Ranger Today "Bus Stop" interviews
Ranger Today "Bus Stop" interviews
Ranger Today recently spoke with "Bus Stop" director Lisa Kornetsky and assistant director Alecia Annacchino about the experience of working with the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Ranger Today: Tell me about the experience of doing this and how different it is from student theatre and why?
Kornetsky: Well, it's different in almost every way. It's different because we started this process, I'm trying to remember exactly when, but almost two years ago we made the agreement to do this, and we're moving outside of our own space, new world, collaborating with another organization, never mind a professional organization, and figuring out all the incredible details and how to work that, in terms of personnel and budgeting and all of the technical details of building here and bringing a show there, designing with the input of people outside of, you know, our own institution. It's just different on every level for us and it's been great, but I think we've also learned. If we were to do it again...we didn't even know what questions to ask to begin with.
So, I think that's been a real kind of steep learning curve, as to communicating about things we didn't even realize we needed to communicate about. And we're so used to doing things the way we do things here that it's shaken that up and that's been good. For me that's been good because it's provided a new way of looking at how things get done, how we work on things. You know when you've been working with the same people--I'm talking from a faculty perspective--for a long time, you have your intuitive ways of working together, you have your shorthand, and you can't do that when other people are suddenly involved. So that's been interesting, and I think the way things are scheduled in a professional theater, in some ways, because there are so many other people involved.
In fact, I would say that not only are we collaborating with the Milwaukee Chamber Theater, but we're really also collaborating with the Skylight because they own the space, it's their shop, it's their shop guys who are helping us to load in, so we have to work with the Milwaukee Chamber Theater to make an agreement with the Skylight about how we come in and use their space. So all of that means that things have to happen sooner, the decisions have to be made sooner, even, I would say, in the rehearsal process.
I have a way of working with the student actors that allows me a lot of flexibility. With professional actors, the process has been much more specific. With props, for instance, we've needed to make all those choices very clearly up front. That's the way they're used to working. So, there are lots of differences, and that's been really exciting. It's also been, I have to say, really intense.
Annacchino: Yes, for me, this has been terribly exciting. It's kind of a way of weaning me into professional theater as an actor, and to gain that extra side of theater. I haven't done a lot of directing, only in class, but this a really nice way for me to see the other side of the audition table and the other side of the rehearsal table and it's a good way getting into the professional world because our rehearsals are longer by day. We have 6 to 8 hour rehearsals per day, and we're doing this in 3 weeks, and then here we're used to 4 hour rehearsals for 6 weeks. It's a very condensed version.
RT: It's also sixteen performances, and that's different from the 7 or 8, or if the show's really running well, it's 9 performances, never double digit performances.
Kornetsky: So that part of it is extended, and it's a very wonderful space, but it's a very different space than what we're used to. It also has all kinds of issues that...it just reminds me what a great main stage we have, because although the theater is beautiful?it's shallow so there are all kinds of things that we are constantly having to be aware of in the rehearsal hall that we wouldn't if we were taping that out and thinking of our own space.
Annacchino: The thing with this theater is that it's very intimate on the first level, but then you have 2 balconies that are all the way up, so all the actors have to think up and out. We've staged several parts where people are standing on counters, and even as a shop assistant, when we're building the set, we needed to think about what's going behind doors. We need to put tile all the way around in places that you might not see from?
Kornetsky: Because people are seated so high that they can actually see down into and over
Annacchino: It's a very vertical set, more than we're accustomed to, so that's a good challenge for us to block the show out.
RT: Is there any running water on the set? [Set designer] Keith Harris likes to have running water.
Kornetsky: No. It is a diner, and it's a naturalistic play, so we'd want it to have as much that was real as possible, but given everything else that has to happen, I didn't want a working stove onstage. We have water onstage, but it's not running water. And we have designed the set in such a way that there is a counter, and there's a window and a door into the kitchen; you can talk through that window into the kitchen, and so the food gets prepared back there. There's eating onstage.
Annacchino: This is a very prop-heavy show, and attention to detail makes this play so great, especially when we're trying to figure out while we're blocking "where do some dishes go, where are things going to be pre-set?" We're going to have coffee brewing onstage to get the aroma, possibly onstage, without the technicality of having to have a faucet or having a stove and having something possibly go wrong.
Kornetsky: I'd say the other thing that's really different for us is on the stage. This is a play where, for much of the time, the bulk of the characters are onstage and it doesn't break up into little scenes. So, for me as a director, one of the things that's challenging is how do you use people's time? You know, when you have 6 or 8 hours on that day to rehearse, how do you work those moments? It's not like you can say "we're going to work this scene for 4 hours," because some of those scenes are half a page long, so it's just trying to figure out how to use people's time, how to move through the process. But we finished six days of rehearsal, and we are so much further ahead than I've ever been in anything I've ever done before. Not to say that there isn't a lot to do, but tonight we'll finish blocking the play, tomorrow, whatever that is, the eighth rehearsal, we'll stagger through the whole thing. But we'll have everything blocked, we'll pretty much know where all the props are, and where everybody's moving, and then it's kind of shaping it.
Annacchino: And it hasn't felt rushed at all, do you think?
Annacchino: Because we've had those longer rehearsals.
Kornetysky: For me as a director, this is something that I think about often, and my job is to start at the beginning and get to the end in the right way, or in the right time frame. So it means finding the arc of how, typically with the student actors, how you build to that point in a progressive, sort of a holistic way, so that you aren't cramming everything in at the end. So that's an organic process for the actors. Things come when they should, and they develop in a way that allows them the time to grow and think and get there, and you know for young actors, if you get there too soon, particularly when you don't have a long run, it can be, you know, you can have a great rehearsal process, at week 4 you're ready to go, or some actors are ready to go, but by the time you open they've lost that. They don't know how to sustain that kind of performance
And so I think, for us, I feel like we have a show right now. We don't have nearly the show we'll have in 2 weeks. Or maybe 2 weeks from tomorrow, when we have an audience. But the great advantage for the young actors, I think, and I'll see how you feel watching it is that?first of all, I'll say that our student actors are absolutely a match for the professional actors and I don't feel that we have this like, "you're the professional and we're just students." They came in really prepared, they're working exceedingly hard, but they're also getting to see the way the professional actors work. And I think that's allowing them to both be on their game, but also to relax a little and realize that they're not that far. That [Theatre Arts Professor] Jamie [Cheatham] and the department has really prepared them to walk into this professional situation and do their best, and their best is certainly good enough.
RT: [To Annacchino] Now you've been Mrs. Havisham, you've been an animal in the Story of Opal?but is being an assistant director opening up other opportunities for you that you didn't see when you first came in?
Annacchino: Yes. Right now, I don't have any desire to be famous or to be the one that's the star. That's not as important to me as a collaborative effort.
RT: Is being the assistant director, or being the director, something you would look at and say, "That's what I want in my career?"
Annacchino: Oh, yeah. It helps with everything. You get to look at the whole production from a bird's eye view. I'm getting to learn about like budget things, and props, and costumes, and helping make those decisions. But as an actor, you're not clued in with everything.
Kornetsky: And you really don't want the actors to be clued in. Not to keep them out of it, but they have their thing to worry about. When students come into the role of director or assistant director, they really get to see the big picture in a way that helps you understand how the process works.
Annacchino: You get to give your ideas to professional actors. That's the collaborative effort for me. And that's very awfully exciting because I'm learning from them, they might learn something from me in the process, but it's mostly I'm there to learn all sides of the curtain. Yes, I'd like to be an actor, but this is helping me be a better actor. I have taken a couple costume design classes; this helps me be a better costume designer. It just helps you with those well-rounded skills. Even outside of theater, you can use those skills for anything.
Kornetsky: Alesha's also serving as the dramaturge for the show. It's a little different because we do that here, and if a student takes on that role, they really have kind of full freedom to do all of that research. It's a little different at the chamber theater because even though Alesha's doing that and has prepared information and has been really helpful in the early stages of rehearsal, I'll turn to her--like yesterday there was something I couldn't remember and I can't remember right now what it was, but if something comes up that I thought I knew and I realize I need a little bit more background information, it's great to have an assistant director or a dramaturge to say, you know, "look this up and tell me why this is more than just a line. Why this is important."
Ranger Today recently spoke with "Bus Stop" actors Annie Walaszek, Ethan Hall, and Brenna Kempf about being onstage at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
Ranger Today: How has the experience been? You haven't been in front of an audience yet, that's still a couple of weeks away, but is it a different experience than doing it here?
Walaszek: Well, time difference alone; here we rehearse for 4 hours and we get a ten minute break. And there, during the weekdays, we rehearse 6 hours with a break every hour and a half for either 10 or 20 minutes. Then, on the weekends, it's 8 hours with one hour-long lunch.
RT: That's almost like a regular job.
Walaszek: Right. It's about 36 hours a week of rehearsal time. It's an equity schedule, so?
RT: So, you've been doing this in addition to going to classes, right?
Walaszek: Yes. And all three of us work at the shop, too. Brenna and I work in the costume shop and Ethan works in the scene shop.
RT: So I'm not going ask what you're doing in your spare time. You don't have any. But tell me about your experience with this and how it's been?
Walaszek: It's just been so much fun. The cast that we're working with is awesome. The first couple days that I went in, I was really sort of in a panic. I was like, "This is really big, I better not screw this up," and then I just kind of looked around and everybody was just having fun and I was like "that's just what I'm going to do." And now that we've kind of had a week of rehearsal, I've kind of clicked into the "let's just have fun with this." And that's all we do. We work really hard, but it's just so much fun.
RT [to Hall and Walaszek]: Now, you two are the main characters. You [Hall] play Bo, you're the cowboy, and you're [Walaszek] the victim, so to speak. You're relating to him in a different way than you're relating to her. Obviously there's a tension there, there's anger on your [Walaszek's] part, I would imagine; there's apprehension on your part. And you're [Kempf] standing in the background, watching this. How do these characters interact?
Kempf: Elma is a high schooler who's a waitress at the diner. And the thing that I've been finding with her is that she just loves to hear the different stories of different people. She knows there's so much to the world, she can't quite get there yet because she's so young, but she's just going to take as much as she can from everyone. So whether it's between watching these two, she has sympathy for both of them and she doesn't really know, you know, what side?I think she leans more towards Sherry because it's that feminine older sister kind of relationship. But even with all the other characters, it's just about engaging and trying to embrace all that they have as a person and kind of bring that into her life. And light up her perspective of the world.
Walaszek: Lisa talks a lot about how one of Inge's themes in all of his plays is human connection. And particularly in Bus Stop there's this crazy storm that brings all of these strangers together in one place and traps them there. It's a closed doorway, so the idea that in this bus stop, with the outside elements, we have moments of human connection. Cherie is a survivor, so she's not used to having roots in any place. She's used to just picking up when she needs to. So she finds moments of connection with these two characters in particular. With Bo, they have the night before they arrive at the bus stop where they have this night together, and then the next morning he loses it, so he wants to marry me, but we have that moment of connection. And that happens throughout the entire play. That's always in the back of your head, remembering what they had. And then, with Elma, we have this connection because Elma is kind of like a sound board for Sherry. And she allows her to kind of work out her thoughts by talking about them. And Sherry makes a ton of discoveries just by talking to Elma and Elma asking her questions that she's never been asked before. So it's just finding little moments of human connection.
RT: And I would imagine that Bo is not a reprehensible character. Although what he's done is may be reprehensible, you have to find in his character some bit of humanity that the audience can relate to. If I'm sitting in the audience, you have to find some humanity in that character because he's not one-dimensional.
Hall: One thing I've been thinking about while working on this character is?Brenna won the Irene Ryan [acting award] for [Parkside Theatre's presentation of Shakespeare's] Henry V this past fall, and she asked me to be her partner in the competition. And when we got our feedback from our scenes, one of the things one of the judges said was, "You need to be an advocate for your character," which in my mind, I interpreted that as you have to find a way, no matter whether you're just an evil character, evil being a loosely used term such as like, Iago in Othello who is solely thinking about himself. You have to think about a way to make the audience like you, even if they hate you. And so that's kind of what I've been working on, trying to just make this really impulsive, sort of self-centered person who's never been told "no" before, I'm working on finding a way to make him not seem like a monster.
RT: It would be easy for that character to be a monster, because obviously there's some bluster involved, and you have to be kind of pig-headed, I would imagine.
Hall: Bull-headed is actually the term that's used to talk about him.
RT: When you first get on the stage, are you going to feel differently than when you first got on the stage here [at UW-Parkside]? That first time the "curtain" opens, what will you be thinking?
Kempf: Annie and I were in [the UW-Parkside class] Voice for the Actor last semester, and there's this great book [where the author] talked about entering the space of the theater and breathing in the theater space, and when that happens for the first time, and so it happens when we go into rehearsal. We're breathing in that space and we're kind of just embracing that environment. It happens when we walk onstage for the first time during tech [technical rehearsals]. It happens when we walk onstage for opening night and there's an audience. So, every time it's a new air, but it's incredibly exciting every time. And I think I can remember walking onto the main stage my freshman year and having that same feeling of gratitude and excitement.
Hall: This is actually the first thing I've been cast in at Parkside where I don't have a character that's been killed off in two scenes or in one scene. I'm probably going to be a little bit panicked, but going off what Brenna says, while you're standing in the wing, waiting for that first time for the theoretical curtain to open, you have all these emotions that are just pumping through you and it's just adrenaline. And then once you step out onstage, you just relax and you settle into it and you just realize what you need to do in this moment and you just keep doing. You just gotta do what you gotta do.
RT [To Walaszek]: Now, you've come up through smaller parts. And now you're the star.
Walaszek: Yeah, I guess so.
RT: You were the main character in "Melancholy Play." Is it going to be different when you step out on the stage in Milwaukee for the first time?
Walaszek: Yeah. And I think it's funny that you say that because I'm graduating this year. This is my last show here. So, for me this whole rehearsal process has been remembering what it was like with my first show here, "Brighton Beach Memoirs," and remembering the whole entire journey. And utilizing these professional actors and this professional setting, everything we've learned in college. So, it's kind of been looking back, but it's also been looking forward. Where can I go next from here? And being reassured of the skill set that I've developed here. And again, just the gratitude. I don't think I've ever been so grateful and so happy in my whole life. And it's just constant and generous.