The Front Row: Hub Theatre Group's "Blackbird"

Sep 6, 2017

On this episode of The Front Row, Clint Barrick sits down with the Executive Director of Hub Theatre Group, Bob Chanda, to discuss their upcoming production of David Harrower's "Blackbird." Read highlights from the interview and listen to the full piece.

Tell us about Hub Theatre Group. You’ve been around for several years right?

Yeah we’ve been around for a decade. We’ve been here for a while. I founded it in 2007 and one of the reasons was that there were a lot of plays that I really wanted to do that I thought were important to my artistic endeavors, and so I decided to found my own theater and pursue some of these works. And we’ve been at it for ten years. We don’t do a lot of productions but whenever I come across a play that I think is incredibly important, or really touches me in some way that is significant to me, from an artistic standpoint, I tend to then raise the money and do that play. So, that’s what we’ve been about. We do small, mostly award-winning plays that speak to the human condition in as compelling a way as possible. And that’s sort of what we’ve done over the years. So we haven’t done much work—I think this will be our tenth or eleventh play—but we invest a lot of heart into the work that we do do.

Tell us a bit more about that. Your plays do seem to fall outside the mainstream. You spoke to that, it seemed like you wanted to do things that touched you personally that you felt were important to do.

Yes, and in some ways I try to find things that I think are important for the community. So, Texas Tech will be doing a production of “Next to Normal,” a musical about bipolar disorder. We did it in 2012 when it first came out. We were one of the first non-professional companies to get the rights to that show, but we thought it was a wonderful way to intersect with people who are actually suffering in our community. I wrote a companion piece called from interviews I did within the community and we called it, "Voices from Lubbock and Beyond," and we did a little performance before each of those shows that sort of brought the voices of those suffering here in Lubbock.

Recently we did disgraced about Islamaphobia and racism and some of these issues, and I thought it was an important one to connect with the community. So we did a talk-back with a panel. We were amazed. We had a sold-out show and were amazed and the sort of conversations that came up when we brought these community leaders in to talk with the audience. So we think that this play is along a similar vein. It deals with a topic that very few of us want to think about and is very difficult. But as I’m working with, and talking to professionals in this area, we have a big problem in this community—and communities across America—but particularly this community, with the issues that the play brings up. So we’re also going to do some talk-backs. In some senses we try to pick plays that give us an opportunity to address things that are happening in our community and maybe give a chance for some community members and community leaders to have a bit of a voice in discussing these issues.

The play is “Blackbird” by David Harrower. How did you come across this play?

I was looking for a play that is a small cast, that has compelling themes. And I ran across this maybe a couple years ago and I read it and thought, "this is extremely controversial." I put it on the back burner. I read it again and then I gave it to my wife, who is my partner in crime and an amazing artist in her own right. So I was like, “can you read this and see,” and she came back and was like, “yes, this is a difficult play, but we should do it.” So, it’s been on the back burner for a while and I had to think about it. But I think the time is right for it and we’re doing it.

Give us a brief synopsis of the play and some of the issues that it brings up.

The play begins with a woman, about 26, who has come to see a man, who is about 55 or 56, at his place of work. She’s there to confront him. They’re both uncomfortable. What we find out is that he had had sexual relations with her when she was 12. He had gone to prison for that and he had changed his name after he got out of prison and is working at this particular work place and she shows up. The whole play is them, sort of rehashing their personal history, so as you can imagine it’s painful, compelling, difficult to watch, sometimes funny, sometimes touching. But the issues are very stark in this play, in other words, the playwright is uncompromising. What you see is two people who fall back into patterns of behavior that were disruptive in the past, unresolved things, things that were never dealt with when they should have been dealt with. And so there’s the discomfort. I think the wonderful thing about this play is, I know I went into this dismissing this issue, thinking, well I know the kind of men who do this, and the kind of young girls who are vulnerable. It’s over there and I know what this is about.

What this play forces you to examine is the fact that these things can happen where you least expect them. The abuser can be a kind and charming man. The abused child may actually be in love with the abuser. That is very difficult for me. It was difficult for the actors, me and Melissa Miller—who’s a wonderful actress—to navigate. But we’re going to be uncompromising with it, which is why I feel we have a responsibility to provide talk-back sessions after our Saturday evening performances, because I think we need to unpack and discuss these issues. But the play is the kind of play that I really like, it doesn’t pull punches, it’s everything theater should be. Theater can be entertaining, it can be fun. But I like theater—and people who like Hub Theatre Group productions like theater that’s visceral, that sometimes hits you in the solar plexus. Sometimes it makes you think about things that you may not want to think about. But in the end it shines a light on the human condition, the human heart, the human psyche, human pain. In a way it’s much more visceral than movies. That’s why I love theater, something is happening to someone right in front of you in real time. So I think that this kind of play is ideal to fulfill the greatest role of theater.