American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
Over the course of the last few months, we talked to a number of APT actors and artists about the play-reading series, the pandemic and working on a Zoom stage. And since there's never enough space to include everything, we decided we could at least share more of what we've got. So enjoy this little peek behind the Zoom curtain with tidbits on each of the six play readings from the amazing folks who worked on them.
Chekhov One Acts
What have you learned from working on the Zoom series?
Colleen Madden: Oh, so much already: More characters=more Zoom chaos! But I have also learned about light, sound, COMPUTERS (sort of), and that Shakespeare works with extreme close-ups!
Marcus Truschinski: I feel more comfortable with the medium. I feel like I’m more focused now that it’s starting to become a little more second nature. That doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it by any means! I’m constantly learning and trying to improve.
Aaron Posner: Other than the basic weirdness of the whole thing, it is actually not that different when you are exploring text and character… and fortunately these pieces are mostly driven by text and character. Movement and connection and relationship are harder, but we were fortunate that we had actors who already have deep and rich and complicated relationships, so much of that was taken care of for us.
As You Like It
Where did you do your work?
Nate Burger: It kind of depends honestly. I've been trying to experiment with different areas; I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my wife, so trying to navigate monopolizing a small space that is shared by two people can be a little rough. I think we've figured out that the bedroom is the least of an imposition on her, so mostly I'm in there, and more specifically: I also had a really fun time playing in the doorway of my closet for Arms and the Man. It gave me an actual physical hiding place! Which was so much fun and really made it feel like I was onstage.
Melisa Pereyra: We did the first read and at the end John (Director John Langs) said it makes sense to me for you all to be where you are. He liked that Nate was in his kitchen, and the two doors behind me in my office. We just worked with what was present, rather than create an environment for the characters we were playing...we invited them to come to our homes. The same rules applied to the props. When we could keep it simple, we did.
Eva Breneman: I have a big red comfy chair in my living room. I sit on it with my computer on a two books on a tray table. My computer is attached to an Ethernet cable that snakes across the length of my apartment—my wifi is so bad that I have to be hardwired to the internet or my Zoom goes crazy! Periodically my cat Mirabel will climb up next to my chair and try to drink out of my water glass. Alternatively she will stand behind my shoulder—she is quite the show-cat.
Arms and the Man
How does working differ on Zoom?
Kelsey Brennan: It was remarkably similar in some ways! Bill and I have a short hand of sorts we’ve developed over the years and it was more useful than ever given our medium and our truncated rehearsal time. On the other hand, Bill is a very visual storyteller, putting deep thought into the production elements of each and every play. On zoom we are limited by what is in our homes, forcing us to give up on what may be considered ideal lighting, staging, and storytelling; but at the same time, allowing us to rely even more on our imaginations and the imaginations of the APT audience.
Sarah Day: Doing this play without a partner that's living and breathing next to me is a very different sensation. Obviously the wonderful choice that the artistic directorship has made of doing incredibly language based is what is great for all of us. Because hearing the words and really using the scripts of great writers is wonderful. But you realize how much you depend on your body for communicating and reacting with one another. And we don't have that same ability right now. You just appreciate the beauty of the language all the more.
Tim Gittings: Sometimes when you've got a big show up the Hill and you've got all that extra time, then there can be, we can all kind of fall into the "we've got to be perfect" trap. But Bill was just very, very conscious of how much time we had, and he wanted us to feel good about it, so he just kind of guided us along and just kept us digging. He was really good at defining an outline about how he wanted things to run – we're going to be flying by the seat of our pants when we get it live, to a certain degree. So here's the loose framework, and just kind of keep it between the lines, but play around, you know?
What was it like to work on a Zoom play that will be staged at APT in the future?
James Ridge: Of course, it’s helpful to hear the play for a week and let it stew in the imagination until next summer. I may be playing different roles by then, so I can’t say what will carry over.
Stephen Brown-Fried: I was of course saddened when the season needed to be postponed, though I completely understood the necessity of this very tough decision. I think that knowing that this play was to happen Up The Hill added to the potency of the project for everyone involved — the reading was like getting a small glimpse into ‘what might have been,’ and so in that respect, there was a bittersweet aspect to it all. But in a different way, knowing that the project was intended to happen as a full production, and will, hopefully happen that way in the future, liberated us to really let this version be unique to the Zoom platform. Knowing that we’ll hopefully eventually be able to explore the in-person versions of these scenes allowed us to not feel the need to capture that in this moment, and instead, use this moment to explore what would really work best on Zoom.
Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been...
How did you translate a contemporary play to Zoom?
Gavin Lawrence: Yeah, we had to make a complete adjustment from how I think it was originally intended to be presented to an audience. When I did it for an audience on my feet, in a theater (laughing), you know, there was a scrim and some of the words in the poetry would be superimposed against the scrim, and at times they would scroll. At times I would move and be right in front of the scrim and the words would trickle down over my body. So it was really a whole different kind of thing.
I think when David Daniel first talked to me about how would we make it work on Zoom, he was looking at me kind of having a voiceover of the poetry and Zoom audience just seeing the words in like a PowerPoint slide. And then we talked a little bit more and we realized that, part of what works with this piece is Langston's connection to his audience. And if we lost Langston for too long, that it would become almost like a lecture presentation. And so we had to just kind of find what worked in terms of how do we juxtapose the words without it stealing too much focus from the actor? And also at the same time, how can the actor work in kind of concert with the words?
David Daniel: For the actors who don't have as many lines, it’s a hard job not to say anything when you're on screen. It's very tricky. So Brian's playing McCarthy, and he doesn't have to do a lot, because we all have this idea of McCarthy. So we can watch him sitting there and fill in the blanks, like, 'oh, that evil, evil man.' And he doesn't have to do much.
But in the trial, with this undercurrent of systemic racism, this disenfranchisement that's happening in the world right now, in this trial where Langston Hughes is on trial and he's speaking, we are going to check in with Frank Reeves, the lawyer, who’s played by Jamal James. Because Frank is another Black man in that courtroom, and when he doesn't say anything, that's a really important thing that he doesn't say anything. Because they don't necessarily even need to talk, or even look at each other. Because just them being beside each other is enough for both of them to go, ‘Yup. Here we go again.” So we wanted to find those times when they Langston and Reeves did connect, leaning in to talk and chat and whisper. And also find those times where they both just took the same breath for the same reason, just as two Black men in a room full of white men.
An Improbable Fiction
What were you grateful for?
Jim DeVita: I just really enjoyed just watching my colleagues. Because they're so freaking good. And I was struck with how lucky I am as a playwright to have people of that talent do your first rendering of a play, you know? And help you develop it? And how many playwrights don't have that - great, great writers who just don't have that support. So I was really aware of my gratefulness for that.
Brian Mani: I'm so blessed because I've got APT…I am still astounded every day that we're doing this. And I communicate with friends of mine that are actors that are not doing this, and they're like wow. It is amazing that you got two straight months of work out of this. I'm sure there are a few other little pockets across the country that are working like this this, but and the rest weren't equipped for it, or weren't ready for it, or didn't think of it in time. And the opportunity passed. But this series has been amazing. I am actually looking forward to a little time off, but I'm relishing these last moments.