Next semester, Jay Stull, along with his collaborator EllaRose Chary, will be directing the TDM Fall 2020 Production and teaching a class entitled Making Horizontal Theater. Jay is a theatermaker who can be found working as both a playwright and director. We had the opportunity to have Jay answer a few questions for us in anticipation of his work with TDM in the fall.
What excites you about working in TDM this fall?
I'm (weirdly?) looking forward to the challenge of making a theatrical production on Zoom. I've been energized by how theater artists are responding to this rupture - to the shuttering of theaters - by finding theater within a medium that challenges the very existence of theater. I've been watching student projects alongside the work of professional theater artists and I am (again, weirdly) grateful to be living through aesthetic rupture. And this gratitude/excitement is less willed-optimism than the acknowledgement that a fundamental skill of theater making is to, essentially, perform the impossible in every space. It's a skill that thrives in difficulty, accepts failure as a given, and asks: what lies within and beyond failure? So, I'm excited by the questions: what will we make together? What representations of life have meaning or truth in this format? The promise of aesthetic futurity is the shape of my hope these days (in artistic terms), when I am otherwise surrounded by justifiable pessimism.
What do you do as an artist? What’s an upcoming project you have that you’re excited about?
As a very basic answer to this question, I write and direct plays. But ambiguity about the very categories of "writing" and "directing" and "plays" gives a sense of the range within that basic answer. I've been involved in processes that reflect a more commercial approach to theater-making, where there are specified (if sclerotic) roles for "playwright" and "director," but I've also been involved in making theater in the devised tradition, where those roles are less rigid. The course I'm teaching with Ella comes from a few of my experiences making this kind of theater. That said, there is a play I've written recently about artificial intelligence in the theater that I'm eager to see on its feet, but I'm feeling all kinds of things about the amorphousness of "upcoming." When we can be in a room together, whenever that is, I'm excited to see a workshop of that play. Until then, I remain most excited about what we'll make with students on Zoom this upcoming semester.
What are some underlying themes in your artistic work?
Most of my work as a playwright tends to involve investigations/contestations of the assumptions our culture makes about embodiment (concrete and political embodiment + figurative, spiritual embodiment). These investigations have taken a fairly literal route in the play I mentioned above about artificial intelligence and the category of the human, but they also find their way into themes of incarnation, reincarnation, multiple-personalities, traumatic and inherited histories, and performance practice - namely any circumstance that asks us to question the presumption of the body as a single unit of concrete consciousness and a reliable representation of reality.
Learn more about Jay’s work here: www.jaystull.com