April 16, 2024 Coverage and Posts, CSA, Theater



by Vanessa Reseland

Step into the imaginative world of Lindsay Goranson’s latest theatrical project, APIS, where science fiction meets puppetry in a captivating narrative aimed at environmental relatability. In this interview, Lindsay Goranson (they/them), a seasoned professional with a diverse background in performance and production, shares insights into the multidisciplinary experience of APIS, which is presented as part of the New Hazlett Theater’s Community Supported Art (CSA) Series April 18th and 19th. From its origins as a reflection on food scarcity to its exploration of pollinator decline, Goranson delves into the show’s thematic depth, innovative storytelling techniques, and the profound impact it aims to make on audiences.

VR: What does APIS mean?

LG: The lead character is based on Apis Mellifera, the European honeybee. Even though they are human in the play, one of the things that I want to explore is our connection with nature, so Apis is a human, but also is connected to the characteristics of the bee. Right now, we’re dealing with a lot of people transporting bees across the country, and we’re having hive collapse, and they’re being worked to death, a lot like humans, and I think there’s an opportunity to parallel our lives with them and feel empathy for these other creatures on our planet.

VR: Can you tell me about the plot?

LG: Apis is working at an underground food factory called the Monomart. Monomart has removed all of the joy and color from the world, and Apis has no contact with any other humans. They only have contact with their AI assistant and the robot that they are working with. Bob appears in Apis’ life, and they have to figure out where their places are in the world with each other.

VR: What can you tell me about the style of performance in this show?

LG: The show is sort of a love letter to puppetry in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has such an incredible history of puppetry. Margo Lovelace had a puppet theater, I believe, in Shadyside that I just discovered recently, and then Fred Rogers, of course, and all of the puppets at the Heinz museum. [Puppets] give people a chance for an air gap between them and difficult subject matter, and we’re seeing a lot of this with robotics. As humans we’re programmed to empathize with eyes, a face, a mouth, and that’s really powerful stuff that I think can be used to tell complicated stories like pollinator decline, which is what APIS is about.

VR: So Apis is human. Are all the other characters puppets?

LG: Apis is the only human in the play. There are five other puppets. We have Bazinga Bob, who is the Blue Orchard Bee, and then we have Nifty Bot, who is a coworker at the Monomart, and then we have Nan who is a Great Allegheny Mound Ant who is a delivery person for a company called Itty-Bitty.

VR: Can you tell me a little bit more about the thesis of your show?

LG: [The] idea came to me when I was living in Nashville, Tennessee. The whole piece started as an underground market. I would go to the grocery store and pick up strange vegetables to see what I could make with them, and I would have people stop me in the grocery store and ask me what they were. I thought, wow, people are in such food deserts and so disconnected from their food source…what would happen if you could only buy your fruit and vegetables illegally, like, if the rich were the only people who could have access to that, and that was the beginning of the thought for APIS. As I started to think about what that would mean, as I started to drill down about why they wouldn’t have fruits and vegetables, a big piece of that, I knew, was climate change, but it’s very directly pollinator decline.

VR: People get very squeamish about insects.

LG: I’m leaning very much into that. The Great Allegheny Mound Ant is terrifying. You know, ants are very strange looking. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at one close up, but it’s a little scary. This is nerd, right here: If you were to compact all of the mass on this planet, it would be about the size of a plum. If you were to cut that into quarters, one quarter of that would be made up entirely of ants.

VR: Is there anything you learned that surprised you as you created this piece?

LG: A lot of people, when they hear I have written a play about pollinators assume that I know a lot about pollinators, and that was not the case. I love to garden. I love to be outside. Nature feels familial to me. I did grow up in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, but I’m not a bee expert. I am just a food lover and someone who wants more kindness in the world. There’s always space to learn and we can be advocates before we’re experts. I read this book called, “How To Make a Difference Without a Bullhorn” by Omkari Williams, and it’s about micro-activism, about finding the things that you can contribute that bring you joy but also make change. She makes a great point about how we need people to stuff envelopes as much as we need people to stand on the front line.

VR: What is your role in this performance and who are your collaborators?

LG: I am the writer, and I am the puppet designer and fabricator. The collaborators on this piece are profound and multi-hyphenate and really open to collaboration. Seamus Ricci is my director, and they’re an extraordinary human being with a background in opera. I really felt like they could understand the scale and the drama of what’s happening in this sci-fi adventure. My composer is Ramin Akhavijou. There is a very cinematic quality to this piece that Ramin has really embraced with [his] contrast of nature and synthetic sounds. My key puppet operator is DT Burns, who everybody in Pittsburgh knows because they are just in all of the creative things and a very active person in the puppet world. Allison McSwain, my lighting designer, is so excited about being part of a science fiction theatrical piece because that is not a genre that is seen on stage a lot. We have talked Doctor Who…we’ve talked all sorts of references for this futuristic world that Bob lives in, so I’m really excited to see how she brings light to this world. The visual aesthetic for environmental activism seems to be very set and doesn’t include everybody, and the style of this piece is very retro-futuristic. It will be odd and quirky, and I hope that it’s something that Pittsburgh hasn’t seen before.

VR: What is the role of activism in your art?

LG: Being an advocate for what I believe in is really important to my creative practice. That has not always been the case. I think there was a time when creating my art was the most important thing, but now I feel an urgency to act in the best interest of people that are being exploited. That includes our pollinators, [and] that includes our environment. [It] needs to be treated with the love and respect that we offer our family members or friends.

VR: Is there an ideal audience for this show?

LG: I mean, the nerd in me is like, “Yes, humans who like air and food!” I think anybody who wants to have fun and still talk about things that are important is my audience. I don’t think they look a particular way or have a particular job.

VR: What do you want the audience to take-away from this show?

LG: I hope that audience walks away with a new friend in this Blue Orchard Bee. The most important thing for me, is that folks walk away with something exciting to talk about, something that challenges them in compassionate ways instead of destructive ways. Give them a baseline to learn more about pollinators, to learn more about your food supply, to learn more about gardens in your neighborhood or little things that you can do. APIS will share three actions that we can all do that are kind of woven throughout the show, and those things are to kill your lawn, stop using chemicals, and plant native. There is joy in advocating for something that you love. It doesn’t have to be cruel and a grind. I think APIS is a reminder that tiny things are really important too.

APIS runs at the New Hazlett Theater: April 18 at 8pm, April 19 at 10am, 8pm. Tickets can be found at: https://newhazletttheater.org/events/apis/

Production Team:

Lindsay Goranson (They/Them): Playwright / Puppet Designer / Production Designer Seamus Ricci (They/Them): Director
Alyse Hogan (She/Her): Stage Manager Allison McSwain: Lighting Designer Ken & Amy Walls: Miniatures Designer
Louise and Sarah Silk: Costume Designer Ramin Akhavijou (He/Him): Sound Designer TJ Young: Dramaturg
Jalina McClarin: Apis
DT Burns (They/Them): Key Puppet Operator
Rory Janney: 2nd Puppet Operator

Vanessa Reseland (they/them) is an actor/singer/songwriter who has performed all over the US and in the UK. After growing up in the North Hills, Vanessa spent 12 years in New York City and three years in Los Angeles, working in musical theatre, film, and television before returning to Pittsburgh to dive into the local arts scene as well. They played the Witch in Fiasco Theater’s Into the Woods in London and on the US National Tour, winning the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Visiting Production and the LA Critic’s Circle Award for Best Ensemble Cast. Vanessa is a founding member of MOD Theatre Company in NYC/LA and co-created and co-directed the webseries, Remarkable Women, with Alexandra Lenihan. They have performed their original glam rock/artpop project, WIFEY, since 2012 https://www.thisiswifeymusic.com/.

IG: @vanessareseland_avatar
Website: vanessareseland.com



Join Our Mailing List

Join Our Mailing List
Would you like to volunteer at the Theater?