3 Lang Alumni Produce, Direct, and Act in New Play About Family Dysfunction

Denmark opens this Thursday, July 19.

Left: Jonathan Wilde, Coco McDermott, Maureen Mueller*, and Bret Bailey* | Right: Casey Leigh Stanton ‘15 (Assoc. Producer), Aimée Fortier ’15 (Director), Keeley Miller (Producer). Photos by Johannes Oberman

Brian Oxenhandler | BA, Culture and Media + Visual Studies, Class of 2015

Brian Oxenhandler ’15. Photo by Anna Lynch

Describe ‘Denmark’ and your role in it.

Denmark is a beautiful and exploratory new play. It tells the story of a family grappling with old and new trauma as they work to put pieces back together and theorize a solution that will cure their pain. My character, Ryan, the son of the family is a master of language and he is incredibly bold. His continuous attempts to think himself and his family out of their problems leads to a level of aggression that he begins to embody. His care is cutting.

What was the best part about working on a production like this? Was it something you’d been working toward post-graduation or did it come up suddenly?

This came up suddenly for me, which is a testament to the incredible networks and relationships built at The New School. Aimée reached out to me and has given me this incredible opportunity. I don’t even know where to begin in describing the best part of this experience. It is incredible to work with other artists who are passionate about telling stories. I have learned so much about myself and been given a true incubator to grow. I love working through this difficult script as a cast and creating a one-of-a-kind product that will soon be on display for everyone!

What part of your experience at Lang contributed to your successes with this production?

I was blessed at Lang to have the opportunity to run the Musical Theater Collective. In that time, we produced one of the first musicals Lang had seen, Songs for a New World in 2014. I think Lang puts collaboration at the forefront of each educational experience. This tool comes in handy always, and has been particularly useful in this production. This is an ensemble play and the collaborative work being done on the stage is beautiful.

Did this play bring you together, or were you already close collaborators from your tenure at The New School? How do you think your collaboration would have been different if you had not all gone to Lang?

This collaboration simply would not have happened without Lang. Aimée and I met in a screenwriting class in 2015. It was this interaction that led us to working together 3 years later. This play brought us together, and the New School put our original network in place.

What responsibility do you think contemporary theater has in this tense political climate, and how did that affect your work?

It seems so frequently that art and politics are more alike than they are different (they often seem like the same thing!) In a climate like this — art is both the commentator and the relief. Its role is incredibly complex as it is responsible for stating, explaining and critiquing the political climate and circumstances. At the same time, the arts are a relief. The theater has been a longstanding artform of escape. I think this production of Denmark calls to mind the way we see ourselves and others in terms of political identity. But it also presents an effortlessly relatable story that allows our audience to escape the outside world for an hour and half. Although the escape is temporary, it’s a breath in this otherwise stuffy world.

Aimee Fortier | BA Literary Studies, Fiction Writing Concentration + Playwriting/Screenwriting Minor, Class of 2015

Aimée Fortier ’15 (Director) Photo by Johannes Oberman

Describe ‘Denmark’ and your role in it.

Director of Denmark, a new play by up and coming writer Matthew Gasda. It is an intimate portrait of a contemporary family in conflict from social structures imposed upon them.

What was the best part about working on a production like this? Was it something you’d been working toward post-graduation or did it come up suddenly?

I’ve been acting since I was little, and focused on writing at Lang. I was introduced to Matthew as an actress after a friend invited me to one of his plays. I was so taken by his writing, I told him I didn’t care if he ever hired me, but I did have a lot of ideas about how his writing should be performed and directed. I found myself channeling what I learned at Lang about writing structure in my conversation with Matthew. He asked if I would be interested in directing and sent me the script to Denmark. I never saw myself as a director but I was so inspired by his writing and this opportunity that it felt like an exciting place to begin.

What part of your experience at Lang contributed to your successes with this production?

One of the reasons I felt like I could direct this show is because it is truly character and text driven, which I have a lot of experience with from acting and writing. It is also my favorite part of a play to focus on. Solidifying my interpretation, Working with the actors, and finding my voice as a director has been an incredibly transformative experience. I’m also in awe of the level of bravery, dedication, and trust that the cast and crew have brought to this work.

Learning how to talk about artistic ideas and interpretations in a way that is both clear and informed is something I never had to do before I attended Lang. I was working as an actress before school and always had strong creative opinions but never had a voice or a venue to express them. Sitting in a seminar style classroom, I was forced to give voice to these ideas and was encouraged by my professors and fellow students. I also had to share my work regularly while receiving feedback from other students in writing workshops. These experiences were essential in cultivating the skills necessary to lead this type of creative project.

Did this play bring you together, or were you already close collaborators from your tenure at The New School? How do you think your collaboration would have been different if you had not all gone to Lang?

Brian and I really didn’t know each other that well at The New School. We took a screenwriting class together, but I had a somewhat psychic thing happen and heard a specific voice speaking the lines of the character of Ryan and I realized it was “that kid from my screen writing class at The New School.” It was Brian. I found him on Facebook (and YouTube) and he agreed to meet me. He swears he’s never acted before but I honestly don’t believe that because he is so freaking good and more than holding his own in a company of professionals. He’s also one of the coolest humans I can now call my friend. Casey (our associate producer) and I have been close since Lang. We worked on a few film projects together while at school, and have always had aspirations to do more. She was living in LA when I decided to direct this play and I sent her the script. She loved it and agreed to come to NY for the summer to help. There is a language and a set of social values that Lang students accumulate in their time at school. We are faced with awareness and compassion of our own privilege and positions in society which include our own biases and blind spots. This is exactly what the characters in this play are going through and a very important basis to start from when exploring any character.

What responsibility do you think contemporary theater has in this tense political climate, and how did that affect your work?

This play was written three years ago but it feels like you walked into this family’s living room today. Everyone is affected by social structures intertwined with their identities which is something I think most family units are evaluating right now, specifically in this the current political climate. Virginia Woolf said that political change starts within the family home (something I learned at Lang). This play’s intimacy and honesty gives a real window into the struggles even a modern privileged liberal home can’t avoid, and the work we are all still having to do to stay open and discuss with empathy.

Casey Leigh Stanton | BA, Literary Studies, Non-Fiction concentration, Screen Studies Minor | Class of 2015

Casey Leigh Stanton ’15 (Associate Producer) Photo by Johannes Oberman

Describe ‘Denmark’ and your role in it.

I’m the Associate Producer. Denmark is an intimate portrait of a contemporary American family struggling with the complexities of the issues that we all face within an imposed tight knit family structure that results in a great deal of pain and intimacy.

What was the best part about working on a production like this? Was it something you’d been working toward post-graduation or did it come up suddenly?

Post graduation I immediately jumped into working in production for a large network company. The work was thrilling, grueling, and taught me a lot about what I want and do not want in a work environment. After taking some time off from film I wanted to come back to the arts, but on my terms. I promised myself that it would only be with stories I wanted to tell and that contributed to what I think is necessary and interesting — ultimately stories that have complex women at their core. My involvement came up completely naturally and surprisingly. One day I got a call from my friend Aimée (we met in a film editing class at Lang) and she told me that she had met a writer Matthew Gasda who had asked her if she ever thought of directing. She asked if I would read the script, and I fell in love with the characters, specifically Harper. I felt innately protective and connected to her and her family situation. After falling in love with the characters and the writing I said “sign me up!”

What part of your experience at Lang contributed to your successes with this production?

As a screen studies minor I had practice in collaborating with small groups of people to work together and creating a final short or series of shorts. As a writing major, I learned about seminar style conversations and how I could listen, advise, and critique all within the confines of an ultimately very secure space and group of people.

Did this play bring you together, or were you already close collaborators from your tenure at The New School? How do you think your collaboration would have been different if you had not all gone to Lang?

Aimée and I were already close friends first, collaborators second. I think that dynamic was crucial and unique. We were able to interchange hats for eachother seamlessly. There is a Lang-language that I think those lucky enough to attend The New School can speak. Brian and I actually met on the Cross Country team sophomore year. If I hadn’t gone to Lang I feel as though I may have not been as confident in communicating my thoughts and critiques without fear of being judged. A skill which I directly attribute to being in seminar style classes for four years.

What responsibility do you think contemporary theater has in this tense political climate, and how did that affect your work?

Historically theatre has been an escape. The themes in our play are ones we couldn’t escape if we tried. gender, sexuality, classism, elitism, etc. On the one hand it is a treat but between the writing, our cast, the director and other producer we have to speak on what is important to us. Family, love, tragedy, queerness, sexuality and how that lives within and outside the home. Not only is this art and the characters’ stories important but I also believe it to be necessary — today, tomorrow, and always.

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