Friday, July 12, 2013

My Interview with the Director/Co-Writer of EMPTY BOTTLES

I met Eric Martindale when we were working on a local independent film. There we became fast friends by avoiding work and talked about LOST. During our years at Ball State, Eric was a major player in the theatre section where he acted in shows like GOD’S EAR and directed one of my favorite productions at Ball State, ART.

Since graduating from Ball State, Eric has moved to Chicago and started up the On Deck Theatre Company. Their first production is a show called EMPTY BOTTLES (co-written by yours truly). It is about a young man named Andy who is starting a new life with a beautiful stranger named Charlotte and Jacob, the brother he never really connected with.

The show opens on July 18th at the Straw Dog Theatre in Chicago for a limited three-night engagement. Last night I chatted with Eric online to ask him about the origins of the show and what his methods are like.

Austin Lugar: We're going to start off with an easy one. What were you up to tonight?

Eric Martindale: Just got out of rehearsal. Listening to "Cannon in D"... not sure why.

Austin: You're a classy guy. As we're getting down to the final days, how have the rehearsals been?

Eric: Educational, frantic, stressful, wonderful... it's amazing I'm always one second way from swelling with pride or having a heart attack. There is a whole other element I've never contended with and that's being both the writer and the director. Directing comes easy to me, but when it's my words (and yours) I sometimes forget what it is I'm actually suppose to be doing. I feel more on the line than ever.

Austin: How is that different for you as a director? You directed a number of great shows while you were at Ball State, but they were always published plays by playwrights you have no association with.

Eric: Well it's hard to collaborate when you know EXACTLY what the intent is on each line. The play is clearer to you, or at least it should be, so when I see the actors do something delightfully unexpected, I sometimes wonder if that's the way I really meant for this to happen. While normally I would just say "keep it." It's hard to forget what you know when you've been working on the script for so long.

Austin: So how do you know what to keep and what to disregard when something like that happens? Do you have to go on instinct?

Eric: One could argue the entire process of directing, acting, and writing is instinct. It sounds pretentious but it's true. When it's right it's right and you know it. How did you know it? You just did. But, in this case, it was easy because the actors are very talented people who understand the characters very well. Most the time they just knew what to do. It was more like tweaking than directing. Even though I wrote it it's probably the most hands off I've ever been. I don't think I've ever directed so much from a chair. Usually I burn 500 calories a rehearsal.

I've switched to "These Days," the Nico version by the way.

Austin: Keep me posted. I'm listening to "Ghost Under Rocks" by Ra Ra Riot because I know you care. Let's go back now. What inspired you to start up a new theatre company?

Eric: That's easy. I wanted to do theatre. And there were a lot of my friends not working and I wanted them to do it too. I was inspired by them in a way...getting more pretentious by the second.

Austin: I'm asking you questions about your process and your decisions. It's impossible for you not to sound pretentious. The only thing you can do is change your music selection.
I want to know about the origins of this play. In terms of its timeline, I came into this very late. Where did EMPTY BOTTLES begin for you?

Eric: Well it's very different now, mind you. Two dear friends of mine fell in love with the same woman. And then, poof, they ceased being friends. And it basically drove a wedge between our entire group. No one knew who to side with, who to hang out with, and where to do it, and yet she was everywhere. No one was blaming her... it was, I suppose, an interesting study on the human condition. And, then, I sat down at work and wrote a scene, then the scene became two and from that moment on, I knew I had a play.

Ironically, many years later, one of the friends got cast in the show as the character that was based off him. Of course, the story is very very very different now.

Austin: Since you brought it up, what is it like to direct him? Is it almost too meta for comprehension or is everyone seeing them as two completely different characters?

Eric:  [Keith Lipke who plays Jacob] was going through a very rough time in his life when all that went down. He's very different now. I wouldn't say it's meta more like ironic. He's still acting, believe me. And he's doing a damn good job.

"Cello suite No.1" Classical kinda night I guess?

Austin: I'm now on "Bad Reputation" by Freedy Johnston.

Now, how long ago was it when you first sat down to write out this story?

Eric: I was 19. And you could tell.

Austin: As you got older, how did the focus of the story change?

Eric: Well, first of all, in the original draft Charlotte was just evil. There was very little humanity in her. Then slowly she became a human being, and as she did, her character was less under the microscope and the true story shined through... she had been pulling focus from it. The story is about Andy moving on. Everyone in his life wants nothing to do with him, or has disappointed him... and now Charlotte, and his brother. And only recently I've realized he needs a family. He finds something there with his brother, something unexpected. He can finally move on...

Of course, it's just as unexpected from Jacob’s perspective.

Austin: When you're directing actors about these characters, how do you handle dealing with these core motivations? Are they always there subconsciously or do you think these three aren't even aware of them?

Eric: It's a mixed bag because they treat each other different. In general, Jacob and Charlotte are very honest with each other. And just tell each other how they feel. How they do that is up to me and ultimately up to the actor (because I don't act like the playwright in rehearsal). And then they both don’t wear anything on their sleeve with Andy. And there's Andy who is always so brutally, and occasionally, obnoxiously honest. He thinks he has it all figured out and he's gonna let everybody know.

It warrants an inkling of pity. We all feel bad for the fool but no one wants to tell them...

Austin: You've been with this story for so long, what was it like having auditions for these characters?

Eric: Surreal. But it faded, quickly.

Austin: Because you got into full-blown director mode?

Eric: Yeah, perhaps. Or just because it was always the plan. We were just staying the course. It helped everyone at the audition was so good.

Austin: How has your background as a stage actor influenced the way you direct other actors?
By the way, I'm now listening to "Saint of Me" by The Rolling Stones just as a bonus irony for everyone's who has seen the show.

Eric: I always remember what one of my mentors Karen Kessler always said. You have to like actors to direct. And I do. Part of that was understanding what they go through. My name is just a name in the program, they're the ones that will bear the brunt of all the criticism, and in turn, the praise. It's a hard job. But I think having done it I know when to push, when not to. I know what I like as an actor and I strive for that type of director. I'm constantly considering them in everything I say and do. I don't know if I would otherwise.

It’s now a song by The Killers that I don't recognize

Austin: I shall boldly guess it's "A Dustland Fairytale" because people don't talk about that one as much. Now to wrap it all up, I just want to tell you that I'm crazy excited to see the final product. I have complete faith in you and the actors and the rest of the company. Are you ready for this to be seen by the world?

Eric: I'll let you know after you see it.


Eric: In that case. Yes. I am.

Austin: Excellent. I'll see you in Chicago.

Tickets can be purchased for EMPTY BOTTLES for July 18th, 19th, and 20th at the On Deck website. They are only $10 now, $15 at the door. Eric and I will be at every performance.

Check out the On Deck Theatre Facebook page for exclusive photos of EMPTY BOTTLES and more information about upcoming shows.

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