If you’ve never been to Loading Dock Theatre in downtown Brooklyn, New York, it’s the perfect time to explore their intimate space, which seats just 25-30. From March 18 through April 3, Loading Dock will workshop a unique play called War Dreamer, focusing on how a female solider (E. B. Treadway) reintegrates into society following multiple tours in Iraq. The production, described as “psychological horror” in the press release, features original electronic music and sound design by playwright and co-director Leegrid Stevens.
When Stevens joined our recent conference call, I wanted to know more about how he developed his script ideas. He also explained the creative process for taking War Dreamer through the workshop phase.
How did War Dreamer Come About?
Stevens said he started working on the idea several years ago, when news emerged about U.S. diplomats feeling ill from what became known as Havana Syndrome. He was also listening to “dark” techno music that piqued his interest. “A track would go, go, go, and then change to the next one without warning: no lead-in and out. I felt that this could be an interesting way of a person experiencing the world, where you’re in one reality and then suddenly, you’re in a different reality,” he said.
He tied those two ideas to a plotline about returning from a war zone. “The rules for a person who is in a wartime situation versus a civilian situation couldn’t be more opposite. It’s really difficult for people who have months in and out to navigate that change. I loved how much that would juxtapose with different realities, no matter where you are in the world and what your situation is.”
Getting Audiences “to Impossible Places”
Stevens agreed that War Dreamer explores sound design differently from his other work. Spaceman, from 2019, comes closest in being flexible and open to sound’s possibilities. That play, about a scientist’s space mission falling apart, also received two Drama Desk nominations and two NY Innovative Theater Awards. “I loved how sound design can create a meteorite on a space module and have people jump at the moment the way the astronaut does. It’s all done through sound and lights flashing, coming out of nowhere.”
Being creative with sound design also helps directors build a complex world on the stage. “We don’t have a budget to literally create a rotating set for changing locations. Instead we use sound and lights, [which] allow you to transport people quickly to impossible places.”
According to Stevens, a good source for engine and machine sounds was the “doom electronics” concerts he attended. “These guys create various statics and roars, which I don’t think is very popular for people to go to a concert and listen to. However, it is very evocative and immersive in theater when you attach an image or narrative to it.”
When COVID-19 came to the United States in 2020, Stevens began working from home instead of going to an office. That left him with more time at home to try out sounds on his own noise-making machines and synthesizers.
The character of the veteran in War Dreamer deals with the issue of conspiracy theories as she returns home to America. Stevens started writing a script in early 2020. He clarified that his play isn’t about QAnon conspiracies like people having lizard DNA. “Conspiracies were all over the place and still are. They started reaching my own family and people I knew and respected. Some conspiracies start with a little truth. Originally, I was interested in where truth ends and conspiracy begins, but somewhere along the line you can’t tell. I wanted to explore what the allure is and why delusion sometimes is seductive or necessary when reality becomes miserable.”
Advice for a Successful Workshop
One of Stevens’ longtime collaborators is co-director Jacob Titus, whom he’s known since college. They share great ideas along the way in rehearsals on how a show should take shape. “It’s worked pretty well where Jacob focuses on the heart and the action of the acting, while I focus on the construct around it.”
In March 2023, Loading Dock will take War Dreamer as a fully-realized production to The Wild Project in Manhattan. As with any workshop, audience reactions now will help Stevens, creatives, and cast members see what works and what could be adjusted for next year. The strategy remains similar before any workshop series. “Normally, I have the sound design 90 percent done before rehearsals. We did a workshop back in November, and we [still] have those cues with the lights. I don’t like slamming it all together in tech at the end. Do everything as fully as you can, as early as you can.”
For more information about War Dreamer, visit the Loading Dock Theatre website. Tickets for the workshop are free and donations are encouraged.