Deeply fascinated

Jo Yang during a rehearsal of Endlings Photo by Jonathan CarrDirector Sammi Cannold HGSE '16 talks about the pool that is 40-feet deep and the women's story at the center of the new play Endlings at American Repertory Theater.

By Truelian Lee ’21

When audience members sit down for Endlings, running through March 17 at American Repertory Theater, one of the first objects they’ll see is a pool that is 40-feet deep and weights the “equivalent of three elephants.”

“When you’re putting weight that is equivalent to three elephants on the floor of the stage that is not build to hold that weight, you have to make sure the floor doesn’t collapse. The physics of it is very tricky,” said the play's director Sammi Cannold HGSE '16.

But the play, by Celine Song, has a weighty story to tell. 

Wai Ching Ho in rehearsal for Endlings Photo Jonathan Carr
Actor Wai Ching Ho in rehearsal for "Endlings" Photo by Jonathan Carr

Endlings is about three elder Korean haenyeos who are among the last sea women to harvest seafood by free-diving in deep waters. The play connects this story to the life of a Korean Canadian playwright living in Manhatten and grappling with how to portray her heritage authentically and fairly.

“I read the play and was floored immediately," said Cannold. "I remember where I was sitting. I remember just being so deeply fascinated by the lives of these women, and at the same time so excited by how to tell their story theatrically.” 

[Cannold and Song will be the visiting artists for an OFA ArtsBites free pizza, dinner and discussion, in partnership with A.R.T, on Feb. 25 at OFA -- open to all undergrads.] 

Cannold was also drawn to seeming impossibility of reproducing the “complicated physical element” of the sea on stage.

The 40-feet-deep pool is similar to an aquarium so that the viewers see into the underwater world as opposed to looking at them from above. Plans for the design underwent multiple revisions. Although Cannold received recommendations to use blue silk or projections to mimic the sea, she yearned for the real deal.

“There’s something critical in this story about having water on the stage," she said. "I wanted to find the way to produce this play as naturalistically as possible. So we designed seven versions of the set and moved the set from a dream version to a version that fit reality.”

Cannold started working on Endlings a year and a half ago. A year ago, she and Song brought on Jason Sherwood, a set designer who creates “epic and massive pieces” and is “not afraid of being bold” – as Cannold put it.

Actor Jiehae Park and director Sammi Cannold in rehearsal for Endlings
Actor Jiehae Park and director Sammi Cannold in rehearsal for "Endlings" Photo by Jonathan Carr
The story itself reflects a boldness that Cannold and Song thought of as "gospel" from the beginning. 

“This play is claiming real estate in theater for these women whose stories are currently being told on stage – and all the questions that get brought up in terms of race and origin," said Cannold. "It’s complicated conversation, but it’s one that I think the play does beautifully.”

For students who plan to go into theater and specifically directing, Cannold recommended getting more involved in innovative theater productions in places such as A.R.T.

“It is such a breeding ground of unbelievably exciting work. I guess I’m a bit biased,” said Cannold, who was an intern at the Harvard-based theater. “If you were to take a survey of all the young people working on Broadway right now, and you were to ask them where they came from, a huge percentage of them would have come out of the A.R.T., because you get exposure to artists who are working at the top of their craft.”

The OFA ArtsBites event was made possible by generous support from the Clifton Family Fund and the Dawn Clifton Tripp Literary Artists Fund administered by the Office for the Arts.