2015/2016 Season

Behind the Scenes: Exit Strategy’s Set Design

Scenic Designer Andrew Boyce gives us a behind the scenes look at the process of creating the set for Exit Strategy by Ike Holter.

Tell us a little bit about the set design for Exit Strategy.

The play takes place primarily in the teachers lounge of a dilapidated public school in Chicago. So we dove into creating this environment as realistically as we were able. The play asks for that naturalism. I had the opportunity to go and visit some Chicago high schools, take photographs, etc. – so the materials and layout of the space came from that investigation.

What is your favorite part of the set?

It’s hard to pinpoint a singular, favorite part – but I did love wrestling with, and creating all of the little details that add up and round out the verisimilitude of this room. Thinking through the material choices, the right pieces of furniture, set dressing, etc. It was an exercise in specificity and patience in continuing to search.

Tell us a little about the process of designing the set to be used in (and moved between) Philadelphia and The Cherry Lane Theatre in New York.

That was the trickiest part of this process. They are two very different spaces that have different proportions, audience relationships, and design challenges. And tearing down and rebuilding scenery is always tricky – things get beat up, change, need re-configuring. Supporting the play in the two different spaces was an exciting challenge.

The set is quite detailed. What’s something that the audience may not notice right away, but should keep and eye out for when they see Exit Strategy.

Maybe the paper-products in the dressing? The teachers-union announcements, the posters, the recycling directions… [they’re all] straight from the source.


The Primary Stages production of Exit Strategy by Ike Holter is running now through May 6, 2016 at The Cherry Lane Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit our website.

Exit Strategy: Production Photos

A fiery, riveting work from the award-winning writer of Hit the Wall, about the chaotic final days of an urban public high school, Exit Strategy is a taut, edge-of-your-seat drama about the future of public education from a vital new voice in American playwriting.

Primary Stages - "Exit Strategy"

Ryan Spahn and Christina Nieves

Primary Stages - "Exit Strategy"

Ryan Spahn and Aimé Donna Kelly

Primary Stages - "Exit Strategy"

Ryan Spahn

Primary Stages - "Exit Strategy"

Deirdre Madigan

Primary Stages - "Exit Strategy"

Brandon J. Pierce

Primary Stages - "Exit Strategy"

Michael Cullen

Primary Stages - "Exit Strategy"

Christina Nieves

Performances for Exit Strategy run through May 6 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets.


Projection Design: Interview with Alex Basco Koch

Projection Designer Alex Basco Koch shares how he brought Paul Watson’s photography and other design elements to life on stage in The Body of an American. 

Performances for The Body of an American run through March 20 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets.


The Body of An American tells the story of the unlikely friendship between playwright Dan O’Brien and Pulitzer Prize-winning war photojournalist Paul Watson. We thought you might enjoy learning more about these fascinating men.

  • Listen to the interview that started it all! O’Brien first contacted Watson after hearing this interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.
  • Read an excerpt from Paul Watson’s memoir Where War Lives: A Journey Into the Heart of War. (You can purchase a copy here.)
  • O’Brien recently shared some poetry from his new collection, New Life, on our blog. (You can purchase a copy here.)
  • O’Brien’s earlier collection of poems about Watson entitled War Reporter—described in the Guardian as “a masterpiece of truthfulness and feeling”—received the UK’s Fenton Aldeburgh Prize and was shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.
  • This fascinating interview with Watson and O’Brien gives some wonderful background context to their friendship.
  • Paul Watson recently resigned from his post as journalist for the Toronto Star. Read his side of the story in his own words, in “Why I Resigned From the Toronto Star.”

Performances for The Body of an American run through March 20 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets.

Poetry Excerpts from New Life by Dan O’Brien

Dan O’Brien, the playwright of The Body of An American, is also a poet. He generously agreed to share a few of his poems about Paul Watson here on our blog.

The War Reporter Paul Watson Bids His Joy Farewell

Over FaceTime with his son complaining
about math, the cat’s diarrhea, those dire
choral concerts, Paul mentions he’ll be gone
a week or so. So what? ripostes his son
with a wit half his age. Knowing full well
no WiFi is murder. To Syria,
Paul persists. The betrayal. The Youngbloods
on his laptop, We are but a moment’s
sunlight fading in the grass. His joy asks,
Why do you have to? Stay home. Twisting off
-screen to strangle his tears in the window’s
vale of skiers. Paul’s hotel glass unveils
a surf at Bourj Hammoud the squalor of
the scotch in his tumbler. The near-future
will often bleed through. Like this nine-year-old
girl in a hospital because shrapnel
from a mortar bomb pierced the tent and speared
an aluminum vessel like a balloon
atop their space heater. The flaming oil
splashed over her cheek, her arm. Her mother
tried to smother the screaming but only
smeared the searing goo farther. In an ear
that seemed to disappear. Now like a stone
moldered over with the moss of silver
sulfadiazine cream, caked on to ward off
sepsis. Fracturing like plaster. The ungloved
nurses peel the gauze. Assad’s bombardment
reminds the city. The half-deaf girl’s sobs
chasten a crowded hallway. This moment
gets photographed tomorrow. I’ll return
soon, Paul promises. But in case I don’t
make it back, all you’ll need to do is go
up the mountainside and ask the forest
whether to ask out that girl. Ask the rain
how to finesse your mother. Ask the storm
if you can borrow His car. They’re laughing
between their screens. Can you promise? His son
gambles, Fuck off. The song on Paul’s laptop
switches to something less meaningful as
they disconnect.