A Conversation With Angela Astle —Honor Killing Director’s Notes

Honor Killing is a suspenseful and compelling story of New York Times reporter Allisyn Davis who is investigating the honor killing of a young Pakistani woman at the hands of family. Through a series of cultural collisions, candid interviews, and dangerous encounters she learns the horrifying details of the killing. Cultural bias, technology, and the limits of ethical reporting converge in this tale of two women trapped by their circumstances and culture. Read more: http://www.athenaprojectarts.org/premiere-production/

Q: Why did you choose Honor Killing as the first Athena Project Premiere Production?

Angela Astle: Athena Project’s PIP Decision Committee had the really difficult task of narrowing down 2 years worth of Plays In Progress. There were many to choose from but the process almost always has to do with a combination of feelings about the script among the decision makers, what kinds of conversations we will have with the audience, and is this the time right to produce this play? In this case, Honor Killing, reached all points. Plus, it had already had its World Premiere by the time we were deciding. We’ve been able to rely on the experiences and learnings from the first production via the playwright. That’s been super helpful, especially because it’s such a tech-heavy show!

Q: And why did you choose to direct it?

A: I love theatre that asks questions of the audience and makes them think. I also love plays that address topics that need addressing. In this case, violence against women (whether it’s sexual or domestic) is a huge issue affecting women around the globe. I’m anxious to hear the audience response on how often this issue gets brushed under the rug.

Q: Talk about the process of bringing this play to the stage — title, background research, working with the playwright?

A: I firmly believe in working with a dramaturg wherever possible and Morgan Grambo and Courtney Cauthon have been tremendous assets. Morgan and I worked with the playwright last year at the table reading and had many conversations about where the play came from, character conversations, etc. This year, Courtney joined our team and has provided more background on the world of the play, the culture, related news articles, and my favorite: a timeline mapping out the main character’s journey during the course of the play. This was super challenging as it included figuring out flight times from NYC to Lahore as well as what time of day it is in each of the respective locations.

We had an extensive conversation about the title and how not only does it reference the news event that happened to instigate the play, but how each of the characters have lost their honor at the hands of someone else. This is a conversation I also look forward to having with audiences!

Q: What would you like to share about the design for this production?

A: I’m ecstatic about the design for this show. Tina Anderson gave us a design that allows for many different playing spaces without having to move full sets off and on stage. We are taking the liberty of the audience’s imagination to help transport us from the London New York Times office to the steps of the High Court of Lahore and the hotel room in Dubai.

Set design, by Tina Anderson

I’m also excited to see the content for the screens come to life and I’m incredibly proud of the team we’ve assembled. We have a great mix of designers as far as experience levels go and the eagerness of our younger folks provides great energy and compliments those with more experience. In addition, everyone on the team is a woman except for one and this is the first year we’ve been able to incorporate this many women designers in the mix.

CeCe Smith, Geneva Matoon, and Jen Kiser.

Q: What do you think is exciting about this play?

A: So many things! I love how fast it moves, how natural the dialogue is, and how it follows a journalist questioning what is right through her discoveries. I also love the questions it asks the audience about their own stereotypes and judgement of other people.

Q: What is challenging?

A: This is by far one of the most technically challenging shows I’ve ever directed and I’m having fun learning more about the integration and use of our “everyday life tools” such as phones, laptops, Skype, You Tube, etc. into the play. While the blocking of actors is pretty straight forward, I’m having to “block” the technology of where do we see what images for the audience to also track.

Another challenge was figuring out the timeline and making sure it makes sense. This is a play in “real time” — meaning it’s in chronological order and we “fast forward” in the blackout when the scene changes. But we’ve had to manage what time is it in New York City, Pakistan, Dubai, and London all at the same time in addition to tracking how long it takes to fly between each of them and that was a brain exercise along the lines of if a train leaves the station in northern Japan traveling 60 mph and one leaves southern Japan traveling 55mph, what time will they meet in the middle…

We spent some time at the beginning getting it right and it feels good to be that detailed. And it has informed lighting, costumes, and contributed to actors figuring out their moment before and after and everything in between.

Caitlin Conklin and Seth Palmer Harris in rehearsal

Q: What should audiences expect? What do you hope they take away?

A: I hope audiences are able to see past the stereotypes of some of the characters and recognize all cultures are just as nuanced and complicated. Western culture can be incredibly judgemental about other communities and people and I hope that audiences will recognize that there’s always more to the story than the surface presentation.

I also hope that we can continue fighting sexual harrassment, assault and violence for women in particular. We live in a culture that is shifting as more and more people are speaking out but it’s tolerated way too much and women are still silenced out of fear of retaliation. I want to live in a world where that’s not the case.

Finally, I want audiences to also be challenged by where they get their information. We have so many news sources — my phone alone has about 6 newsapps on top of Facebook and Twitter that “feed” me info. It’s my job as a consumer of info to ask questions about who’s writing the story, what is their lens, and dig for more perspectives — much in the same way we “consume products” and investigate who has the best offer or uses quality ingredients. Stories, while based in truth, always have the lens of the experiences of those who are writing them. I want the audience to remember that for Honor Killing too.

Honor Killing by Sarah Bierstock will run from September 8th through the 30th. Friday and Saturday nights at 8 PM with Sunday matinees at 2 PM. Buy tickets!