Saturday, March 3, 2012

Creative Team Interview #3: Brandon Walker, Director 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:
Brandon Walker

Role in this Production:

How long have you been directing?
Not so long, actually. I mean, I direct everyone around me, constantly. But as far as stage-work goes, the first show I directed was a shortened, touring production of the Mechanicals' story in A Midsummer Night's Dream for Poor Players Theater Company in 2003. We called it The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe. And it was great. We had to really build the Mechanicals' story to stand on its own, and it's affected the way I look at the play ever since. Often times, I don't believe the fact that there are stakes for the actors - or that they are even rehearsing during their rehearsal. It's an ironic reality to lack in the play.

How long have you been in NYC?
Five years today. Wow. I had no plans of coming here and no plans of staying. I got in my car and drove across the country with a two-week sublet in Chicago and a three-month sublet in New York - and I hated this city for the longest time. But I wanted to finish my studies with my acting teacher (my old teacher's teacher), David Gideon, before going back to Chicago (which I fell in love with). And at some point, I realized that the craft of acting is not any kind of instantaneous thing. There are no tricks. There is me, learning myself. That takes a while. So, then I started riding a bike, and things got a little better. Then, I started a theater company, and somehow sustained it. And then I fell in love with Erin Cronican, and she loves New York. So, it looks like I'll be here for a spell. In truth, it's begun to feel like home.

Where are you from originally?
San Diego. I actually knew Erin from San Diego. She taught me everything I know about marketing as I was trying to build my personal career in the community. Later, I ran across the country to get a girl out of my head. And it's funny, I never had the New York bug. I always criticized the people that left San Diego, because I figured that we could have had a great theater scene out there if all the great artists would stop leaving. But art doesn't work so well in nice climates. People don't need it quite as much as they do in a place like this. Here, we need to create beauty in our lives in order to survive. San Diego needs no help to be beautiful - except for the smog. 

What's been your favorite project, to date?
I don't so much yearn for a project as much as I yearn for a feeling I shared with a bunch of people in Poor Players, back in San Diego. There was a summer, right before we were big, right before we knew that the community cared, where we were working for ourselves. There was no worry over reviews. There was no chance that someone would or wouldn't do a show. We were a team. We were an organism. We lived and breathed together. We were probably the closest thing to The Group Theatre (offstage) that I'd experienced. Most actors are too concerned with professional demands to quite have the family that we had - and that I shared with Richard Baird, Nick Kennedy, Tara Denton, Beth Everhart, Josh Gren, John Tessmer, Ed Eigner, Monica Wyatt, Tara Donovan, Neil McDonald, Max Macke, Jeff Sullivan, Justin Lang, Tom Haine, George Blum, Julie Clemmons, Sherri Allen, Keath Hall, Grace Delaney, Amy Meyer, John Aviles, Crystal Verdon, and a whole bunch of other people, who I'm sure I'm forgetting. It was the best of times. And it was the worst of times. We were all so clueless and naive. But it was beautiful. I'd like to have that again, but with a professional company, where we all make enough money to live on and have a real chance of speaking to the world at large. And that's what we're setting out to do. In my ideal world, we're the National Theater that America lacks.

If you could work on any play right now, what would it be?
King Lear, Bus Stop, or Long Days Journey into Night, probably. Maybe The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. I've been dying to do Burn This, Lobby Hero, Love Song, and A Lie of the Mind - but other companies keep beating me to them. 

What's the wackiest experience you've ever had in the theater?
In my first production of Twelfth Night, while I was playing Malvolio, I closed the door and the set fell down during my "Oh ho do you come near me now" speech. And the entire cast held it up for the rest of the play. In a dress rehearsal for Androcles and the Lion at The Old Globe, I accidentally knocked down a wall of the set that wasn't properly secured (and all of the upper management happened to be watching). I kept trying to move ahead for a good minute until they stopped me. I saw the touring production of Doubt in San Francisco five and a half years ago, and midway through the first scene, Cherry Jones broke fourth wall to say, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not feeling well and need a glass of water." She then left the stage and Lisa Joyce tried to stay in character for five minutes, explaining to the audience that Sister Aloysius hadn't been feeling well for some time. Finally, the stage manager called the show for half an hour. Cherry Jones came out to apologize half an hour later and tell us they were starting from the top. I did a production of Macbeth in high school, where MacDuff's sword got caught in the curtain, and he actually sliced Macbeth's head open, after some kid tried the superstition. On opening night of Coriolanus for Poor Players, one actor got a little excited and said, "Was not this f**king mockery?". That was met with some silence. Later in that same show, two actors missed their entrance, and we made up a whole scene onstage to tell the story that was missing. On opening night of Poor Players' production of Romeo and Juliet, the stage flooded, and I had to play Romeo shoeless at one point, for fight safety. Juliet slipped after the sonnet and fell flat on her ass. It was a night. On one night of Two Gentlemen of Verona with New Village Arts, one woman got up and screamed "He's lying" and threw an apple at me in the middle of my scene as Proteus to Sylvia at her balcony - to which, I turned around and said, "What?" - which was the start of my next line. I asked someone, as the Porter, during a production of Macbeth on Halloween, "What are you?", and he responded, "Your worst nightmare." There's no business like show business.

What's your experience with Chekhov?
I wanted to play Kostya forever, like every other angsty young man. I got over that and became attracted to roles like Astrov and Trigorin - and one day, I'll be old enough to play them. Aside from that, I did Kostya's monologue to Soren about his mother the theater for the longest time in auditions. And I played Smirnov in The Bear in a reading, which Michael Clay directed last year.

What's been the most challenging thing about preparing for this project?
Trying to juggle 14 stories is pretty hard. Trying to juggle 14 actors is very hard. I'm convinced that the most difficult part of directing lies in scheduling. People are always missing, and there is never enough time. It's also hard to get a group of people to tell a story together. And that's been the biggest challenge for me. 

What excites you about THREE SISTERS?
Firstly, it's an ensemble story. There is no one lead. It's great writing that you can live through in all sorts of ways. There are a lot of questions asked that the actors have to answer. And it's written so fully that you know you will find an answer if you ground your thoughts in the situation. And there's lots of room in the play for variation and organic, behavioral storytelling. It's the kind of play that requires a process such as ours. Secondly, this is a truly humbling group of artists to work with. They are all so connected to one another. And I'm not just patting myself on the back, because I'm directing. A director cannot create an ensemble in a vacuum. Each member has to make a commitment to the group of their own volition. It's a rare treat. Thirdly, our entire creative staff is truly inspiring. Lastly, Ariel Francoeur, my Assistant Director, has been amazing. She's been shadowing me on this process to learn how to direct for this company, but she's also been a wonderful outside eye for me. Especially when you are the Artistic Director of a company, it's hard for directors to know how to behave around you. Often times, I get very little direction. It's been such a pleasure to be able to act while I'm onstage (rather than keep a directorial perspective present), because I know I can trust her eye. 

What's your website? I'm going to make one for me, sometime in the coming future. Or Erin Cronican is going to. She's amazing, by the way. She created our website.

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