Profile: Ann Arbor’s Toby Tieger play part of Michigan Playwrights Festival


Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s professional theatre with an exclusive focus on new plays and playwrights, presents their semi-annual Michigan Playwrights Festival starting this week. Five new plays by Michigan playwrights will be given readings starting today (Wednesday).

One of those playwrights stepping on this type of stage for the first time is Ann Arbor’s Toby Tieger.

“I’ve been writing plays since I was in college (11 years), but this is the first full-length play I’ve ever had read by a professional theatre company,” says Tieger, whose play “Some Assembly Required” hits the Theatre Nova stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 9.

I’m really excited about it,” he said. “While I technically have a few other full-lengths packed away, I hope that those never see the light of day so I more or less consider this to be my first full-length play.”

“Some Assembly Required” requires not giving too much away about the story.
“A lot of the fun of the story comes from its surprises,” says Tieger. “But the play begins with a woman talking with a missionary on her doorstep who won’t go away, and suddenly she finds herself trapped in her living room with her ex-husband who she hasn’t seen in more than 20 years.

“The beginning is very much riffing on ‘No Exit,’ though the play is actually more written as my response to ‘Rebel Without A Cause.’”

In a nutshell, it’s “a fantasy about the process of grief, though hopefully it’s funny throughout.”

Directed by Terie Spencer, “Some Assembly Required,” features Maggie Gilkes, Eddie Rothermel, Jim Snideman, and Ansley Barnard.

Tieger, 30, went to the University of Chicago and studied English literature.

“I deeply love theater,” he says. “I’ve been going to see shows since I was really young, probably 7 or 8. At this point, I try to go see at least two productions every week. I’ve been doing this, semi-consistently, for the last 10 years.

“I think that stories are one of the ways we make sense of our world, so my main goal for a while has been to get better at crafting compelling stories. And I think that the medium of theater, when a show is good, can have an immediacy and a cathartic impact for an audience that’s more significant than television or movies since the actors are live.”

Tieger wants to create a real experience for the audience, one that is much more alive and impactful.

“Watching actors perform in an intimate setting is a much more communal experience than watching a show on Netflix, or even going to see a film at a movie theater,” he says.

Tieger thinks of a compelling play as being well-structured with a story that offers surprises with moments of beauty and larger themes but rooted in personal interactions. He likes plays that stay true to its emotional core.

“Writing something that successfully checks all those boxes consistently is really hard for me,” he said. “The reward is hopefully writing something that entertains other people. And if you’re lucky and you’re good enough, you can potentially also write something that moves folks in a way that lasts beyond the evening that they see the show.”

Tieger’s short play, “Dignity,” was produced as part of the 2018 Detroit Fringe Festival. He also organized the Ann Arbor Pub Reading series with PencilPoint TheatreWorks last summer; and he co-led the November Playwrights Bake-Off.
He’s also written a 10-minute play, “The Orphan Queen and the Troll,” that he wrote for Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s festival a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s a comedy about a woman meeting a man who has a history of being possessed every few weeks, a disorder that he inherited from his family,” Tieger said.

For more on the Michigan Playwrights Festival:

For a feature story on Ann Arbor playwright Skyler Tarnas:

Profile: Ann Arbor’s Skyler Tarnas presents his new play at Michigan Playwrights Festival  

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