Philadelphia Weekly Interviews Deborah Block
Jaqueline Rupp of Philadelphia Weekly talks with Smoke director Deborah Block about the world of Kim Davies' play
You can read the full interview below or the original interview here. Original interview by Jaqueline Rupp for Philadelphia Weekly
Things get sexy at Theatre Exile this month with the Philadelphia premiere of the erotic thriller, Smoke by Kim Davies. After meeting by chance at a BDSM party (not exactly RomCo here), John and Julie match wits, kinks and commingle personal boundaries in a play that tests not only the actor’s limits, but those of the audience perhaps as well. We visited the set in between shows to talk with Smoke Director and Exile Producing Artistic Director, Deborah Block.
Tell us about Smoke and what makes it an “erotic thriller,” that’s what caught all of our attention.
It is erotic, because it’s dealing with sexual politics and two people who really are just meeting, navigating their attraction to each other and navigating something that they want from each other. It’s sexual in nature but it’s also about power and desire and that’s where the eroticism comes from. It is set inside a BDSM party, takes place in the kitchen and the party’s happening right outside. That party infiltrates, the fact that they are at this kink party, it sort of sets the rules. It allows for, it’s not as though people haven’t ever hooked up when they first meet, but when you come to this party, that is saying “that is more okay.” There’s no judgement on that. And so certain filters we may have, those rules have gone away, and then the rules of the BDSM world have come into play: “I won’t do anything unless you say ‘yes.’ “Tell me what you want.” There’s actually a lot of rules in the BDSM community.
That’s an interesting contrast.
Yeah in fact it’s very much about ‘I need you to say exactly what you want.’ ‘I need you to tell me it’s okay to do this, but not that’ And so that world has a lot of rules but truth-be-told, when we’re navigating a first date, second date, we don’t always talk about consent in the same way, so as we navigate sexual politics and consent, it’s actually murkier in our regular lives than it is in the rules of the BDSM world.
And it’s funny because my initial thought when hearing the “kink party” setting, was more wild, less restrictions than in our typical life, but placed in that context…
There’s more restrictions in terms of, communication is key, and that’s the rules.
And that can be scary, right? Having to articulate your desires to someone else?
That’s especially one of the issues for the character Julie because she’s being asked to say directly what she wants and she’s 20 years old and she’s used to people kind of just ‘doing things’ and just her smiling and being coy, and she’s being asked to say exactly what she wants and it’s difficult. Are you kidding? It’s difficult for me to say exactly what I want, for us to say what we want in life. It’s often difficult for people and I think it tends to be more difficult for women than for men, but that’s sort of a little sexist view, but I do feel like that is the case.
And is this where the thriller part of the play comes in at? Is it a psychological cat-and-mouse?
Well imagine those movies that are both physical and emotional, it’s the emotional that gets to us in many ways, but it is both. You’re dealing in a world where we say there are a lot of rules, but people are there to push the boundaries of their own physical exploration. ‘I want you to tie me up.’ ‘I want you to put needles in my back.’ ‘I want to feel pain.’ So people are pushing themselves physically, but for some people it’s about the power play. ‘I want to be dominant.’ ‘I want to be submissive.’ And once you start playing in power and it’s physically manifested, then it becomes both, emotional and physical, and people are being pushed to their boundaries. And when you’re being pushed to the edge, are you always sure you can hold on? Are you sure that you won’t fall over? And that’s where the thriller comes in. Will these people be pushed beyond what they can control. Will someone ask for something beyond what they can manage.
These two characters appear to have an immediate attraction. Can you relate to the idea of a dynamic being forged from first meeting?
People get attracted to people, of course there’s physical attraction, but there can be something about them energetically that compliments who you are energetically and you kind of gel and you feel that right away. In this case, you find out very early in the play that he’s a wannabe artist, but he’s working for a famous photographer and she’s the daughter of this photographer, so then you’re dealing in status issues, but there’s also that they both understand this man, his boss/her father, so that gives them something to talk about: this really powerful, not very nice human, that they both understand. That brings them together.
Did it fall on you to create a safe environment for them?
That is the director’s job, to create the environment where the actors can go on this journey. You guide them on the journey, you sometimes lead them on the journey, but that is absolutely the director’s job to create the environment so they can do their best work.
Was that particularly challenging for you here, because of the nature of this work?
Oh yeah! (laughs)
Oh yeah! There were a lot of them. I was always like, ‘OK, now we’re gonna laugh.’ Because if you look around our set, there’s a butt plug on our set, there’s dildos on our set, and more because we wanted there to be the idea that the people in this room are very open about their sexuality, there’s no apologies, there’s no shame and that’s something important. I have to pretend there’s no shame, even if it’s a little awkward.
Do you want that to be a take-away for the audience?
Well, that this is a world with no shame, but even though that’s what this world is, it doesn’t mean that there’s none for us individually. And the truth today for young people is there’s not the same rules that were true when I was growing up, and not the same rules when my mom was growing up and the fewer rules, the more fortitude you have to have as a person to be able to navigate it. And that is what a lot of this play is about.