SmSh: Maybe to start with you could introduce UnderGround? Who all is involved and what is your stage experience in Shanghai?
Brandi Burtts: The UnderGround was an idea that had been brewing for a long time. I met a professional actor when I was interning as a stage manager at the New York State theater Institute my senior year of high school. He was always small roles on stage and I asked him if it ever bothered him not to be the lead. He told me that the theater doesn't happen without every moving part working together. There were no big roles or small ones and it was a community that supported each other. That always stuck with me left me with this vision of a collective theater company where the whole cast/crew were involved in all aspects of the production. When I graduated University I was working as a producers assistant at East Of Doheny on Broadway. My boss Kelly Gonda turned into my mentor and continued instilling that ideology in me. Even as an assistant I was able to sit in on meetings and learn how to be a working member of the broadway community.
When I moved to Shanghai four years ago I started working for Urban Aphrodite now Dreamweaver as their associate producer. I was able to experience everything with such an amazing group of people. I worked closely with Ann James and she really taught me everything I could know about producing here in Shanghai but also became this wonderful friend that pushed me to always be better at what I did. I had always wanted to have my own theater company but was always really scared, the support I had received from the UA family really pushed me to feel like I actually could achieve that dream. And when I felt like unsure while getting Matt & Ben ready, they showed up to lend me equipment, taught me how to use the equipment and generally helped me keep my head on straight. I couldn't have done this without them. Technically the UnderGround is just me at the moment, but all those working parts in the community are helping me every step I take too.
SmSh: In the press release you mention a mandate to stage less well-known and less commercial piece in Shanghai. Can you elaborate on that?
BB: I come from experimental, physical theater and created a few weird shows while living in New York. But I had never been in control of what productions were happening and really wanted to bring my voice. I would love to do some more gritty works and venture into some physical theater. I have a few plays in mind for the spring that I am sure no one has ever heard of. Matt & Ben is an amazing comedy but I think in the spring we will go to the darker side with some drama.
What are the challenges facing English-language theater productions in Shanghai in 2016?
BB: I think the challenges are the costs of producing them. The rights to even perform shows are really hefty and can vary depending on the production. Then you add in venue cost, set, sound, lights it's really overwhelming. But the community here is growing and with that the audience is growing. It's exciting to be here when it's happening. I feel so lucky to even be a part of it.
Can you introduce Matt & Ben? What’s the play all about? Why did you choose this one? Can you introduce the actors involved?
BB: Matt & Ben is a hysterical spoof on the friendship of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The two are played by women Awesta Zarif as Ben and Sarah Wun as Matt. They are thinking about a sure way to get famous when the script to Good Will Hunting falls from the sky. The two have to decide what to do with it. There's been a long joke about who really wrote that script. If you look up the two of them on YouTube they always make fun of each other about it. I think Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers who wrote Matt & Ben did a great job capturing their friendship. And the two girls in this showing have the best chemistry and really bring them to life on stage. I actually didn't know about the play, a friend told me about it and I loved it immediately. It's two girls playing two guys with slapstick comedy and witty banter. What's not to love.
Are you hosting open castings or looking for more people to be involved in Underground?
BB: I would love for more people to get involved, but not just with The UnderGround but in Shanghai Theater. This community is so special and the people involved are people you want to know. And this is Shanghai, you can do anything you dream of doing.
Matt & Ben runs from November 23 to November 27 at The Market. Tickets are 150rmb, available right here.