The Attic Collective has devised a new intriguing play entitled "I Decided I'm Fine: A Roach Play" written by Rosie Glen-Lambert and Veronica Tjioe and directed by Rosie Glen-Lambert. Glen-Lambert (pictured above) talks to us in great detail about the Attic Collective and this fascinating new work.
Tell first and foremost about the mission of The Attic Collective.
R G-L: The Attic Collective is a community of diverse young artists whose unique approach to live performance strives to redefine theatre, both in who it is for and what it can be. Our work investigates the human experience with equal parts joy and profundity; by utilizing magical realism, clowning, movement, music, and an emphasis on design, our work tackles universal questions through a lens of wonder and discovery. We offer our audiences universes unbound by the rules of reality as a sanctuary of escape to, and not from, their own emotions. We create theatre for theatre-lovers, theatre-haters, theatre-skeptics, theatre-believers, theatre professionals, theatre novices, or, put more simply: we create theatre for everyone.
How does this revamped play I Decided I'm Fine: A Roach Play fit into the mission?
R G-L: This is a play which tackles very difficult subject matter, so it would be easy for it to be two hours of difficult-to-watch drama. But our company believes in exploring the complexity of human emotion from seemingly unlikely vantage points. There is clowning in this show. There is comedy in this show. There is a fifteen minute cockroach musical in this show. It is our belief that, rather than minimizing the weightiness of this play, these moments of levity bring our audience closer to the emotional stakes present. Laughing one minute and crying the next is our brand. It is how we take care of our audience, assuring them that emotional release and enjoyment are not mutually exclusive. This is a very “Attic Collective” show.
The show is about hoarding. I am a hoarder myself, so can definitely relate to how serious a problem this is. What inspired you to write a play about this issue?
R G-L: It’s fascinating to me who self-identifies as a “hoarder” and who doesn’t. As a person who has held on to every note I’ve received since childhood and who cannot bring myself to throw out a single VHS tape in my storage unit, I used to sort of casually self-identify, finding it to be a kind of humorous self-deprecation. But the question of who and what a hoarder is is unbelievably complex. As we have been developing and discussing this show over the past two years I’ve gotten to hear varying responses to this classification. I Decided I’m Fine: A Roach Play was created after our company was commissioned by another theatre company to create a new, devised work as part of their season. The space we would be creating it for was wonderful but intimate-just 35 seats and two entrances. As we were pondering the best way to make the intimate setting for this new piece purposeful, I was simultaneously in the process of making multiple trips to Detroit to help my family sort through my grandmother’s home in preparation for helping her move into a nursing facility. My grandmother, a tough, wonderful woman, had a home teeming with belongings: antiques, documents, receipts, unopened purchases, etc. We always knew she was a collector, but the scale to which she had accumulated only really became evident as we were helping to facilitate this move.
I started to wonder about where this tendency stemmed from. Was it her impoverished upbringing, being raised by Jewish immigrants during the Great Depression? Was it a symptom of her abusive marriage? Had she collected to this extent as a response to her failing memory? I thought about the reality shows we have all become so familiar with, the ones which encourage us to shudder and retch at people who’ve “let things get out of control.” I thought about the way these shows focus on the symptoms of each “hoarder’s” lifestyle, giving little or no attention to the source of the compulsion. I thought about the way these shows are meant for entertainment. I did research about Compulsive Hoarding Disorder, and the ways in which hoarding is most often a response to a trauma. I thought about the way wealthier people are often considered “collectors” rather than hoarders because of the space they have to store their objects. I thought about my own overflowing storage unit (filled with things I inherited from my grandmother) and wondered what my own children will say about me as they facilitate my move one day. The topic felt too rich not to investigate further, so I brought it to the Company and we began devising this play.
The play concerns a serious problem with a couple who are experiencing a serious loss. How does the magic and clowning play into this scenario? How, as director, do you meet the challenges of the switch in tone?
R G-L: Hoarding is an incredibly delicate issue that is frequently handled indelicately. For many people, their only familiarity with the topic comes from reality television which has stigmatized and sensationalized the behavior. In creating a new piece of theatre which aimed to address hoarding empathetically, it felt impossible not to grapple with this cultural touchstone directly. We watched several episodes of both A&E’s “Hoarders” And TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” as research and were struck by the presentational quality of these shows. Each “Hoarder’s” life was compressed into an hour-long episode where the most shocking and disturbing details were highlighted for the viewers benefit. This steered us towards a framing device for our show which addresses the sensationalism of these reality shows somewhat directly: celebrity doctors/lifestyle coach type characters who “present” the core story of Ellen, a woman who is hoarding as a response to loss. These characters are inherently clowns, representing a removal from the sympathy the audience may feel for Ellen. Separately, there is another frame through which the audience can watch the performance which highlights through magic and abstraction the comfort (as well as the distress) that Ellen gains from her accumulation. How do these different framing devices work together? I think quite similarly to the way we approach this topic in real life. Hoarding is something you are asked to gawk and laugh at when you’re watching strangers on television. It is something you feel sad about when you watch it have a stronghold over someone you love. It is something that can at times feel magical, like an incredible archive of a person’s life. The tonal shifts ask the audience to grapple with the complexity of the behavior itself.
Why did you revamp the original version of the play? Did audience reaction suggest this?
R G-L: As a company, we have created a number of new plays through our distinctive devising process which have all been well-attended and well-received. But I Decided I’m Fine: A Roach Play, which was originally performed in August of 2018, had a unique effect on our audience. It elicited the most vulnerable post-show conversations, resulted in the most thoughtful next-day email messages, and we continued to hear about the way it stuck with our audiences long past its final performance. People who thought coming in to the performance they had no personal connection to the subject matter left empathizing with friends and family, and people for whom the topic was deeply personal entered the performance with trepidation and left feeling validated and hungry for deeper conversation. And, thrillingly, a number of patrons who do not typically go to the theatre (some for whom this was their first live theatrical performance!) left excited about seeing more. One patron approached me afterwards to tell me that he “didn’t realize this is what theatre could be.” It felt like it was too special to put back in the vault, so we’ve continued to work on it in the hopes of bringing it to a wider audience.
Attic Collective has received awards and has a fantastic reputation in the theatre community. Could you talk about this a little bit?
R G-L: We are very proud of the work we have created for the Los Angeles community. This past summer, our sold-out run of The Last Croissant, which we produced for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, won Best Ensemble Theatre, Best of the Broadwater, as well as Top of the Fringe, the top honor awarded. We were also nominated for the Larry Cornwall Award for Musical Excellence as well as the Steve Kent Award for Social and Political Change. Our previous Fringe project, Dead Dog’s Bone: A Birthday Play was awarded the 2015 Encore Producer’s Award and earned nominations for Best Direction of the festival as well as Best Performance. Our devised play, What Happened to Where I’ve Been, was chosen to be a part of Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival in 2017 and enjoyed an extension after the close of the Festival. In addition to the award-winning work we do, we are also extremely proud to offer free theatre workshops that are open to the community. Every three months we gather to hone our skills, create and play. It is a wonderful opportunity for artists to practice their craft and deepen their sense of community. In this way we hope that in addition to making a name for ourselves by creating thoughtful and evocative theatre we are also adding to the Los Angeles theatrical landscape by providing a place for artists to connect with one another.
Is there anything you wish to add?
R G-L: I think this is a special, very difficult play. I hope it can be the beginning of a continued conversation about grief, mental health, stigma and compassion.
Content Warning: Please be advised that the following themes which may be triggering for some audience members are present in this performance: Alcoholism, Anxiety, Compulsive Hoarding Disorder, Death, Death of an infant, Hoarding, Mental Illness.
I Decided I'm Fine: A Roach Play runs Feb. 7 – Mar. 1. It plays Fridays, Saturdays @ 8pm, Sundays 6pm) at Studio/Stage 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90004
For tickets, visit: TheAtticCollectiveLA.com/i-decided-im-fine-a-roach-play
(Photo credit: Rachel Rambaldi)