Mounting Tensions Amid Theater Gangs Set the Tone for ‘Pen15’s’ ‘Play’

In the second season of “Pen15,” Anna (Anna Konkle) and Maya (Maya Erskine) get involved in different departments of their school play and that puts a strain on their friendship. Maya taps into her thespian side to star alongside Gabe (Dylan Gage), but when Anna doesn’t make the cast, she takes on the tech side of theater.

As they rehearse in the penultimate episode, aptly titled “Play,” Anna becomes increasingly outspoken and controlling about her calls for Maya to “hold” a position, go “full out” on a move or not do something if she doesn’t plan to do it on the day of the show. Maya, in turn, grows equally frustrated. As the sequence goes on, not even Gabe’s viral line reading of, “What are you gonna do, Debra? You gonna divorce me?” can stop the mounting tension, capturing teenage melodrama at its finest.

Maya Erskine
Actor, writer, executive producer
“The tech sequence is a bit exaggerated, but essentially this episode was drawn from my own experiences — I did a lot of theater in school growing up. I also found that tech week was a hilarious time to highlight because, while it was very fun to do in school — what with the late nights and all of the pizza you get to eat — it was also treated like life or death. Lack of sleep, stress of cues and remembering lines always led to some blow-up. Anna couldn’t be there on the day we needed to shoot this scene, so we actually shot it separately, on separate days. We definitely had short interactions for each day of tech written on the page, but the slow-mo and the fast-forward was not on the page and the many times Anna yells ‘hold’ was not on the page.”

Sam Zvibleman
Director, executive producer
“The actors and techies were actually physically pretty far apart: the stage manager desk was 100 [or] 200 feet away from the stage. But then we shot it with a wider lens to further underline the divide between these two gangs in how they feel about the other, how far away they are from being on the same page. Actors are the looser ones, the free-spirited ones, and in this situation, the ones who have no control. So, Andy [Rydzewski], our DP, and I decided that handheld would give us a sense of that and give us a good clear contrast against the rigidity of the techies who like structure and order and preciseness, and so they get a rigid, locked off camera.”

Grace Alie
Production designer
“It was important to make it look like it wasn’t well-done, but also there were some logistics things that we needed to have. [Later] Anna is on scaffolding behind the set so she can sprinkle glitter on Maya, so the sets had to be big. In real life they’d probably be 6 to 8 feet tall, but we had to make them a little [grander]. But I love the hand-painting of the books and the scenic work done, because that does feel very real to me — like those kids would take the time to make it look as good as possible. It’s still flat and a little unimpressive, but in that world it’s very impressive.”

Melissa Walker
Costume designer
“We definitely needed to reflect a passing of time with the montage and scenes leading up to ‘Hell Week,’ but we also wanted to reuse pieces to keep it authentic. We tried to morph everyone into these exaggerated personas using what would be accessible in each character’s actual closets. We watch the techies mirror their intensifying work schedule through their initial rehearsal look of thermals, tactical belts, cargo pants, and work boots, to their monochrome performance stage blacks. In a similar vein, the actors start rehearsals in movement wear that they then begin adding costume pieces to. I also wanted to keep Gabe’s suit looking oversized, so rather than hemming the length of the pants and arms, we rigged them to look bunched — but safely so he didn’t trip while performing his choreography! We then see them visually solidified as a group in their matching, homemade sweatshirts when they face off with the techies.”

Tiffany Anders
Music supervisor
“The piece of music used was sourced and is from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons Concerto Per Archi E Cembalo in G Major.’ It was selected as an homage to the film ‘All That Jazz’ [and] what I like about this piece besides the nod is that it suddenly feels like they are in a very adult world. The music is sophisticated and builds in its intensity and takes you out of their day-to-day middle school world and brings you into what their perceived theater life as an adult might look like: serious and intense. There are many subtle nods and homages to classic films in this season of ‘Pen15,’ which led to expanding the music selections.”

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