Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sarah Gorman

Artistic portrayals of suburban alienation – even those that involve reanimated corpses - are not exactly new. Depictions of zombies as metaphors for social disconnection, from ‘Dawn of the Dead’ to ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ comprise a sub-genre unto themselves. However, few dramatic productions to date have mapped the intersection of narcotized suburbanites, disaffected teens, tuned-out internet addicts, and the walking dead.

Enter ‘Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,’ a 2006 play by Jennifer Haley which has its Baltimore premiere this weekend, courtesy of Charm City’s own Glass Mind Theatre (GMT). Described by the Denver Post as “'Halo' meets ‘The Omen,’” N3 takes a darkly satirical look at suburban teens hooked on a violent video game, which becomes a source of increasing concern for their parents.

Recently I sat down with Sarah Gorman, GMT’s associate artistic director, to get the scoop on the play and learn what brought her to Baltimore.

(Full disclosure: I have a small part in an upcoming GMT production.)


Sarah Gorman's career in theater began early. Her parents were both actors, and they would regularly put on performances that included their seven children. "It was mostly a way for my family to be doing the same thing in the same place at the same time," says Gorman, 23.

By the time she was 14, Gorman had "acquired a certain skill set" as an actor, along with the certainty that the stage was where she wanted to be. After graduating from the prestigious Carver Center for the Arts and Technology, Gorman studied musical theater and drama at Syracuse University. Along the road to her BFA in drama, Gorman spent a semester in London, where she had the opportunity to study and perform at the historic Globe Theatre.

Returning to Baltimore, Gorman reconnected with Alex Scally, a friend from her Carver days who had recently launched Glass Mind with Andrew Peters. In 2010 she auditioned for GMT's short play festival, 'Brainstorm,' and before long she was a full-fledged member of the company.

"Everything GMT does is collaborative," says Gorman about what attracted her to the company. "No member is more important than the other; no one opinion is more important than anyone else's." For Gorman, as for GMT artistic director Peters, the image of a glass mind "is evocative being able to look inside and see what's going on, see the synapses firing. We invite everyone to come in and look at what we’re doing and thinking."

Gorman exhorts young people to "Get out, leave the computer behind. Stop, breathe, log off."

That sense of openness and collaboration has allowed Gorman, who also performs with Factory Edge Theatre Works, to push the boundaries of her craft. In addition to performing, she has gained experience as a playwright, director, choreographer, and - in the case of N3 - set designer.

"Set design involves the visual realization of the world of the play," she explains. "It involves understanding the theory of the piece, then interpreting it, building it, and showing it."

The world of N3 is a dystopic one. The setting is an anesthetized suburbia where teens spend all their time online, playing the titular video game while their alarmed but clueless parents look on.

"N3 explores relationships between parents and kids, and between people in general," says Gorman. "It looks at how disengagement can get in the way of those relationships, and how that becomes horrific and zombielike. In the play, the kids think their parents are turning into zombies, whereas the parents have all this great commentary about how the kids sit for hours without blinking or moving...devoid of thought, personality, and ideas."

Photo courtesy of Glass Mind Theatre

Gorman feels that people of all generations will find in N3 chilling resonances with their own lives. "The play looks at the contemporary social order and social expectations, like who you're expected to be, how your lawn is expected to look, how your house is expected to be painted…it looks at the way that virtual reality extends into our own reality."

"Everybody's been in that place," she continues, "where you're on Wikipedia at 11:30, and you're only going to look at it for 15 minutes, and then you look up and it’s 3:00 a.m."

Working on the play caused Gorman to reflect on some of the challenges that face young people who grew up with the internet. "This generation doesn’t want to be connected," she laments. "People are on Facebook and Twitter -- everybody's desperate to put themselves out there and be heard, but no one is looking for an answer back."

"When you're just sitting on your ass and you have a whole city in front of you and you're missing all the opportunities...well, this [play] is one of those opportunities!"

For Gorman and other members of GMT, part of the company's mission is to combat that sense of disengagement and encourage their peers to connect in a decidedly analog way.

"Take today," she offers. "We all got here at 9a.m. Other than looking up the number for Papa John’s on a smartphone, there’s been no Facebook, no Twitter, just seven people in a room, talking."

Her face lights up with enthusiasm as she goes on. "We have company meetings once a week. You have two hours to sit with people that you love and talk about this company that you're fostering, and your ideas on art, and how we can get better, and how we can manage the business."

She exhorts young people to "Get out, leave the computer behind. Stop, breathe, log off of Facebook, go to a museum, see a play, take a walk, read a book. If you don’t get out of your comfort zone, you’re just not being challenged."

Asked why members of her generation should come to see this play in particular, Gorman ponders for only a second before replying. "It's funny, well written, clever, very well directed, and it's scary. There’s a great line…that Andrew Peters’ character says in the play - I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like this -- we all need some space to go be, you know, just complete freaks. This play will touch on that. It’s the same sort of space that allows us to enjoy slasher movies."

"When you're just sitting on your ass and you have a whole city in front of you and you're missing all the opportunities...well, this is one of those opportunities," she concludes, laughing.

For Gorman, whose dream job is artistic director of her own company, and who would love to play Charlotte in Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music' ("such an underrated character," she sighs), theater remains an eminently relevant way to gain insight into social conditions.

"Art in general forces society to look in on itself," she remarks. "I love engaging an audience, with everyone sitting in that dark space."

"There’s a depth to this art form," she says with conviction. "There’s so much still unknown, so much yet to be learned. I want to see how our generation can evolve this art.”


Photo courtesy of Glass Mind Theatre

'Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom' opens March 11 and runs until March 20
Venue: Load of Fun Theater, 120 North Avenue, Baltimore
Guest Director: Mary Rose O'Connor
Stage Manager: Blaine Padagoc
Set Design: Sarah Gorman
Props: Heather Mork
Lighting: Jennifer Reiser
Ticket Prices: Wicked cheap. Buy one for your mom.

And don't miss these associated events!
- Potluck for Suburban Professionals: Sunday, March 13, 6:15pm
- Zombie Spring Semi-Formal: Saturday, March 19 - Post-Show

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