OMEN ROAD TO STARRVILLE (2016) / La MaMa / by Erik Champney

Experiments 17: Omen Road to Starrville

October of 2016 would bring my first collaboration with Glory Kadigan, a director who had impressed me in general with her determined but effervescent spirit. Glory and I first started having random conversations on the street in front of the festival where my show, Blankets and Bedtime: 3 Restless Plays, was causing a stir. Initially, I found Glory extremely easy to talk to. Something about her made me want to trust her and tell her everything about my life. Other than that, I had no idea who she was. Another artist with a show probably, but I was wrong. Turns out, it was her festival I was in, and it amuses me still that she allowed our interactions to continue for days without telling me that part. Sneaky.

With grit and guts, Glory had created the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity from scratch. It was currently the festival’s eighth summer and it was loaded with productions and staged readings. Many participants were devoted, counting on it to be their annual platform. So, I realized, this is a woman who gets shit done. She’s a creator, a mother figure, and unapologetically independent. She’s worked with John Patrick Shanley, Regina Taylor, Neil LaBute, Israel Horowitz, Erik Ehn, and so on and on and on. That’s a pretty goddamn eclectic list. Who is Glory Kadigan anyway?

One thing I knew without question is I wanted to see what she would do with Omen Road to Starrville. This is a play that was deep in process, born from an idea I didn’t know how to execute until Ethan Chia changed my life with his performance of Alan Strang in Equus. From his first entrance, I was paralyzed in my seat at Singapore’s National Library Building. Moments into the performance, my play started crashing down around me, and I knew I had to write it for him.

And that I did. Ethan would eventually workshop Omen Road with me at NYU Tisch Asia, where I studied, and he dug his heels deeply into the role of Kendle off and on for a year. An online specter, who presents himself as a twenty-two-year-old debate team captain to a woman, whose perception of him is what the audience sees. Kendle’s a tough cookie since we’re never allowed more than his words in chat and what she imagines he is. Ethan ate it up and his work on the play culminated in a beautifully constructed concert reading by fellow Tisch alum, Drayton Hiers.

But now I was in New York and Ethan was in Asia. Omen Road to Starrville is lovingly dedicated to him, but this was a whole new ballgame. Upon Glory’s recommendation, I applied for a slot in La MaMa’s annual reading series, Experiments. They accepted the play and Glory came onboard to direct. We were in motion.

But first, I dove into revisions. One afternoon, Glory called me to say, in that even, tranquil voice, “I need you to cut ten pages from your play. It doesn’t matter to me where you do it, but they’ve got to go.” Even when she was bossy, she was serene. It was crazy. But as busy, even frantic, as that episode of rewrites was, never once was it scary or overwhelming. All the while, I sensed everything was in a good place. Some of that must have been the result of Glory’s energy, which gently led me to the edge of the cliff and made jumping a real good time.

For the cast, Glory enlisted Maureen O’Boyle, Elizabeth Inghram, Sawyer Spielberg, and Michael Gnat. She trusted me to deliver Kendle, who was an acting student at Montclair State University named Misha Osherovich. It was a strong group, and they all arrived with a dynamic connection to the play. Under Glory’s watch, rehearsals felt therapeutic. The actors knew they were safe to let the play corrupt them, and they got down and dirty and showed us the characters. Also with us, in all her royal zaniness, was my old friend from Shreveport, Vanna Richardson, stage managing

The performance of the reading was well attended. By that, I mean there were a whole hell of a lot of people there. People we didn’t know, for the most part, who simply came to experience the play. What I realized that night was Omen Road to Starrville had surpassed the need for readings. That was good news. It was ready to be alive. It was ready to show us what it can do.

Ideally, I wanted to keep the play with Glory. What she sculpted for that reading was barely a scratch compared to what she would be capable of in production. That was my instinct. But life and opportunities and time would ebb and flow. The next serious discussion about Omen Road to Starrville wouldn’t come for nearly three years.

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