Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Last month, Neo Ensemble Theatre launched the world premiere of Airport Encounters, a comedic anthology of plays that features 24 actors, eight writers, and two directors. How did you each become involved as directors in the production?
Joe Ochman: I’ve been directing for Neo since their inception, but in this case the impetus was Scott Mullen, the writer of two of the plays in Airport Encounters ("Therapy Dog" and "Stuck"). An accomplished, award-winning screenwriter, playwriting was a new venture for him, but he hit the ground running. Each play was better than the last, and he started getting productions pretty much immediately. I steered him toward Neo, and he started bringing pieces into their new playwrights workshop. I also told him I want to direct his plays. When he told me he was in this evening, the chance to direct a world premiere of his work was a no-brainer. And when Richard Pierce asked me to co-direct the whole evening with him, it made the decision even easier.
Richard Pierce: I have been a directing member of theatre Neo for the last five years. I became a Neo board member this past year with the arrival of our new Artistic Director Paul Elliott. I have worked very closely with Paul and was intimately involved in establishing our weekly Neo New Works Workshop. Every Tuesday night, Neo Actors have the opportunity to perform new theatrical works written by Neo writers. We also allow non-Neo members to participate in this workshop as well. The readings are followed by comments and critiques moderated by Paul. It is out of this workshop that Airport Encounters was born. Having directed for Neo several times before it was clear to me that we had some very special and unique material being developed, and I was creatively excited, driven, and determined to be involved in creating a full-blown production to showcase the incredible acting and writing talent that comprise the Neo Ensemble Theatre. I decided to produce the show as well and knew that my fellow Neo Director Joe Ochman would also be as intrigued by the concept and material, and come along as my co-pilot directing this evening.
BD: How would you describe the premise of Airport Encounters, and what is the unifying theme of the production?
JO: Neo has been producing one-acts set in one location for a couple of years, starting with a hotel room, then a street corner. We had a member outreach to come up with a new locale, and airport lounge was the winner. But artistic director Paul Elliot, Richard, and I wanted to do something more than just have a bunch of plays set in the same kind of place. We wanted to make it a day in the life of one particular airline’s waiting area. So the evening would feel more like a play than an evening of plays.
RP: We were looking for a way to display a variety of comedic/dramatic situations that take advantage of unique characters and relationships in inherently heightened life circumstances.
What better setting than an airport to explore those kinds of stories where the full spectrum of emotions are on display. And to top it off, have it all take place in one day with each story seamlessly woven into the other so you are seeing several slices of life but all cut from the same Airport gate.
BD: You have quite a talented cast and crew working on the production. What can you tell us about their creative process in bringing the show to life?
JO: Richard and I had early meetings plotting out how it all would go, then after casting went off on our own to put together our five plays apiece. Major props to coordinator extraordinaire Starina Johnson for scheduling the 24 actors into rehearsals seamlessly. And to Tommy Dunn and Chris Soley for superbly putting together the look and sound of the show. Toward the end we spent two whole days of rehearsal just figuring out the logistics of moving so many actors through the tiny space in a way that would create the airport ambience and get them where they’d have to be for their next entrance, exit, or costume change. This cast was game for it all. And they brought their A-game to bringing life to these characters too. Plus, the writers were open to making changes to improve their pieces when necessary.
RP: Well, of course, there is the normal rehearsal process of working with actors and writers to explore all elements of the material with reworking, polishing, and perfecting performance and script, but this production had its own unique challenges: 24 actors, a small stage with limited access and egress. It was a logistical nightmare. But with pre-production prep and planning, Joe and I had a game plan. It felt as if we were in an airport traffic control tower but instead of coordinating take offs and landings it was directing a multitude actors entering and exiting the stage. It was a long, two-day affair just before tech week, and our cast handled it with aplomb. We believe all our efforts paid off creating the illusion of a working airport that supported the reality and believability of everything that occurred on stage.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
JO: A bunch of laughs, maybe a cry, a few sentimental “aaaawww”s. A great time. And a deep appreciation of those folks working and playing so hard on that stage.
RP: What I believe people will come away with from experiencing Airport Encounters are some big laughs, a tear or two welling up, and getting inspired to take a trip in the not-too-distant future, because maybe it could change the direction of their lives
BD: What makes Neo Ensemble Theatre the perfect home for the show?
JO: Neo built its early reputation by being one of the pioneers of successful, critically acclaimed one-act evenings in Los Angeles. So, what better way to start its new chapter under Paul Eliot’s artistic direction than revisiting and improving upon the form?
RP: To put on a show utilizing 24 actors and 8 writers and 2 directors in 10 playlets all tied together seamlessly is a tall order. It’s all about execution, and I believe Neo Theatre Ensemble rose to the task under the guidance of our new artistic director Paul Elliott. This type of evening allows patrons to experience our theatrical expertise, abilities and showcases our members.
BD: Airport Encounters will be playing through October 16th. What is the best way possible for our readers to garner tickets to the performances?
JO: All the info is at www.neoensembletheatre.org. Better hurry, though. The whole last weekend is close to sold out.
RP: Go to our website at www.neoensembletheatre.org, but you'd better hurry. As of this interview tickets are now only available for this coming Saturday at 8 p.m. on October 15. They will sell out and once that happens, we will have sold out every performance for our run of Airport Encounters.
BD: Are there any other upcoming shows or projects that you would care to share with our readers?
JO: I make my living as an actor, so there’s always something happening there. Just guest starred on Disney’s Best Friends Whenever. Should still be airing on the Disney Channel. I also have a huge video game coming out soon. Not allowed to say when or what. Plus, a film I co-wrote will be shot in Thailand early next year.
RP: We are in the process of determining our 2017 season. Please check out our website for news.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Airport Encounters?
JO: Read the reviews. Visit the website. It’s all there. Then, come see us if you can! And please continue to support live theatre in LA.
RP: If you liked our show, let us know and support our theatre company with a contribution. Go to our website and click the "support us" tab.
We also may just have some other Encounters up our sleeves.