Born and raised in Bryn Mawr, PA, and based in NYC, devisor/performer Griffin Stanton-Ameisen, widely known for creating the fictional “motivational sleeper” and internet sensation Yawn Yawnson, is presenting the first public NYC run of Free Space. The original “game night-storytelling-theatrical experience” will play for four nights in June at The Tank, following previous performances at the Philadelphia SoLow Festival, in Griffin’s apartment in Washington Heights, and at a studio at Primary Stages as part of his year with the Off-Broadway company as a Rockwell Scholar.
With a BA in Theatre from Temple University in Philadelphia and an MFA in performance from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Stanton-Ameisen is trained and highly experienced in acting and producing the works of Shakespeare, from history to comedy to tragedy. In 2013, he created Revolution Shakespeare and served as its Founding Artistic Director, to present accessible and intelligible Shakespeare, combining a spirit of fun, music, food, and performance, and to add to the scope of Shakespeare performance and education in the Philadelphia area. Among his favorites roles are both Posthumus and Cloten in Cymbeline; his extensive regional theater credits also include appearances at The Walnut Street Theatre, the National Constitution Center, and The Delaware Shakespeare Festival.
In the Fall of 2016, Stanton-Ameisen approached Philadelphia director and friend Tommy Butler about doing a project together, and they began the two-and-a-half-year process of developing a new personal one-man show about his life and Hamlet. The unique piece evolved into Free Space – an unscripted vulnerable exploration of the theme of choice through the lens of a father-son relationship, produced by Dana Kreitz. It includes live music (featuring musicians Melody Moon on June 2, Chelsea Bryn Lockie on June 3, Lorenzo Landini on June 4, and Chris Callahan on June 5), along with games, stories, drinks, and improvisation, in a spontaneous choose-your-own-adventure format.
I spoke with Griffin to get a preview of the show, along with some of its background and inspiration.
What inspired you to create Free Space?
Griffin: I decided that I wanted to do something that really terrified me – a one-man show. I had seen Tommy Butler do one that I really loved in the Philly SoLow Festival, so I reached out to him in Fall 2016, initially wanting to make something about Hamlet and me. We met one to two times a month to develop it, and it ended up being nothing about Hamlet, and everything about Hamlet, metaphorically. At the time, I was coming off the grief of my Dad dying, and after working on it for two years, that came to the forefront of the show.
What do you enjoy most about devising your own work?
Devising in general is just taking ideas from collaborators and mashing them with your own. It’s telling people about your experiences, which they don’t know, and seeing how they react. In this case it was an actor/devisor (me) and a director/devisor (Tommy), then going in a completely different direction. I thought there would be a script and a cast, but it ended up with me riffing through two things I enjoy in life – playing games and telling stories.
What have you found most challenging?
Specifically with this current run, it was remembering, and adding, and trusting that the bones of the show were strong enough to carry it, since I hadn’t performed it since November 2019. There wasn’t much more to be done, and there’s no rehearsal process, because the audience chooses the direction it will go each time, so it’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time, especially after the long pandemic shutdown.
After that second run in 2019, Tommy said, “You’re on your own now; we’ve done the development and it doesn’t need any more direction.” So when I’d get a new idea, I’d put it down on paper, let it float through my mind, and then let it happen with the audience. It’s a game of bingo, and it’s also a game-within-a-game, so you never know what the outcome will be.
What are the benefits of working with your wife, actress and producer Dana Kreitz, on this very personal show?
She knows me, so it’s amazing! I love collaborating with her. She knows when she needs to push me, to encourage me, or to let me be at any given moment. And with such a personal show, that’s super, super valuable.
How did you become involved with The Tank and what has been your experience working with them?
After I moved to New York, I reconnected with director and producer Will Steinberger, who has worked with many companies both in NYC and Philadelphia. I reached out to him about where he thought would be a good place for me to do the show, which was originally designed for fifteen people in a living room. He suggested The Tank. The black box theater there is an intimate space, intended for an audience of 60, but we capped it at 45, so it’s still a close-up experience.
The Tank’s Technical Manager Miranda Dahl has been very helpful in melding the theater space into a home space. Johnny Lloyd, Director of Artistic Development, was on board with the show since I first pitched in on Zoom; he’s a great person to bounce ideas off. And The Tank is such a well-know place for indie theater that it seemed perfect for this weird little show I made!
Many thanks, Griffin, for giving our readers a sneak peek at the show; I look forward to being there this weekend!
Free Space plays June 2, at 9:30 pm, and June 3-5, at 7:00 pm, 2022, at The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $20-30), go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times when inside.