Middletown: 'Exploring What It Means To Be Human’

As an organization committed to “radical inclusivity,” Verge Theater fosters community in everything they do, whether it be through their prison theater program, educational outreach or fully-produced productions. This tight-knit community now has a new theater to call home, having transformed an intimate art gallery at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture. For their inaugural production in the new space, community and collaboration are very much front and center. 

Bradford Rosenbloom directs Will Eno’s Middletown, a play about a small, nondescript American town and its inhabitants. “From the beginning, Bradford emphasized the importance of the ensemble,” says Kyrie Dawson, a performer in the production. “The trust that exists offstage absolutely enables us to find truth onstage—we’ve built layers of connections between our characters and ourselves.” The collaborative effort of bringing Middletown to life includes eleven actors, many designers and technicians, a visual artist, and even an onstage drummer. Visual artist Evan Wilmes, co-conceptualizer with Rosenbloom, describes their collaboration as both “visionary and experimental,” and says the process felt “receptive to what the happening suggests between the two.”

Director Bradford Rosenbloom gave some insight into the collaborative process of creating this production in the following interview.

Connor Berkompas: Why did you bring Middletown to Verge?

Bradford Rosenbloom: I brought Middletown to Verge with the clear intention that together we would explore what it means to be human, what it feels like to be alive, what the words coming from our mouths are, and to intimately articulate the sorrow and sheer joy in love that transcends the human heart. 

Connor: How has the process looked in working with the actors? 

Bradford: Rehearsals have been very process-based. We spent countless hours examining the internal and external worlds of the characters, their environmental and social landscapes, and how this shaped who these characters are and how they exist presently.

Connor: The production features an onstage drummer. What is the role of music and sound in this production? 

Bradford: My vision always included an original score and, for me, a solo drummer (Chris Naro) was the best way to initiate the heartbeats of the characters, and the show as a whole. This was a keenly conscious decision, knowing through my physical training that the drums will elicit a somatic/physical response for the audience. 

Connor: What has the collaboration been like in creating the visual world for Middletown? 

Bradford: To be able to work with my best friend (artist Evan Wilmes) is a dream. It was time for him to share his incredible talent with the Bozeman community. Evan built everything by hand, and together we conceptualized the look and feel of the play so that the set aligned with the emotionality of the story. 

Connor: As a movement instructor and practitioner, how has physicality influenced your directing?

Bradford: In my experience, the body keeps the score. It holds patterned trauma, whether passed down or otherwise. That said, we begin to research the actors’ history so that their bodies can have enough open space for the characters’ emotional and physical worlds to enter. 

Connor: Do you have a favorite line from the play? How does it resonate with you?

Bradford: “Just be all right” is my favorite line from the play because of its simplicity of message. We cannot control life or nature, but we can be present to watch it, receive it and give. 

Connor: Why should audiences come to see Middletown?

Bradford: If you desire an emotional and physical catharsis through the lens of sheer humor, authentic sorrow, sensational rhythm and performance art, Middletown is the play for you. 

Middletown is currently running at Verge Theatre at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture through December 11. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM, and Sundays at 3:00PM. Tickets are $35 at the door or at vergetheater.com.

Connor Berkompas is the Artistic Director for Nervous Theatre in Bozeman. Photos: Kristin Wells Photography