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Inside the Rehearsal Hall: An Actor’s Take on New Plays

Linda Gehringer as Bette in THE COMPARABLES. Photo by Alabastro Photography

Linda Gehringer as Bette in THE COMPARABLES. Photo by Alabastro Photography

 

Literary Director, Kristin Leahey, interviews The Comparables actor Linda Gehringer, who portrays Bette, on working on new plays…

KL: You’ve been with the Comparables since its inception. What made you stay on the ride?

LG: This particular play, I just thought it was fun, and it spoke to me. The language has an original thought and rhythm, which was really exciting.  I’ve never played anyone quite like Bette, but I’ve played those women who are basically unsympathetic to an audience, and you have to commit to their outrageousness in a way.

This particular process was unique because

[playwright] works in the room, and I’ve never quite experienced that. When we were at the OJAI Festival in California, she was right there! And she was writing, and talking to [director] Braden [Abraham] in the room, and talking to us, and that made it particularly stimulating.  For my own character, Bette hasn’t changed a lot since the beginning. Bette was always Bette, and a lot of her language never changed. It was like that was the thing that was in place and the other two women and their journey around it changed a lot.

It’s just always really exciting when you’re creating something. I’d also say I feel an enormous responsibility, that I always feel more nervous because it’s in our hands the first time we deliver it. Especially at OJAI that very first time, you know that could be the reason that it goes on. So the responsibility that you have to a new play is exciting but sort of terrifying in a way.

KL: What was your collaboration with Cheyenne Casebier (Monica) and Keiko Green (Iris) and Braden like?

LG: We were always comfortable with each other from the beginning; it was always a very free room. I feel like Braden always gave me free reign, it always felt so comfortable and so unedited, which in a way Bette has to be—if you had someone who was in any way making you feel self conscious, it just wouldn’t work.

KL: You’ve worked so much in TV, in film, in theatre—what excites you about getting able to work out different muscles, what draws you to certain projects?

LG: I always say that if someone said you could only do one, I would do the theatre because I think I would be lost without it in my life. It requires so much of you, your whole body, your whole voice— it’s more athletic than working for film.

That being said, I find working in front of a camera very interesting. Your thoughts have to be so clear, it sort of gets inside of you. It’s remaining in the moment and it gets crystalized just to this moment between you and someone else. But  I find the different mediums feed one another—I remember the first time I was in front of a camera it taught me more about thoughts as opposed to expressions. Working in the theatre, you’re so concerned with getting it out. I learned the first thing to know is your thoughts because you can’t really get lost, and it makes sense as you memorize words, because you’ve already memorized the thoughts.

LG: One of the joys of my life is the relationships I have with playwrights. And it really changed because I used to be the person that just did classical theatre or the play that was just done in New  York, I did a lot of that in my life. And it started changing, I just started having these relationships with Bill Cain, Rolin Jones, Annie Weisman –  I did three of her shows – and Julia Cho – I did two of her premiers.

KL: Which of Julia’s did you work on?

LG: I worked on The Language Archive and The Piano Teacher

KL: I love both of those plays! She’s such an interesting and wonderful voice. And what an interesting group of writers you’re working with, too!

LG: That’s what I mean with all those relationships with writers, they feed me as a person, not just as an actor. I get to get inside their minds and see things from their perspective. I applied for a grant, my proposal was that I would study the other side of the table, so I would sit in on conversations with playwrights and dramaturgs and directors and get to hear those conversations. I thought it would be interesting to learn what they think or what they need and want—I have my own opinions, don’t get me wrong, about new plays, but I thought it would be interesting and important to get their voices, too. I think for myself it could’ve been so interesting because I so love talking to dramaturgs and directors; I love getting inside their brains.

KL: I think on the other side of the table too, we love talking to actors. Those conversations are invaluable. And I would love to take a class with you, do you teach? I love the idea of you creating  a master class about new plays from the performer’s point of view!

LG: When a playwright is working on a new play, they spend hours choosing specific words and phrases—so it’s not just about you – the actor. It’s not just about your character—you are telling a story, and if I taught class, that’s what I’d teach.

Another class I cooked up was empowering the playwright and your fellow actor, so when an actor looks at the script it’s not just what do I want but what does that other character need from you. Sometimes it’s as simple as setting up a joke, that you need that clarity of words needs to be there for someone else. That’s a simplistic view, but it can be really important. And also your responsibility to the story—what parts of the story do you have? So it’s not just about your mannerisms or your feelings, but there’s story there first and foremost that needs to march out there. But when you’re inside that, you need guidance because you don’t know what’s making itself clear and what isn’t.

A Party Beyond Compare: CLUB 20/30’s Annual Party in the Wings

PitW_FBPost_031815

The following post was written by Marketing Intern, Amelia Peacock.

Get out your high-end attire and highest heels because Party in the Wings is back and ready to sink its teeth into The Comparables! On Saturday, March 28, theatre-goers in their 20s and 30s are invited to attend a performance of the show that has all of Seattle talking about three feminine forces of nature working at an upscale real estate agency. After the show, attendees will move backstage for an after party with enough luxe to rival Scenic Designer Carey Wong’s lavish set.  (Read more about The Comparables set here.

Wong’s set is one aspect of this year’s party that Megan Lindell, Marketing Coordinator and Party in the Wings planner, is most excited about. “Carey also designed the set for Boeing Boeing in 2013 and he was, without a doubt, the life of Party in the Wings that season. He had a blast talking to our CLUB 20/30 members about his design and was grinning from ear to ear all night! I can’t wait to walk around his latest masterpiece.”

A palatial study in steel and veneer laced with a little theatre magic, The Comparables set is built in forced perspective with a stage that is raked forward to bring the action closer to the audience. Party in the Wings attendees will have the opportunity to walk in the characters shoes – literally – experiencing first-hand what it’s like to navigate a sloped stage in heels while still looking fierce.

“The whole staff looks forward to Party in the Wings every year,” said Sarah Jo, Patron Services Office Manager and CLUB 20/30 Patron Service Specialist. “Working at Seattle Rep, we interact with these shows every day, but it’s always exciting to see what our patrons think. Party goers enjoy talking to the cast, crew and designers, but they also love talking to staff members about what they do at the Rep. It’s a good time for everyone involved!”

Want to join the fun? There’s still time to order your tickets! A $65 ticket includes the following perks:

  • Pre-show drinks (signature cocktail, beer, wine)
  • Ticket to the 7:30 p.m. performance of The Comparables. The balcony is held with exclusive open seating just for party-goers.
  • Ticket to the after-party “in the wings” of the Rep stage complete with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and music.

To purchase tickets, visit our website or call Sarah Jo, CLUB 20/30 Patron Service Specialist, at 206.443.2222 ext. 1087.

Want to become a member of CLUB 20/30? Learn more here.

 

“Boys will be Boys” and Women will be Women…

Keiko Green, Cheyenne Casebier and Linda Gehringer in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s The Comparables. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

Keiko Green, Cheyenne Casebier and Linda Gehringer in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s The Comparables. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

The following post was written by Literary & Casting Associate, Kaytlin McIntyre.

Audiences may draw comparisons between The Comparables by Laura Schellhardt and David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, which was produced at Seattle Rep in 2010, directed by Wilson Milam, who is helming Outside Mullingar this April. The 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mamet follows vicious real estate agents as they lie, cheat, and manipulate to sell, sell, SELL! We are fascinated by these men, as we engage in the suspense and relatability of the setting and story.

But are female characters allowed to express the same behavior? There are fewer roles for women in theatre, television, and film; we don’t often see plays with female protagonists who are grappling with issues that are not romantic in nature. The Bechdel Test (named after this cartoon by Alison Bechdel), examines how women are portrayed in film. For a film to pass the test, two named female characters must talk to each other about anything other than a man. Similar to the world of film, not many plays – classical or contemporary – would pass. Perhaps, because we see so few female characters onstage (a fact Laura Gunderson explores in her article “Theater’s Audiences Are Mostly Female: Why Not the Roles?”), it’s even more challenging to see them in a less than flattering light.  We often enjoy seeing ambitious men and their machinations, but how do we feel about seeing women of a comparable nature?

We can cite many examples of powerful, independent women acting outside of societal norms, but are selfless and not self-motivated.  Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, for instance, is a famous outsider, austere, friendless and a little spooky. But she’s also extremely ethical and always concerned with doing what is right. When self-serving ambition enters the equation, the resourceful woman quickly becomes villainous. Nurse Ratched in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has all the makings of a fascinating female in power but is never discussed with the same nuance as Iago from Othello. Edna from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House are two unhappy females that walk away from motherhood and their marriage. Their embracement of independence casts them out of society. Part of the reason we indulge in fiction is to see heightened situations where characters take leaps that we fear making ourselves and to watch what fictional consequences befall them.

We all know “boys will be boys,” but what happens when women are actually women? Can we treat those characters with the same fascination and amusement we treat the men in Glengarry Glen Ross? Or must women be nice, which perhaps is different than being good?

What did you think of The Comparables?

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Poetry Speaks: A Sneak Peek At the Dear Elizabeth Speak Up! Event

The poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell make the perfect decor for our lobby!

The poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell make the perfect decor for our lobby!

 

The following post was written by Marketing Intern Amelia Peacock. 

This Saturday, March 7, Seattle Repertory Theatre will host Postmarked from a Foreign Land: Seattle Reads Bishop and Lowell an event celebrating the gorgeous language of the two poets who have graced our stage for the past month in Dear Elizabeth. A group of regional poets and scholars including Karen Finneyfrock, Rachel Kessler, Sierra Nelson, Sarah Cohen, Andrew Feld, Chelsea Jennings, Susan Rich and Dianne Aprile will read and respond to their favorite works by Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

Postmarked is the most recent offering in the Rep’s Speak Up! series. Throughout the season, Associate Artistic Director Marya Sea Kaminski has been hard at work developing programming that heightens the artistic experience by encouraging interactive dialogue between audience and experts.

I sat down with Marya to chat about the Speak Up! program, the future of community engagement at the Rep and, most importantly, what to look forward to in this Saturday’s poetry reading.

ASP: How would you define the Speak Up! program? How do you hope it will grow and change for future seasons?

MSK: The Speak Up! program was established well before my time here, but I have found it be an excellent forum for our audiences to discuss the deeper themes and content in a play and how these elements resonate in the community. The series always stays rooted in the art itself, but continues to evolve to incorporate academics and community leaders in a really robust way.

There is a beautiful pattern we have established of holding a community event following each Saturday matinee where patrons can spend the afternoon with us seeing the show, spending some time talking and connecting with each other, then leaving the theatre in time for dinner. I want to continue this trend of meaningful patron interaction with Seattle Repertory Theatre and the art we produce onstage.

The upcoming Dear Elizabeth poetry reading offers a deeper look into the work of the poets and their distinct voice that audiences will not necessarily gain from watching the play. In other words, I hope that this event will add value and context to how audiences experience the production.

Moving forward, I want to explore how to engage the content and themes of each play even more profoundly. Post-play discussions like this should take the conversation deep down into the “art” and unearth the challenging questions.

ASP: What is your favorite part about community events like those in the Speak Up! program? Why are these types of events so important?

MSK: I’m always excited to hear how others respond to a play, especially people with non-theatre backgrounds. Longtime audience members bring a certain savviness to the art and a legacy of theatre-going experience. When you engage with people who are new to theatre, they tend to deal with the content in a much more grounded way – they have nothing to compare it to.

Personally I think theatre for theatre’s sake is really dangerous. If we don’t engage in conversation after seeing a show, theatre gets too thin and meaningless. I want to see how art impacts my life and the lives of those around me; and have the opportunity to share that experience with someone.

ASP: What are you most looking forward to about the March 7 event? What do you hope audiences will take away from hearing Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell’s words read aloud?

MSK: In her forward to Dear Elizabeth, Sarah Ruhl says, “I think we are starved for the sound of poetry” to hear it read aloud. I think this is so true and I am thrilled to have modern poets in the building reading Bishop and Lowell’s poetry out loud, engaging with it and giving their own perspectives. Several of these poets – including Karen and Rachel – are artists I have looked up to my entire creative life in Seattle. I’m a jack of all trades so I think experts are sexy and I can’t wait to hear from those who have spent so much time with these two poets and their work!

I think Dear Elizabeth stands alone. You don’t need to know Bishop or Lowell’s work to appreciate the depth and span of their friendship and relationship as colleagues. However, I am interested in how my and the audience’s understanding of the poets’ friendship is informed by my greater understanding of their voices. I’m no expert, but I love poetry. It speaks to a primal part that I don’t get to spend time with very often. If we can awaken that same feeling in just a few people at this event, I think it will be a great success.

Postmarked from a Foreign Land: Seattle Reads Bishop and Lowell will take place following the 2:00 p.m. performance of Dear Elizabeth on Saturday, March 7. Admission is FREE and open to the public.

Letters from Langston

The following post was written by Kaytlin McIntyre, Literary and Casting Associate.

Dear Elizabeth currently playing on the Leo K stage, is the narrative of two poets, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, and the deep, fruitful friendship that developed primarily through written correspondence.

Another letter writer has been in the news lately. Langston Hughes, jazz poet and leader of the Harlem Renaissance, penned hundreds of poems in his lifetime, enough to fill 20 volumes. In The Selected Letters of Langston Hughes a trio of editors sorted through his written correspondence and compiled a series of highlights.

Hughes was not a gossip. His letters hold few criticisms of other writers and are typically graceful and accepting of occasional condemnation of his simple, uncomplicated style. Nor did he write love letters; Hughes never married and his letters give little insight to secret romance or scandal. Instead, he would often write friends about his poetry, his city, and what it meant to be an African American in the first part of the 20th Century. The letters of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop illuminate the adventurous and sometimes rocky relationships the two poets forged through their lifetimes. Langston Hughes wrote tirelessly and engaged the greater socio-political conflicts rather than the personal dramas.  His story would be a solid but uneventful account of a constant worker – what he was often had very little to do with who he was.

His leadership position in the Harlem Renaissance went on to inspire writers like August Wilson and the civil rights movement. But his position as a figure-head for the African American artistic community was not always a comfortable position for him.

In a letter to his mentor and benefactor Charlotte Mason:

“I ask you to help the gods to make me good, and to make me make me clean, and to make me strong and to make me fine that I might stand aflame before my people, powerful and wise, with eyes that can discern the ways of truth. I am nothing now — no more than a body of dust possessing no without wisdom, having no right to see. Physically and spiritually I pass through the dark valley, a dryness in my throat, a weariness in my eyes, fingers twisted in to strange numb shapes when I wake up at night, the mind troubled and confused in the face of things it does not understand, the mouth silent because there is no one to talk to, the cool sweet air burning the lungs, the hot sun cold to the body.”

His anguish and uncertainty is beautiful poetry. He doubts his abilities as a beacon for the black community but so easily demonstrates his natural talent. Letter writing wasn’t only a matter of familial correspondence for Hughes, it was practice in his medium, illuminating the human experience in plain English. The first time he penned one of his most famous poems, “I, Too” was in a letter to Alain Locke, another  leader in the Harlem Renaissance:

Excerpt of Langston Hughs' letter to Alain Locke.

Excerpt of Langston Hughs’ letter to Alain Locke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hughes lacked the committed pen pal relationship of Lowell and Bishop, but his letters are a further testimony to the power of poetic language as communication.

Is there anything more seductive than a poem written just for you?