Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Interview with Antony Raymond and Stacey Roca of "Pretty Babies"

By Byrne Harrison
Production photo by Benjamin Bauman

Antony Raymond
Pretty Babies, a new play written and directed by Antony Raymond, had its world premiere at 13th Street Rep on February 26th. The ensemble cast is led by Stacey Roca who had a recurring role as Rachel on the UK series The Office staring Ricky Gervais; she also played Katrina Howard in Waking the Dead (BBC). Pretty Babies is being produced by the critically acclaimed Elsinore County Theater Company which previously produced the plays Elsinore County (The Lion Theatre/Theatre Row), Julio! (The Kraine Theater), and Gin & Milk (FringeNYC).

Stacey Roca
The production also features Mary Beth Albers (Lustyness/Under St. Mark's), Sara Antkowiak (Tales of Hoffmann/Metropolitan Opera), Benjamin Bauman (Elsinore County/Theatre Row), Christopher Heard (Balm in Gilead/HB Studios), and Dan McVey (Elsinore County/Theatre Row).

I spoke with Antony and Stacey about the show.

To kick things off, Antony, could you tell me a little about Pretty Babies and the characters you've created?

Antony: Pretty Babies is a play about addiction. There's alcohol and drug addiction that's heavy throughout this piece. But its main focus deals with "people" addiction, which in many cases can be the hardest one to kick. Imagine a vodka bottle that could talk back to you. The characters are young people wanting to control one another but also suffer from lack of self-control. Although flawed, they are all pretty likable. At least to me, they are. I feel for them.

Toxic relationships are always good fodder for drama.  What is it about them that seems to resonate with an audience?

Antony: It is good fodder. Taylor Swift sells a bazillion records about bad relationships. I think most of us have managed to find one or two in our lifetime. Some of us right from the get go with a parent. They are a part of life, unfortunately. Just like war is and disease and other negative aspects of life that we're all hurled into when born. And if you're one of the lucky ones, who hasn't had the pleasure of being in an unhealthy relationship, I'm sure it's just as much fun to watch people suck at life worse than you do.

Stacey, I read a review that referred to your character, Claire, as "the heart of the show."  Tell me a little about her.

Sara Antkowiak and Christopher Heard
Stacey: Claire is a young woman addicted to a poisonous man who has developed an unhealthy drug habit. It medicates the hurt of being with someone who has unraveled who she is and left nothing. She is at his disposal and the audience has to watch her go all the way to get out.

Do you have a particular approach to developing your character?

Stacey: I started by playing with a very deliberate note Antony gave me about Claire. He described her as "brand new" which in rehearsal and with the script created incredibly raw and immediate behavior. Claire also came out of my responses to Chris Heard's Jason. What he molded her into and how she fights to regain herself throughout. 

You have a significant amount of television work under your belt, including two of my favorites--The Office and Waking the Dead.  What do you like about performing onstage versus on television?

Stacey: With the stage you get to start at the beginning of the story and play right through to the end. And you get to rehearse!! It may sound silly but it’s such a bonus. It makes our job so much easier and fuller. Also, generally the characters are fuller - the scripts are better and the medium allows for more drama, I feel.

What’s tough to get to grips with again - if it's been a while - is having to recreate/ inhabit the emotion and circumstances fresh and fully over and over, every performance. But the thrill of acting live always gives you a head start.

Antony, you were an actor for several years before you started writing plays.  How does your experience as an actor inform your playwriting?

Antony: It really doesn't. It informs my directing which in turn helps my writing. I don’t know many writers that can step away from their own words the way I do. I hope that doesn’t sound cocky. I'm trying to say that I'm lucky. Being an actor taught me how to direct. So, if there is a problem with a scene, and I've exhausted ALL my options as the director, in order to serve the story, then I know there's a hole in the writing and it needs a rewrite. I hope that answers the question.

Any words of advice for budding playwrights out there?

Antony: Everybody is a different so first and foremost follow your own intuition, but I will say a few things for the sake of the interview. Don't write an autobiography. Try not to be too smart for your own good. Get drunk every once in a while and talk to a stranger. Pillow talk is usually incredible dialogue. And write every single day. Even on the day when you want to get in the bathtub and toss the computer in it with you. Especially on that day.

Stacey, any advice for young actors?

Stacey: Make sure you have talent. Watch your back. Hold onto truth and love. Always remember why you do this work. It is an incredibly tough game. Go easy on yourself.

What's coming up next for you?

Antony: I'm working on a comedy that's written in verse. Iambic Pentameter.  I'm not a poet by any means, but I wanted to take a stab at a big, modern day Shakespeare romance, with love triangles and gender misidentification, and love. Lots and lots of love.  Especially after this last one. It's called Nothing To Do About Everything or Whatever. Its takes place at a college.  It's going to be wild.

Stacey: A green card!!!

Pretty Babies runs through March 21st at 13th St. Rep Theater (50 W. 13th St.)

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