From the Deep at FringeNYC
An Interview with Cassie M. Seinuk

Indie Theater Now asked Cassie M. Seinuk a few questions about her play From the Deep.

Who were the key figures who made this production happen—could be other artists, people who inspired the story, producers/producing company, etc.

There are many people that made 'From the Deep' possible, honestly, almost too many to name. It all really began with the supreme mentorship of playwright Jami Brandli at my graduate program, Lesley University, where I received my MFA in creative writing. When I presented her the surreal concept for this play, she really encouraged me to find the "ache of the play," and put aside the political and historical events that inspired the play, and instead dig into the two characters. After writing this play as my graduate thesis, I wanted to hear reactions to it, so I produced a small stage reading and the rest was history! I was so fortunate to find actor Charles Linshaw, who is also a dialect coach in Boston, to play Ilan the Israeli character in the play. Not only is Charles a lovely actor, but he was able to help me find the right speech patterns for an Israel (despite my 12 years of Hebrew education). I had seen Jeff Marcus, who plays Andrew, in another show and thought, that's my Andrew. I am so grateful he agreed to join the team. Since May 2013 these two gentleman and I have been working at this play, along with powerhouse director Lindsay Eagle. To work with such a collaborative and supportive team has been a dream, and after the initial production with Boston Public Works Theater Company, I invited everyone back to join me on it's journey to FringeNYC. Of course, I do have to backtrack here and admit that if it wasn't for something I read in a newspaper I may never have written this play. On the one year anniversary of the release of Gilad Shalit, Israeli POW, I read an interview where he said in order to keep strong and survive he "played games." I thought, wow, that's a play.

Why is this a play, as opposed to a film or a web series or a novel (or anything else)? And what is it about live theater that attracts you most, that keeps you revved and jazzed to work in this form?

Theatre is live. I think that's the most important part of it, and how we as an audience connect to it, it's live, it's real, we can't rewind. With my plays, especially 'From the Deep,' I want to make an audience walk away from the theatre asking questions, I want them to be haunted, and I want them to re-think. For me, at least, theatre has always been the place where that sort of impact is possible. When someone is breathing right in front of you about to face high stakes, it sticks with you. For similar reasons I have strong feelings about "trigger warnings" when it comes to theatre. I say, read the synopsis, if you think it's too much for you don't come, but if you are interested in feeling that pain and being in that cathartic space, come see my work. It sounds a bit mean, sometimes, but as someone who writes my own triggers, I have always found the catharsis aspect of theatre hugely important. This play in particular is influenced by my love of Pinter and Becket and theatre magic, it's highly theatrical and I don't know if that would translate in another medium.

Who taught you how to be a playwright? This could be specific teachers, or role models whose work you’ve seen or read, or of course any combination.

I have been greatly inspired by my late grandfather, Ysrael A. Seinuk, who was one of the leading engineerings of his time. My family fled to the States from Cuba in the 60's, escaping communism, and restarting from scratch. My grandfather worked his way up from nothing and had a small empire by the time he passed away. He was always a huge supporter of the arts; he and my grandmother took us to Broadway shows as children and encouraged my pursuit of the arts. Every chance he got he said "May you go from strength to strength." In the toughest times I come back to that notion; I come back to the importance of reaching higher and going for what you want. As a side note, I reference my grandfather's firm in this play as the character Andrew's dream job. In addition, I have to give a lot of credit to my mentors at Lesley, Jami Brandli, Kate Snodgrass, Sinan Unel, and Barry Brodsky. Grad school was the toughest two years of my creative life, but I came out of it feeling confident that I was doing the right thing, that writing for stage and screen was what I was meant to be doing.

What have you learned about this play as it has evolved from first draft to the present version? And what has surprised you in this current production-what did you discover in the work that you didn’t realize was there?

When I first sat down to write this play I thought there would be all of these off stage characters and projections of newscasters and the captives families and all this extra stuff -- but after writing the first few pages and a treatment, I realized that it was a play about isolation. A play about the horror of being alone with our thoughts for too long, and the need to be active to survive. So I began to really focus on just Ilan and Andrew. This play was my first two-hander and I actually found it much easier than writing a six character or three character play. Perhaps this was because this play also has very simple objectives: One character wants to stay and the other character desperately wants the first character to leave. As long as I kept coming back to that I felt like I could keep on writing! I think what's so surprising about this production is how fun and funny it can be at times, especially when the overarching concept is pretty bleak. We forget that it can actually be really joyous... until it's not. We discovered after the first run that there was a surprising amount of hope in the play, and we hope to maintain that this time around.

Without giving away any important surprises—what moment or moments do you most look forward to when you see this play being performed?

I always look forward to the audience reaction at the very end. One of my favorite audience reactions to this play in the past was when the assistant director's sister saw the show, and when the house lights came up after the show she was sobbing, she pointed at me and said, "Cassie how dare you!" Another fun little thing is the intermission. Because of the rules of the world, one character remains onstage during intermission, it's pretty neat to watch, and it really confused people too.

posted August 6, 2016