The Art Inventory

‘Big Rock’ Playwright Sonya Schneider On Artistic Expression

by Kirby Laney, posted 17 March 2018


On now at West of Lenin, a new drama, exploring themes of art and success.

On now at West of Lenin, a new drama, exploring themes of art and success.

On now through March 31st, at West of Lenin, is a serious drama by local playwright Sonya Schneider.  ‘Big Rock’ deals with themes many of us in Fremont can relate to, and characters familiar to nearly all.  This work, brought here by Onward Ho! Productions, may be one of the most relevant stories told at our black box theater, by a playwright known for creating captivating and relatable characters.

The Process of a Challenge

The inspiration for ‘Big Rock’ came to Schneider out of frustration and challenge.  “I had recently dealt with a period of artistic disillusionment,” she explained.  Her last play to premiere at West of Lenin, ‘Royal Blood’, met critical acclaim and audience appreciation, but the path to producing it brought up some negative emotions for the playwright.

“I love getting personal,” in her plays, Schneider admitted, and ‘Royal Blood’ came out of earlier family life, and writing it allowed her to process her experiences.  Yet, during production, collaborating with the cast and crew – a process Schneider likes to be a part of – “I was harboring a lot of fear,” she recently acknowledged, “I hadn’t processed my previous experiences, and my perfectionism ran up against my fear.”

Schneider found herself struggling in her work.  “I experienced a lot of anxiety,” she observed, “I decided to write about it.  This play became a healing process; a learning process.”

A Trio Of Artists

For ‘Big Rock’, Schneider created the character of Signe Sands, an artist that creates three-dimensional art – boxes into which she places specific items – and placed her in a similar situation to Schneider’s own.  Signe has achieved professional success, in New York City, but in the play, she has retreated – maybe run away, maybe escaped – from her life.

In 'Big Rock' at West of Lenin, Todd Jefferson Moore as Sands, and Meg McLynn as his daughter, Signe Sands.  Photo by Chris Bennion, 2018

In ‘Big Rock’ at West of Lenin, Todd Jefferson Moore as Sands, and Meg McLynn as his daughter, Signe Sands. Photo by Chris Bennion, 2018

With her latest show due to open, Signe is filled with anxiety and fear.  “She’s afraid that her work is not good,” Schneider explained, “we talk about the ‘truth’, and how we owe it to ourselves and our community to tell the truth,” as artists.  “She feels, deep down, that she might not be telling the truth.”

Signe goes to visit her father, a renowned nature poet, who has escaped to this small island in the Pacific Northwest.  The two haven’t seen one another in two years, although they remain linked together over the passing of his wife/her mother.  “They find themselves living parallel existences,” Schneider observed, although as the daughter’s star is rising, the father’s may be in decline.

Into this fraught relationship comes Hamish, a born-and-bred islander who has just begun his own explorations into art, and creative expression.  “I see him as the Innocent,” Schneider explained, “I loved writing him because of his optimism and generosity and hope.  I love his fresh perspective on creating.  I love watching him discover art.”  Hamish helps the pair communicate, while he learns his own power, through art and instruction.  “While the others have been living and breathing art,” Schneider observed, “he is just understanding some kind of creative art form; some form of expression.”

Collaboration Among Artists

Schneider is delighted with the cast who will realize these sharply drawn characters, and the hard work the actors put into realizing her words.  “I had Todd [Jefferson Moore] in mind when I wrote the character of Sands,” Schneider said about the father-figure, “Todd is digging deep to find the truth of his character.”  Moore also appeared, to rave reviews, in ‘Royal Blood’.

Characters Hamish (Evan Whitfield) and Signe (Meg McLynn) practicing meditation in 'Big Rock' by Sonya Schneider.  Photo by Chris Bennion, 2018

Characters Hamish (Evan Whitfield) and Signe (Meg McLynn) practicing meditation in ‘Big Rock’ by Sonya Schneider. Photo by Chris Bennion, 2018

The playwright is equally pleased with the other two actors comprising the rest of the compact ‘Big Rock’ cast.  “I love them all,” Schneider said, “Meg [McLynn] is really how I did envision Signe,” the main character, and “Evan [Whitfield] is Canadian, and really brings a lovely fun to Hamish; really open.”

This production returned a lot of the same talent to WofL, with Schneider collaborating once again with director Laurel Pillar Garcia.  “Laurel is my interpreter,” Schneider explained, “She is really extremely skilled with bringing my vision to life.”  Pillar Garcia, and the rest of the creative team, chose to play with the black box flexibility of WofL, rearranging the seating in a whole new way, to further contribute to the action and atmosphere of the play.  “It feels really good coming back,” to West of Lenin, Schneider acknowledged.

As with previous works, on ‘Big Rock’, Schneider has worked closely with the cast and crew, as they realize the world within her pages.  “The actors bust it open,” she observed about her plays, “and take it to its next stage.  I’m grateful for that.  It starts to become human.”  The set designers and costume designers also contribute, finding connections and symbolism within her words, and enhancing and expressing them in myriad ways.

Questions of Art

For many audience members, ‘Big Rock’ explores compelling themes, particularly in its questions of art, and artistic expression.  As Schneider explained, the characters explore the question of, “why are they compelled to make art?  Is the motivation to make art to be successful, or from a desire to interpret the world?”

Playwright Sonya Schneider wrote the part of Sands, in 'Big Rock', thinking of actor Todd Jefferson Moore

Playwright Sonya Schneider wrote the part of Sands, in ‘Big Rock’, thinking of actor Todd Jefferson Moore

As with ‘Royal Blood’, “[‘Big Rock’] does have a frustrated woman artist at its center,” Schneider acknowledged, and both deal with family.  “I think I will always write stories that include family,” the playwright observed, “and they will always have a female artist at the center.”

As for Schneider, her own answers came in realizing her own need for art.  “We make it because we love and we need it,” she said, “we need it for ourselves, and for a community that is trying to process the world around us.”  Hopefully the audiences at ‘Big Rock’ will be able to find some answers for themselves.

‘Big Rock’ will be on-stage at WofL through March 31st, and tickets are available now through Brown Paper Tickets.  The play is only 90 minutes long, with no intermission, and “it’s a drama, more than it is anything else,” Schneider observed.

Purchase tickets now to see this tightly realized, intimate production, while seats remain available.  In addition to shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30p, there will be matinee performances on Sunday, March 18th & 25th at 2p, and a pay-what-you-can night on Monday, March 26th.  Find more details at Brown Paper Tickets (click here.)




Related Articles


©2018 Kirby S. Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


Fremocentrist Logo Sm Home Contact Fremocentrist | Website:Cougar Mountain Productions | ©2017 The Fremocentrist