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Aaron Elmore, along with his wife Katie Jensen and Theatre In The Rough — the company they co-founded — has been expertly bringing live theater to Juneau since 1991. This week marks a milestone as the company completes its 25th season with Elmore’s first penned play “Running with Pretty Sharp Things,” an ambitious comedy from the writer, director and actor.
A Q&A with playwright of “Running with Pretty Sharp Things” 061417 AE 1 Thomas Kellar, For the Capital City Weekly Aaron Elmore, along with his wife Katie Jensen and Theatre In The Rough — the company they co-founded — has been expertly bringing live theater to Juneau since 1991. This week marks a milestone as the company completes its 25th season with Elmore’s first penned play “Running with Pretty Sharp Things,” an ambitious comedy from the writer, director and actor.

Mike Matthews as Minister of Fish, from left, Katie Jensen as Minister of Steam, Becky Orford as the voice of the lifesize man in armor, and Ellie Asel-Davis at the Minister of Stone. Photo by Thomas Kellar.


Aaron Elmore as the Minister of Culture, from left, Katie Jensen as Minister of Steam, Becky Orford as the voice of the lifesize man in armor, and Mike Matthews as Minister of Fish, with Ellie Asel-Davis at the Minister of Stone in front, and Dan Wayne as Ted Pins is all tied up. Photo by Thomas Kellar.


Hadassah Nelson as Jon Threadneedle and Dan Wayne as Ted Pins. Photo by Thomas Kellar.


Zebediah Bodine, left, as Fred, and Hadassah Nelson as Jon Threadneedle. Photo by Thomas Kellar.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Story last updated at 6/13/2017 - 3:21 pm

A Q&A with playwright of “Running with Pretty Sharp Things”

Aaron Elmore, along with his wife Katie Jensen and Theatre In The Rough — the company they co-founded — has been expertly bringing live theater to Juneau since 1991. This week marks a milestone as the company completes its 25th season with Elmore’s first penned play “Running with Pretty Sharp Things,” an ambitious comedy from the writer, director and actor. Set in a mythical steampunk world, the play is billed as a “a new comedy about love, war, and tailoring” but also tackles the nature of work, the relationship between art and money, the banality of war and maybe most importantly, the ease with which people trivialize each other.

As Beatle John Lennon once sang: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” and this is true for Elmore, who had planned on producing another play, but unable to ignore the muse, switched creative gears to focus on “Running With Sharp Things.” I met with Elmore last week at a local coffee house to discuss the production of his new play.

TK: My understanding of Theatre In The Rough is that it has typically presented works that were classical in nature, leaning heavily on Shakespeare. “Running with Pretty Sharp Things” seems a departure for you and the company.

AE: Yes, My plan was to work on a new adaptation of “Peter and the Wolf,” but then this play (“Running with Pretty Sharp Things”) sort of got in its way, got in front of it and wouldn’t get out of line and so I had to kind of knuckle down … I sketched out a starting draft and got a bunch of people together and we read it and I thought “OK- this has some legs to it.”

TK: Please talk about the creative process, the initial ideas that led to the writing of the play.

AE: The original idea started when these two names came into my head: Jon Threadneedle and Ted Pins, tailors. That was a germ of an idea and so I thought, OK, what do these guys sound like? Essentially I did what I was taught to do many years ago when wanting to write a play. You think about the characters, you get them sitting down in your head and let them talk to each other and hear what happens.

TK: These characters are tailors, why did you choose that as their occupation?

AE: That’s quite deep, unfortunately, with many, many scars. (laughter) When I first came to Alaska I worked as an actor, but my next job was running the costume shop at Perseverance Theatre. Significantly, I was working in a basement and this entire play takes place in a basement. It was damp and smelly, but we accomplished beautiful things and that was where the idea of the location ended up coming from. I’ve been stitching, designing and making clothes for many, many years… With these two characters I decided to get them out of the theater zone a little bit and make a place where there are tailors and where tailoring is needed and appreciated, but also where firms have found ways around some of the hand work. These guys (Threadneedle and Pin) are on the way-trailing end of technology.

TK: Inventing an alternative world would seem to me extremely challenging.

AE: The first six months of writing was really about nailing down, what is this place? So I created a city which has had a number of names, but eventually the name I settled on is Greywater and it’s a place where technology is not quite what it is today but some of it’s very familiar… The city is ruled by a king because I’ve been doing Shakespeare too long to have executives be anything other than kings (smiling) and the king is young and has really not proven himself yet. The ministers behind the throne are pushing him to establish himself through a masterwork, much like the apprentice tailor is trying to do. And once I realized that all of these characters are trying to prove themselves with some sort of giant work which says this is me, this is who I am as an artist, craftsperson or king, then things started to fall into place. Eventually the young tailor (Threadneedle) saves the king, stops a war, and assures the king at least a glimmer of love in his life because he makes his masterwork which is entirely against anything that would be popular in the time. It’s really, as he puts it “the worst coat ever,” but he ends up saving the world with it.

TK: Reading the script parallels between our world and Greywater seemed evident.

AE: Anytime you make a microcosm people are going to compare things. There’s satire in this, it’s very gentle, but it’s funny and I think also quite central to where we are. Leaders who want to establish themselves have only a couple of ways to do that and we sort of unpack that a little bit. Sometimes they build something really big we call that a wall masterwork which is a giant wall or a bridge to nowhere, or something that will establish you like blowing down a bunch of neighborhoods so that you can make big wide streets. Kings do that. Another way is by marrying somebody and we call that masterwork “Woo.” You find a neighbor you can cuddle up to and at the same time get some of their money. But the absolute classic, bar-none popular masterwork for any executive anywhere is to start a war…That is what the ministers see as the way for the king to establish himself, but the king doesn’t want to do it and in the end he finds a way out. It’s a comedy. We didn’t want to end with something really dreadful and bloody.

TK: When you’re directing actors, I would assume it’s a little easier if the play is a known quantity, but with Sharp Things that’s not the case. Initially you’re the only one familiar with the story. How difficult is it to get the folks you are working with to buy into your vision of the play?

AE: We read through it many times before we started to finalize the play, so a lot of the folks in the production were a part of it from the very beginning…The fun of the thing has been in watching how people respond to this world. (Greywater) and embroider their own fantasies on it as well.

TK: It’s billed as a comedy, so obviously the intent is that the audience laughs and enjoys the show, but on top of that what are you hoping they walk away with when the lights come up?

AE: When you write a play you want to change the world, you want the world to be better. You have no assurance that will happen, but that’s always in the back of your mind. Of all the things that we can possibly do, being in combat with another group of people is one of the most dreadful things we’ve ever taken on, on this planet. We should always be cautious about why we do that. I also want people to appreciate the value of work for its own sake. There’s no such thing as art in a vacuum. There’s never been a time when art and money weren’t mixed together to a greater or lesser extent and the people who procure art have needed the people who make it, though there are stigmas attached, as in artists are inherently lazy or lascivious or whatever. But my point is that they are all people and I wanted to see what those people would do when we mix them together on the stage. The whole circuit gets completed when we bring an audience in and they get to watch and respond.

TK: Final thoughts?

AD: I think like some other productions we’ve done, this play is really a love letter to this town and this region. It’s been wonderful to get the chance to see these actors in roles that I’ve created. I can’t tell you what a thrill that is and of course there also will be some really fantastic outfits.

TK: There better be.

AD: (smiling) Yep, the big payoff.

“Running with Pretty Sharp Things” opens Friday, June 16 and will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. with two Sunday matinées July 2 and 9 at 2 p.m. There will be Free Previews June 13 and 15 as well as a Pay-as-you-will performance Thursday, June 22. Tickets are available at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, Hearthside Books, at the door, and www.theatreintherough.org.