Roundabout Underground


Ethan Dubin

Ted Sod: Tell us about yourself: Where were you born and educated? When and why did you decide to be an actor? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Ethan Dubin: I was born and raised in Pasadena, California, a suburb in Los Angeles County. I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor from day one; it took some time. But I was always performing in some way or another. I was bad at sports (like, no-one-goes-to-lunch-until-Ethan-hits-a-baseball-during-gym, bad-at-sports) and compensated with a class clown mentality. My high school and my family were really focused on academic achievement, but I was lucky to have two phenomenal acting teachers, Tina and Cynthia, who consistently made the best high school theatre around (yeah, that’s right). They nurtured my curiosity, and they also recognized the weirdo in me. One taught me Viewpoints and Suzuki when I was sixteen, and the other sent me to go see a Robert Wilson musical my junior year, which she knew would explode my brain. It did. Theatre always gave me a place to escape to, so I guess in hindsight it makes sense that I wanted to go to school someplace where I didn’t know anyone at all. For me that was the frigid Midwest and Chicago. It didn’t take long at school to figure out that I wanted to do something in the theatre. When I graduated, I still hadn’t quite figured out what. I thought I’d start telling people I was an actor just to see how it fit. And it’s still fitting.


TS: Why did you choose to play the role of Bobbie in Bobbie Clearly? What do you find most challenging about playing this role? Does the role have personal resonance for you? If so, how?

ED: I am humbled at the opportunity to play a character as complex, beautiful, and challenging as Bobbie. I have always been attracted to playing outsiders, weirdos, people who desperately want to fit in and to be liked. I relate to them. In their efforts to try to be liked, these characters often have to be incredibly courageous, especially when their actions may be clumsy, misguided, or downright painful to witness. I’ve never played an outsider as polarizing as Bobbie. I immediately connected to how raw and vulnerable he is, and how pure his hopes are to make amends with the people of his hometown. With this horrific crime behind him, he wants so badly to do the right thing, to prove that he’s worthy of forgiveness. At best, he is the elephant in the room, and far more often he’s the target of wild and justified hatred. It’s an amazing challenge to try to imagine what that would be like—for me, and for our audiences. I found a statistic that in 2016 there were an average of five gun-related homicides of children or teens every day. I didn’t grow up in a town like the Milton, NE we see in Alex’s play. But the story of Bobbie Clearly is all too familiar and recognizable to me growing up and living in this country.

TS: In your opinion, what is the play Bobbie Clearly about? 

ED: For me, this play is about the act of forgiveness and how we get along as a community in the wake of a tragedy. Far too many small American cities and families have had to grapple with a tragedy like we see in the play. How do you move on? How do you learn to feel safe again? How do you punish the criminal, and does he deserve a place back in the society he harmed? If so, would you help him? I can remember several mass shootings in recent history where the families of the victims have announced their forgiveness of the murderer hardly a day after they lost their loved ones. And I’ve wondered what this really means, what this really feels like. Could I forgive someone like that for a crime so heinous? Or even if I thought I could, what would it be like to have that forgiveness tested if and when I saw him face to face? There are so many painful complexities in how a traumatized community tries to coexist and move on. Some people feel their very identity has been changed forever and want to spend their lives memorializing the victim, while others want to get as far away from the memory as possible. One of the things I love about Alex’s play is how honestly he portrays this, and how funny and awkward it can be along the way.

JD Taylor and Ethan Dubin in Bobbie Clearly

TS:  What is your process as an actor? What is the first thing you do? How do you research a role like Bobbie?

ED:With a few weeks to go before rehearsals, I’m gathering research and mining details from the script. Through books, movies, clips, what have you, I’m trying to spend time with people who may have similar circumstances to Bobbie or resemble some part of his life. That could be anything from a man serving a life sentence in prison for a murder he committed as a minor, to just what it’s like for a bunch of high school kids in Nebraska to pile onto a bus to go detassel corn and make some ice cream money. I want to get a sense of the textures and rhythms in the text. And I also want to figure out what facts I know from the script, and what questions I’m going to have in the rehearsal room. Especially with a play like this, I start with a timeline, trying to organize everything I know for sure about Bobbie so I can start to draw a narrative for myself of how his life has been through that chronology. I want to get to know this world so that in rehearsals I’ll be ready to meet the people inside of it.


TS: Can you share some of your preliminary thoughts with us about Bobbie and his relationship to the community in Nebraska that he comes from? How do you see the relationship between Bobbie and Casey? What about between Bobbie and Darla?

ED: We’re in a really small town in Nebraska, where the murder of Casey affects everyone. As Derek tells us about halfway through the play, when Bobbie walks into a store or someplace in public, 90% of the people know who he is, and the other 10% are about to find out. Bobbie has been released back into the town he’s harmed, and the ripples of his crime are felt everywhere. They’ve ripped apart his family and any comfort and security he may have once had as a boy. It takes monumental steps to regain any trust, and the little of it he comes by is tenuous. I have so many questions about Bobbie’s relationship to Casey. I think his feelings about Casey have as much or even more to do with his feelings about Eddie, a boy he once had tons of power over, and then none. In Darla, I think Bobbie finds possibly the only example of a benevolent authority figure in his life. We don’t see him interact with other authority figures, but I get the feeling Darla has always expressed some kindness even in moments of deep disappointment, and that’s been a huge exception from a lot of other adults. I’m eager to discover more about Bobbie’s relationship with his family, what his home life was like. Seeing children display deep rage isn’t all that unfamiliar to us, but when a temper tantrum goes too far into something unknown, we always want to know why; we’re hungry to be able to point to one concrete, definable event or reason in the child’s life and say “that’s where the anger comes from.” And one of the reasons I love this play is because I’m not sure it’s ever that simple.

TS: What do you look for in a director when working on a new play?

ED: I love a director who really trusts and respects actors. Someone who knows how to open the door for you and then step aside to let you walk through it. When I’m in a rehearsal process, I always want to have the time and the space to go too far and push the limits of a scene or a moment past what I think they “should” be. Working on a new play, you’re in uncharted territory and you want to stretch the text and discover the boundaries. When I’m really jamming with a director, I think she sets me free in the moment, sometimes pushing or pulling in directions I didn’t know I needed to go, while keeping a bird’s eye view of how any one scene ripples through the rest of the play. I feel free to make new choices all the time, and only afterward do I see the framework that was being built invisibly around me. And at the end of the day, I love a director who asks questions, but also knows that rehearsals are about trying on answers. There isn’t really a right one, so you just pretend there is until you figure out which ones are the strongest, the juiciest, the most essential for the story.

Writer Alex Lubischer with Director Will Davis



TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

ED: I love theatre, and I see a ton of it. Making plays is hard, it just is. And my community of theatre artists in New York inspires me all the time. I’m also amazed by how much inspiration I find in other forms of performance. Maybe it’s music or dance or an exhibition at a museum—I’m frequently amazed by how much inspiration I’ll get in acting from other creative forms. I try to take advantage of being in New York and take in as much as I can. And I try to keep things fresh, keep myself taking risks and doing the unfamiliar. A mentor of mine in high school said that, as a working actor, you have to keep your body engaged in some kind of movement practice, no matter what that looks like. A few months ago I started doing an Israeli dance/movement form called Gaga (no, not Lady). It’s all about providing your body with a framework for discovery and going outside of what’s familiar. It’s awesome. You should try it. I think it makes me a better person, so probably a better actor, too.


TS: NYC public school kids will read this interview and want to know what it takes to be a successful actor -- what advice can you give young people who want to act?

ED: Champion each other. It’s too easy to focus on the negative in what we do. But you’ll just hold yourself and your community back. Instead, find all the chances you can to talk about who inspires you, about someone in your community who’s doing amazing work. Be a champion for them, and someone’s going to come back around and be a champion for you. And another thing. I had an acting teacher here in the city say that no matter what job you’re doing, do the best you possibly can at that job. With all the crazy side-jobs we actors do in this city, that advice really stuck with me, and I think it’s absolutely true. You’ll keep your integrity, strengthen your discipline, and nurture your curiosity. You’ll also get bored. And boredom, it turns out, can be a powerful thing for an artist.


Bobbie Clearly closes at the Roundabout Underground on May 6, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2017-2018 Season, Bobbie Clearly, Roundabout Underground

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Bobbie Clearly Designer Statements


Arnulfo Maldonado/Set Design

Bobbie Clearly by Alex Lubischer is exciting in its structure and unique storytelling -- I was immediately struck by how engaging the interview format can feel within a theatrical context. What is the setting for such a world? In the film/documentary version of this play, these subjects would be interviewed against a static background. But this play spans both various locations and time. So, it was important for us to create a flexible environment that could easily transport us to different locations and times and that the audience be as much a part of the transformation of the space as the characters in it (thus the thrust seating configuration we've come up with for the space). As with any new play, before even getting into the practical specifics of what the play demands, I like to immerse myself in the emotional feeling of the piece. This sometimes involves music.  What would be playing at the time on the radio in Nebraska in 2002? Music for me is always a helpful tool in terms of delving into the emotional landscape of these characters; I can create a narrative for myself by thinking about each of these characters' personal tastes (and there is definitely a wide range of personalities and tastes within this small town). From there I started looking at photographs that weren't necessarily about any specific location in the script but rather, again, the feel, of the play. I first landed on this image to the right. There is something both haunting and beautiful about this photo. Similar to our story. What is being kept behind this structure? Is it a refugee? Is it dangerous? Unclear. Coincidentally, this particular structure in the photo houses corn (these are known as corn cribs). From here Will and I looked at various structures that would potentially live in our world (grain bins, corn cribs, corn fields). Similar to the image above, these structures were both beautiful in their form and also dangerous in their capability to cause harm.  I also found it helpful to look at documentaries that play with a similar interview/documentary structure. Documentary-series like The Thin Blue Line, Making A Murderer, Amanda Knox, and The Jinx were all helpful in terms of understanding how each one crafted a narrative of real-life events. In some cases these were served via stylized reenactments, and in others it was about letting one's imagination run wild by hearing a subject's retelling of particular events. Alex's description for the set is: “An acre of corn hangs above a bare stage, tassels down, as though the sky is the earth.” Aside from the rich visual these words provide, I was also taken by Alex's word-play, in how he laid them out on the page. How does one bring that much punch of a descriptor to a space that is not much taller than one of our actors, with no fly space?  Will and I embraced the limitations of the space and its literal basement-ness. The “acre of corn” visual felt important in that the corn (field) felt like a vital extra character in the play; it was important for us to retain the feeling of Alex's words in that sense. Thus, why we are surrounding not just the characters in the play, but the audience themselves, in corn-crib walls. The corn is contained behind wire, but at any point this wire can give way...or not. It's that tension that is at the root of the design.



Ásta Hostetter/Costume Design

The event that precipitates Bobbie Clearly is a tragedy. Bobbie is our central character because he has committed a crime that has changed the life of the community forever. The reactions to that crime range from devastation to curiosity. To some characters, Bobbie is a demon to be avoided; to others, a human deserving forgiveness. Playwright Alex Lubischer gives us no instruction or footholds to “answer” this question. My main job is to craft this wide range of individuals with love enough to allow us access and feeling for all of them. My preparation for this had most to do with the small town of Milton, NE. In the midwest, corn detasseling is a job hundreds of young people work at a time. Though the masks and gloves that they wear will not be seen onstage, their sweaty exuberance in a gigantic field is important background to understanding the moment of this crime. I like to think that my work parallels the work of an actor: to be a sensitive collaborator in theatre, one has to be prepared to respond to the present moment of the rehearsal room. Meghan and Megan, characters in this play, are simultaneously two unique individuals and total twinsies. The joy of a well-written text is that there are a number of ways these characters could be embodied -- both physically and emotionally. They need to be able to giggle like sisters and repel one another as if they were strangers. It’s a fun challenge for a designer to take up.



Palmer Hefferan/Sound Design

Bobbie Clearly is framed through interviews for a documentary. As scenes evolve this lens morphs, turning single interviews into split-screen, and shifting to a theatrical world outside of the interviews. Establishing the perspective of the audience was my first task. What do they see and hear? The audience is a spectator that moves between documentary interviewer, an audience member at an event, and an observer in an undefined place. The magic of sound design is that it can invisibly move the audience fluidly between these viewpoints.

I began by listening to documentary films and radio broadcasts. I was struck by the sonic presence of interview locations. Whether they had the intimacy of a quiet studio, or the omnipresence of nature in a park, the environment gave authenticity to people's stories. In , location ambiences create the foundation of the aural landscape.

The play spans years, giving the audience multiple first person perspectives of a single event that comes to define the lives of those involved. As the play progresses, nondiegetic sounds seep into the design, creating expressionistic layers in the shifting naturalistic world.

Bobbie Clearly opens at the Black Box Theatre on April 3, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

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2017-2018 Season, Bobbie Clearly, Roundabout Underground

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Playwright Alex Lubischer

Ted Sod: Give us some background information on yourself: Where were you born? Where were you educated? When did you decide to become a playwright and why?

Alex Lubischer: I grew up on a farm near a small town called Humphrey in eastern Nebraska. The population of the town was about 750, and the size of my graduating high school class was 20. I loved writing and acting from very early on. In junior high, I devoured Stephen King books and tried to imitate them in would-be young adult novels I wrote on an old Dell computer. There wasn’t much theatre to see, but I acted in one-acts in high school. I found myself drawn to movies, and I decided at a young age that someday I would move out to California to become a famous actor. Well, that didn’t happen. Or, it half-happened. I did move to California to attend the University of Southern California. I took my first playwriting class there freshman year, and sophomore year I produced my first play on campus. Putting it up, I kind of knew then that I wanted to be a playwright. There’s something incredible about getting to see a story that began in your mind realized in front of you by fellow artists. When a scene lands or a climax elicits a gasp from an audience, you know that you’ve translated an emotional experience; you’ve reminded a crowd of people about some essence of life that we’re usually too busy or distracted or exhausted or traumatized to notice on a day-to-day basis.

My favorite play is Our Town, and there’s this exchange at the end of the play between two characters:

EMILY: Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?

STAGE MANAGER: No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.

And I think the job of the playwright is to tell a story that reminds an audience of what it’s like to be alive.


TS: What inspired you to write Bobbie Clearly? What do you feel the play is about? Does the play have personal resonance for you and, if so, how?

AL: Because I grew up queer and closeted in a rural area of a red state, it has always been relatively easy for me to empathize with outsiders. Most of my plays are about outsiders. But with Bobbie Clearly, I wanted to write about a community—about insiders—not the pariah.

I’m haunted by the small town where I grew up; I can’t stop writing about it. And I think that Bobbie, accidentally—it’s not that I set out to do this—became about me trying to love the town where I grew up, and to find understanding for a community that struggles with understanding.

At the time I was writing the first draft, there was an onslaught of mass shootings in America. In the aftermath of each shooting, the same pattern seemed to emerge. People would be horrified, then they would latch onto some reason this had occurred, trying to gather the tiniest clues to help them make sense of senseless violence. Some people would retreat from the world, and others would turn to activism—like Jane in the play. So that informed Bobbie, too: Americans have wildly different ideas about how to heal as a community in the wake of tragedy.


TS: Will you give us a window into the kind of research you had to do in order to write your play and how you went about doing it?

AL: The starting point for the play was a nonfiction book called The Violence of Our Lives: Interviews with American Murderers by Tony Parker. It was exactly that—a series of interviews, each with a person who had killed another human. What amazed me is that none of the testimonies felt sensational. Most were mundane. Epiphanies came slowly, if at all. A murderer’s understanding of what they had done took years, sometimes decades, to coalesce. Afterward, I wanted to write my own (fictional) interviews—just pages and pages of characters talking. I wanted to listen to members of a community not unlike my hometown. I interviewed real people, too, which helped me write the fictional characters. I talked to my Grandpa about what it was like to be the small town cop for twenty years. I talked to my friend Tim’s dad about deer hunting. I interviewed my friend Evan about what it was like to work at an Apple Store.


TS: What was the most challenging part of writing your play? What part of writing this play gave you joy? How did you come upon the idea of using direct address as part of documentation and public performance?

AL: The hardest part of writing any play is that it sucks and it sucks and it sucks until it finally works. You have to endure so many drafts of a play before it emerges as the play you imagined.

I get pure joy when I’m writing the first draft of a scene and I’ve tapped into something essential in a character. Something deeply human. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when I’ve done it because I’ll have a visceral emotional response while I’m writing, and also the character will do or say something I didn’t expect, which is wonderful because that also means the audience won’t expect it. It doesn’t feel “written.” The documentary aspect was a symptom of wanting to let these characters just talk at me and tell their stories. I thought, “What’s an excuse to get a person to talk for a really long time?” Ah! They’re being interviewed for a documentary! And then, like a documentary filmmaker, I found myself doing an enormous amount of “interviewing” and an enormous amount of editing. I would write six pages of interview, but only keep the best six lines. As for the public performance in the play—it was another sort of accident. I had written the act one talent show scene, along with a few interviews, and asked some actor friends to read the first act out loud in my living room in Chicago, where I lived at the time. People loved it. I loved it. I heard it out loud and thought, “That’s really good.” That feels right. So I decided to extend it throughout the whole play—the concept of these characters performing live in the midst of a documentary.


TS: The character of Bobbie seems like an anti-hero. Do you see him that way? How did you go about creating a character who for some audiences may seem like a social pariah?

AL: I don’t think Bobbie’s an anti-hero.

To me, “anti-hero” points to someone who is not typically heroic, but who is a main character anyway, like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or Jughead in “Riverdale.” I don’t think Bobbie is the main character, though. To me, the protagonist is the town. And the people who have the responsibility to be heroic are the townspeople. It’s the citizens’ journeys that we’re tracking. I care about Bobbie a lot, but it’s the group that has the greatest capacity for heroism or brutality, not the individual.

What surprised me writing the play was how little of Bobbie—actual stage time and lines for the actor playing Bobbie—ended up being in it. I kept trying to give Bobbie a bigger part, but the more I tried to give him, the less compelling he became. With Bobbie—and, again, I think it’s because the protagonist is the town—less is more.

Ethan Dubin as Bobbie and Constance Shulman as Officer Darla


TS:  The Tow Foundation has awarded you a residency at Roundabout this season. Can you tell us how The Tow Foundation residency has affected your work as a playwright?

AL: I’ve been writing plays for the past ten years, and in that time I’ve been a waiter, I’ve worked at a UPS store, I’ve tutored, I’ve barista-d—I don’t think that’s a verb—I’ve been a barista. I’ve never been able to support myself on playwriting alone, until now. It’s insane. I can just write! I’m savoring every minute of it. Oh, and the other fantastic thing is that it’s allowed me to be in the offices at Roundabout. I’ve been able to work with the education department, chat about new plays across cubicles with Jill Rafson, and have readings of new scripts I’m writing with the artistic fellows here.

It’s incredible. Thank you, Tow Foundation. It’s difficult for me to be articulate about this.


TS: Can you describe what you look for in a director when working on a new play? How do you and Will Davis, the director, collaborate on Bobbie Clearly? What questions do you ask each other?

AL: One thing great directors do is gather in amazing team of collaborators and help everyone thrive. They do this by being generous, by getting excited about the different gifts artists bring to the table, by creating an environment where people feel like they can take risks and be their authentic selves. I’ve seen Will do that—bring that out of people—constantly. I also love that he’s a Chicago guy. I spent my formative years in Chicago after college. It’s where I became a playwright. Will went to undergrad there and is currently the artistic director of American Theater Company in Chicago.  So starting out, I think we already shared a lot of theatrical vocabulary and values. We both love Our Town. We’re currently binging true crime documentaries for research—okay, I feel like I’m gushing. But the point is that I met with many directors, and Will was the one who instantly came alive when discussing the play. His ideas for how to stage it were out-of-the-box; I would never have thought of them on my own. That’s another thing about a good collaborator: there have to be some points of overlap—shared aesthetics, values, stuff you both love—but the parts of the Venn Diagram that don’t overlap are just as important. Will has a mind for ensemble-building and a visual vocabulary that just wows me. Those are just two things—and there are many more—that I’m grateful he brings to the table.

To be honest, we find ourselves talking a lot about corn.

Alex Lubischer and Will Davis



TS: What advice would you give to a young person who says they want to write for the theatre?

AL: Just start writing.

And you have to be okay with some of it being bad at first. Cuz in your head, it’s perfect, right? But getting it on the page, you realize that most plays will take a lot of time and revision before they’re as wonderful on paper as they were in your head. That’s okay. That’s actually normal. That’s how it is for me, and that’s how it is for most of the playwrights I look up to. Risk, Fail, Risk Again. Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. Find a community of friends and collaborators who will read your work and give you honest feedback. And make sure they’re people you trust. Sometimes you luck out and these collaborators are classmates you already know. But it might take going out of your way, or even moving to a different city, to find a community that truly inspires you—and vice versa.

Bobbie Clearly began performances at the Black Box Theatre on March 8, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, Bobbie Clearly, Roundabout Underground

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