Five years ago, New York artist Kim Weild directed the world premiere of renowned playwright Charles Mee’s unconventional “Soot and Spit” at Arizona State University. The production moved to New York City with several ASU collaborators, and in September it received the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation's award for Outstanding Performance Art Production.
Weild said she suggested “Soot and Spit” when she was asked what play she wanted to direct that season for the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, saying, “On the page it doesn’t read like a regular play or even like a ‘traditional’ Chuck Mee play, but I see it and I think ASU may be one of the very few places I know of that would be capable of handling it from both the technical and design perspectives.”
Weild answered a few questions about the award and the people behind this production.
Question: How did you get involved with this play?
Answer: I first read the play in 2011 on Charles Mee’s website. When I read it, I could see the whole play in my mind’s eye. In 2013, Jake Pinholster (director of the school at the time, now associate dean of policy and initiatives for the Herberger Institute) called me to ask if I would be interested in returning to ASU. I had directed “Big Love” there in 2010 and had a great time. I replied with an enthusiastic yes.
Q: Do you think the time spent directing “Soot and Spit” at ASU helped lead to its success and the recent award?
A: Absolutely! One hundred percent without a doubt. The production that was recognized with the award would not exist without ASU. The award belongs to everyone who ever worked on “Soot and Spit.”
Q: Why was the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts an ideal place to premiere this play?
A: Oh, there is so much to say about this. First, it’s no secret ASU has super-talented undergrad and graduate students. I learned this firsthand when working on “Big Love.”
Premiering “Soot and Spit” at ASU also offered remarkable, unparalleled support in the form of time, space and money for the development of an incredibly ambitious new work that was experimenting with form, structure, music and the integration of actors from the outside with different abilities. Jake found the financing that made it possible for us to cast Robert DeMayo, an extraordinary deaf performer who originated the role of James Castle, to have him as an artist-in-residence. That also created the opportunity for Robert to offer the students a unique acting workshop. We also screened a film about his life, which offered students a radically different perspective.
ASU is also uniquely situated within a thriving deaf community, which gave us another kind of support. Being at ASU meant we were able to collaborate with actors from Detour Company Theatre (a local organization that provides theater training and performance experiences for adults with cognitive and physical disabilities) and include two of their staff members in our rehearsal process.
By developing this piece in an academic setting, certain resources were easier to obtain, and when the piece moved to New York for further development, I was able to keep three of the original designers on the project. Hayley Peterson, who was herself nominated for a New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Costumes, Boyd Branch, who created the media, and Dan Puccio, who created the arrangements and original compositions for the premiere. In a perfect world I would have brought them all, but financially it wasn’t viable for our small company. I was also able to have Shay Webster, an original cast member, in one of the development productions that happened over one of her summer breaks. Having the premiere at ASU also afforded me the time and space to figure some things out about that piece that under a traditional and more compressed new-work process might not have been possible.
Q: How does it feel seeing “Soot and Spit” get recognized?
A: Immensely gratifying, and more than anything I am proud of every single person who has contributed to “Soot and Spit” since its first inception starting with ASU and Detour.
Q: What advice do you have for theatre artists in school now?
A: Dream big. What makes you uniquely you is what no one else can do, and that is going to be what distinguishes you from others. Follow your interest.
Be organized. If you’re not inclined to be organized, figure it out, even if it is a messy organized. This will make or break careers.
Listen. Really listen, even when it may cause you discomfort. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. You are not alone in this. Remember to have fun.