Making of “Self Defense, or death of some salesmen”

24 Oct , 2016  

Playwright Carson Kreitzer’s Self Defense, or death of some salesmen is the Department of Theatre’s second production of the season. It tells the story of a woman who has been convicted of killing seven men; she claims that she killed them all in self-defense. In her preface, Kreitzer writes, “This play is dedicated to Aileen Wuornos, and all those whose names we don’t know.” The following are some behind-the-scenes conversations on the making of the Studio 115 production of Self Defense, or death of some salesmen.


Production Team

Alexandra Harbold (Director)

“When I was asked to direct Self Defense, or death of some salesmen, I immediately fell in love with Carson’s script – its questions, velocity, scalpel wit, and compassion. The play makes pendulum swings; a scene will cut to the bone then torque with unexpected theatricality. Studio 115’s three-quarter stage allows for an intimacy and immediacy of the work, and we worked to find a kinetic staging to serve the script in that space.  As a Cast and Creative Team, we stayed in a state of experimentation much longer than usual, which allowed us to develop the visual and aural language of our play-world over time.”

“The production is many drafts and layers deep because of their ongoing exploration and investment. Working on Self Defense, or death of some salesmen often felt more like rehearsing a devised theatre piece than on a traditional script. Although it is an established play, I felt it shape-shift with the casting of the ensemble and the particular demands and advantages of the space. This production feels like our very particular telling of Carson Kreitzer’s play. Throughout the process, Carson’s dedication in the play’s preface has been our compass star: attention must be paid.”

Zoe Fetters (Costume Designer)

“The first thing I do as a costume designer is read the play. Then, I read it again. I probably read the play about 40 times to truly understand it. Then I do visual research and talk to the director about their vision for the show. For this play I tried to take ideas of the 80s and 90s and integrate them subtly to the piece. I did research for individual characters to find their visual story. I always want it to look like the costume pieces would come from each specific character’s closet. When I design I start broad and then narrow it down. For this production I found old magazines from the 80s and 90s and found my inspiration from there. Designing Self Defense, or the death of some salesmen stretched a design muscle for me on how artistic I can be.”

Cate Heiner (Dramaturg)

“A dramaturg builds the historical background for a piece of drama by making sure the story is clear and consistent. The first thing I do when starting a new production is get in touch with the director and talk about the concept. Then I do research and make a packet of information to help the actors. For this show I researched the law and sexual violence. After doing that research I discovered how rape and sexual violence are treated in the court system is extremely unfair. It was interesting to see how all of the pieces of Self Defense, or the death of some salesmen came together. One of the most challenging things about being the dramaturge for this production is the more we unpacked it the more we realized it really isn’t about Aileen Wuornos. It is about how other people and people of the court systems respond to sexual assault, rape and violence towards women.”



Isabella Reeder (Jo Palmer)

“The rehearsal process for this show was a great mix of table work, movement-based exercises like ‘flocking’ and ‘Suzuki’, and playing with the set pieces pretty early on in the process. Particularly with the flocking work, it’s been a wonderful gift to see how all of us in the company have come together to grow and trust one another, which I think is so integral in a show that deals with the themes that Self Defense, or death of some salesmen does. These exercises have been incredibly helpful in this show, not only define character and relationships, but also to increase my own awareness of the kind of staging that needs to takes place in Studio 115. My character, Jolene Palmer, is based on the real-life first female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos.  The most interesting part about playing my character has been diving into the personality, drive, and story of the actual woman. When I first started researching Aileen Wuornos, I expected to come up with an embittered, violent woman, but was surprised to find that she was actually a very loving, charismatic—and moreover, incredibly intelligent—individual. I love the collision of themes in this play: justice, shame, and hope in a kind of metaphorical (and at times, physical) courtroom; being able to hear the voice and points of views of women who are usually silenced in our everyday reality. It’s a very muscularly logical play, but it has such a deep vein of humanity running through it, which makes it all the more powerful.”


Cece Otto (Lu)

“Working with Andra has been awesome. She makes you feel like a star and like you are in a safe space. Being in my first show at the U is nice and scary at same time. I feel like I have been out of practice the last few years; I haven’t performed for the public at the U and have been undercover, hiding, learning technique freshman and sophomore years. In the last two years in the ATP we focused a lot on the voice work, which was something I had never done before. Learning how to speak properly and following arguments are important and are helping me in this production. Something that I discovered in this show is that sometimes the bold choice isn’t always the loud choice. This show is very ensemble-heavy, unique, and it is a female-based show. People should come see it because it’s fun. It is full of strippers and prostitutes. What more could you want?!”


Alex Coltrin (Prosecutor/Cameraman/Cop)

“This is my first time working with Andra, and it has been interesting. She’s not like any other director I have worked with. She has been hands-on since the beginning. In this production, we have spent more time discovering the world vs. discovering characters. Being in a contemporary show like this has been fun, because it is easier to relate to. I love the movement work and ensemble work we have put into this show. It has a Greek chorus feel and is very compelling to watch. This show has a new take on storytelling, and is not told like any other play I’ve seen. Self Defense, or death of some salesmen is a different kind of show for our department to do, and there is a lot of new talent in the show because of the number of sophomores in the cast.”


Kelsey Jensen (Cassandra Chase/Pandora/Reporter/Corner 4)

“Working with Andra has been great; she pays attention to every little detail. She wants the best for every person in the cast and wants them to be the best they can be. Being in my first production at the U, I feel like all my hard work from my classes the last two years finally gets to pay off. One of the most challenging things in this show has been diving in and finding the back-story for each character. Finding out who a character is and why they’re speaking, and what each word means. People should come see this show because it shows how corrupt the justice system can be. It is also very visually appealing; there are so many cool tech elements. The show is fast-paced so the audience will be on the edge of their seats the whole time.”


Bailey Walker (Daytona/Jean/Muse)

“The rehearsal process for this show has been awesome! We’ve been experimenting a lot with movement and the world of this non-linear play. Working with Andra on this production has been absolutely amazing!!! She has such a creative mind and is constantly looking at how to incorporate movement to help move the storyline. She is so passionate about this play; on her time off she was sending us research, inspiration, or working with cast members who want to work more outside of rehearsal. Self Defense, or death of some salesmen has a story that is very relevant to today’s society: how we perceive the truth, gender roles, sexual assault, and how the media portrays all of these things.”


Make sure to catch Self Defense, or death of some salesmen in Studio 115 while you can! This thrilling play is a must see.

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