Incubating New Work in The Memphis Theatre Community: An Interview with Julia Hinson of Lone Tree Live
Julia Hinson currently serves as the Artist Director of LoneTree Live, a theatre company newly based in Memphis that strives to push the boundaries of performance through the creative exploration of the voice and body as well as investigating the innovative use of technology.
Julia is armed with an impressive list of theatre credentials and has been working nonstop since her return to Memphis. At the root of her creative practice is a drive to produce and cultivate new work. This weekend, LoneTree Live launches the city’s first official scratch night as a platform for local artists to showcase original work and engage audiences in a night of Sci Fi themed fun. Julia and I sat down last week to discuss why Scratch Night’s matter and our mutual love of Memphis.
This interview took place on October 10, 2018
EMILY MARKS: What is a scratch night? Is this the first one in Memphis?
JULIA HINSON The word scratch implies that you're kind of scratching at something bigger. So it's an opportunity for local writers, directors and actors to experiment with the form of theatre and have a stage on which to do that. To my knowledge, this is the first new work night that is using the Scratch Night name. New work is starting to pop up more in the community. Voices of The South Hosted a Fringe Fest last year and Emerald Theatre hosted a short play fest a few weeks ago. You could even argue that Playhouse on the Square with their stage readings, although it's not local work. Many big cities all over the country are doing these, especially if they have a Fringe Festival because they usually function as a trial run before artists get to their venue in the Fringe.
EM: How did you get interested in the idea of producing a scratch night ?
JH: I lived in London for two years where there's a culture of pub theatres, which are rentable venues. Most of them host a Scratch Night and they're always full. People are beating down the doors to have their work showcased. It’s evolved into a pipeline of how your work gets picked up or developed further, either opening a door to more funding or a bigger theatre to produce your piece. My interest is in doing new work. I'm rarely interested in something that's already scripted. When I got back here, there seemed to be a gap in Memphis which motivated me to put this together.
EM:What was the process to get this organized? Why start with a Sci Fi theme?
JH: Well, this began somewhat selfishly on my part. I have a love for science fiction and started to chat with my friends and other theatre people in town about writing. I approached people who maybe had done some writing for the stage, people who I knew were writers but hadn't written for the stage before, and approached them with the topic in particular. So I curated it out of my own desire to see something science fiction on stage. I also wanted to give people opportunities in areas where they don't normally get opportunities. So I have actors that are writing, actors that are directing. I've got a couple of people who've never acted that are in it. So it's kind of all of us are having an opportunity to scratch at something bigger or something different that we've not done before.
EM: I have noticed since I've moved back to town that the culture of theatre here is always a finished product. Were the artists involved hesitant about not having something perfectly produced?
JH: I think everyone was eager and just excited to have an opportunity to show their stuff and to write. The other thing I did with the science fiction prompt, I said to treat it like a genre like comedy, so it's quite broad. I didn't try to put any restrictions on that, and some interesting things came out of that which you will see at the show. We also did just a very short communal writing process with all of the writers and directors involved to get everyone comfortable with the process. We all met in a room and chatted about what we were writing and read together as well as gave each other feedback. We only met two or three times but it was still helpful. I think if I do this again, I might really try to engage the writers in more discussion and more collaboration in giving feedback. what's great about putting something in front of an audience is you learn so much just from how the audience reads in the room while the work is going on.
EM: I also look at this as an audience development tool. How could we use this as a catalyst to build and bring people to the table? There are companies that do two or three shows a year and their audience goes away. It’s so hard to keep momentum when you have to work project to project. This seems to be a way to engage your audience through your process and keep them connected. What are you and the artists involved thinking about when you think of audience?
JH: In general, I’d like to push boundaries of what we can do physically as performers with our voice, with our body. What we can do technically with all the technology that there is in the world and then also what we can do to break boundaries between the audience and the performer. So there's lots of different ways that's happening. Ours is a thrust with a very small audience on the stage at Evergreen which I'm sure has been done before but not since I've been here. I definitely want to bring my audience closer to me. I think actors can engage in more cinematic, more new ounce detailed acting when that's the case. Personally, I'm just sort of tired of sitting in a regular proscenium audience. It just is hierarchical and I am bored with it. My hope is for the audience to to feel valued in some way for their input on the work presented or that they feel included in a process as work develops.
EM: Can you explain your connection to the city? Why did you decide to move back here from London?
JH: Well, I think first and foremost, part of my heart is here, I just can't help it. I've got roots here and I love it here. It's like a sibling. I love it and I hate it here all in the same breath. It's a pretty dark place, but it's also magical. Memphis is a city filled with incredible people and incredible talent, so that keeps me here. I have always been interested in rooting myself in a community. I guess it was the way I was raised. You go to a place , you meet all the people that are doing the things and you rise up that way. My mom bootstrapped her restaurant business. Watching that growing up shaped me artistically. It shows you how to take something from a germ of an idea to grow into a thing. Being here is partially financial too, it’s very easy to make work here for a reasonable amount of money. I couldn't do these things in another city that I'm doing it here, especially due to the support from other organizations and artists in town. I am thankful.
EM: In an ideal world for you as an artist and as a member of the city, how would you like to grow as an artist and how would you like to see the city grow creatively?
JH : Well, I certainly would love to see a more more diverse audience. I’d like theater to be more accessible to audiences that aren't accustomed to go into a theater. And by that I don't mean by just making it cheap. I’d like to see this by making the topics interesting and again, more and more community oriented, more organic. I think economically I would just love to see us just foster new work that is coming from this place. Not necessarily work to create it. I would love to see us support artists and organizations that make a commitment to use the people here to create a story about Memphis or at least that comes from people that are here. Because again, there is a lot of talent and interesting voices in this city that need to be heard.
Sci Fi Scratch Night, presented by LoneTree Live
Plays October 19th and 20th at 8pm and 21st at 2pm
At Evergreen Theatre - 1705 Poplar Ave, Memphis
Tickets are $15 for Adults and $10 for Students and are available here: bit.ly/scifiscratch or at the door
Recommended for 14 years+
Free alcoholic beverage with every ticket (for those over 21)
For more information visit lonetreelive.com
Tea at Kensingmore by Jeff Possen, directed by Meredith Serna
Omnivorous by Jeff Possen, directed by Alice Berry
The Archive by Renee Davis Brame, directed by Julia Hinson
Connection by Chris Tracy, directed by Julia Baltz
Our Home on High by Aaron Brame, directed by Julia Hinson
Specimen 47 by Lyric Peters, directed by Alice Berry
Time Travel Bullies by Will Loden, directed by Aliza Moran
Zoe Deluge by Julia Hinson, directed by Julia Hinson
Gnegg’s Time-Space Paradox, adapted and Directed by Gabe Beutel-Gunn
Featuring: Julia Baltz, Alice Berry, Gabe Beutel Gunn, Rae Boller, Renee Davis Brame, Emily Dison, David Hammon, Julia Hinson, Will Loden, John McFerrin, Marlissa Stalling, Kristin Tripe, and April Vincent