Inspired by true events, The Den is a psychological thriller following Myna O'Neill, an ambitious New York stage actress, as she navigates a manipulative and toxic relationship with her idol, Jamie Bock. A twisted story of sex abuse behind the scenes of an Off-Bway theatre.
Mission StatementWe aim to shine light on the slimy grey bits lurking in the corners of right and wrong. Slippery abuses of power. A languishing artist's desire to be "one of the greats". And where it can lead. The Den exposes ugly truths in beautiful ways- predominantly featuring women, both on screen and behind it
About The Project
A struggling actress becomes entangled in an abusive relationship with her idol at a cult-like New York theatre company.
FEMALE VANTAGE POINT
As writers and creators, it is important to us that all heads of department be women, as this is a thriller about gender politics which requires a distinctly female voice. Our lead producer, director, and head writer are all female.
Hollywood idealizes victimhood. The narratives of manipulation and abuse in popular media, often characterize women as “perfect victims.” Ironically reinforcing the very narrative they intend to criticize (women as helpless, innocent, powerless naïf).
What if it's more complicated than that? What if the woman has some agency but thinks that she is going to be alright because she's smart, savvy, educated and bold? It could never happen to me, right?
We have written a story that plumbs the depths of the intricacies of gaslighting and, in it, Myna often makes selfish decisions or treads through grey areas in ways that further her own destruction. She is, as people are, imperfect. She is hesitant to speak up, afraid she will be blamed, convinced her own flaws mean she is responsible for her abuse.
The Den is a feature length screenplay, and we are producing a short as a proof of concept.
On the eve of her 30th birthday, Myna O’Neill, an ambitious New York stage actress, attends a life-altering performance at the legendary Den Theatre—her favorite company, one renowned for producing dark, edgy new plays. Later that night, she infiltrates the theater, and finds herself in a chance encounter with Jamie (powerful, charismatic actor and artistic director). Through a delicate dance of deceit and attraction, Myna finds herself cast opposite him, in the role of her dreams.
As rehearsals progress, reality and fiction blur, and Myna and Jamie’s relationship morphs from mentor-student into something much more sinister. Entangled in a perilous off-stage affair, and together searching for the rawest, most truthful performance, their relationship begins to mirror the one they share onstage, where what was once choreographed violence and intimacy becomes so much more than real.
Is Jamie grooming Myna for success or something darker? Is the theatre company a Bacchic blood cult looking for a sacrifice? As he systematically dismantles her boundaries, Myna's only remaining move is to beat him at his own game. …And she may be better at it then he could have ever anticipated…
This slightly surreal American Nightmare explores the following questions: In the world of make-believe, where does imagination end and reality begin? What does a taste of artistic greatness cost? To defeat a monster must you become one? And as The Den Theatre's own motto taunts "What Does The Truth Require"? We aim to ask more questions than we answer, and to wrestle with our idea of "the truth" - what it means in art and in life.
The Den fictionalizes true events that transpired behind the scenes of PROFILES THEATRE in Chicago. A theatre in which Kelsey Ann, our head writer, (Hi, it's me talking here...!) worked for several years. The drama and abuse, onstage and off-- was real. For years, dark, mysterious whispers about this place had percolated through Chicago’s theatre scene, all swirling in particular around one man: co-owner, artistic director, and towering actor. I enrolled in his advanced scene-study class and, ostensibly for my talent and passion, was plucked from among my peers. Privately, he asked me to become an intern, gave me special responsibilities, and promised special consideration for roles. I became a part of "the family". Even so, the rumors continued to ooze, "Don't work there. It's not a good environment for women." Everytime I'd feel unsettled. But in a field in which actresses are often pitted against each other, and there seems to be so few scraps to go around-- I felt... lucky. Eventually the hair on the back of my neck would lie back down. After all.. nothing's ever happened to me. Finally he offered me a leading role — a promiscuous nanny who initiates an affair with her employer, played by the man who’d become my hero. Then, I received a disturbing phone call: a woman—a trusted teacher—in tears, pleading. I was urged to decline, to never work with this man. For once, I listened.
I didn't know it then, but our idol had been conducting illicit, violent sexual relationships with actresses (some as young as 18) for his entire 25-year career at the theatre. He would select a talented young woman, cast her opposite him and begin a meticulous process of isolation, degradation and emotional abuse that would blur the lines between their relationship and the one onstage. Reality became malleable. These women—some of whom I knew— became his playthings, over whom he’d dangle the old refrain: “I'll make sure you never work again.”
I thought I was smarter than this—more aware. I’d seen these productions, considered them brilliant. Despite the warnings, I never let myself suspect him; I had failed to see what was going on in plain sight. More chilling still, I didn’t see that I myself was being groomed, the water at my knees and quickly rising.
The Den is a raw, hard-hitting psychosexual thriller that threatens to swallow the viewer whole.
Set mostly in a black box theatre, we imagine the film to be visually sinister and muscular, with bold saturated color, and a cast of diverse and chaotic characters. For the brutality of abuse to be deeply felt, we endeavor to move beyond the strictly literal and enter into the world of the mythic. The ancient origins of story. The Greek. The Bacchinalian.
Following our heroine through the rich and distinct subculture of theatre artists in grungy pre-#metoo New York, we see the theatre through an eery lens. One that offers no easy answers. Intense. Gripping. Relentless. Bare-knuckles. The same qualities we loved at the Profiles Theatre, flipped on its head.
Our visual language will echo the confusion and misdirection manipulators use to ensnare their quarry. Highlighting the instability of memory and the off-balance way it feels to be gaslit. The sacred, subterranean world of The Den's black box theatre contrasts jarringly with the harsh electric buzz of Manhattan outside. We envision a soundscape that feels religious: rhythmic, pulsating instrumentals.
We want this cautionary tale to reach its audience in time to make a difference. As the world continues to reckon with its complicity in patriarchal power structures, we can make and support stories that challenge that narrative. Good stories. Entertaining stories. Complex, horrifying, female driven stories.
(Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino, 2018)
The Den deals with sexual and emotional abuse, domestic violence, mental health challenges, and abuses of power in the workplace. Our hope is that after watching this film, you feel a little less alone.
With the impact of the deadly Coronavirus, it's no secret that this is a challenging time for creatives. Especially for those on the ground floor, forging a path of their own. Your contribution will go toward supporting these artists. On a practical level, it could mean pay, food, and rent for a professional otherwise out of work. This pandemic threw a wrench in production plans all across the globe. But we are committed to telling this story- with the right strategies, testing, and COVID-safe protocols in place. We hold the safety of our cast and crew as the highest priority.
(Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky)
There are a lot of causes to which you can give your hard earned money. But we believe that one of them, is story. At a time like this, stories are what bind us. Your pledge of support would mean bringing this important story to life. A story inspired by the real experiences of real women whose pain and suffering at Profiles Theatre, was kept in the shadows. You'd be bringing it to the light.
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About This Team
JESSICA AQUILA CYMERMAN (Director) is a director, painter, and co-founder of Untold Wants Theatre. Theatre Directing credits include Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, Cock by Mike Bartlett, The Human Ear by Alexandra Wood, Reasons to be Pretty by Neil LaBute (all Untold Wants), The Gift and Strange Relations (staged reasons, IAMA Theatre, LA), White Ted and the Right to Die by Jo Clifford (RCS, Glasgow): Il Cambiale di Matrimonio by Rossini (Raucous Rossini, Glasgow); The Seagull: A Musical Adaptation (co-writer, Original PRoduction, RCS), The Dream in Which I'm Dying by Nick Pappas (Fraggled PRoductions, LA); Urinetown (Fraggled Productions, LA), Reefer Madness! (SLC), The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? by Edward Albee (SLC); Assistant directed La Rondine by Puccini (dir. Ben Davis, RCS). Assistant directed and associate produced Phantom Owls Production’s productions to the Edinburgh Fringe (2015) 7 shows, including Filthy Talk for Troubled Times be Neil LaBute, Fault Lines by Stephen Belber (dir. Matthew Lillard). She has her BA from Sarah Lawrence College, and MA in directing from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, with training from Shakespeare's Globe, UK. jessicaaquilacymerman.com
KELSEY ANN WACKER (Lead Writer/Myna) is an actor and writer in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a BFA in Acting from the Theatre School at DePaul University, where she was a recipient of the Drama League Scholarship. Theatre credits include: Selena in This Is Modern Art (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), Marie in Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi (The NuBox Theatre), Myna in The Den reading (SoHo Rep), The Retreat (a solo show at The Hive NYC), Not a Criminal (The Drama League), At The Center (Chicago Dramatists), The Time Thief (Normal Ave. Theatre Co.). Writing credits include: The Den (Feature) On Our Way Up (Feature) Pure Fun (Pilot) Carnie Town (Pilot), and Christmas, Florida (Novel). Kelsey Ann is also a voice-over artist, and audiobook narrator. My latest audiobook, Siron: A Kaiju Thriller by S.T. Hoover, is available for purchase Spring 2021! www.kelseyannwacker.com
NATHAN SIMPSON (Co-writer/Sean) is an actor and writer in New York City. Raised in Kansas City, Kansas, he received his BFA in acting from the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago. Theatre credits include Blind Date (Goodman Theatre, dir. Robert Falls), Marie Antoinette (Nubox Theatre), She's Totally Dead (13th St. Rep), The Dungeon (Normal Ave. Theatre), Bury Me In My Leggings (The Tank Theatre), The Western Male (United Solo), and Brothers (Manhattan Rep), among others. Writing credits include The Den (Feature), Gaijin Superstar (Feature), Coyotes (Full-length play), and Pure Fun (Pilot). He is a recipient of the Sarah Siddons scholarship and an alumnus of the British American Drama Academy's Midsummer in Oxford program, where he studied Shakespeare with John Barton, Fiona Shaw, and Peter Francis James. www.nathanesimpson.com
EDEN PERRY (Consulting Producer) Eden currently splits her time as a commercial producer for a small creative agency (the bills!) and as an independent creative producer (the passion!) where she develops scripted projects for film, TV, and digital. Past lives include being a development executive at the former Adaptive studios under their Project Greenlight Digital banner and working as VP of Programming for the Catalyst TV Festival (fka ITV Fest). She has had the great fortune to work with both seasoned and emerging creators and holds a special torch for the underdogs and the hustlers. She has developed & produced creatively with eOne, College Humor, BlackPills, AMC, Amazon and more and has produced content for Disney, Universal, Time Inc., AOL, Epic Records, Snap Inc., RSA, Lincoln, Ford, Lexus, The Trevor Project, and even more. Eden has a Masters in drama from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a BFA in drama & cinema studies from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts. Recent feature film work includes THE BROWSING EFFECT (Gravitas, Amazon Prime) and SLEEPAWAY SLASHER (Rabbit Bandini, EP James Franco). Recent digital series work includes Palomino & Swissy (executive producer Blue Monday/Ben Watkins; Austin Film Festival; Seattle International Film Festival; Winner: Best Writer, Best Director, Series Fest). www.EdenPerryFilm.com