Nowhere Woman: Femme fatale Emilie Krause on 901 NOWHERE STREET

One of the finest actors in Philadelphia, Emilie Krause has also helped create some of the best Fringe shows of recent years: 27 (2012) and The Adults (2014), both presented by New Paradise Laboratories. Hot on the heels of being named this season’s choice for best supporting actor in the Phindie Critics’ Awards, Emilie is starring in another buzzed-about devised piece for the 2015 Fringe Festival. Created by Sam Tower + Ensemble, 901 NOWHERE STREET is an all-female take on the genre of noir detective drama. Phindie talks to Emilie about the play, her work as an actor and devisor, and how she’s probably not a real-life femme fatale. [Power Plant Productions, 233 North Bread Street] September 8-17, 2015; fringearts.com/event/901-nowhere-street, kickstarter.com/projects/samtower/901-nowhere-street.

Emilie Krause. Photo by Lauren Tuvell.

Emilie Krause. Photo by Lauren Tuvell.

Phindie: You’re a real life femme fatale, right?

Emilie Krause: If by femme fatal you mean dark and mysterious, lithe and calculating, waiting to drag men down a spiral of no-goodery… then probably not. I sort of always imagined I’d grow up to be much more mysterious than I actually am.

Phindie: There’s still time. Is that your role in 901 NOWHERE STREET?

EK: My role in 901 NOWHERE STREET is a little bit of everything; I have a pretty sweeping character arc. I think each of the women in our play is a bit of a femme fatale, there is a fierce power play going on and you never really know who is going to come out on top. I play Darlene Sycamore: an aspiring mystery novelist who earns her dough sorting other people’s books at a library. After losing her job, Darlene hits rock bottom, and everyone knows that’s where things start to get interesting. She climbs down into a shifting world of publishers, private investigators, lounge singers, thugs, and intrusions of the mysterious. It’s a lot of fun.

Phindie: What was the creation process like? Did you start with a script?

EK: The creation process has also been really fun. We didn’t start with a script; our director/conciever Sam Tower has been plotting a dark noir piece for awhile. After getting the cast and creative team together we started out last year by immersing ourselves in noir, watching old films and new, and talking about what we thought was most intriguing about the genre. Our rehearsals were lead by Sam, she would give the actors different prompts, or assignments, and we would make pieces in response. Sometimes these little pieces would be a response to a word, or a painting, or an object in the room, sometimes we would write stories for another person to perform. There was a lot of experimentation. As we went on, characters and themes began to emerge.

After we had stirred everything up, we invited in an awesome local playwright, Jeremy Gable, to come watch what we had made. Jeremy is a bit of a noir expert, and he and Sam had been talking about collaborating on this piece for awhile. Jeremy and Sam spent a lot of time working on a script, and we ended up with an awesome story that feels very true to the material we, the performers, have generated. We’ve been mixing it all back together again, our physical dance and intention based proposals, Jeremy’s snappy dialogue, Sam Tower’s magnificent imagination, Alec [McLaughlin] and Lauren [Tuvell]‘s beautiful music, and voila: NOWHERE STREET.

Phindie: You were in a similarly devised work in last year’s Fringe, The Adults. What’s different about your working on a play which you have a hand in creating?

EK: A few years ago (2012 to be exact) I began working for New Paradise Laboratories, the company that produced last year’s Fringe piece The Adults. Until then I had never really worked on a play as a creator; my theater career had been concentrated in the traditional regional theater scene. Acting is a funny kind of art form—so often you’re the last artist to the table. The playwright has written the play, the director has conceived the production, even the set you walk on and the clothes you wear are often designed before the actor steps into the room.

Phindie: What do you like about working with a company like New Paradise Laboratories?

EK: When I began to work with NPL, it was the first time anyone had been so deeply interested in what I thought and felt and dreamed about. Working with Whit MacLaughlin, the artistic director of NPL, has completely changed my focus. It would be really hard to sum up everything that I’m learning from him, one big discovery was that I have the power to truly collaborate with other artists, and to build something that only exists because each person was in the room. Getting the opportunity to think of yourself as a conceptual, “creating” artist has huge rewards, and it’s become clear to me that using the devising thought process when working in a more traditional theater structure is not only possible, it’s ideal. However, in the regional theater scene you’re still stuck in a distinctly un-powerful position. Will you get the part? How will people cast you? Sometimes you end up, especially as a woman, playing a similar type of role over and over and over again, because there is often so little nuance to how women are written.

901 NOWHERE STREET has been a joy to work on because I’ve gotten to forge a character that challenges me as a performer and because Sam has put so much of her heart into digging deep into the potential inside of her fellow collaborators.

The women of 901 NOWHERE STREET: Emilie Krause, . Photo by Lauren Tuvell.

The women of 901 NOWHERE STREET: Emilie Krause, Anna Szapiro, Merri Rashoyan. Photo by Lauren Tuvell.

Phindie: The hard-boiled detective story is often very masculine. How does having an all-female cast alter the role of women in the story and what new perspective does it bring to the genre? 

EK: You know, we created an all female noir piece for many reasons, but in the end the most important one was how right the world felt. I think we were curious about whether the genre held up without male characters, and to be honest I was surprised at how little I notice the lack of men in our story. In the same manner that heist movies and action films and many other genres often exclude women or include them only in the shallowest sense, our play just doesn’t happen to involve men. (Which isn’t completely true, the story we are telling is supported by an incredible guitarist, a sick lighting designer, equally sick sound designer and a brilliant playwright who are all male, and are all passionate allies to gender equality.)

But really? At the heart of it? Human beings rage and cry and brood and hurt and are racked with desire. Men and women feel the same massive spectrum of emotions, and to me, regardless of gender, the world of our play wouldn’t feel right without Lauren Tuvell’s delicious air of mystery, Anna Szapiro’s terrifying whirlpool of fury, Merri Rashoyan’s infinite depth of soul, and what happens when all of these things collide.

Phindie: What’s your favorite film noir?

EK: The Maltese Falcon is dear to my heart, and we were very inspired by Lady in the Lake. I must say though, I am a massive Hitchcock fan and though there is debate about whether the film qualifies, when it comes down to it my favorite film noir is Vertigo.

Phindie: Do you have any recommendations for this year’s festival?

EK: Hell yeah! I won’t be able to list everything I’m excited about seeing, Fringe is my favorite time of year and I try to consume as much of it as possible. First of all, go see Found’s Fringe show, City of Woes. It’s also exploring the genre of film noir. I love film noir. I love Found. Go!!!

Here are some highlights in no particular order:

  • Light Princess: A fairy tale? A crazy talented group of artists? Yes please.
  • Me First: Cause I’m a huge fan of Jason Rosenberg’s writing.
  • The Jo Strømgren Kompani trio of pieces: Because they look amazing. Because I loved The Society.
  • That’s So Learning: I will never ever ever miss a show by the Berserker Residents.
  • Underground Railroad Game: I’ve gotten a couple peeks at the FringeArts showings of this play and it has been consistently kick ass.
  • ALIAS ELLIS MACKENZIE: Because Thaddeus Phillips makes delicious, dreamy plays.

Phindie: Thanks Emilie!

There are still a few more days to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for 901 NOWHERE STREET. Why not help fund this much-anticipated Fringe show? 

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.