Strains of music from various rehearsing a capella groups echo off the walls and bounce around the white hallway outside of the theater auditorium where I’m sitting with UC Berkeley senior Kenny Wang, the producer of the latest BareStage play, “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play).”
It’s after dark on a Wednesday night, and while much of the activity on campus has started to slow down for the night, Choral Rehearsal Hall is still bustling with life. Just past the doors to the auditorium, a pick-up rehearsal of the play is taking place, and director Grace Lynch is watching weeks of hard work unfold onstage.
“Grace is very, very creative and her work always explodes out of the seams,” Wang says. “She really commits her entire self to her work — she’s probably one of the people who I think really gets it with theater, who really understands the core of live performance.”
Currently the longest running member of BareStage productions, Lynch has been everything from an actor to a producer, a set designer, an assistant director and a member of the BareStage board of directors. Now, she’s wrapping up her BareStage career as the director of “In the Next Room.” We decide to talk onstage, sitting on the couch in the middle of the set.
“I didn’t choose this play, actually — amazingly enough,” Lynch says. “It was brought to me by two of my closest friends, who suggested it to BareStage and stuck my name on it without asking, and then told me later, like ‘P.S. we asked if you would direct ‘The Vibrator Play, we hope you’re cool with that.’ But I read the play and got geared up to do it and I am so incredibly thankful that they gave it to me.”
Despite the sudden, unwitting arrangement, Lynch was attracted to the feminist themes in the play and quickly grew attached to the project.
“I definitely consider myself a feminist, and that’s largely because I grew up with really strong feminist role models,” Lynch says. “My mom is an incredibly powerful woman and both of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers have accomplished wonderful things in their lives. My grandma unfortunately suffers from dementia now — but I was sitting and talking with her about all of this traveling I had been doing and all of these great stories, and I was getting nothing. It was like I wasn’t even there. And I was so frustrated and on the verge of tears and I (was) like, ‘I’m directing a show about the vibrator!’ And she burst out laughing. Like, totally cognizantly looked at me and laughed.”
And through her conversation with her grandmother, Lynch reached a turning point in her involvement with the project. Though initially embarrassed to talk about the play, Lynch began to embrace its message about female sexuality.
“I hated saying the name of this play for a while,” Lynch says, grimacing. “And then suddenly I just realized I shouldn’t be ashamed of this, and the fact that other people are is also wrong and I shouldn’t let them off the hook. There’s no point in letting someone skate by with their prejudice or their narrow-mindedness.”
So, fittingly, as Lynch aims to eliminate prejudice in her daily life, with “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play),” she also aims to work with theater as a vehicle for discussing social issues.
“I think that theater should make you forcibly acknowledge the world you live in,” Lynch said. “I think this play does an incredible job of taking you out of the world you’re in as a way to force you to look at the world you’re in. That’s very challenging to do, and Sarah Ruhl (the playwright) does it beautifully.”
Looking back, Lynch reflects on her growth in working with this play.
“A year ago I couldn’t have directed (the play); a year ago I probably couldn’t have acted in it either,” Lynch says. “It’s something that I definitely was totally scared to go into in the beginning, and now (I’m) so comfortably in tune with this work. I’m so thankful for everything it’s brought me, because the amount of self-confidence it’s given me is just not paralleled.”
And so Lynch reaches the final leg of her journey with BareStage, developing a strong voice as an activist and looking forward to her future in theater.
Lindsay Choi writes student profiles. Contact her at [email protected]
A previous version of a video accompanying this article identified the group as BearStage. In fact, it is BareStage.