By: Gil Kaan, BroadwayWorld.com
The world premiere of Greg Burdick’s Accommodation opens June 18, 2023 at the Odyssey Theatre (with previews beginning June 15th). Accommodation focuses on the most timely and relevant issue of teachers’ responsibilities. Brothers Brandon and Garrett Baer directs the cast of: Sandy Bainum, Sufe Bradshaw, Jacob Cherry, Sol Marina Crespo, Laura Niemi and Massi Pregoni. Greg carved out some time between rehearsals to answer a few of my queries.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Greg!
You presented a virtual reading of Accommodation June 2020 at Studio Theatre Tierra del Sol of Florida, with an additional five developmental readings. Has your script changed radically with each reading?
I had the extraordinarily good fortune to have it workshopped twice by the Studio Theatre, with two fantastic directors and casts. The first was an in-person reading under the direction of Roy Hamlin. The reading sparked so much conversation at the post-show talkback, that the theater reached out to me during the pandemic to coordinate a virtual reading of the play under the direction of Nathaniel Niemi. I received wonderful feedback from the actors and audiences that helped shape the piece on its developmental journey. Most of the changes made during these workshops (and subsequent ones) involved the tightening or positioning of dialogue and phrasing, as the overall structure of the story has remained essentially intact since its inception.
What would your three-line pitch for Accommodation be?
A 9th grade science teacher, dangerously close to burnout, reaches her breaking point and makes her school district the target of a high-stakes lawsuit. Amid the chaos, she questions the wisdom of granting “every child every chance,” when the world outside of her classroom isn’t always as forgiving.
What originally spurred you onto writing Accommodation?
As a public-school teacher, myself, I wrote the play as a pressure-valve exercise during a particularly challenging year. The obstacles educators routinely face have always been significant. Yet, interestingly, the play was written prior to the COVID pandemic, and the last three years have seemed to accelerate many of those challenges. Today, teachers are called upon to be mental health first responders, have become political targets of heated curriculum debates and book banning, and are now literally caught in the crossfire of an unsettling surge in gun violence. I feel that this story is now more relevant than ever.
How long has the incubation period of Accommodation been?
Since 2017, six years. But the play couldn’t possibly have been written without my collective experiences as a classroom teacher over the past three decades.
What cosmic forces first brought you together with your producers Christopher Sepulveda and 3Gems Productions?
It’s important to begin by acknowledging that I’m essentially an unknown name in professional theatre, and that Accommodation is a new work. It’s not lost on me that investing in either of those things is a considerable risk for a producer, so I feel incredibly lucky that this story has resonated with them, and that they’re committed to sharing it with a wider audience.
I think the tipping point may well have been all thanks to playwright and host of American Theatre’s “The Subtext” podcast Brian James Polak. He generously included Accommodation on a featured list of highly recommended yet unproduced new plays on NPX (the New Play Exchange). This, along with the play’s strong digital presence after six developmental readings, caught the attention of producer Christopher Sepulveda. Keenly interested in developing new work, he was searching for titles on behalf of Sandy Bainum (of 3Gems Productions,) that were issue-driven, and featured strong female roles. Sandy and Christopher reached out to me in the Spring of 2020, very early into the pandemic, expressing their interest in the piece. They, along with co-directors Brandon and Garrett Baer, have been instrumental in helping me refine the script over the past three years, while we all patiently waited for theater to return and recover in the wake of COVID.
How involved are you with the pre-production of your world premiere?
Prior to beginning pre-production work, Christopher, Sandy, Brandon and Garrett and I had significant conversations about the characters, storyline, and themes of the play. I shared my hopes about the more fantastical, abstract, transition sequences featured in the piece, and what those might look like. Most notably, I’ve been able to serve as a resource in the rehearsal room, Zooming in virtually from the first table read, and now here in person at the Odyssey Theatre as we navigate technical rehearsals. The actors and design team have posed such thoughtful questions throughout this process, and the collaboration has been my favorite part of this whole experience.
Have you worked with any of the Accommodations cast or creatives before?
Ihaven’t. And yet, everyone involved in the project has shared their profound personal connections to the themes in this story. They embraced the struggles of these characters and have brilliantly rallied together to breathe life into my words. As a bonus, I’ve made fast friends here in Los Angeles. I still cannot believe my good fortune in being able to work with such incredibly gifted artists, and very much hope our professional paths will cross sometime again.
You live and teach in Lakeland, Florida. Has the recent political climate there directly affected you? Any books that you use that are being banned?
It’s a tense time. Beginning in the fall, my district is requiring teachers to look closely at titles in their classrooms, ensuring all content is in compliance with Florida’s new legislation, HB1467. The bill puts all instructional material within a school, including teachers’ classroom libraries, under scrutiny. Teaching and producing theatre in public schools frequently opens a door to the potential for parent challenges (recent examples of this that gained national attention include student productions of Paula Vogel’s Indecent, and the popular Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee). Theatre has always served as a mirror, held up to the culture that creates it: and admittedly, sometimes the ideas, themes, and stories explored are topics that can make us uncomfortable when they’re reflected back to us. Unfortunately, when politics fuels public distrust of teachers and education, the censorship of important and compelling works can only be seen as a missed opportunity for kids.
Would you say Accommodation is your call to action? What message would you like audiences to leave the theatre with?
I would never profess to have the answers for tackling the myriad of problems facing American public education. I hope, instead, that this play will inspire thoughtful questions, so that audiences might have more meaningful dialogue about what we collectively value and want to impart to children in this country. It takes a village… and can truly only begin when we’re all on the same team.
What’s in the near future for Greg Burdick?
After recently completing 30 years of service in the classroom, I’m in the home stretch of my career as an educator. I’m looking forward to my own personal “second act,” which will certainly include more writing.
Thank you again, Greg! I look forward to experiencing your Accommodation.