"Burn This" Finds the Character Behind the Content



Continuing the adult-oriented Backstage at The Players season and running from February 7 to February 17, Burn This hits the stage at The Players Centre for Performing Arts this week. Written by celebrated playwright Lanford Wilson, the story opens with the death of a young gay dancer, leaving a quartet of friends to reconsider their identities, their loves and their relationships. And within such intense subject matter, says Amanda Schlachter, director of this production, lays a triumph of character development that she could not wait to bring to the Sarasota stage.

Amidst such emotional content, one of the director’s responsibilities becomes to ensure that the individual characters still shine through and connect with the audience. “It’s very heavy,” says Schlachter, “so one of the challenges for myself and the actors is too keep finding out what these people need and what they are fighting for.” Through patience, what she found was that all the characters dealt with feeling disconnected and longing to be connected, which Schlachter suspected could be relevant for almost any audience. Something else the cast had to discover over time was exactly how the story developed through the emotional realizations these characters experience. “The play reveals itself to you,” Schlachter says. “We discover how these individuals' evolution relates to the overarching theme of how they are all connected, which always surprises me.”

In terms of analyzing a character, it doesn’t hurt that the director also has experience onstage—Schlachter understands the emotions needed to perform. “Being an actor, I know what it’s like when the directing doesn't make sense,” she says. “I apprehend what each specific actor needs.” And understanding these needs allows Schlachter to respect the actors who are “breathing and living” such heavy content for two hours every night.

In the end, however, though a deeply emotional story in her eyes, Schlachter cannot dictate how an audience will respond. “Different people will take different things from this piece, whether that's loneliness, dynamic of love, grief,” she says. “I don't think I can predict what others will take away from it.”

Opening February 7, Burn This runs through February 17 at The Players Centre for Performing Arts.

Photo: Nick Catanzaro as Pale in The Players' production of "Burn This." Photo courtesy of The Players Centre for Performing Arts.

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