A Conversation with: Gabrielle Reisman
Illinois native Gabrielle Reisman was taking a break from classes at Loyola University of Chicago when realized she “really wanted to go to New Orleans.” She made the move in 2005, founded theater-in-a-basement The Alamo Underground, and this past May received a degree in theater and fine arts from the University of New Orleans. One of her works, “Brian and Shevat,” opens at Alamo Underground in October.
Where do your plays come from?
My work is really character-focused. I like transitional, liminal spaces, and dreams. For me, the process of writing begins with finding characters who want their stories told.
For every play I write the process is different. “Brian and Shevat” wasn’t a play I was planning to write. It’s a two-person character play I wrote in 2003 when I was in Chicago. One day I was at a diner and I just wrote down this conversation. The conversation probably had something to do with something happening in my life at the time, but the characters weren’t people I knew. Often, I produce the best work when a conversation finds me. Once the characters come to you, then you try and go back and find out who they are. But you don’t really know what the characters are thinking until they say it.
So what did Brian and Shevat’s story turn out to be?
It’s a love story. Brian and Shevat wake up in the same one-room apartment, and both say it’s their room, and they can’t agree, so they decide to move in together. It’s about their relationship and their personas — each of them also plays other, minor characters in the play. The idea is to look at the
different faces you show to the people you are involved with.
Where will your characters take you next?
The next work of mine that I’m doing is a full-length piece for The NOLA Project. It’s called “Tastes,” and it involves a dinner party, and the characters are making a meal on stage. It will open in early 2009 at Le Petit.
Also, I’m co-director (with Pat Bourgeois) for the New Plays Festival at Le Chat Noir in November. The idea of the festival is to get people to produce. When you have a set of guidelines to work by, you generally have to make something new. Last year we did the “Beignet Plays” — eight writers did eight short pieces. It’s just a great way to get to know people and see each other’s work, and let the public see the work.
Has your move to New Orleans lived up to your hopes?
I’ve been here for three years now and I love it. You work well where you’re happy. Chicago has a phenomenal theater community, but I was miserable there. I think the energy and enthusiasm here have helped me create a network and build on it. People say there’s a renaissance going on here. It’s really true. There’s real excitement about young people coming into the city. A lot are coming for theater and all the arts. It’s just been excellent to be here as a writer and theater maker.
Speaking of making theater, how’s the Alamo Underground doing?
It’s been fantastic. You know, it’s in this space under the house where I live. After Katrina, the landlord emptied the first floor and pushed everything onto the street. I looked at this big empty space and realized, ohmygod, it’s a theater. We made it into a space where people could do work for free and pay a very small portion of the box office to Alamo to help with expenses.
In the spring I shut it down for a couple of months while I finished school. But now we’re back, and we have jazz musicians in the building who might do bimonthly free jazz shows. I will do theater, and other production companies can use it too.
Long term, I’d really like to build a permanent black box theatre. I love the energy of Alamo, and I like it’s limitations too, but I would like to have something permanent where I could leave town for a while and then come back to it. •
Learn more about The Alamo Underground at http://alamounderground.org.