Sam wrote A Bright New Boise exclusively for Partial Comfort and it features three company members: Sarah Nina Hayon, Danielle Slavick, and Andrew Garman. The play focuses on Will (Andrew Garman) who has just moved to Boise from a very small town in northern Idaho. With no family or friends in the community, or even a place to hang his hat - he lives out of his Subaru - he finds a job at the local Hobby Lobby. It's an unusual Hobby Lobby, from Pauline, the manager with vicious swearing habit played by Danielle Slavick, right down to the TV in the break room that has a mind of its own.
The brightest spot in Will's experience at the Hobby Lobby is the lovable Anna, played by Sarah Nina Hayon. It's through Anna's curiosity - some would call her nosy - that we see a little tenderness for Will in his new hometown. Not unlike the Hobby Lobby, Anna has some quirks of her own. She is an avid reader of pulp novels and fantasies, sometimes staying at the store for hours with her nose in a book. When she learns that Will is a writer, she instantly becomes fascinated by him, his talents, his beliefs, and his history. She doesn't judge him, but through her peculiar interest in him she begins to look after him with compassion, offering him a little kindness that we otherwise wouldn't expect from someone so...bizarre. Whether Will can be tolerant of her eccentricities has yet to be determined.
This is Sarah's 4th production with Partial Comfort, including Kidstuff (by Edith Freni, directed by Erica Gould), Baby Girl (also by Freni, directed by Padraic Lillis), and ...A Matter Of Choice (by Chad Beckim, directed by John Gould Rubin). Outside of Partial Comfort, her performance in Rearviewmirror (Reverie Productions) earned her a Drama nomination, and her performance in The Provenance of Beauty with The Foundry Theater earned her an Obie Award and a 2nd Drama Desk Nomination. She's a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company, the co-creator of The 24-Seven Lab with fellow PCP members Sharon Freedman and Edith Freni, and a founding member of The Fire Dept. Theater with Audrey Rosenberg and PCP's Erica Gould.
In talking with Sarah, here's what she had to offer on her character Anna, her experience working on A Bright New Boise, and many of the things she loves about Partial Comfort.
Hi Sarah! We're excited to see your performance. To start, could you talk to us about your character? The great thing about her is that she seems so familiar, but not too familiar. Have you modeled her after anyone in particular?
I'm not sure I did the Johnny Depp thing this time with modeling Anna after people. I was actually really influenced by music this time around. I have been obsessively listening to Arcade Fire's The Suburbs - specifically "Sprawl II". I feel like it's Anna's theme song in a lot of ways. I also saw The Blow perform recently - my dear friend took me to see them at Joe's Pub - and the lead singer has this incredibly light, quirky energy. You just couldn't stop watching her - she was intoxicating in the oddest way. I think there is some of her in Anna. In general there are people I know, people whose lives happen to them. And as hard as they may try, they can't get control of their lives. But in actuality, it's a lot easier than they think. What's funny is that although Anna is an outsider she is actually the most accepting and open-minded person in the play. She is a real free spirit but also kind of a mess. I think in trying to help Will find his strength and courage to start a new life, she discovers a strength in herself.
Have you and Sam created a back-story for her?
Generally, I try to keep my back-story to myself because really I don't need to bore anyone with the details that I create as a dorky thespian...so long as my work is specific. But since we were creating this brand new play together, I checked with Sam from time to time to make sure I was on the right track with Anna. And I was always thrilled to find that we had the exact same ideas about Anna. There is a duality to Anna - this wisdom and naivete to her that I think can be magnetic.
What has your experience been like working on A Bright New Boise? What have you found particularly exciting about the play and the rehearsal process?
I have had the most amazing time. It's one of those rare perfect storms of talent. It is similar to how I felt working on ...A Matter of Choice with Chad and John Gould Rubin. Davis and Sam are an amazing duo. When it was time to end rehearsal each day I just wanted to keep going. Which, as we all know, is not always the case on a production.
I am such a huge fan of Sam's writing. I think his work is so unique and moving and thought-provoking. He is definitely one of the most talented new writers out there. Ever since we first met at The Seven Devils playwrighting conference in Idaho, where I heard his play Idaho Dead Idaho, I have been a groupie. So when I was offered a chance to work with Sam and Davis McCallum, who happens to be another genius, and develop this piece with them, I jumped at the opportunity. Sam was a writing machine! We literally got like 20 new pages a day! Sam was in the room, with his laptop and a printer. I've never worked with a writer who can take notes, digest them, and come back with new material so quickly. He is just amazing. Sometimes there were new pages coming at us in the middle of rehearsal. It's always an exciting challenge to work on new plays. It's what I love most in theater. It's a delicate dance between the actors, writer, director, and dramaturg. When you hit a bump you have to collectively figure out what's best for the play: Different acting choices? New words? Different blocking? It's like we are all making a baby. A big art baby. I'm having Sam Hunter's baby...You can tell that to TMZ!
You've had the pleasure of working with many different theater companies in New York, some of which you've helped develop from the ground up. What has that been like for you? How do you find the time for everything?!
For me the biggest gift about being an actor in New York is that we are working with and surrounded by supremely talented actors and writers, some of the best in the country. And the best part is that you get to make work with these people. They can become a source of great inspiration and also become your family, your friends, people you admire, people that inspire you, people that hold you accountable to be better, to show up, to keep going. Being part of different theater companies can be like different families. In one company, I'm like the younger sister, learning from all the pros and really established artists who have changed the face of American Theater. In another company, I have been there from the ground up. I feel a responsibility and pride about the group. It's a safe place to take risks and grow. I owe a lot to Partial Comfort. They have not only given me opportunities to perform, but they have believed in me when I doubted myself and I have grown as an actor because of them. Once again, I am having the most amazing time working on a PCP production.
Talk to us about some of your favorite experiences as an actor in New York - with PCP, on the screen, or any particular moments in your career that stick out for you.
I love how the crazy and bizarre doesn't really alarm people in New York. People are just so jaded they don't seem to notice what is going on around them. I was shooting an episode of Law and Order and I played a maid who gets her throat slit a few scenes into the episode. So spent all this time in make-up - they really got it to look like my throat had been slit. It was really disturbing. The make-up trailer was a few blocks from the townhouse where we were shooting, and there I am, with this slit neck and blood pouring down my maid's costume - and I have to say, it looked amazing - and I am waiting to cross the light at 72nd and 3rd with the PA behind me. BROAD DAYLIGHT. Not one person notices. Not one. Everyone is just jabbering away on their cellphones, jaywalking, running errands...Just another day in the city. Maids with slit throats and all.
What's next for you after A Bright New Boise?
I am currently developing a couple of projects that I am really excited about. Frank Harts and I have been dying to work together. So we asked the fantastic Emily Schwend, who I met for the first time on this year's Partial Comfort retreat, to write something for us. I am also working with Kareem Fahmy, who is a brilliant young director. We are adapting his Egyptian grandmother's autobiography Not So Long Ago. It's a powerful and tragic story. It's a very important and meaningful project for me. Being half Egyptian on my father's side, and having a grandmother who was first generation from El Salvador on my mother's side - there are a lot of similarities, lots of ties to my own personal history.
Amazing. We hope to hear more from you on both these projects! Any parting words to share with our Boise audience?
It has been an amazing time creating this work. I think Sam gets the audience to laugh at things we may feel bad laughing about - he gets us to question our own beliefs and biases - he gets us into an uncomfortable place at times and I think that is why this work is so thought-provoking.
Come check out Sarah's performance!
A Bright New Boise
Wednesday - Saturday nights at 8pm, until October 2 at The Wild Project! 195 E. 3rd St.
**Every Wednesday is PAY-WHAT-YOU-CAN when you buy your tickets in person at the theater!**