Teaching Artist Leah Reddy spoke with director Margot Bordelon about her work on …what the end will be.
LEAH REDDY: What’s your theatre origin story?
MARGOT BORDELON: I grew up working class in Everett, Washington. I didn’t have any real exposure to professional theatre at a young age, but I loved acting in plays in high school, and ended up getting accepted to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. I trained as a BFA actor, and in my junior year I auditioned to participate in the Original Works track offered by my program, which meant taking playwriting and directing courses in addition to my core acting classes. I was originally interested in being an actor/playwright, but I discovered directing and realized I loved having a hand in every aspect of a production. When you direct, you get to work in multiple mediums at once—acting, dance, music, design. I’ve found this deeply satisfying.
LR: …what the end will be is a new play, and I imagine Mansa Ra will be involved in the rehearsal process. How does collaboration with playwrights influence your directing?
MB: Yes, Mansa will be involved in rehearsals, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What I love most about working on new plays is my relationships with the writers. I enjoy having an artistic partner in crime—a new play co-parent! It’s important to me to understand a playwright’s moment-to-moment intention so I can work towards achieving that first with the actors. And of course, once you begin putting a play up on its feet new discoveries arise, and then as a group we begin to shift, modify, try new choices, etc. The play evolves according to the group of artists working on it, and Mansa is incredibly generous in his desire to tailor the characters to the actors embodying them.
LR: What are you excited to explore with …what the end will be? What is this play about to you?
MB: This is a boldly gay drama about family and loss. It’s in the tradition of the American family drama, but with a cast of characters that’s different from what’s typically been presented onstage in the past. This play asks what it means to be a man, a Black man, a queer Black man, a father, a son. Ultimately, I think this is a play about liberation. All of the characters are finding the bravery it takes to make their own path, to free themselves from the rules, expectations, and conditioning that no longer serve them.
I’ve been in love with this play since I first read it three years ago. Mansa is a gifted writer with a huge heart and a delicious sense of humor, and this is reflected in his characters. I can’t wait to collaborate with the actors in bringing these complex humans to life. I’m also particularly interested in exploring the moments of poetic realism that exist in the play. There are a number of stage directions about time passing, and dialogue around the flimsiness of time, and I’m eager to figure out how to convey this idea in a theatrical way.
LR: What other plays, movies, TV shows, music, etc. are in conversation with this work for you?
MB: The book we’ve been discussing since the beginning of the process is Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which explores the American relationship to death, mortality, and end-of-life care. It’s a must read. Mansa and I have also talked about the work of E. Lynn Harris—in particular, Just As I Am. Harris was an openly gay novelist who wrote about Black queer culture, and often featured characters who were closeted or on the down-low. Other plays: Fences, ‘night, Mother, Death of a Salesman. Screen: Noah’s Arc, Black-ish, Moonlight, Real Housewives of Atlanta. And I’m currently listening to a playlist Mansa sent to the design team of audio that he listens to as he writes. It includes everything from Ray Charles’s “Hard Times” to Beyoncé’s “Black Parade” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech.
LR: How has the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of this play changed your relationship with the material?
MB: We’ve lost nearly one million people to COVID-19 in the United States in the past two years. On a national level I believe that the majority of us are much more connected to grief, loss, mortality, and death than we were in 2020 when the play was originally slated to be produced. We’re also in the midst of a huge, necessary racial reckoning in this country ignited in part by the murder of George Floyd. …what the end will be already felt like a hugely important piece—a story about multiple generations of Black, queer men being told on Off Broadway in New York City. The resonances have only deepened and grown from the events of the past two years. Quite plainly, I’m honored that Mansa has trusted me to be his partner in telling this story with the authenticity and heart it deserves.
LR: What advice do you have for new or emerging directors?
MB: I’m a firm believer in Stella Adler’s philosophy that your growth as an artist is synonymous with your growth as a human being. I love going to see plays, but I also love reading, watching films and television, going to museums, gardening, cooking, and spending time in nature. My advice to emerging directors is establish healthy boundaries around work, otherwise productivity culture will run you into the ground. I’m constantly navigating work/life balance and I wish I’d started that practice at a younger age. This industry often asks us to be machines. Choose humanity.