An Interview with Jon Micheels Leiseth, Director of The Roommate

What is this show about?

What appeals to me about this script is that it’s a story of two middle-aged people who dive into starting life over…in the middle, after they’ve made some choices with which they’ve lived for some time. What unfolds is occasionally hilarious and frequently awkward, even painful. Ultimately, though, I find it en-COURAGE-ing.

What makes this show a “B Show”?

As a guest artist, what I know is that Theatre B’s choices interest me because they demonstrate a clear commitment to exploring challenging questions, new stories, current relevance, and artistic risk and excellence. This is not a company that repeats itself or others; it does not sit back and rely on what it already knows and it is not interested in doing theatre only to entertain. That sensibility resonates with me as an artist and as an audience member, too.

Can you tell me a little bit about the job of the director? How does this role interact with the on-stage artists, and the other designers? What’s different about directing this specific show?

I believe that every director approaches the job differently and as a director, I find that I approach different projects differently. That said, I always see my job as director as creating an environment and a process where all involved can show up with their whole creative selves. Once that’s in place and sustained, I love Anne Bogart’s suggestion that a director’s job is to follow the actor with the strongest scent. I don’t presume to have the answers. My job is to make sure the production’s company is asking the right questions and not resting until we’ve come out the other side with something vital, intentional, beautiful, true, and roadworthy in performance.
Is there a line from the show that you find compelling, or that sticks with you?
There are many lines in this script which I find compelling, but personally, I am always struck by the line Robyn says to Sharon, “You have got to stop thinking about yourself as basically dead.” Perhaps this strikes a chord for me in a particular way because this is my first theatre project in over six years (after a couple decades of working as a teaching theatre artist). I’m grateful for this opportunity for a rebirth of theatre-making in my own life.

Do you have any stories you can share from rehearsals? Or anything that the audience might find interesting or should watch/listen for?

Of course, the story and the acting of The Roommate is front and center and Carrie and Pam do a fantastic job with this script, a script which we’ve recognized is written like a (music) score. There are lots of incomplete sentences and repetitions and words that are unspoken (but indicated in the script!), and a couple of ways that Silverman suggests silence (of varying duration or quality). It reads like a piece of music!
I encourage audience members to come twice, though, in order to first experience the story and characters and then to sit back and appreciate the music of the score of the script (and the most excellent music choices) as well as the movement of bodies, costumes, light, and many-many props, moved about by a trio of stagehands–soon to form their own band, Rach(a)els and a Tyler–within this truly intimate space. I understand why people are wowed by a big Broadway musical, but I have yet to experience a one that could overwhelm the intricacy of this “chamber symphony” of a theatre production. Seriously.

Is there a character that you relate to? Why?

While I do relate to both of the characters, I suppose I relate more closely with Sharon. If nothing else, I’m not (by nature) a relaxed person…!

What is your theatrical background? What is your history with Theatre B?

My previous B favorites include acting in Ellis Island with the FM Symphony and directing the North Dakota reading for the national premiere of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Leiseth also directed Mary Cochran for her role in Murderers and acted in the reading of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. Minneapolis-St. Paul Credits include Brave New Workshop, Guthrie, and 15 HEAD, where he served as Artistic Associate. His most recent co-created project was Mzansi Stories with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Leiseth earned an MFA in Drama (Directing) from the University of Montana in Missoula.
I’m grateful to my family for their support. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them–so if you enjoy this production, please thank Tessa, Isaac, and Phoenix.