Caro Meets Theatre Interview

S Asher Gelman: Afterglow

By | Published on Friday 5 January 2024

I was really interested when I heard that ‘Afterglow’ was to be staged in London again this year, following its first production here in 2019, especially as it promises to be a very different experience this time around.

The play, which explores the definition of love and loyalty, and the nature of polyamorous relationships, is the work of S Asher Gelman, who also directs this staging, which follows many years of success for the piece Off-Broadway and around the world. 

I spoke to him ahead of the run at Southwark Playhouse Borough, to find out more about the play and the creative brain behind it. 

CM: Firstly, can you tell us something of the narrative of ‘Afterglow’? Who is it about and what happens to them?
SAG: ‘Afterglow’ is a raw, intimate exploration of the complexities of love and relationships.

It’s a narrative centred around Josh and Alex, a gay, married couple in an open relationship, and the connection they form with Darius, whom they invite to share their bed one night, forcing all three men to navigate the emotional intricacies that arise when physical attraction extends into deeper connections.

This play delves into the journey of its characters as they grapple with the challenges and consequences of their choices, ultimately confronting the reality of their desires and the impact on their lives.

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
SAG: It’s a deep dive into themes of honesty, the nature of relationships, and the consequences of our choices. It dissects the idea of monogamy, fidelity and the societal constructs around relationships.

There’s an acute focus on how personal desires and emotional needs play out in the real world, often leading to unexpected and profound implications. 

Ultimately, it’s about connection and communication, and what happens when it breaks down.

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you want to focus on these themes?
SAG: A decade ago, shortly after my husband and I first opened our relationship, I became involved romantically with another man. 

At the time, my husband and I lacked the experience and vocabulary necessary for navigating these complex feelings and relationship structures, and our marriage almost ended as a result. Fortunately, we were able to work through our pain, which ultimately strengthened our marriage. 

A couple of years later, stemming from a desire to explore the often-uncharted territories of modern relationships, I decided to unpack what happened to us by writing this play. 

I was drawn to the idea of challenging traditional relationship norms and showcasing the beauty and complexity of human connections that defy conventional labels. This play is a reflection of my intrigue with the honesty required in relationships and the courage to confront one’s true desires.   

CM: The play was staged in London back in 2019. Is this latest staging very different from that one? Has the play changed at all?
SAG: This is an entirely different production, in every aspect, from the one that debuted here five years ago. It lives in the abstract, highlighting emotional landscapes over physical ones, and using dance and choreography to explore the depth of human sensuality. 

It has been crafted and honed over these seven years by the original creative team who first came together for the Off-Broadway production in 2017, reunited to build the updated and upgraded Los Angeles production in 2022, and now have all converged again in London for this third evolution of the production that started it all. 

Additionally, as my understanding of polyamory and ethical non-monogamy has evolved – I am romantically committed to both my husband Mati and my partner Stefano – that nuance has been reflected in the script, which I am constantly updating.  

I cannot stress enough, this is an entirely different production; we would not have mounted it here otherwise.

CM: What made you want to direct it yourself?
SAG: I was a director and choreographer long before I became a playwright. As such, I directed the original Off-Broadway and Los Angeles productions, in concert with an incredible team of passionate artists who elevated its source material – my original, exceedingly-flawed script – beyond anything I could have imagined or created all by myself. 

Sending “just the script” across the pond five years ago inherently removed so much of what makes ‘Afterglow’ so special to me. 

So, when the conversation of bringing the play back to London began, it was essential to me that this time we’d bring our entire production, in order to showcase the extraordinary work done over the past seven years by all of my deliriously-talented collaborators.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your cast?
SAG: Our cast is a group of phenomenal artists who have been an absolute joy to work with.  ‘Afterglow’ lives or dies with its cast and, when the chemistry is there, it is magic to behold. 

They have each brought their own unique energy and depth to the production, embracing the complexity of these characters with remarkable sensitivity and courage. They have been the most supportive of each other and the camaraderie they bring into the room each day is truly a gift. 

Their dedication to exploring the nuances of human relationships is evident in their compelling performances. I am exceedingly grateful for the trust they have put into this process, this play, and this production.

CM: And can you also tell us a bit about you? How did you come to be pursuing a career in the arts, was it what you always wanted to do?
SAG: I have always been passionate about the performing arts, particularly dance and theatre, which I see as being inextricably connected. As such, there’s a lot of dance in my theatre and a lot of theatre in my dance.

Playwriting came later to me, driven by a passion for storytelling and a desire to explore the nuance of the human experience. I will never forget the first time I heard ‘Afterglow’ read out loud; I’d created a whole world on my computer, and suddenly all these people in my apartment were talking about these fictional characters as if they were real! 

That’s when I knew I wanted to continue writing plays. I love building worlds with other creators; it gives me immense pride and purpose to do so. This is what I want to do for the rest of my days on this earth.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
SAG: ‘Afterglow’ continues to amaze me. What was originally envisioned as a teeny-tiny, eight-week, Off-Off-Broadway production has since blown up all over the world, with productions from Salt Lake City to Madrid to Chicago to Los Angeles. 

Since the play first opened in 2017, the only calendar year that has not seen a production was 2020 – I don’t need to explain why! 

When we open, we will be joining ongoing Spanish language productions of the play in Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Miami. I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to see this piece staged all over the world. 

Beyond ‘Afterglow’, I would say the absolute highlight of my career has been working alongside the incredible artists I have the pleasure of collaborating with; they fill me with so much joy and consistently restore my faith in humanity.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
SAG: I just want to keep making art. I want to bring people together to explore human stories; to create art that sparks meaningful dialogue and fosters a deeper understanding of the diverse human experience.

In a world that constantly seeks to divide us, it is these stories, these narratives, that ultimately help us find common ground and bring us back together. I want that to be the mark I leave on the world. 

I’d love for my company Midnight Theatricals to have its own theatre one day, so we can have a permanent home for our work.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
SAG: My next play, ‘Scarlett Dreams’, opens Off-Broadway in April.

It is an exploration of our relationship with technology, how it affects our relationships with each other and ourselves, and, ultimately, our relationship with reality. ‘Afterglow’ is to sensuality as ‘Scarlett Dreams’ is to technology.

It is, essentially, a science fiction play, taking place “tomorrow”, tackling our use of social media and the parasocial relationships formed within it, the explosion of artificial intelligence, and our societal progression towards both virtual and augmented realities. 

We plan to bring the play to London in the fall, so watch this space.

‘Afterglow’ is on at Southwark Playhouse Borough from 12 Jan-10 Feb.  For more information and to book tickets see the venue website here.

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