By Patrick Hurley
The Sunrise Club is a new play about young students who experience their last sunrises on Earth before moving to a new planet. Writer/Producer/Director/Actor Tara Turnbull has created a theatrical experience that combines philosophical questions with the wide-eyed innocence of youth and the result is a mix of style and ideas that seeks to find an answer in a world where there may not be one.
The political world is divided between The Stayers (on Earth) and The Leavers (of Earth). There is a dramatic question of whether or not memories and experiences can either be replicated or replaced. Ms. Turnbull, along with her enthusiastic cast, do their best to infuse the world with a mixture of apathetic youthfulness and idealism that gives the play a simultaneously hopeful and depressing tone.
The play also features original music, 13 songs. The songs are sung A cappella, and sometimes feel like a showcase for singers, and Ms. Turnbull has quite a lovely, resonant voice, more than moving the story along. But in the end, this is a theatrical experiment that seems to be the genesis of something quite profound and moving.
I recently discussed the play with Tara, to help get to the heart of what she wants to say about this very ambitious project. As a writer, director, producer, and star of a production the development process is perhaps the most creatively important to grow a piece of theater.
What was your inspiration for this play?
TT: My inspiration for The Sunrise Club grew out of self-awareness and awareness of others, empathy. My inspiration is and has been a series of questions including:
“If the sun did not rise, would it still be considered morning?”
What if climate change remained an untreated problem. What might be solutions, options, alternatives?
I am inspired by inhaling and exhaling, by a notion of new-ness, of novelty that I observed in myself and in our society. I was induced by my frustration at not being part of the conversation at the beginning of the world in which I live, by the givenness of the circumstances.
In that spirit, my plays tend to begin before the audience enters, and to end after the audience exits.
I wrote a play about my young life, its characters, experiences, environment, perceptions, to counter the songlyrics that taunted me ‘You’re young. You don’t know anything. You don’t know love. La dee da. Ha ha ha.” But on the other hand, isn’t being a student an exemplary status? We must be part of the conversation, we must be able to pose and be posed “the big questions” in order to really reflect upon the value and opportunity of our youth.
As a theatre artist and student, I wanted to make time and space onstage to re-introduce myself and others to the beautiful, invisible wall which we all assume, the wall that has been introduced to us, the wall that was built even before we got into the building, the wall through which we pass every day, The 4th Wall.
At a long black laboratory table I sat on a hard stool in one of my high school science classes. An image teased my brain: Two students, silhouetted, sat on a hilltop, conversed about the meaning and scope of their young knowledge. Their word maintained all weight, and they communicated on a level that was candid, sincere, unique.
Interestingly enough, I, envisioner of the voyeuristic vision, was neither of those students. They were completely separate characters from myself. But I was not necessarily interested in inserting myself into the conversation as much as I became interested in analyzing the nature of the imagined exclusion, or exclusion within my imagination, and then, the potential inclusion in that important conversation. Madeline Rose is a character who travels through a journey of awareness, empathy with other human beings, groundedness.
I was inspired to tell a story in which a young African-American girl with long natural hair could let her hair down, let her hair out, work with and through the cliches to which she has been exposed and taught. I was inspired to put her into the position to ponder questions that resound.
As actors, we study the urgency of speaking, of acting. More than fulfilling or pursuing a desire, or achieving an objective, I had never had such a strong feeling of urgency to tell a story, to say these words, to sing these songs, to share, as I had and have with The Sunrise Club
Is the main character Madeline Rose based on anyone you know?
TT: I don’t say “main character”. There are simply personages in The Sunrise Club that the audience gets to know better than others.
Madeline Rose is based upon those who live in the experiences of being sun-kissed, who are ‘so much in the sun’ that it shows up in their skin. She is based upon those who have been made to feel as though the sheer volume and texture of the follicles that grow out of their scalps could weigh down deeply upon the vertebraes of their spinal cords.
Madeline is representative of someone who no one had bothered to ask certain questions or to be aware of certain things about the world, about herself
The sun has a great deal to do with our aesthetic differences as human beings. I wanted to put the sun at center, because it is, in fact, the center of one of the systems upon which we operate. I wanted to look at the sunrise as the spectacular, theatrical event that it is.
What philosophical or existential issues are you trying to work through in this play?
TT: I earned my Bachelor Of Arts At Bard College At Simon’s Rock in Theatre and Philosophical Studies. I wrote my thesis, a play plus philosophical analysis, Being-On-Stage: 9 Phenomenological Movements For Solo Actress based in Being And Time. I visited Messkirch, and Heidegger’s hut. I met with one of his former students, but I have since taken a break from Heidegger. One of the things that has followed through is my love of desks. I find beautiful and prolific the geometrical confrontation, the desk as designated thoughtful space on stage, specified creative place.
I am interested in theatrum mundi, the world as stage. I am interested in choices, acting choices, casting choices, ruminating upon choices that I have the responsibility of making as well as analyzing those which have been made for me. I am interested in phenomenology and existentialism, in World-hood, in the world as a phenomenon. “The furniture of the world.” What constitutes a classroom? Desks? Students? Teachers? What constitutes a world?
My philosophical questions find themselves entrenched in theatrical or dramatic ones. “What are the “given circumstances”. I was interested in event ontology before I knew the phrase. When does an event begin, end? How does a conversation, a war, a party, a protest, a play, a world start?
I am interested in an actor-centric aesthetic. Just like I am telling this story of mine, I dream about what others might do with creative voices that resonate in more places along the creative process.
I am interested in how we take the world for granted, how we take language, planet Earth, the sunrise, the future, The 4th Wall, the audience, the actors, our senses, our bodies, one another, for granted.
What were the biggest challenges of being a multi-hyphenate? (Writer, producer, director, actor) And what did you learn from the experience?
TT: I am learning my love for more and more elements of the act of storytelling. Directing makes me a better actor. Acting makes me a better director. Producing makes me a better artist. I designed the skirt that Madeline wears. Getting to know, more intimately each aspect of the process, whether it be design, stage managing, budgeting, outreach gives me a clearer sense of the thing, that is the play. To see the bigger picture, to see oneself clearly from inside and out becomes the skill to work. To meet the challenge of self-directing, we actors must do some self-reflecting. I learned that no one will tell your story for you, and that sometimes, no one will help you tell your story.
As I said, I could not afford not to tell this story. I designed the skirt that Madeline Rose wears. I printed organic, unisex, EarthWorld t-shirts, created a soundtrack to support the project.
“It’s an EarthWorld, we’re just living on it.
You don’t have a director’s note in the program. If you could make one about this play in one paragraph, what would that be?
TT: Let us use this play to reinforce the ceiling in order to reemphasize the sky.
Let us make sure we are part of the tradition of humanity looking up to the heavens.
Let us attempt to bring the sky into a room/black box theatre.
Let us use the theatre to orient ourselves in an ever-expanding universe.
Let us re-infuse everything we do with purpose.
Let us speak into song.
Let us explore song as existence.
As Hannah Arendt advises, let us welcome ourselves anew into this old world.
Let us question everything.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in the further development of this piece? / What are plans for the future as a writer, director, actor, producer.
TT: I invite the UCLA Community and the people of Los Angeles and California to come see the sunrise in the evening.
I am grateful to those who inspired the personages of The Sunrise Club. I am grateful to those who helped enliven The Sunrise Club. I celebrate this new summer season and dedicate this play to the planet, to the star, and to the Madeline Roses of the world.
As a writer, I plan to reconnect with my philosophical roots. And now that I am addressing this most persistent and pressing story, I can tend to its evolution as I attend to some of my other darlings.
As an actor, director, I plan to continue conflating titles toward cohesive artistic action. As a producer, I look forward to continuing to produce out of passion, continuing giving life to The Sunrise Club. I never want to be afraid of “big” casts. It is important to tell individuals’ stories, and it is important to tell stories of individuals relating with one another.
I intend to continue learning more about as many aspects of storytelling as I can.
I created The Sunrise Club as a play for the medium of theatre. It is a script, a soundtrack. Only by placing it in its originally intended context, was I able to see how it might translate and grow, expressively. I wish for a long life for The Sunrise Club, the characters to be inhabited by actors all over time, all over Earth… and elsewhere.
The Sunrise Club is playing Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
At the Los Angeles Theater Center