Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Creative Team Interview #2: Preesa Adeline Bullington, Costume Designer for THREE SISTERS

Welcome to our exciting series of interviews, where you can get to know the cast & creative team in our production of Three Sisters -- an adaptation by Brian Friel of Anton Chekhov's classic story.

Three Sisters runs March 9-25, 2012, Wed-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 2pm in New York City.

For tickets, please click here.

For more info about The Seeing Place, click here.

Your Name: 
Preesa Adeline Bullington

Role in this Production: 
Costume Designer

How long have you been designing?
7ish years I guess. Though I started designing clothing for my stuffed animals, dolls and...cats when I was very young. As well as always designing my own halloween costumes. I think the first time I really designed costumes for theatre was for a production of The Fantasticks when I was a junior in high school.

How long have you been in NYC? 
I moved to Ithaca NY last may to work at Hangar Theatre for the summer, during my time in Ithaca I came down to NYC as often as possible and then moved here the end of August.

Where are you from originally?
Seattle WA

What's been your favorite project, to date? 
Oh probably when I designed Hair at The University of Washington. I love that clothing style and passion of that time period and that play. Researching it and trying to find a truth to the costumes while still maintaining a specific design was fun. It was also great to be able to go through a bunch of my parents old clothes and use some of them as costume. Aside from that the production sold out every night and after our run in Seattle we were able to take it to Vancouver BC to perform at a large casino venue where the cast an crew all got to stay for free!

If you could work on any play right now, what would it be?
Pterodactyls by Nicky Silver. It was by no means the first play I ever read or saw but one of the first ones that stuck with me and that I often thing about. 

What's the wackiest experience you've ever had in the theater? 
In college we had something called "Theatre Dangerously" where you could do whatever you wanted basically. A few of my friends put together a Japanese game show style relay competition in which a part of it involved partners licking peanut butter off opposites sides of a piece of glass at the same time, then drinking a liter of 7-Up. Im very competitive and I won, and then I threw up...all over the stage.

What's your experience with Chekhov? 
Studying in in classes, reading it.

What's been the most challenging thing about working on/preparing for this project? 
Figuring out what the key elements that will be important to have to really showcase the characters.

What excites you about Three Sisters
The humanity.

To learn more about Preesa, visit her website at http://preesaadeline.squarespace.com/.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cast Interview #4: Mary Lahti as "Anfisa" in THREE SISTERS

Welcome to our exciting series of interviews, where you can get to know the cast & creative team in our production of Three Sisters -- an adaptation by Brian Friel of Anton Chekhov's classic story.

Three Sisters runs March 9-25, 2012, Wed-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 2pm in New York City.

For tickets, please click here.

For more info about The Seeing Place, click here.

Your Name:
Mary Lahti (No, no direct relation to Christine)

Role in this Production:
Anfisa (the old maid) 

How long have you been acting?
After I grew out of playing paper mache trees and flowers, I performed in a Greek tragedy not knowing really what I was saying. Things got better after that and therefore have been more seriously acting since Jr. High School -- many years, but not enough years to match that of an old maid. 

How long have you been in NYC?
I arrived in NYC with my husband to continue pursuing our performing arts adventures, found a temporary place to stay just two blocks from the job I was to start in Tower II, September 10, 2001 and asked for a couple more days off while we settled in. I'm still here! 

Where are you from originally?
San Francisco, the Haight Ashbury, pre-hippy era. My dad's bar is now a gay bar and the 5 & 10 Store is now an upscale restaurant where the meals costs 5 x 10. 

What's been your favorite role, to date?
I'm going to cheat a bit and add an 's' to role: I'm musical theater heavy so I have to say, Bebe in A Chorus Line because the show itself has such a deep emotional impact on me, Georgia in Curtains because the role was close to my actual personality and I got to wear nice clothes. Okay, and one more, Amy in Company because it's a great role in a great show allowing me to act crazy. 

If you could play any role in any play right now, what would it be?
Oh golly, from the top of my head, Barbara Fordham in August: Osage County. 

What's the wackiest experience you've ever had onstage?
Luckily, most of the wacky experiences happened before show time but there was one time during a scene, someone from off stage throws a newspaper to me and I catch it to read the headline. One night, the paper bounced off the tip of my finger and flew out into the audience. I walked towards the edge of the stage, pointed at the paper in the audience and delivered my line, "My look at that headline." It got the biggest applause of the evening. 

What's your experience with Chekhov?
This is my first production. I was intrigued by the approach taken with this production. There is actually humor in his writing. Who knew? 

What's been the most challenging thing about preparing for this role?
I would say the most challenging thing is trying to find the right balance of playing someone in their 80s both physically and emotionally as naturally as possible. And part of me is afraid that once I do, I might get stuck that way. 

What's been the most exciting thing about the rehearsal process?
What, besides having coffee available? The ensemble is an amazing professional group of dedicated performers who work as well together as they do on their own creating a truly safe environment for everyone to explore their character. And did I mention the coffee? 

What parts of yourself are similar to the character?
I find Anfisa to be loyal, responsible and hard working which seem to be traits that got Anfisa the respect from the family she served which I can relate to. At one point she fears getting sent away, losing the roof over her head realizing she's getting too old to work with no family to go to. The reality is a bit too close for comfort as I am about to lose my job after 12 years also realizing it will be much harder for me to find the same work at my age. Although, at least, my husband isn’t planning on sending me away. 

What excites you about THREE SISTERS?
This play is full of interesting characters. 

To learn more about Mary, visit her website at www.marylahti.com.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cast Interview #3: David Sedgwick as "Vershinin" in THREE SISTERS

Welcome to our exciting series of interviews, where you can get to know the cast & creative team in our production of Three Sisters -- an adaptation by Brian Friel of Anton Chekhov's classic story.


Three Sisters runs March 9-25, 2012, Wed-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 2pm in New York City.

For tickets, please click here.

For more info about The Seeing Place, click here.

Your Name:
David Sedgwick

Role in this Production:
Vershinin

How long have you been acting?
20 years.

How long have you been in NYC?
6 years.

Where are you from originally?
Sydney, Australia.

What's been your favorite role, to date?
Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Played as the biggest ham actor ever. Possibly quite appropriate.

If you could play any role in any play right now, what would it be?
Macbeth/Macbeth

What's the wackiest experience you've ever had onstage?
An earthquake interrupted my big speech as Bernard Nightingale in “Arcadia” in Tokyo, and nearly derailed the whole show.

What's your experience with Chekhov?
Read a bit, seen a few, first time performing!

What's been the most challenging thing about preparing for this role?
Trying to figure out just what’s going on in Vershinin’s head and his heart. He says a lot in the play, but a lot of it is “talking for talk’s sake” and not necessarily revealing. Also a lot of his back-story is unspecified.

What's been the most exciting thing about the rehearsal process?
Working with a great combination of people I’ve worked with already and people that I’d never met before.

What parts of yourself are similar to the character?
He talks. A lot. I talk. A lot.

What excites you about THREE SISTERS?
I mean, it’s right there in the title. There are 3 of them AND they’re sisters! RWOARR!

To learn more about David, visit his website at www.davidsedgwick.com.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Creative Team Interview #1: Set Designer, Michael Minahan for THREE SISTERS

Welcome to our exciting series of interviews, where you can get to know the cast & creative team in our production of Three Sisters -- an adaptation by Brian Friel of Anton Chekhov's classic story.

Three Sisters runs March 9-25, 2012, Wed-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 2pm in New York City.

For tickets, please click here.

For more info about The Seeing Place, click here.

Your Name:
Michael Minahan

Role in this Production:
Set Designer

How long have you been designing?
I went into college without a real knowledge of what it means to be a set designer. I knew I liked to be in plays and work with a team to create a production. I wanted to be a painter or an architect.. I was recruited to paint the "court" scene for AS YOU LIKE IT. It was a sliding panel recreation of one of the pages from the Tr├Ęs Riches Heures du Duc de Berry from the 15th century. I was immediately hooked. I ended up transferring to the University of Cincinnati (CCM) to study set design in a conservatory environment.

How long have you been in NYC?
This time around, 1 year come April.

Where are you from originally?
Charleston, South Caroline, via central Jersey.

What's been your favorite design, to date?
My first real sole design project was for a world premiere opera at CCM called MEMORY GAME. It was a kind of sunken Star of David in the center of the stage (with audience on 2 sides). This remains for me one of my most honest and thrilling designs. I guess you never forget your first time.

What's your experience with Chekhov?
Painting many versions of trees, orchards, and delicately aged wood furniture!

What's been the most challenging thing about preparing for this project?
As the set designer for a show with limited resources it is always challenging to distill the design objective down to a simple and concise stroke - though this should always be a goal whether you have $10 or $10,000,000. I am excited to be collaborating with a group as COMPANY oriented as The Seeing Place.

To learn more about Michael, visit his website at www.minahandesign.com.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cast Interview #2: Elisa Pupko as "Irina" in THREE SISTERS


Welcome to our exciting series of interviews, where you can get to know the cast & creative team in our production of Three Sisters -- an adaptation by Brian Friel of Anton Chekhov's classic story.

Three Sisters runs March 9-25, 2012, Wed-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 2pm in New York City.

For tickets, please click here.

For more info about The Seeing Place, click here.

Your Name:
Elisa Pupko

Role in this Production:
Irina

How long have you been acting?
Since I can remember, and I have a very good memory! My first play was Hamlet in 4th grade. Yes, you read that right! We had a wonderfully ambitious drama teacher at my elementary school.

How long have you been in NYC?
4 1/2 years - Actually, closing night of this show is my official 4 1/2 year anniversary!

Where are you from originally?
Seattle. And yes, I love coffee.

What's been your favorite role, to date?
Don't make me pick! Ok, I'll say Kate, one of the orphans in Annie. (Don't judge!)

If you could play any role in any play right now, what would it be?
Beth in Little Women or Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, before I look too old.

What's the wackiest experience you've ever had onstage?
The first thing that comes to mind is when I was performing with Taproot Theatre's Road Company in Seattle. We performed shows on social issues to schools all over the Pacific Northwest. This one day we were out in the middle of nowhere and the elementary school's auditorium was literally a giant barn. In one of the last scenes of the play, my character comes out to confront the bully and stand up for her friends. Because we were in a barn there were flies everywhere! Just as I start my big anti-bullying speech a fly lands on the head of girl playing the bully. She starts trying to casually swat it away and it would not budge! This hit my funny bone like nothing else ever has on stage and I started laughing uncontrollably. It was a pretty serious scene, so I turned my laughs into what sounded like uncontrollable sobs. The rest of the cast could not figure out what was happening to me and thought I was literally bawling. After that experience I realized that if I ever start laughing in a scene where it is inappropriate, it can easily be turned into crying.

What's your experience with Chekhov?
Studied the shows in school, seen productions on stage, but this is my first Chekhov role!

What's been the most challenging thing about preparing for this role?
The complexity of the story and layers to each character that Chekhov has so beautifully crafted. It's challenging, but also exhilarating to know that I will be continually discovering new things about Irina each night.

What's been the most exciting thing about the rehearsal process?
Learning a new way to work and being in an ensemble of actors all fully committed to unraveling the layers of this show.

What parts of yourself are similar to the character?
Hmm, I guess the numerous suitors she has trying to woo her. Kidding! (I'm a happily married woman!) I think everyone has a little bit of Irina in them. What she's really after for the whole show is to find what she should do with her life. She is searching for the key to happiness. I can definitely say that I'm always looking at the path my life is on and how I can have it lead to a happy and fulfilling life.

What excites you about THREE SISTERS?
Everything! Is that an acceptable answer? I guess if you want me to be specific, I would say I'm excited to share this story with our audiences.

To learn more about Elisa, visit her website at www.elisapupko.com.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cast Interview #1: Erin Cronican as "Masha" in THREE SISTERS

Welcome to our exciting series of interviews, where you can get to know the cast & creative team in our production of Three Sisters -- an adaptation by Brian Friel of Anton Chekhov's classic story.

Three Sisters runs March 9-25, 2012, Wed-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 2pm in New York City.

For tickets, please click here.

For more info about The Seeing Place, click here.

Your Name:
Erin Cronican

Role in this Production:
Masha (also the co-producer. I know, I'm crazy.)

How long have you been acting?
My first play was Charlotte's Web, where I played The Gander at the tender age of 9. Role #2 at age 10 was Grumpy in Snow White. Apparently, I played a male role so I well that it took me a long time to start playing females.

How long have you been in NYC?
I've lived in New York City since August 5, 2005. Well, wait - I left home on the evening of August 4 and landed on August 5 - so, you decide what my anniversary date is. 

Where are you from originally?
I'm from San Diego. Brandon (our Artistic Director) and I were friends & colleagues in the theater scene there. For those of you who wonder why in the world I would choose NY over the sunny weather in CA... I have one word for you: Pizza.

What's been your favorite role, to date?
I have a tie: My favorite role in a play was Anna in Closer (The Seeing Place, 2011). My favorite role in a musical was Cathy Hiatt in The Last Five Years (North Coast Repertory Theater, 2004.) They're both roles I'd love to play again, especially Cathy. 

If you could play any role in any play right now, what would it be?
Is it a cop out to say Masha? Ok, fine. Someday I'll get a chance to play Becca in Rabbit Hole. But I have a few years yet before I get there...

What's the wackiest experience you've ever had onstage?
Oh, sheesh. Well, I was performing in Camelot at a huge outdoor amphitheater in San Diego. The backstage area was known for having all kinds of bugs, since there were no doors to shut them out. One night we were doing the coronation scene, and there's a part of the scene where the company freezes while Arthur battles with his conscience. As I was standing still, a huge bug crawled out from the shoulder of my cape and just stared at me, beckoning me to scream, or run, or do something. All the blood drained from my face, but I somehow made it through the scene without making a movement or sound. When I got off stage, I squealed and threw my cape on the ground, and asked a stagehand to kill the bug. He chuckled, thinking that I was just a squeamish girl. But as this big, burly stagehand picked up the cape and he saw the size of the bug, he jumped back and shouted, "Holy sh*t!" Not gonna lie- I felt vindicated. 

What's your experience with Chekhov?
This is the first time I've performed in a Chekhov piece (or Friel piece, for that matter.) I've done a production of The Good Doctor, which is Neil Simon's take on a bunch of Chekhov short stories. But this feels very, very different. 

What's been the most challenging thing about preparing for this role?
There are a couple of things. 1) I lost my father 6 years ago, so playing a role in which a daughter is mourning her father is a sensitive thing to achieve (to say the least.) 2) This role is forcing me to confront the kind of person I was in my youth, when I felt stymied and oppressed, as teens tend to. I'm learning how to unleash some of the impetuosity and extreme yearning, which is direct conflict with the mature and (ehem) sane person I appear to be today. At the end of the rehearsal evening, it's tricky to go back to being my "regular" self - I feel a bit at war inside. But the truth is... it's kind of exhilarating. 

What's been the most exciting thing about the rehearsal process?
Seeing the cast coalesce as a true ensemble - that magical thing that happens when you get to know the rhythms of another actor and feel comfortable really sharing with them on stage. 

What parts of yourself are similar to the character?
2 arms, 2 legs, a pair of eyes...a habit of diffusing a situation with humor (albeit silly humor.) I have an insane need for being self expressed, and I think Masha feels the same way. I have a passion about artistry and music, as she does. And, I have very complicated relationships with my siblings (as a fellow middle child, I feel her pain!)

What excites you about THREE SISTERS?
I'm excited that we at The Seeing Place have chosen to tell this story in a way that, I think, audiences will relate to - perhaps in ways they haven't before. I'm looking forward to being able to have a conversation about Chekhov with everyday people after seeing this adaptation. I think Friel makes Chekhov's story more accessible to a modern audience (yay, Brian Friel!) It's exciting to think about how current the themes are today and how we can try to learn something from them.

To learn more about Erin, visit her website at www.erincronican.com.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What is a Behavioral Story?

The theatre is a funny place.  People come from all parts, for all reasons.  Many are drawn to the emotional and expressive freedom that we seem to enjoy onstage.  Some just need some applause in their lives.  Personally, I've always thought that theater could be hands-on sociology.  It's just that I so rarely get a chance to experience it as such - which is the reason I felt the need to bring yet another theater into the world. 

One major thing that seems to differentiate The Seeing Place from many other theaters is our concentration on behavioral storytelling.  In short, that involves the motives and impressions that are communicated to the audience, not necessarily in words.  We spend about four weeks per rehearsal process, simply learning about the playwright's story and the individual character journeys.  Then we set out to understand how we can connect to the playwright's vision and resonate with it on a nightly basis.  It is only after we have supported that vision and built a strong sense of the stories we want to tell that we can even begin to prepare our work for the stage. 

It's a point of constant amazement to me that most actors are so concerned with what they're going to do with a role, either affectively or professionally, that they rarely take the time to discover the specifics of the situation in which their character is living and what insights the playwright has on our world.  Mostly, there is an overemphasis on the spoken word in theatre, so that actors are usually concerned with how they are going to say what they say, rather than the lives of the people they create.  Beyond that, most rehearsal processes (if they aren't directed from the actor-as-puppet perspective) encourage actors to learn on their feet, so that the excitement behind building a character is limited to throwing ideas at the wall to see if they stick.  Unfortunately, without thoughtful exploration, it is very difficult for most actors to repeat the wonderful things that are discovered in rehearsal, so that the results can only be copied most of the time.  If, by chance, there is some life within the actor, it typically happens more out of luck than any other one thing.  And that is what The Seeing Place has set out to address.

Most recently, in our rehearsals for our upcoming production of Three Sisters, I accidented upon a new exercise. It came out of a frustration that in all of our tablework and story-building, I wasn't sure who knew what as far as the insights we'd gleaned, and I wanted to make sure we were all inhabiting the same world. We also had a recent cast change, and it seemed the best way to introduce our new actor to the group and the play.   I asked everyone to sit down and write out a paragraph, detailing their characters' situations and what stories they are all trying to tell.   I also asked them to decide upon a superobjective. Even after a month of tablework, we had more to learn: and by the end of the night, we all had a very personal journey to share with the audience. 

I am playing Andrey and also answered the question. I think I had the same response that many of us shared: I sat down to do my homework and found that simply putting pen to paper and trying to define my character's story connected me to what has always unconsciously driven me to play Andrey. I realized that I have an intimate story to tell about this world through Andrey. For me, his story is that of a lonely man, looking for a family. He has been trying to become a great academician to earn his late father's love his whole life, and has recently become the man of the house.  Though he is a passionate and great artist, he is under constant pressure from his condemning sisters and his estranged wife to build an equitable career, so that they can fulfill on their opposing dreams.  Finally, he settles for a life apart from his own ambitions and throws himself into his children for the love he's been seeking.  It's a story that many of us live, and many of us are afraid of.

Now, that's a story that I can tell through behavior.  We all know people like that.  And that's the basic minimum that I need to know in order to share, in my work, my insights into this world.  Contrary to popular belief, the playwright doesn't mean a thing if I don't mean something with his words and his story.  And he's written more than just lines - especially a writer like Chekhov.  It's such a joy to live through his stories as an actor.  He seems to write people straight out of our lives.

It may seems like an obvious exercise, but often times we don't do the simplest things to plan out our work as actors.  Many seem to want to leave things up to chance.  In our group, we're constantly fighting against a mentality that doesn't want to mess with anything.  Most actors don't seem to know what a story is, and don't take the time to learn.  It seems too academic to most.  But it is only in that practical understanding of the people we create and the situations they are in, how they operate within those situations and the things that they learn, that we are able to communicate.  That way, we can set up problems to solve in front of an audience on a nightly basis.  It is said that a good story happens when two opposing ideas go to war.  We believe the best theatre is created when the entire ensemble is informed and engaged in collaborative competition.

Thanks for reading.  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why A Craft Of Acting?

Hi.  My name is Brandon.  I'm the Artistic Director of The Seeing Place Theater, which is an independent theater in its third season in New York City.  I came up with the idea of writing a blog because as we've been creating theater, more and more people are asking us what it means to be an ensemble-based theatre and what differentiates us from every other young company in New York.

In a nutshell, we're an actor's theater with a focus on an organic process.  In this blog, I'll be writing from my viewpoint (as Actor, Director, and Producer), which is greatly influenced by the teachings of Lee Strasberg - as taught to me by David Gideon over the last five years and Fran Gercke for two years before that.  I also co-ran Poor Players Theatre Company, a Shakespeare theater in San Diego, for five years before moving to New York.  As an actor, I've performed with The Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, New Village Arts Theater, North Coast Repertory Theater, Sierra Repertory Theater, and Barnstormers Theater.  There are plenty of others, but I'd imagine that by this point, you'll give me your vote of confidence on credibility.  After all, it's not a blog about me.

"Our Craft. Our Process. Our Blog."  Some people might think it a bit pretentious. But if you can't have some pretense about what you love and have spent your lifetime learning, then what can you have?

When it comes down to it, acting is based around pretense.  People tend to over-complicate it and forget that it's literally just make-believe.  I think that's a large degree of the reason why there seems to be such a skepticism about a craft of acting.  Many actors feel it's too technical.  They seem to want a magic button to good acting.  In the process, they tend to oversimplify, relying on talent, alone, to guide them.  Over the last hundred and some-odd years since Stanislavski began his work, we've learned all sorts of things from behaviorists that enable us to do much more than just cross our fingers and hope for the best.  I had a friend that used to pray to the Theatre Gods for inspiration before every show.  Thankfully, several people have endeavored to create a means by which we can excite our imaginations.  That's really all a craft is.  It's not a set of rules.  It's an understanding of ourselves.  That's the nutshell.  You'll have to read for more.

It is my intention in this blog to create a forum online, through which people can discuss the craft of acting. This is not a place for "the business". There are many blogs out there for that.  Mostly, I'd like to dispel some of the myths around "The Method" and create an open forum to understand how all of these techniques may not be so incredibly different after all. Beyond that, we will be chronicling The Seeing Place Theater's journey toward creating a "pure ensemble", as initially termed by The Group Theatre. We're using many of the same ideas and non-traditional approaches to our rehearsals in order to bring real expression back to New York audiences. It's not that we never see it, but whole companies rarely attempt it. It's really quite a fascinating thing to do. 

Whether good or bad, I have always possessed a kind of authority. I learn something and immediately want to teach it to my friends. I have always tried things I don't think I can do. I have always thrown myself head-first into things without any worry about whether I am prepared enough. And I think that's a large amount of the reason why I have worked so extensively in the theatre. It's certainly why I have run two theater companies. I've had to adopt a psychology that says: This is everything I have right now. It's not perfect. I can't worry about that. I'll have more later.

I am not the most knowledgeable person I know. I'm sure that there are a thousand people or more with a better understanding of acting and all of the elements that surround it. And yet, most all of those people don't have a blog. Many of them don't audition or create their own work. Many are classroom actors, forever waiting to arrive or for the gods to extend them a helping hand with a golden opportunity.  But this blog is an equal opportunity for us to learn from you.  This is a conversation about acting.  I'm not here, giving lectures.

If you have any questions you'd like answered, please post a comment below, and I'll be sure to respond.