Thursday Think Tank: Tad Janes on “End Days”

Our current mainstage show, End Days, is starting week three of its run.  Reviews have been great, and from talking with audience members, it seems the “touching, thought provoking, and often hilarious” show has really taken off (Smith, Want2Dish.com).

Photo by Joe Williams, 2012For this week’s Think Tank, we explore the play from the standpoint of director Tad Janes*.

End Days emerged into the consciousness of the MET through Janes, who was on the hunt for scenes for his students during a trip to New York’s Drama Book Shop, Inc.:

The people at Drama Books… pointed me to 4 or 5 scripts…  I read through some of the scenes- and most worked really well for my purposes in class; however, End Days jumped out at me!  It was so well written and had SO much to say… touched on lives effected by 9/11, had a lot to say about family and social pressures, the relationship between science and religion and a whole lot more. The play was saying so much in a very easy way.

From there, the play was submitted as a choice for the season.  Every year, MET company members gather and whittle down the suggestion list to their top choices for next season’s plays.  End Days quickly became a favorite among the group and nestled itself into the ’11-’12 season.

With the season of plays chosen, Janes signed up to direct End Days.  The responsibility of a director is a great one, but Janes has a clear method when it comes to casting and working with actors:

I’m a firm believer that casting is 90% of my work.  Getting the right actors that I can trust to take risks and be prepared in the right roles… since I’m also an actor, I feel like I want to give the actors time to explore choices- and if I feel they are on the wrong track or are not going deep enough- I lead them in a different direction.  But, if they are getting it right from the beginning; I don’t want to over analyze and cloud their performance.

I asked Janes if he had encountered any challenges with putting up End Days, particularly since it features two very notable figures: Jesus and Stephen Hawking, both of whom, if played in a particular manner, have the ability to draw praise or criticism from an audience.  As Janes puts it, “how do you have Jesus and Stephen Hawking on stage without being offensive or hokey?”  Matthew Baughman plays both of these roles, embodying the duality of science and religion.  Baughman is no stranger to comedy and has played his fair share of outrageous characters in his roles with the MET (Spelling Bee, House of Yes) and Landless Theatre Company (Evil Dead the Musical, China: The Whole Enchilada).  In his performance, Baughman plays both roles sincerely, which maintains the integrity of Jesus and Hawking, and reviewers seem to agree:

Baughman once again rises to the occasion – well, actually, part of the time he rolls to the occasion – in his usual, pitch-perfect, surprising detail and quirk filled performances.   —Charlie Smith, Want2Dish.com

In  theatre, opening night is a bit like getting the training wheels taken off your bike for the first time.  The actors and crew, which have been rehearsing and running the show under the tutelage of the director must now ride on their own.  Each director involves themselves in the performance run of the show a bit differently.  For Janes:

The show belongs to the cast and crew now.  I’ll go back a few times, and might point out something, especially if it has to do with hearing an actor- or a blocking situation that would help open it up for the audience; but, my work is done…  I hope [the audience has] fun, and walk[s] out with much to talk about!  Those are my favorite types of show[s]- ones that are funny, but have a “punch” to them- [that] have a strong message or lots to contemplate.

It’s no wonder then that a goal of the MET is to put up productions that challenge our audiences to think, but also, of course, to entertain.  End Days carefully strikes a balance between humor and the philosophy of life.  The characters come to realize what is most important to them and effectively learn to “accept the things they cannot change; courage to change the things they can, and [the] wisdom to know the difference,” while understanding “life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” (Serenity Prayer, Hawking)

End Days runs Thursdays – Sundays, now through February 26th.  Purchase your tickets online or call the box office at 301-694-4744.

* – indicates MET company member
End Days photo by Joe Williams, 2012