have these intense conversations about what being nonbinary even was, and what the stories were that mattered in Jasmine’s trajectory. We’ve known each other since 2013 when I first moved to Seattle, back before either of us had come out, so we’ve truly been there for one another during each other’s journeys. I went to Jasmine’s baby shower, I saw them dance and sing fully pregnant in Tommy the musical in a goddamn corset and heels, I saw them as John Adams, I remember the day Jasmine decided to form Reboot, and, incidentally, it was during the previous summer while I was working with Nick at Intiman that Jasmine and I were taking long drives and having big intense talks as they figured out whether they were a woman or … something else. So I knew their story and I knew how unbelievably compelling it was, and I also knew how great of a storyteller Jasmine was, and I pushed them hard to spill those beans. In a month, we constructed a 35-minute show in my living room, Jasmine performed it, and then I headed off to grad school. 

I knew when I left Seattle that I would want to come back. Seattle is such an extraordinary community, there is no way I could ever abandon it. But grad school is intense and essentially two or three full-time jobs; it does not leave any room for a personal life or other projects. I was complaining about this to Nicholas over FaceTime in the fall of my first semester and somehow we began talking about his solo show, and how much that full journey needed to be explored, but he never could make the time. Through that conversation, I realized that developing solo work was the exact scale of work that could be managed on my schedule, but I didn’t want to only work with Nick, I wanted to work with Jasmine too. So I pitched them both on an idea: we would collaborate over the course of the year on their shows, and then I’d come back for two weeks in the summer and we’d meet every day and workshop these pieces for performance.

The process during the year involved getting them to write as much as possible. Jasmine had a strong core of story already, so I invited them to start riffing, find tangents, explore paths, and find the jokes. With Nicholas, we still didn’t really know what story he was trying to tell, so we created a big shared folder in Google Docs, and I told him that every single Saturday he owed me a piece of writing that needed to go in that folder. This forced Nicholas to write a LOT, which meant that he got a lot of ideas out, both good and bad. This process was also important because when he tried to put a show together too early it felt shallow, so I wanted him to dig much deeper before he tried to figure out how all the pieces fit in one puzzle.

 

These processes couldn’t have been more different, but they boiled down to the same question: What is the story?

 

We partnered with The Scratch by happenstance and good fortune. I was going to produce these shows on my own, and tried to rent 18th & Union, but when I reached out to the venue about August, they told me that two days prior someone had booked the entire month. I took an educated guess that the person who had booked it was Andrew Garrett and I emailed him to ask whether we could potentially partner. I told him that I was paying all my artists and collaborators as well as other producing costs, and was primarily interested in him providing the venue. Andrew absolutely loved this idea, and with his leadership, we were also able to plan a two-week residency for Jasmine, Nick, and myself out in Issaquah, where we would be able to develop the shows away from distractions. This project would have been impossible without The Scratch’s support.

I continued to develop material with Nick and Jasmine all year, with long phone calls and video chats and many emails and texts. I hired Chris DiStefano to be a musical director, and we began to tie him into conversations about how music might work in these two pieces in early June. Then in late June, I left for Europe for six weeks, but before I took off I set very specific goals for both Nicholas and Jasmine, so that we could get our residency off to a running start. I flew from Italy to France to New York to Seattle on August 2nd and 3rd, and our residency began on Monday, August 5th, with me recovering from 9 hours of jet lag. 

Each of these shows was in a very different place when we began the residency. Nick and I spent three hours in the morning of our first day simply writing every single idea that he’d had all year down on index cards. We spent that whole first day just organizing and reorganizing index cards into different stories, hunting for what was at the core of Nicholas’ story. Jasmine walked in with an extraordinary but very bulky script, so we spent hours delineating where the different pieces of stories started and stopped and breaking everything down into individual chunks. Then we broke those chunks down into beats. Then we read every sentence aloud and said, is that the best way that that sentence could be said, is that the right word? Do we add an adjective or do we just need a punchier verb? 

With Nick we were examining his story from a satellite orbiting a new and unfamiliar planet whereas for Jasmine we were in the lab looking through a microscope and performing microsurgery. I would run up and down the stairs of the house we were staying at and have to suddenly radically shift the way I was thinking and looking at things, then plunge in wholeheartedly with each of them. 

These processes couldn’t have been more different, but they boiled down to the same question: What is the story? What is the story? What is the story? I really cautioned both artists to try to uncover that story rather than trying to create something that felt forced. On the second day of the residency, I took all of Nick’s index cards and told him to open a blank document and write the show in the next six hours. I continued to perform surgery with Jasmine that entire day while sporadically checking in on Nick, who was furiously doggy-paddling in the deep end of the pool, and that night both artists read their scripts to the whole group. It was a really special moment for the three of us to see that first breath of life together, and it created a real moment of community between Nick and Jasmine. The two of them became deeply invested in each other’s work, and I think that sense of camaraderie has helped drive these projects forward. 

Over the course of the week, we worked tirelessly, but we also cooked meals together, told stories, shared funny YouTube videos, played songs, went for walks, and sometimes just sat in silence together allowing our thoughts to wander. Prior to the residency, I told Nick that I wanted to offer him the opportunity to get bored, to see where his thoughts took him when he didn’t have a fixed schedule, when he could just let himself be completely free. I think the quality of the work we’ve managed to craft in two weeks is a reflection of hard rigorous work but also of deep care and community. These are values that we often can’t make time for in our busy lives as working artists, but I think that care and love are palpable in the final product and I’m extremely proud of these two artists for allowing themselves the space to find their stories in this way. I can’t wait to share them.


The Scratch in Pen: Triple Threat and Bread Crumbs runs through 8/19 at 18th & Union in the Central District. Reservations are free for all, with donations accepted at the door; reserve here. Accessibility notes: restroom is gender-neutral, single-stall; theatre can be made wheelchair accessible with a ramp, but the restroom is not — please contact venue ahead of time to ensure smooth access.

The Scratch festival runs through 8/27, with several different new works in two venues. See full schedule and reserve free tickets here.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.