Assisting Lamar Perry, CTC fellow Scout Davis lends tender touch to ‘Animals Out of Paper’

Scout Davis was raised by theater.

The directing fellow for Chautauqua Theater Company’s 2022 season was introduced to stage lights and swooping curtains by their parents at a young age. Their aunt was a scenic artist, and their late uncle was a stage manager who co-authored The Backstage Handbook: An Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information.

Davis went to grade school with the children of prominent theater artists; the siblings’ father was John Rubinstein — who originated the role of Pippin on Broadway — and their mother was a Fosse dancer.

“I was dropped off at their home at the age of 5 or 6, and I was really thrust into this beautiful world of family and making theater through family, and what that means,” Davis said. “That’s always been ingrained in me from a really young age.”

From performing to choreographing and now directing, Davis has stayed true to their theater roots. As a directing fellow, they assist on all of CTC’s mainstage productions. 

Davis is currently assistant director for Lamar Perry on Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph, a three-person play that examines the relationships between people who are moving through hurt and loss. Ilana is a brilliant origamist who feels creatively stymied in the midst of her divorce. High school teacher Andy and his student Suresh enter her orbit, and the three collide with one another in a meditation on healing. Animals Out of Paper continues its CTC run at 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 at Bratton Theater.

Inspired by the familial mode of theater-making they encountered in their childhood, Davis studied an ensemble-driven approach to creation throughout their education at Pace University and master’s program at Carnegie Mellon University. They prioritize a collaborative spirit and the humanity of artists.

“Whether it be directing, programming, or producing, what it means to bring people together in a room — and the preciousness and care that’s necessary to make those rooms see all of us in our multitudes — has been the name of the game while I’m formulating my next steps,” Davis said.

Davis is focused on supporting director Perry’s vision for Animals Out of Paper.

“I’m really coming in first and foremost actively listening to what has generally been created as the foundation of this, and helping support what feels in conversation with that,” Davis said. “It’s about really listening to Lamar’s sense of delicacy when working with this piece, really having this work laid down with a foundation of really clear tactics and objectives and motivations for all of these characters, and to have a sense of crystal-clear clarity, and really helping shape all of that.”

Perry said that Davis has been a valuable and wonderful collaborator as they move through the process together.

“Scout has just been my eyes and my ears,” Perry said. “I think as we’ve been figuring out how to work on different moments and work on scenes and lines, how to divvy up the work, they’ve been such a resource and such a gift to have in the room with me. I’m really looking forward to continuing to collaborate with them in the future.”

When Davis describes the play, they use words like “fragility” and “tenderness” to capture the intense emotions and fraught relationships between the characters, and each individual’s journey of healing their fractured hearts. Andy is an ardent admirer of Ilana’s work from afar, and he struggles to forge meaningful connections with others, while Suresh is coping with the recent death of his mother.

“I think it’s a really beautiful, fragile little show, which is not surprising knowing the material at hand (deals with) working with paper,” Davis said. “That really is connected, I think, in terms of where these characters are at in  this moment in time, how they try and interact with one another, and their own sense of fragility, and always kind of being at odds with one another.”

Davis noted that Joseph recently expanded upon the rich material of 2008’s Animals Out of Paper in a companion piece, Letters of Suresh, which premiered fall 2021.

“This is a world and a narrative that I think is continually open for additional mining, which is just exciting to be inside of and find a multitude of possibilities for,” Davis said.

Perry chose to reposition the story of Animals Out of Paper with intentional casting, specifically casting Ilana as a Black woman for the first time ever. Imagining worlds outside of white supremacy is an overarching focus of Perry’s work. Davis said that casting choice enriches the narrative, particularly with regard to who is deemed worthy of grace.

“It’s really being helmed into a new direction by looking at it through a new lens,” Davis said. “The character Ilana being played by a Black ,femme-identifying individual really enlarges and expands on a conversation around repair and healing, bringing it into a much more rich and beautiful space.”

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The author Ellen E. Mintzer

Ellen E. Mintzer is the theater beat reporter for The Chautauquan Daily this summer. She recently earned her Master of Arts in arts journalism and communications from Syracuse University. As a freelance arts and culture journalist, she’s written reviews and features about theater, opera, dance, film and more. Ellen loves weird niche comedy, psychological horror and provocative contemporary theater. (A Strange Loop is the best work of art she saw this year.) She is absolutely thrilled to be spending her summer in Chautauqua and covering its theatrical offerings and beyond.