It takes 15 minutes to set the stage, and another 15 to take it down. The technical crew doubles as a street team, and two actors are responsible for a total of six roles. Half: A Divorce Farce seems like mission impossible, even for those accustomed to the world of theater. For the show's cast, however, it's just another day at work.
"Pretty much every day, we have things figured out down to the minute," says actor Adam Zivkovic. "But we're really ready, and we're excited."
Zivkovic has joined stage partner and writer Becca Foresman to form one of the more than 200 companies that are performing in the New York International Fringe Festival this month. The festival, which spans 20 venues and 16 days, is the largest of its kind in North America and touts some of the world's most talented up-and-comers. PolicyMic caught up with Foresman and Zivkovic to discuss the show, what audiences can expect, and the process of joining Fringe. Half opens tomorrow at the Connelly Theater.
Steven Goldstein: Half is a unique concept. What inspired the story?
Becca Foresman: I grew up with a lot of friends who had challenging circumstances at home. It was just something that I thought about once I left home. One thing in particular, actually — I was telling my director about this the other day — when I was in elementary school, kids on the playground used to play this game where they would pretend to get married. Then they thought it was a natural step to get divorced. So they'd have a fake marriage and then that day or the next day they'd have a fake divorce. For them it was like playing house, just incorporating the schemas of their real world into their play world. I thought that was so interesting as I got older. There's actually a sequence in the play when the maid and the valet play out a royal marriage together, but they don't act out the divorce, because they don't really understand what a divorce is at that point. They're child-like characters.
SG: What is it like working in such close proximity?
BF: Adam's very funny, he has a really strong sense of timing. We've actually done this show together before — we did it last July — so we've been growing these characters for a year. We've been able to flesh them out even more. He's always asking the question, "how can I do more? How can I expand?" It's been a lot of fun.
Adam Zivkovic: It’s wonderful. Becca's an incredibly generous scene partner, one of the most talented actresses I’ve ever worked with, hands down. Her script is brilliant. Sometimes you have to think twice to make sure you’re saying the right words because there’s so much attention to detail with the language she uses. It’s a real privilege getting to work with Becca, I feel real lucky that she contacted me last year with this script. Here we are a year later at the Fringe. It’s been a crazy ride.
SG: What was that process of preparing for and entering Fringe like? And what is it like to transitioning from college acting to a full-time gig?
AZ: Well this is my first time in Fringe. In terms of the organizational stuff, you have to get it down to the minute, because there’s so many shows in different locations. We basically have 15 minutes to prepare our stage and 15 minutes to clear it. We’ve been practicing to stay efficient and stay on schedule. I think the biggest difference between being a student actor and a professional actor is that you’re constantly auditioning. You’re always wondering what’s next. For me, when I’m two weeks out before the end of a project, I start looking for new auditions. You have to stay alive and hopeful and brush off the auditions you don’t get.
SG: Given the number of shows and locations, how do you make sure your show stands out as part of Fringe?
BF: I think there's this feeling at Fringe that one person has to do a million things, because everything moves so quickly. The actors also work as tech people; the tech people also work for publicity, handing out cards. In some ways, this show continues that feeling. We're two people, but we need to play six characters. It's that feeling of excitement and freneticism. There's no presumption with this show though. It's nothing more than two people excited to be on stage, and trying to create a world we can share. There's no smoke or mirrors. We let you see that we're moving the furniture and we let you see all the strings. We're not just showing the puppets.
AZ: We’ll be doing publicity in character as well, and we’re trying to draw people in with the promise of farce. [Half is] pretty much farce at its purest, with big character transitions, big emotions, and everything. I think the fast pace and the constant action — we don’t really stop at any point in the show, from curtain up to curtain down — will sell. I would guess that we’re the only show at Fringe where there’s just two people playing six roles. Hopefully people will be intrigued by that. It’s my favorite part of the show.
SG: Does Half have a message for the audience, or is it pure entertainment?
AZ: I think there’s plenty to take away. If you’re looking for a meditation on the absurdity of royal life, I think it certainly does a good job with that. I think there’s a lot of relatable things for people that come from divorced families. I don't personally — my parents are together — but two of the characters that we play aren’t exactly children, but are representative of children, and I think there’s a lot to relate to there. I think the real aim here is to show the absurdity that comes with breaking unions. I think it does a really good job of marrying the personal and the political. At the very least, if you don’t think the actors do the job, you can walk away appreciating some really beautiful language, and some really funny one-liners. There’s a lot of funny insults in the show that everyone can enjoy.
BF: My ideal experience for an audience member going to see my show is that during the performance, it seems to them like it's almost pure entertainment, and the reaction is gut laughter, with the exception of a few moments in which that gut laughter turns to a gut punch. Then there's, "Oh my God, I didn't realize there was a secondary or tertiary level to this." I want people to think when they leave the theater. I want people to turn to the person laughing next to them and strike up a debate or an argument. People can talk about what parts of the play resonated with them, and maybe even come back to see it again and determine who was right and who was wrong, or even if you can be right or wrong. There are definitely intentional messages that I want people to contemplate and debate. But during the show itself, in my ideal scenario, they're just laughing.
SG: Is that laughter more rewarding for you as the author of the play, or as an actor on the stage?
BF: I try and trick myself into being just an actor when I perform the show. When you're wearing a lot of different hats, which the whole team has done throughout the entire process, you have to take one hat off to put on another hat. There are days I bring my writer's hat into rehearsal, and I'm thinking about revisions or how a line can be tighter. But there are other days when I have to walk into the rehearsal room and fully take off the writer's hat and put on the actor's hat. It changes during rehearsal, but in performances, when you're on stage and doing the festival, the most important thing is to just be a performer and just give it up. My goal for the festival, and maybe well after it, is to just be an actor. When we have footage of the show and we can see how the audience was reacting, I can go back and analyze that in more of a narrative, dramaturgic way. But for now, I just need to be an actor.