A Theasy Interview with Company Members Cara Scarmack, Priscilla Holbrook, and Ashley Nease
Midwestern values and theatre generally don't go hand in hand; the ego of the performing arts often usurps gracious, underplayed Middle American ethos. This is particularly true in competitive NYC, where the struggle for resources and audiences can inject a certain amount of grit into even the most well-mannered theatremakers. Let's be honest, neither New Yorkers nor actors are known for their passivity.
I should've expected that the Roadsters would be the epitome of modesty -- their inaugural production What Happened in Ohio is a 1950s homage to rural Ohio, subtitled "a fierce telling of feelin' alive a'fore we die." Director and playwright Cara Scarmack, herself from Lancaster, Ohio (a pastoral town at the top of Appalachia), could not have a more sincere approach to the cultivation of this piece. Her general selflessness is seen in the play's collaborative aesthetic, as well as in its attempt to actively engage with and entertain its audience. This play is for the people, not just for its creators. I sat down with Scarmack and company members Priscilla Holbrook and Ashley Nease to learn more about the production.
A new company comprised of five highly successful New York theatre practitioners from different backgrounds, the Roadsters includes Stephanie Viola and Nathan Richard Wagner, in addition to Scarmack, Holbrook and Nease. The group originally assembled in January 2010, after Scarmack secured a three-month grant to develop new work. Utilizing movement, sound and personal stories, they explored the idea of what it means to leave something and to be left behind -- the beginnings of What Happened In Ohio began to emerge. Without a set script or a creative hierarchy, the Roadsters were able to develop their piece in a wholly collaborative fashion and they continued their work after the grant ended. By November 2010, the group decided they were ready for an audience, and they set May 2011 as their performance goal. True to their word, May 5th marks the opening of What Happened in Ohio.
Directed by Scarmack and starring Nease, Holbrook, Viola and Wagner, What Happened in Ohio incorporates a considerable amount of music, performed live by the four actors. Once it was revealed that the company all possessed musical abilities, music became an integral part of the production. What Happened in Ohio boasts 10 original songs, written by the Roadsters.
Also unique to the production is a heightened awareness of theatricality, as Cara explained. The production is action-based, emphasizes function, and takes into account that the audience is experiencing the story being performed for them. The show exemplifies what its creators want to see in the theatre, Cara told me. This collaboration has allowed the Roadsters to create a piece true to their own ideals, and because of this, every component has been thoughtfully considered. With their humble disposition in tact, they have also considered the show's audience. What Happened in Ohio intends to get into its audience's hearts and make a connection. How ego-less is that?
For five artists to assemble and work on the same piece as a team requires amazing amounts of compromise, and this is something I can't imagine comes easily. Yet when I asked Nease, Holbrook and Scarmack about that inherent potential for conflict, they just looked at each other and smiled. Ashley explained that although all five artists are very different people, they're totally similar in all the right ways. This ego-free camaraderie is par for the course with the Roadsters -- it's incredibly refreshing (and weirdly foreign) that a show can be produced without any pretension whatsoever.
But the Roadsters really do have their collective best interests at heart, and they are happy to gush about each other's talents and contributions to the production. Priscilla told me the process gets richer every day, and she can envision working on it for much longer. And that's the plan, after this three week run is completed. A great system of working has been developed and the Roadsters are eager to build on what they've already accomplished. Even their goals are down-to-earth, as they are focusing on the present and preparing to open their inaugural production. What's next is yet to be determined, but it's likely the Roadsters will be creating well-intentioned, viscerally engaging theatre for many years to come.