'White Rabbit Red Rabbit' leaves out set and director for raw performances

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Scheps

Unlike others, this play has no set and no director, and a new actor takes on the only role every night, cracking open the script for the first time in front of the audience. “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is the latest theatrical performance testing Austin audiences.

“White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” written by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, is a unique performance designed to keep both the performer and the audience in the dark about the show until the moment the play starts. Each night, a new actor is given a single prop, an unseen script and the permission to tell Soleimanpour’s life story on behalf of the playwright. Director Lisa Scheps recently brought the hit production to Austin’s Ground Floor Theatre, where it premiered March 15 and will close on March 31. 

“It is sort of an exercise in the way a playwright can communicate directly with his audience in an atmosphere where he has no right to free speech,” Scheps said. “That’s the basic premise of the show.”

Scheps said she chose to bring the show, which focuses on the oppression Soleimanpour faced in Iran, to Ground Floor after seeing the end of its 2016 New York run. Scheps said she felt the show provided a real connection between author and audience and that it fit perfectly with the Theatre’s mission.

“It speaks to our mission of serving the underrepresented people around the world,” Scheps said. “Our mission is to give voice to the voiceless. In many ways, Iranians are voiceless because they don’t have the privilege of free speech that we do.”

While the play may sound untraditional, Scheps says “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is still traditional in the sense that it forces both the actors and the audience out of their comfort zones.

“No, this is not a Neil Simon drawing room comedy,” Scheps said. “They make us think, they don’t give us a pass, we are active participants in the art, so I think the audience is going to applaud the fact that we’re not doing ‘standard theater’ here.”

Although performing with a script you’ve never read may seem like an intimidating feet, actor Zell Miller, who performed last Friday, said that with the help of his physical acting abilities, he was able to quickly get comfortable with the part. 

“I am able to translate language really quickly, and I am very comfortable reading, so I didn’t have any issues with it,” Miller said.

According to actress Lee Eddy, the entire play and play process is based on trust.

“It’s like a trifecta of trust,” Eddy said. “I have to trust that the producers are not going to hand me a script that makes me feel unsafe, I have to trust that the playwright is creating words that are not going to cause me to have moral or ethical issues in the middle of this — and then the third trust is just trusting myself that I won’t throw up in the middle of the show.”

In addition to the trust and bravery that have to come from those performing “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” Eddy also said that the show ultimately requires bravery and trust from the audience, especially because the play varies from performance to performance. 

“Going to see live theater, no matter what, is a risk, even if you know what the show is about,” Eddy said. “It’s up to the interpretation of the actors and the producers and the directors, so then to be double blind to what you’re walking into, that’s a brave audience member.”