In 2017, writer-director Tina Satter came across a New York Magazine article about Reality Winner, the former Air Force linguist and intelligence contractor who had been arrested earlier that summer. In 2018, Winner pleaded guilty to leaking top-secret government information—a classified report about Russian interference in the 2016 election—and is currently serving a five-year sentence in prison.
This fall, Vineyard Theatre presents Satter's Is This A Room, a new play adapted from and inspired by the internal FBI transcript (made available online) for the interview with Winner that would eventually lead to her arrest.
When Satter read the transcript, she was immediately struck by the theatricality of it, by the human drama—between an intelligent, complicated woman and the two agents questioning her in her home—unfolding in real time on the page.
“It felt like a play to me,” says Satter. “[At first], Reality lies to the agents so on first read, I kept thinking, ‘I know she’s in jail and that she’s caught at some point, but how does it happen?’ It felt like a thriller to me. The kind of thriller in which a young woman is at home alone in her house.”
“The level of language in it [also interested me]," says Satter. "The transcript captured all the stutters and ‘ums’, the coughs and sneezes. As a conceiver-director, that felt very rich.”
Satter sent the transcript to actor Emily Davis (the two had previously collaborated on a number of occasions through their theatre company, Half Straddle), and together they began to explore the possibility of turning the interview into a piece for the stage.
“In reading the transcript, I immediately knew how she sounded,” says Davis, who, like Winner, is from Texas. “Her posturing, her sensibilities, her sense of humor. [Through] only using the language [of the transcript] to figure out how to build this character, I found a lot of ways in.”
While Satter and Davis have corresponded with Winner, they decided from the beginning to approach the transcript like "a canonical text," which meant deciphering what they could from what was on the page.
“We didn’t want to be beholden [to the real interview]” says Satter. “It’s not a physical reenactment [of the interview] as we have to make it hold for an hour as a theatrical performance.”
As a theatrical performance, the show, which was first seen Off Off-Broadway earlier this year at The Kitchen, captured the attention of The Vineyard. The Off-Broadway theatre immediately slotted the production into its 2019 fall opening.
Performances of Is This A Room begin October 3 ahead of an October 21 opening. Becca Blackwell, Pete Simpson, and TL Thompson complete the cast.