Arts interview

Existentialism in a hotel room

A conversation with the director of Dramashop’s No Exit

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Allison M. Schneider (left) confronts Chris D. Smith ’13 and Emily K. Lydic ‘14 in Dramashop’s dark comedy, No Exit.
Staly Chin

No Exit

MIT Dramashop

Directed by Adam Strandberg

April 27, 2013, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; April 28, 2013 at 8 p.m.

Pritchett Dining Hall, Walker Memorial

Free admission

MIT Dramashop’s production of No Exit, based on the work of existentialist playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, takes place in the afterlife, where three damned souls are locked in a tacky hotel room together. The Tech spoke with director Adam Strandberg ’14 about his experience directing the play.

The Tech: Have you had prior experience in theater, and how did this influence your directing of No Exit?

Adam Strandberg: No Exit is my fifteenth production at MIT and my third time directing. I never had any classes or training in directing, so most of what I’ve learned springs from trying to observe my directors in action and seeing whether I like the results.

The biggest influence on this production was definitely Alan Brody’s “21M.705 The Actor and the Text,” which I took this fall. The entire course consisted of working on scene after scene and performing them in front of the class about once a week. It was brutal at points — there were weeks when it was my most time-consuming class — but Alan’s unrelentingly honest and insightful feedback helped us all grow as actors. I decided to create this production as an opportunity to apply what I had learned to my directing.

TT: What aspects of the script do you find most exciting to incorporate on stage, and why?

AS: I first read No Exit in my high school dramatic literature class, and I was drawn to it because I thought it was absolutely hilarious. When I revisited it last semester while exploring plays to work on, I was struck by how every moment of the play is filled with desperate, sexual, and vicious action. You might expect a play written by an existential philosopher to be dry, boring, and bloated with too much talking. However, Sartre is also an expert playwright, and he constructs a brilliantly human and quite funny torture chamber.

TT: Do you think your approach to the feel of the play differs from that of other productions?

AS: I haven’t seen any other staged productions of No Exit, so I don’t really know. I try not to do too much research into the production history of shows I’m working on so that I’m not too heavily influenced by what others have done. It’s too easy to see someone else’s interpretation and waste time worrying about comparing what you’ve done to what they’ve done.

TT: What are rehearsals like? What aspects of the play have been toughest to master?

AS: We rehearsed the play for three and a half months, with some lulls when actors were involved in other productions. Since the entire play is one continuous scene with just four actors, it was absolutely crucial to grapple with every moment — if you lose track of what you’re doing at any given point, you lose the whole rest of the play. Our goal during rehearsals was to make sure that at every moment the actors were doing something and knew what they were doing. When you have definite motivated action at every point, the sparks begin to fly.

TT: What did you learn from your experience as director?

AS: Directing in general has taught me that most directors (myself definitely included) don’t really know what they’re doing and just make stuff up as they go along. For No Exit, my most important lesson was one of dedication. If any moment doesn’t work, you have to commit to fixing it regardless of how annoying or exhausting that may be.