To close Round House Theatre’s 2020-2021 virtual season (pandemic reasons, of course), it seems fitting they would put on a production of Young Jean Lee’s “We’re Gonna Die,” a one-woman play that explores how people handle adversity.
“In its essence, it’s a play about grief and loss…and [how we] find ways to triumph so that we can then pass on how we were able to survive to someone else who might be experiencing it,” says Director Paige Hernandez, “[It] seems completely right for this time, being in a pandemic.”
Based on her real-life experiences, Lee wrote this Obie Award-winning play following the passing of her father. While the performance focuses on heavy subject matters such as death and trauma, it’s still a fun, lively production that combines comedy and monologues with punk, indie and reflective ballads.
Filmed on the Round House Theatre stage, it explores “different ways that you can decide to embrace that grief and loss, to channel it into something else, or to help you improve and make you stronger,” Hernandez says.
Hernandez adds that what makes this play unique is that its main punk rock character fearlessly embraces this negative experience, and chooses to turn in into something positive and uplifting.
“There’s something there that everyone can tap in to,” Hernandez says. “It’s really unique to have an Asian-American woman lead the charge, and to see her represented so much throughout. That’s something that audiences in the D.C. area haven’t quite seen before, and we were happy to amplify it.”
Making her Round House Theatre debut as that character, the theater’s production stars Filipinx actor Regina Aquino and features D.C.-based indie band The Chance Club. In many ways, “We’re Gonna Die” was “made for Regina Aquino,” Hernandez exclaims. Aside from having Asian heritage and similar life experiences to the main character, Aquino also has a deep affinity to punk rock music, specifically in the D.C. area.
“She can off-the-cuff tell you about some of the origin stories of D.C. punk, and we were able to implement that into the show,” Hernandez says.
As for The Chance Club (Laura Van Duzer, Matthew Schleigh, Jason Wilson, Manny Arciniega), they add a concert-like experience to the show while also performing on stage as part of the ensemble. In addition to standard concert performances, all the members have theater experience as well. Wilson and Van Duzer previously worked on another production of “We’re Gonna Die,” and Hernandez acted with Schleigh in the past, which made them a great fit for the show.
“They are seen [on stage] the entire time, so they provide support and underscoring. They’re featured in different ways – everybody gets a chance to solo and sing. And then in the very end there is a special surprise, which I’m going to keep a secret, where they really get to come out into the forefront.”
While Lee originally created “We’re Gonna Die” as an in-person experience, Round House Theatre’s production was adapted to be filmed on stage and viewed as a virtual experience. Hernandez is no stranger to virtual performances, and her prior experience has helped her transform this piece to work as both a live and virtual production.
“I’m enjoying this moment to figure out how alike and how different the two industries are. [I’m] really understanding more what makes theater unique, versus what makes film unique, versus what we can use from each medium to really inform the other.”
A virtual production is so accessible, she continues, and people can view the play from the comfort of their own home, pausing and playing as desired. More so, Hernandez hopes the virtual version will encourage people to see theater in person so as to get the full sensory experience. While most who view this show will see it on a screen, Hernandez is excited to announce that they will have a live audience of 30 people during each of the four film takes.
While the team was in various stages of being vaccinated during production, they still experienced pandemic challenges that most of the performing arts community also faced over the last year and a half. Hernandez adds that the team plans to continue using masks and socially distancing through the end of the production, but the return of a (small) live audience is a hopeful sign of potential more live performances in the near future.
Stream “We’re Gonna Die” on demand from June 14 through July 11 on Round House Theatre’s website at www.roundhousetheatre.org. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased on Round House’s website. Follow Round House Theatre on Facebook and Instagram @roundhousetheatre and on Twitter @RHT_roundhouse. Follow Paige Hernandez on Twitter and Instagram @paigeinfull.
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