Writer/performer Nilaja Sun discusses her acclaimed new one-woman show Pike ST. in which she gets into the mind, body and idiosyncrasies of various characters involved in the story of a mother trying to help her disabled daughter out of their tenement during a hurricane. She talks about one of her most remarkable skills: how you can convincingly multi-role.
My newest solo piece Pike St. follows a family in the Lower East Side of New York City during a day when a massive hurricane barrels up the East Coast. During the 75 minute show, the audience gets to meet 10 people in this neighborhood under the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge.
One of the first characters is Candi, a teenager with dreams, sass and musicality who lives on life support, aided by the help of machines, her chair, and her doting mother, Evelyn. Evelyn, whose only child Candi suffered a brain aneurysm several years ago, has quit her job to take care of her. Taking care of Candi unfortunately also means living with her gambling father and decorated Navy Seal brother just home from war. As the hurricane nears, it brings with it the promise of excitement, fear and memory (for better or for worse) in a 5th floor tenement walk-up on Pike St.
Pike St. is my 6th solo piece. I’m most known for No Child… which I brought to the Fringe in 2010. No Child… was the first solo piece I’d written for multiple actors that I wound up performing as a solo piece. A dedicated physical language of quick movements and transitions from character to character was developed that I’ve brought into the performance of Pike St..
How can one convincingly multi- role? Though every actor’s process is different, one of the main keys is rehearsal. With my talented and supportive director Ron Russell, the rehearsal process lasted four weeks. Although when I travel on tour, I rehearse alone for a full week, no matter how many shows I’ve done in the past, in order to get my Pike St. physical, vocal and emotional reflexes on point. One can never rehearse too much for a solo piece.
I personally love to “become” each character and fully immerse myself in their lives, even if just for a moment, until another character, played by yours truly, emerges. And for that to happen with ease and grace, I have to “leave my brain in the dressing room” so that the audience simply is witness to my heart and soul. Solo work is by far the hardest and yet one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience in my life and I’m proud to say that it’s my life.
Bringing Pike St. to the Fringe has been one of my dreams and I’m blessed to have the greatest support a solo performer could ask for - producer Scott Morfee and the team at the Barrow Street Theatre. I originally performed No Child… at the Barrow St for over 350 performances. It was then that the symbiotic relationship between Scott Morfee and me began. He is the closest thing to a genius I’ve ever worked with and wholeheartedly trusts and supports my work. The run of Pike St. this August will mark our second show at the Fringe; though Scott has produced multiple shows which have gone on to receive much acclaim at the Fringe and internationally.
Between my love for Scott and the angels of the Barrow and my desire to tell a story about the people of the Lower East Side to the best audience in the world at the Fringe, everything is lining up for Pike St. to have a run chocked full of love, heart and soul.
Pike St. is on at the Roundabout @ Summerhall from the 4th-27th August (except Tuesdays).
Tickets available at www.edfringe.com.