Behind-the-scenes Q & A with the team of "Don’t Give Up the Ship"

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Opening this weekend at Boston’s Fresh Ink Theatre, is the World Premiere of Don’t Give Up the Ship, a new play by Laura Neill. The play is performing at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Plaza Blackbox, in downtown Boston, February 10th-25th. The play follows Diana, a middle-aged mother of two, who wakes up as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the War of 1812. As she faces the challenges of her life in 2017, she embarks on a journey of discovery and finds her true identity. In this interview, I was able to hear from Laura Neill (playwright), Tonasia Jones (Martha), and Alex Alexander (Diana) about the play, the rehearsal process, their thoughts on how this play will resonate with audiences and more. 

Q: How has this play changed during the rehearsal process from when you first finished writing it? 

(LN): “The Fresh Ink process begins with a reading, progresses with a workshop, and then heads into rehearsal. The workshop this August--three days with dedicated actors and my director Joshua Glenn-Kayden--was incredibly useful. Hearing the pages aloud with the actors' talent and Josh's shaping of moments led me to shift the arc of a key character and create a fiery monologue towards the end of the play (stay tuned). In the rehearsal process itself, which began in December, I added two new scenes that expanded character as well as adding, changing, and cutting countless lines within scenes. Hearing lines aloud and seeing how they come alive with actors' voices is the most useful way to know what the play needs.”

Q: How is this play relevant in today's society? 

(LN): “In these times, it's important to remember that courage doesn't mean a lack of fear; it means matching fear with a willingness to overcome. Diana is a woman who finds her courage and stands up against all odds to take control of her own life.”

(TJ): “I think this play is relevant to today's society because it really shows the extremes an older woman, who has all of these "responsibilities" society put on her, has to go to, in order to be herself, and have her family accept her.”  

(AA): “I think we all have places in our lives & our communities right now, where we need to have the passion & commitment to do what it takes no matter what.” 

Q: What drew you to this play when you first read it? 

(TJ): “What first drew me to this play was the amazingly well written, witty writing.  Laura really knows how to make characters in a scene “POP” with their humor.”  

(AA): “I liked how dynamic the play is and how it is a real ensemble piece. All of the relationships are important. And I thought the premise was really creative.” 

Q: When you auditioned for this show, what was the biggest factor that made you want to be a part of it? 

(TJ): “The biggest factor that made me want to be a part of this show was the amazing team of people behind that table. I had worked with Josh (the director) and Jessie (the dramaturg) before, so acting in the auditions was basically like a rehearsal. I came into the room with thoughts and intention. We flipped those on its head, fooled around, explored options that didn't work and options that worked. When I realized Laura and Louise were completely down to play as well, that's when we really started picking up speed and just having fun.  It is one of the few auditions I walked away from just feeling good because of the communication within the room.” 

(AA): “I wanted to be a part of it for a few reasons. One was the fact that I love new work and the process that goes into bringing it to the stage. Fresh Ink is a great company full of smart, creative & professional individuals. Plus, the role of Diana is just such a great combination of acting challenges. Getting to explore being a commander from 1807 is pretty darn fun.” 

Q: What were some the exercises or techniques used during the rehearsal process to help the cast get into character and into the world of the play? 

(TJ): “One technique/exercise I go to, to play MARTHA, is I have a little motto/through line for every scene.  Right before I go onstage I repeat that through line in my head while getting centered.  It really made MARTHA pop from the beginning of the scene and come out the cannon hot and ready.” 

Q: What is your favorite scene or line? 

(LN): “I'm a fan of "Elvis doesn't waltz." But my favorite line is in the last scene, so I don't want to give it away. I'll tell you after the show!”

Q: What is your favorite characteristic of your character? 

(TJ): “That's hard because MARTHA and I are so much alike.....In a scary way. I would have to say my favorite characteristic about MARTHA is that she has this way of just narrowing focus in a professional manner that weeds out all the bull and gets to the pin point of the problem. When it comes to family: that gets warped most of the time to meet her own ends. But you can tell if she uses it in a work experience she would be unstoppable.  Also her humor is on point! Sarcasm out the butt.” 

(AA): [on Diana] “She’s bold & vulnerable all at the same time. She’s in a really critical moment of growth & transition in her life.” 

Q: What makes this play special? 

(LN): “Don't Give Up the Ship is about a woman who uses her imagination to command her life. It's not a story you see every day onstage.”

Q: What parts of this story do you think the audience will relate to most? What will resonate most with audiences? 

(LN): “Every person in this play wants to be loved and accepted for who they are--and it's frustrating when that doesn't happen. I think the audience will relate to having to deal with that frustration and picking the best path forward.” 

(TJ): “I think what will resonate most with audiences is the extremes people go to for the people they love. Most importantly, for the family they love.  This play does a very good job at exploring families and how the person you bump heads with most is the person you are most alike. It's really beautiful that way.”

(AA): “I think that people will resonate with the courageous act of being in and telling your truth no matter how disruptive & difficult the process may be. Also…on a lighter side…love at first sight.” 

Q: What was the scenic design process? What were the most important scenic elements in the play that you knew had to be a part of the production? 

(TJ): “Most important scenic design elements are the nautical props in Diana’s room. I think they all feed into each character’s relationship with Diana in a different way.”  

Q: If you could sum up this play in one sentence, what would it be? 

(LN): “When Diana wakes up as an 1812 war hero, she has new battles to fight in 2017.”

Q: Why should audiences come see this play? 

(LN): “We've got pirates, sweeping romance, family drama, swashbuckling--it'll be an adventure.”

(TJ): “Audiences should come and see this play to realize that we tend to hurt the people specifically that are close to us. We hurt them more because we know what buttons to press.” 

(AA): “First of all, people should come because it’s entertaining & has unexpected twists & turns. It’s sweet & funny & moving. It is full of love and adventure.” 

Special thanks to Laura, Tonasia, Alex and Fresh Ink Theatre for taking the time to give us a behind-the-scenes look at their upcoming production of Don’t Give Up the Ship.

The show runs approximately 90 minutes with one 10 minute intermission and is suitable for an adult audience. Running February 10th-25th with performances Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, and matinees Saturday 2/18 and 2/25 at 2pm. Tickets are General Admission for $25 with matinee performances $25 online or Pay-What-You-Want at the door ($6 min). Groups of 8 or more get $5 off.

For more information or to purchase tickets online visit: or 
Special events for the show include: 

--Post Show Social following the performance on Saturday, February 11th
--Cheap Date Night on Wednesday, February 15th and 22nd - Buy One Ticket, Get One Free, online only with code DATE
--Playwright's Night on Thursday, February 16th and 23nd with a Tootsie Pop Talk following the performance
--Pay-What-You-Want performances ($6 min) on Friday, February 10th and the 2pm matinees on Saturday, February 18th and 25th

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