Before it was Project: Project...
it was an idea at a bar in Brighton. Jeff and Max interview each other about P:P's genesis.
So how did it start?
Jeff: It was really a collection of ideas for a production. Not necessarily a theatre company.
Max: We met at a Huntington Theatre event, and one thing that stuck out was you brought up you're from Minnesota, and I had been there for a year...
Jeff: We talked about the Guthrie and the Seven Corners and Triple Rock Social Club.
Max: And how there was so much experimental theater in the Twin Cities.
Jeff: And I think there's experimental stuff happening in Boston, but I think Minneapolis provides it more as a standard fare. We emailed each other some scripts we had been working on and from there we got coffee at Thinking Cup and talked about the kind of theatre we really liked. Lots of interest in immersive theatre and what made it work.
Max: We established a meeting, you told me more about Theatre for Two [an independent project Jeff co-created at Actors Theatre of Louisville], and then you brought up the Democracy Center, which I was familiar with because I saw a Hootenanny there.
Jeff: I had auditioned for an Improv troupe there, and I remember thinking "you can just ‘borrow’ the house?"
Max: That place still blows my mind. What a find!
Jeff: I was sold on it from day one.
Max: I remember we left and got on the Green Line. I was so engrossed in our conversation I went like three stops past where I needed to get off. I'm not sure I ever told you that.
Jeff: HAHA awesome. No idea that happened. I think that the Theatre for Two thing and the event in a house was the kernel for what we wanted to do.
What was your inspiration for the first show, What Are You Doing Here?
Jeff: I think we were all talking about the excitement that Sleep No More caused.
Max: Yes, and we wondered if we could do that, but with more a linear story. We didn't really have a story.
Jeff: Yes. We considered the form for a long time, but we left the content for the ensemble to have some buy in. “What kind of roll do you see yourself playing?”
Max: We were more interested purely in the form.
Jeff: This is where we started talking about the Milgram Experiment. How can we get an audience member to throw an egg at someone? Yet still see something with a beg/mid/end, and get the satisfaction of a story being told?
Max: Exactly. I think the egg bit was what kept us going back. It was a question of what's the difference between subverting an audience members' expectations and also empowering them.
Jeff: We had a meeting, with people other than the two of us, at the Democracy Center and read Theatre for Two, and we said, "we’re thinking of doing something here like this.” We had a healthy group of improvisers, actors, writers. That something became “What Are You Doing Here?”
Max: And did we start brainstorming ideas then too?
Jeff: Yes, that was kind of a launchpad for, "what are some groups that can be really cult-like in dedication to their practice?” Which is how we got to Boy Scouts and Roller Derby eventually.
Max: I feel like those came up early on. Along with Masons.
Jeff: Mostly because they seemed great to play off of one another.
Max: And secret societies
Jeff: Yes. Secret societies were a big part. I'd still like to do a play about some sort of initiation gone wrong. Anywho . . .
Max: I'm with you on that. So after our first few meetings. . .
Jeff: We had some attrition. Some people left, some people stayed.
Max: Which I think at first was frustrating but ended up being really good because the people who stayed were really buying into it. It became a core organically. We established that whoever is present gets to make decisions.
Jeff: Then one day we put forth this form for how the entire production could work and we saw everyone explode with ideas once we were liberated from that.
Project: Project as a name?
Jeff: I was a little tired of always hearing about untitled projects being called the blank project. So it’s a little meta/tongue-in-cheek. Our project is to create a project.
Max: And you came up with "Project: Project" and everyone agreed that was spot on and hilarious, and I feel like from that name, we started talking about what we were doing beyond just this show in a way. That’s when we started talking about how the hierarchical structure and such of theater in general.
Jeff: Right. Eventually it evolved to Vicki, Louise, Sophie and Harry and us as a founding core because we were showing up every week. It felt like we were making something bigger than just a production.
Max: Exactly. And our mantra, "What have you always wanted to try?" starting popping up. And you suggested for every show, we could each take different roles. Like there's no AD or Producer; we change after each one.
Jeff: Yes. That we sort of gravitate to serving what the show needs and what we’re most interested in. Then we did a "pitch" meeting where we spit a bunch of ideas out there for a future project, before we had even finished our first one.
What’s your mission? Where are you going next?
Jeff: Our mission has been dictated by our interests. We want to do interesting work that makes us go "wow" and therein we hope other people go "wow!" The mission has changed to included, “We promise to always start with a great idea.”
Max: Exactly. In a way, it’s always been a much more self-serving approach to art, and that’s what I like about it. It's less on product, more on the exploration of a new form, and our own education of that form through it. Learning by doing. And we’ve had this huge growth pretty quickly.
Jeff: Yes. And we realized that in order to grow we needed to bring a few more personnel on board. We've got a group with really diverse sensibilities right now. Not that we didn't before.
Max: More playwrights and sadly some departures – Sophie to Chicago, Vicki to L.A., me to New York.
Jeff: I have to say though that the creative vibe that started with the original core still reverberates. We still keep that honesty in the room. We all like each other and support ideas.
Max: I pride ourselves in fostering an egalitarian and inclusive creative environment. There really is little precedent for that. Not to toot our horns too much, but I like that we stuck to those principles. I think those are all reasons why the founders worked well were we each had a "specialty" but were interested in other roles and knew other roles.
Jeff: Right. And with the changing of the guard I think everyone has great styles and administrative abilities. We knew we needed folks who had multifaceted interests and abilities. Alli and Nina and Cecelia are all eager and interested in creating collaboratively. I’m really looking forward to what we do. I see a lot of determination, creativity, and eagerness. Just what you need if you’re going to be a new theatre company. You can do ensemble theatre in any number of ways. It really depends on how you want to work together and what you want to make.
Max: We find people who aren’t just good artists, but those who we just generally like . . .
Jeff: And are good people.