Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Getting to Know Counting Squares Theatre

Photo of Ryan Nicholoff
Counting Squares Theatre is one of NYC's newest companies. I got to know about them after's Allison Taylor gave their production of Bent a rave review last fall. I saw their next show, Boys' Life, and was just as impressed. I've since had a chance to meet the company's founders, Ryan Nicholoff, Dena Kology, and Joshua Chase Gold, and I'm impressed by their passion for theatre and their dedication and commitment.

Their current show is Carpe Tunnel, running this week at the Spoon Theatre.

I emailed Ryan (shown in the photo) a few questions to help us get to know Counting Squares better. Here's our "cyber-interview":

1. You're a pretty new company to the NYC indie theater scene. Tell us your background: how your company was founded, who the key members are, how you got together, and especially where the name Counting Squares came from??

Counting Squares is a relatively large collective group of peers. Most of us have known each other a long time so we speak the same "language" which is really great when it comes to collaboration. It allows us to cut corners of "social politeness" and focus on the work. I trained at the wonderful and underrated UCF Conservatory Theatre at the University of Central Florida where I was lucky enough to meet a lot (or most) of the great contacts and professional I work with now. I was also able to work closely with faculty and create my own kind of technique, which I think is very freeing for an artist.

I was making the usual 11-hour-a-day rounds with my very close friend Edward Lynn Davis at the AEA building, essentially feeling like a wilting flower, when I was cast in an off-Broadway play working with Israel Horovitz which was in rehearsal for quite a while when they pulled the plug on us the day before opening. So I said to myself, "I'm sick of needing permission to perform," so I picked up a few extra shifts at the bar and produced my first play: Howard Korder's Boys' Life, which ended up being a great success. That was started with Mr. Edward Lynn Davis, and myself, my beautiful girlfriend Dena Kology. During the show our good friend Joshua Chase Gold offered to do the set, and it ended up being such a wonderful collaborative team that Dena, Josh, and myself agreed on being the co-artistic directors of Counting Squares Theatre. Ed Davis remains one of my closest friends and a key member, along with many other peers. It is truly amazing how much people contribute to something they believe in and I truly hope (and I know I speak for Josh and Dena) that everyone feels like they have their own piece of the company they can call their own.

So the name is kind of a long story, but I'll keep it short. Basically: counting squares is my OCD tick. I count every square I see on my fingers in sequence--creepy I know. But, the only time I am not doing that is when I am performing so I guess it kind of represents a different version of counting squares. I wrote the song "Counting Squares" my first winter here about all of the square tiling in the meager god forbidden non-equity limbo room of the AEA building, so it kind of inspired the name.

2. Counting Squares does very naturalistic, kind-of gritty work with a focus on acting--at least from what I've seen of your work so far. Is that a fair assessment of your aesthetic? How did you form your company aesthetic? And who would you say are the key influences on your work as a theatre company?

Yes, I think acting is the number one asset of our company. We believe in everyone involved and think it is important to use people who you know will do the job. Not that it doesn't stretch them, but at the end of the rehearsal period you know that they are going to come through. I personally believe that simple concept paired with visceral and real acting is always the best recipe. For me.

People joke with me because I always use the word artifice because I treat it like my enemy, and I think in our company if we find something that doesn't feel right, we try to logic our way through it and eliminate the superfluous stuff. I think when we did Bent it was a good turn for us because Joshua Chase Gold brought a lot of thought-out artistically stylized elements to his direction and coupled with actor collaboration and Dena as his assistant director I think we were able to balance realism with style, which is a certain branding of Counting Squares Theatre. We love pragmatic sets, beautiful lights, and wonderful acting: but doesn't everyone in the theatre business?

I've never been one of those guys who obsess about one style of theatre or one playwright, or one director, or one actor, because maybe I learned my harsh lesson when I was fourteen and realized I would never be Paul McCartney. Which was heart-breaking, so now, when I compare myself to someone else I just find it useless or depressing. I have a huge reverence for theatre as an art and I love all different kinds. My biggest passion is synthesizing different kinds. Counting Squares is focusing on new works or re-vamping old works so that we can develop our own personal style by using our education and personal ideas to stay consistent with the trends and mores of our artform while staying inventive and original.

3. Tell us about Carpe Tunnel. It sounds like a very ambitious evening combining lots of different kinds of theatre. Who's involved? What can audiences expect to experience? How did the show get put together?

Carpe Tunnel is a truly collaborative effort. Written (mostly) from the ground up through vigorous writing sessions with the contributors and creating different things in rehearsal (which is the coolest part right?) we have created something that I think will be a really neat step towards what the future of Counting Squares will closer resemble. There are so many great artists involved who have such a passionate voice in so many areas of theatre.--from actors to dancers to visual artists to musicians to Shakespeare specialists to movement specialists--that it just seamed ignorant to ignore that any longer. So we have done our best to use different aspects of our collective talents to create a one-of-a-kind production which is master directed by Shannon Beeby, set designed by co-artistic director Joshua Chase Gold, and last but not least lit by whom I think is the best lighting designer in town, Maruti Evans.

We have longtime friend and collaborator Nick Sprysenski (who just released his first album entitled Caterwaul) playing our central character of The Busker, who holds the central reality that we have created together. We have chosen 10 pieces, 8 of which are by company members, that we feel in some way reflect the day-to-day struggles and triumphs that affect all people, or most of them. The 10 pieces are individually directed by various directors and have been shaped and overseen by Shannon Beeby, which has lended itself a very interesting feel. From a new piece by Stephen Belber to a new adaptation of Buchner's Woyzeck, the celebration of life is captured through the eyes and the minds of Counting Squares Theatre company members. Stephen Belber, Emmy-nominated for his work on The Laramie Project, lends us the scene that inspired the major motion picture Management. Currently in post-production, Management, written and directed by Mr. Belber, stars Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, and Steve Zahn.

Additionally we examine a segment from our 2008-2009 season opener Woyzeck. This world premiere adaptation incorporates music, the ever-present theme of soldiers returning from war, and the struggle to reintegrate into society. Counting Squares features eight additional new pieces written solely by company members.

So please come see our production of Carpe Tunnel at the Spoon Theater at 38 W. 38th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues, on June 3rd through 10th at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $18.00. Call 407-765-6308 or e-mail

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