Category Archives: Interviews

ELEANOR METHVEN: A SORCERER OF THE STAGE ·

(Sara Keating’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/16/22.)

For Methven, who stars as Prospero in Rough Magic’s The Tempest, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production

It is late on a Friday afternoon, and Eleanor Methven is sitting in the production offices of Rough Magic Theatre Company in Dublin city centre, running her lines. It is the end of the first week of rehearsals for director Lynne Parker’s new production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Methven takes the lead role of Prospero, the sorcerer hero now recast as a woman. It is a massive role, involving “pages and pages of these amazing speeches”, and with a highlighter pen Methven marks out the dense body of text she must learn.

Methven has been practising at home for weeks, “just sitting in my house, acting away, using what Prospero would tell me to — my imagination — to din it in. The neighbours must think I am mad.” So she is delighted and exhilarated to be finally in the rehearsal room. “Really what [an actor needs] is to learn their lines on the floor,” she says, “because the lines tend to be attached to your muscle memory. The more you repeat it, the more it goes in, the more natural it becomes. At the end of the day, you’re an actor, and what you are trying to do is create human beings [on the stage].”

For Methven, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production. When other actors of her vintage — she has been acting professionally for 45 years — are asked about their dream roles, they have a list of great parts they would love to play. Methven doesn’t. She wants to know “whose production are you talking about? Who else is in it? You can have the role you want, but what about the other parts? It could be a complete failure if you don’t have everyone you need around you. Theatre is about a total ensemble and that begins in the rehearsal room.”

 

Methven has been thinking a lot about this in relation to The Tempest. “A lot of the play is about how you order society and how you lead; what the character of your leadership is? The way Lynne runs an ensemble is very democratic; very much a case of ‘I have chosen these people because I think they are the best people to help me to do the play’. It is obvious of course that she is in charge. She works out all the production aspects with lighting, set designers, and it is up to her to keep a hold on all the skeins of silk she has and weave them together. But it is very much up to each individual to bring what they can to the rehearsal room every day, because that is your job, that is why she cast you.”

The actor and director have a long relationship, dating back to the 1980s, when Parker directed several productions for Charabanc, the theatre company that Methven set up in Belfast in 1983 with a group of like-minded female theatre artists. As she explains, the venture was born out of “unemployment, but not just unemployment. There weren’t many roles for [female actors] and when there were, they were ‘someone’s wife’ or ‘someone’s mother’, ‘someone’s daughter.’ We thought ‘we would like to be the someones for a change”.

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CHECKING IN WITH… ‘CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF’ STAR ALISON FRASER THE TWO-TIME TONY NOMINEE PLAYS BIG MAMA IN THE OFF-BROADWAY REVIVAL OF THE CLASSIC TENNESSEE WILLIAMS DRAMA. ·

(Andrew Gans’s article appeared on Playbill, 7/14.)  

This week Playbill catches up with two-time Tony nominee Alison Fraser, cast as Big Mama in Ruth Stage’s production of Tennessee Williams‘ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which begins previews July 15 prior to an official opening July 24 at The Theater at St. Clements. Directed by Joe Rosario, the production is the first mounting of the classic drama that the Williams estate has allowed to be produced Off-Broadway. The company also includes Sonoya Mizuno, Matt de Rogatis, Christian Jules Le Blanc, Spencer Scott, Tiffan Borelli, Jim Kempner, Milton Elliott, and Carly Gold.

Fraser was Tony-nominated for her performances in The Secret Garden and Romance/Romance, and her other Broadway credits include Tartuffe, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Gypsy. Off-Broadway the multitalented artist created the roles of Sharon in Squeamish (Off-Broadway Alliance, Outer Critics Circle Awards nominations), Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford in First Daughter Suite (Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk nominations), Arsinoé in The School for Lies, Sister Walburga in The Divine Sister, Trina in March of the Falsettos and In Trousers, and the Matron in the world premiere of Williams’ In Masks Outrageous and Austere. Among Fraser’s numerous screen credits are It Cuts Deep, Impossible Monsters, The Sound of Silence, Gotham, Family Games, Happy!, Blowtorch, High Maintenance, Understudies, Happyish, It Could Be Worse, Jack in a Box, Commentary, In the Blood, The L Word, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Between the Lions.

What is your typical day like now?
I have a pretty structured schedule right now because I am deep in the thick of the Mississippi Delta these days, playing Big Mama in Ruth Stage’s Off-Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at St. Clement’s. Before I turn into Big Mama though, I have my Brooklyn duties—getting up at seven to have breakfast with my partner Steve, give him the lunch I pack for him every day, read the New York Times, watch a little Morning Joe, give the cats their breakfast, tidy up, do some paperwork, perhaps do a self tape or voiceover audition in my home studio, and go over music I will be singing in the future. Then I go over all my Big Mama lines with my bedraggled script sitting on my beautiful antique brass music stand, and hopefully I don’t have ever to refer to it. Then I take the subway (masked) to St. Clement’s and deep dive into this classic Tennessee Williams drama, which is directed by the visionary Joe Rosario.

I don’t think there has ever been a sexier Maggie/Brick coupling than the absolutely stunning Sonoya Mizuno and the brooding heartthrob Matt de Rogatis. Brace yourselves, this particular delta is mighty steamy! There might be teddies and tattoos involved…Then, Steve picks me up, we take the subway (masked) back to Brooklyn, and we talk and unwind, go to sleep, then it all starts over again. I like the limbo of an intense tech period—it requires absolute commitment and concentration, and moves forward so fast every day to the first public performance. It is a rush.

Is this a role you have wanted to play? How are you approaching your portrayal of Big Mama?
I never envisioned myself as a Big Mama, but I am certainly a big Tennessee Williams fan. I was introduced to him early on, choosing—unwisely, in retrospect—Blanche Du Bois’ “He was a boy, just a boy, and I was a very young girl…” speech from A Streetcar Named Desire for my dramatic interpretation performance in Natick High School’s Competitive Speech Club state finals. Needless to say, I did not go home with trophies, but I was hooked, and later got to be involved with very interesting Tennessee Williams projects. I did Dirty Shorts, a pair of erotic TW short stories with Michael Urie and directed by David Kaplan, the head of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. I had given David a copy of my first album, New York Romance, and he contacted me and said he needed a peculiarly versatile singer for a show he wanted to do. It turned out to be Tennessee WilliamsWords and Music, and he thought I would be a good fit. It’s a compilation of American Songbook songs TW always included in his various plays (Cat‘s “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” for example) and pieces of text from various plays that all meshed into an extraordinary theatrical journey. Once the jaw-droppingly talented Allison Leyton-Brown was on board as the musical director, arranger, and onstage pianist—backed by our great seven-piece band, “The Gentleman Callers”—the show became magical. We recorded it in New Orleans, and it’s available on Ghostlight Records. And, it’s great. Then I worked with Shirley  Knight, one of Tennessee Williams’  muses, in the world premiere of  TW’s last play, In Masks Outrageous and Austere, which was a wild Off-Broadway production that got better and better and wilder and wilder as the weeks went on. Dangerous, lyrical, thrilling theatre.

I was approached by Matt de Rogatis about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof about two years ago and met with him and Joe Rosario, who told me about his unique concept for the Pollitts. He wanted them to be attractive, sexually viable, very nouveau riche and entitled. As I recall,  one of the terms he used was “Kardashian.” And, that was something that really appealed to me. It’s right in the text that these two were sleeping with each other up to the time he started getting sick with terminal colon cancer. I lived with a man with colon cancer, my late husband Rusty Magee, and as I read the script, I felt I really understood the mercurial moods these two people in health trauma were experiencing due to physical reactions to treatment or emotional distress. I do believe there is real love and was real passion between them, and the fact that they stayed together over 40 years attests to this. But sickness, in addition to alcoholism in the family, foments major tension in a household. Once I met my Big Daddy, the glorious, utterly charming, smart as a whip New Orleans native Christian Le Blanc on Zoom, Big Mama fell utterly in love. And, when we finally got together? The more he rages against the storm, the more Big Mama loves him, and will fiercely protect him. Till death do they part.

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Plus CBS interview with Christian LeBlanc, also starring in this production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF:

LIV ULLMANN ANSWERS QUESTIONS FROM STAGE VOICES IN THE UK GUARDIAN ·

(The legendary Liv Ullmann, recipient of an honorary Oscar in 2022, answered two questions, in the UK Guardian, from Bob Shuman of Stage Voices Web site [BobStageVoices]. Read her responses below, as well as queries from other participants in Catherine Shoard’s Reader Interview.  Thank  you!!!)

 

LIV ULLMANN: ‘I RAN AFTER GRETA GARBO IN THE STREET. SHE OUTPACED ME’

(As told to Catherine Shoard in the Guardian, 3/24; Photo:  Liv Ullmann … ‘Since turning 80, it’s not blue light any more – it’s something else, it’s not darkness’ Photograph: Charlie Clift/Camera Press.)

The actor and director answers your questions on how Ingmar Bergman changed her life, her feelings at receiving an honorary Oscar, and holidaying at a leper colony in Japan

When you were working with Ingmar Bergman, were you aware that you were creating some of the greatest films in history, or did that realisation only happen with time? PaulMarnier

When I met him, I had been an actor for seven years and knew he was looked on as a genius. That’s what I thought, too. So when he said he would really like to have me in a film, and wrote Persona for Bibi Andersson and me, I was aware I was to work with an incredible man. But I never knew it would mean I would be in 11 of his movies and direct some of his scripts. I had no idea it would mean a big change in my life.

How did you and Bibi Andersson prepare for your roles in Persona? TheBigBadWolf

If I really feel the role inside, even if it’s very different from me, I will allow it to become a part of me. I’m very happy to work with great directors because they give you the words and the circumstances and then allow you to find the person within yourself. That’s how I work.

What do you think brings people back to Persona after all these years? For all the ways society and expression have expanded, this is still one of the most compelling and truthful portraits of intimacy between women I have seen on-screen (speaking as a gay woman in her 30s) rnsinsf

‘The love we felt was very easy to find’ … Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Persona. Photograph: United Artists/Allstar

At that time – and maybe even today – it was a new kind of movie. Bibi and I were the best of friends and so free towards each other, and the love we felt was very easy to find. I believe I was speaking in the film for Bergman. I was 25, and he was 21 years older, but I believe so much had happened in his life that he used a young woman to present what he was thinking and feeling. Perhaps a woman is not so scared of showing the truth.

Then he fell in love with one of the actresses making the movie [Bergman and Ullmann were together for five years and had a daughter, Linn, who is now 55]. I think that love was part of it. He was in despair and suddenly he saw a new beginning. Not through me, but he experienced what happened between these two women – who looked as if they were quarrelling but who reached each other tremendously – as a solution. He ended his former life after that movie.

I think the film does reflect how society’s perception of gender and identity has changed if we look for it. If we allow that to happen. But I think in many ways today we are closing our ears to other people’s moods and despair. But also this terrible war [in Ukraine] has woken people up. And once awakened they want to be a part of it, they want to help. They feel empathy for all the people who are suffering so much. It’s a terrible war, but good things happen in people; they understand things better. We are not alone. We are part of everything. We are not witnesses.

As you are a co-founder of the Women’s Refugee Commission, will the organisation assist in the crisis in Ukraine? BobStageVoices

They are very much involved, as they were with women and children in Afghanistan not so long ago. They are trying to make people in the US open their homes and take an active part in helping them. When we founded the organisation more than 30 years ago with four people, I didn’t know we would grow so big. I’ve also been part of the International Rescue Committee for 45 years. It is an incredible organisation founded by Einstein after the second world war to help Jewish people escape Germany. They thought they would only be needed for a short time.

When you went to the US, how did you handle working in another language in a different culture? BobStageVoices

I’m very Norwegian. I’ve had a green card for many years but I think in Norwegian and have my morals and very often react inside as a Norwegian. There are things I admire tremendously in the US but there are also things that make me happy I am Norwegian. I have to be very careful because many Norwegians have been brought up differently and not everything I say and feel is the right thing.

Something I react to with horror now is that it’s so strict for Ukrainians who want to come to the US. There should be a law that people in such horror don’t have to have all their papers and agree to leave immediately. I get very shocked by that. To be honest, I know that the same thing will happen in Norway. But at least I can fight it more easily because I belong to that country. I don’t belong to the US. But I can say what I mean.

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BELARUS FREE THEATRE: ‘WE MUST GET OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONES IF WE WANT TO CONTINUE AS A DEMOCRACY ·

  1. (Natasha Tripney’s  article appeared in The Stage, 3/ 4; Photo: Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada. Credit: Marilyn Kingwill.)                                                                                                                                                                Belarus Free Theatre is bringing its show about autocracy, Dogs of Europe, to London’s Barbican Theatre. The company’s artistic directors, who are exiles in London, speak to Natasha Tripney as they help their Ukrainian colleagues to leave their war-torn country The world can change in the space of a week. When I initially spoke to Belarus Free Theatre’s Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin at the end of February, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had yet to take place, though the crisis dominated our conversation.                                                                                                                       They are in London rehearsing Dogs of Europe, a show they had been due to bring to the UK in 2020, and this was the first time the whole company had been in a room together to rehearse. The moment had been a long time coming, but it was overshadowed by world events.  Two days after we speak, after Kaliada and Khalezin expressed their frustration with the West’s slowness to impose sanctions, Russia mounted a full-scale invasion.

     

    Speaking on the phone a week later, Kaliada recalls the moment they shared this news with the company as one of “great silence and tension”. Many company members have family connections or friends in Ukraine – the show’s composers Mark and Marichka Marczyk, of Balaklava Blues, are Ukrainian. Kaliada and Khalezin, who have been exiled in London for more than a decade, have spent the recent days trying to help people find ways out of the country, barely sleeping, before rehearsing, while requesting that members stay off their phones as much as possible – to spare themselves the constant flow of distressing updates.

    ‘Why are you waiting for Russia to start the largest war since 1945?’

    Dogs of Europe is one of BFT’s most ambitious shows to date. Based on a popular dystopian novel by Alhierd Baharevic, about the dangers of allowing authoritarianism to take hold, it features an elaborate combination of choreography, live music and video – all elements that had to be coordinated remotely. Even before Covid-19 made remote working a reality for theatremakers, their exiled status means the company is accustomed to working in this way. It is a complex and metaphorical show, says Kaliada, not an easy show. “But one that will make you think, make you feel and make you question.”

    When I saw the show in Minsk, back in March 2020, it was performed, as is always the case with the company’s work, underground. The location was kept secret – audiences communicated via social media. There was a palpable excitement about the piece, about seeing this book on stage, hearing the Belarusian language spoken in this context. There was a sense that things were not easing, not exactly, but that the regime was grudgingly prepared to tolerate their work. Then, as countries around the world went into lockdown, Kaliada and Khalezin halted the production, even though Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko had yet to impose any public health-related restrictions – he was still at that time denying the virus was anything to worry about – and found new ways to connect with audiences, performing work in rural areas on a specially built wooden raft.

    In August of 2020, Lukashenko declared a huge majority at the presidential election, a widely contested result that triggered waves of protests around the country. These were brutally put down. A number of BFT company members were arrested, including company manager Svetlana Sugako, who spent five days in jail in hellish conditions. 

    Ahead of the election, Belarus Free Theatre urged politicians in the West to sanction Lukashenko, knowing the election would be falsified, but with no success. “And now we see the same situation with Ukraine,” says Kaliada. This failure to move from words to actions is deeply frustrating.

    “Why are you waiting for Russia to start the largest-scale war since 1945?” Putin made his intentions clear, but “politics doesn’t work like that. It’s working on a reaction, not a correction. That’s a major failure in terms of democracy”.

    Months of protests followed. The climate in Belarus became increasingly oppressive. Bacharevic’s book was classified as “extremist material”, essentially banning it, and last year, after making work underground for close to 17 years, the company made the difficult decision to take all their members out of the country. The situation had become too dangerous for them to stay. They were threatened with jail if they were arrested and the threat was real. Based on data compiled by human-rights organisations, there are more artists in jail than journalists or human-rights activists. This wasn’t an easy operation. There were risks – not to mention the emotional toll of uprooting families and leaving their homes – but they managed it.

    ‘It is easier to complain about the sickness of a system than to do something about it’

    Now they are trying to help other people evacuate Ukraine, while using social-media channels to show the reality for citizens in Ukraine and Russia. This was a conflict that people should have seen coming, says Kaliada. Having lived under Lukashenko’s regime, they knew all too well what dictatorship looks like, how it operates. They’ve chronicled the impact of Russian suppression and oppression in their work for years – in 2016’s Burning Doors, about Russia’s clampdown on artistic freedom; collaborating with the Marczyks on their show about the Maidan protests, Counting Sheep, and in their recent documentary Alone, about Ukrainian rock star Andriy Khlyvnyuk’s attempts to raise awareness of the plight of Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov by staging a concert on the border of annexed Crimea.

    (Read more)

 

JOAQUINA KALUKANGO ISN’T AFRAID TO SPEAK UP ANYMORE ·

(Originally printed in The New York Times,  2/25; via Update News World and Pam Green; Photo:  The New York Times.)

When Joaquina Kalukango was Done with “Slave Play,” she was done with “Slave Play.”

Kalukango, a Black woman desperate to find sexual fulfillment with her white husband, had to put an end to her four-month-long tenure on the show. She played the roles of an overseer and an slave. She played a character that dealt with sexual, generational, psychological and physical trauma eight times a week for a total of two hours.

“How do you do that without your soul falling apart?” Kalukango said in a recent interview. “You have to figure that out.”

So she made a clean break, ceasing all psychoanalysis of Kaneisha and taking onscreen parts, including as Betty Shabazz in “One Night in Miami.”

Now, after two years away from Broadway as it weathered the pandemic, Kalukango is stepping into a radically different role: as the lead actress in the big-budget, large-ensemble musical, “Paradise Square.” She plays Nelly O’Brien, a woman whose father escaped slavery and who now runs a bar in the Five Points neighborhood of Civil War-era Manhattan; her tight-knit community of Black Americans and Irish immigrants unravels in the days leading up to the 1863 Draft Riots, when white working-class New Yorkers formed violent racist mobs following a draft lottery.

The show, which starts previews at the Barrymore Theater on March 15 after a five-week run in Chicago in the fall, is Kalukango’s first top billing in a Broadway musical.

“She was making steps toward this leading-lady position, and she’s finally there,” said Danielle Brooks, an actress who has been close friends with Kalukango since they studied at Juilliard together.

“I think she’s ready to walk into this just how Audra did and just how LaChanze did,” she added, comparing her to Audra McDonald and to the “Trouble in Mind” star.

But this new chapter is about much more than how the industry perceives Kalukango, whose performance as Kaneisha earned her a Tony nomination and a reputation for a magnetic star quality, as the director of “Paradise Square,” Moisés Kaufman, put it.

“It’s about owning my power, trusting who I am, trusting that my opinions about my character are valid,” Kalukango said. (Kalukango landed “Paradise Square” without an audition: In an early Zoom meeting with Kaufman, he said, “I don’t need you to read anything. I know that you can do this.”)

Kalukango, 33 years old, described herself as a reserved listener and an actress who tended not to question the authority in the room. Kalukango used to have a problem with a scene or character in rehearsals. She would then feel awkward and foolish on stage. It wasn’t until she saw other Black actresses speaking up in rehearsals — such as Tonya Pinkins in “Hurt Village” — that she began to start building the confidence to do the same. Her experience, age and a pandemic gave her a sense for urgency.

“Once that pandemic hit, it was like, this is life or death, people,” she said. “You can’t sit up here and be in a shell anymore. You have to take ownership of your craft, ownership of your art, ownership of who you are as a person.”

Kalukango, the youngest of three children born to Angolan parents after fleeing civil war, was born in Atlanta. Her three siblings were all much older; she remembers being too young to participate in the animated conversations about politics at the dinner table — one place where she grew accustomed to observing from the background.

As a child, Kalukango’s experiences performing were mostly limited to impersonating Whitney Houston and Aaliyah at home on her family’s karaoke machine. It wasn’t until after a middle school talent show that a counselor suggested she audition for a performing arts high school.

This led her to Juilliard. Brooks and Kalukango recall the frustrations of being the only Black women enrolled in acting classes with very few Black instructors. Brooks recalled that they were often mistaken for one another at auditions. Kalukango felt that not all instructors had the faculties to help her incorporate her race and background into her characters.

“Some teachers weren’t able to communicate what it meant for me to play a character — to play Hedda Gabler as a Black woman,” she recalled. “Could I interpret anything of myself in this character? Or is my color completely gone from this — my culture gone from this?”

“They weren’t having those conversations,” she continued. “And so I felt unseen.”

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MARIA FRIEDMAN: ‘SONDHEIM WAS A KIND MAN, BUT GOD, HE COULD BE VERY DIRECT’ ·

(Kate Kellaway’s article appeared in the Guardian,  2/13;  via Pam Green; Maria Friedman at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer.)

The musical theatre star on her new tribute show to Stephen Sondheim, her unconventional upbringing, and her happiest song…

Maria Friedman, 61, is a singer, actor and director who has a natural musicality (her parents were classical musicians) and knows how to get inside a song and make it her own – and ours – with emotional precision. An eight-time Olivier nominee (she has won the prize three times), she is known for her interpretations of Stephen Sondheim’s songbook, and is about to celebrate him and the composers Marvin Hamlisch and Michel Legrand in Legacy, a show at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. Friedman is married to the actor Adrian Der Gregorian and has two sons.

Tell me about the first time you met Stephen Sondheim…
I was in my early 20s and in a gala as a replacement for a singer who had flu. I had two days to learn Broadway Baby [from Sondheim’s Follies]. The lyrics fitted me like a glove: it was about a girl with aspirations who wanted to land a great job and not work in cafes or live in a bedsit with no money. Everyone considered Broadway Baby Elaine Stritch’s song [she was also on the bill that night]. The music started and a spotlight went on to the middle of the stage. I took a deep breath and was about to start my song when, from the top of the gods, someone shouted: “Get off, we want Elaine!” I had tears in my eyes but dug really deep into those lyrics. It’s what I have done ever since. Sondheim’s work is extraordinary: when you trust it and live in it, it keeps you safe. The place went berserk. Sondheim was in the audience; at the party afterwards he asked: “Who was that girl?”

What was he like as a character?
He came to see me later in Ghetto at the National, and it was after that I got cast as Dot in Sunday in the Park With George. Sondheim was the most curious person I’ve ever met. His intelligence was dazzling, but what I loved most was his capacity to laugh and to care and to listen.

So was the nuanced bittersweet quality of his music in evidence in the man himself?
Life is bittersweet and his music reflects that. He wrote about people’s complexities and relished them. There was never any judgment about people being fractured. He was a kind, loyal man, but God, he could be very … direct.

I gather he was godfather to one of your boys?
He was godfather to my son Toby and mentor to my younger son, Alfie.

How do you interpret a song –?
It’s gradual. You have a smell, a feeling about your connection. You feel it coming closer and closer until it becomes part of your marrow and suddenly it belongs to you. Sondheim’s genius was that he left space for every actor to bring their own life into play – he was open to new interpretations and would roar with laughter when you came up with something he had not thought of.

Tell me about your show at the Chocolate Factory, which will celebrate not only Sondheim but the American composer Marvin Hamlisch and French composer Michel Legrand …
I worked with them both, and travelled the world with them. I sang at Marvin Hamlisch’s memorial along with Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. Michel Legrand came to see me in one of my shows and actually played the piano, which was unbelievable. I sang at his memorial too.

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IRINA BROOK’S STAGE OBSESSION: ‘IT’S BEEN 50 YEARS – THEATRE, THEATRE, THEATRE!’ ·

(Andrew Dickson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/28; Photo: The sunshine that blasts away the shadows… Irina Brook, director. Photograph: Amanda Lane.)

She grew up in an artistic dynasty and was once rejected for a part by her dad. Now the director is turning her life into an epic new project. She reflects on Chekhov, Shakespeare and Iggy Pop

What are memories? Stories we tell ourselves? Do they occupy neatly filed compartments in the brain? Perhaps – as Cicero and others argued – memory is a sort of palace or theatre: an atmospheric space filled with objects pregnant with meaning, or a realist stage set on which figures are forever materialising and disappearing.

Inside a swaggering 18th-century palazzo in Palermo, Irina Brook is trying to find answers to these questions – at least some of them. The project is entitled The House of Us. Three years in the planning and writing, the first piece she has created from scratch, it is a melange of autobiographical installations, photographs, video, music and theatrical performance. The audience will wander through it all, trespassers in Brook’s memory.

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JOE KINNISON’S IMPROV—THE WRITER AND ANGLER ON HIS NEW HOW-TO BOOK: ‘NEXT-LEVEL BASS FISHING’–FROM SKYHORSE ·

JOE KINNISON is on the hook for our latest interview, talking with SV’s Bob Shuman about getting started in bass fishing, enjoying the peace, beauty, and intellectual challenge of the sport, and sharing insights from the world’s top Bassmaster anglers:  Christiana Bradley, Tyler Carriere, Destin Demarion, Pam Martin-Wells, and Brandon Palaniuk. 

 

Joe Kinnison “sincerely promotes fishing for everyone.” His previous book is Oh’Fish-Al Innsbrook Fishing Guide, on fishing technique tailored to a lake resort community in Eastern Missouri. Joe is an officer in a St. Louis fishing club, and he has several bass tournament wins. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers Guild and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SOEPA). 

 

What did you hook your first fish with—and what are your first memories of fishing?

When I was in primary school, my parents bought a small farm. The farm was all of the way at the end of a miles long gravel road. A small neighborhood organization took up a collection to maintain the road, along with a well that served water to the community. The well was a short walk up the road from our site, and a roughly two acre, kidney-bean-shaped pond was just downhill from the well on common ground. The pond was difficult to approach. It was surrounded by weeds and generally not well kept. Still, we decided to try fishing in the pond one summer day. After trampling enough weeds to get to the water’s edge, we baited hooks with bobbers and worms and started casting. In what seemed like no time, we were reeling in bass, many of which were good size, at least to a kid. Nearly every cast produced a fish, and I remember getting worn out, more than feeling that we’d caught all we could.

What kind of bait do you use today?

I use artificial baits today, and I change baits depending on the forage of the lake and the season of the year. I have had some of my best fishing days, in terms of volume, fishing a lipless crankbait. A lipless crankbait is a fairly heavy lure which is shaped like a fish. The fishing line ties to about the center of the fish’s back which makes the lure wiggle as it moves. A lipless crankbait can be cast a long distance, and the lure is retrieved at a regular rate. I use the lure to cover flats, which are large, shallow sections of lakes. I have had some of my most prolific fishing days dragging a lipless crankbait up the deep edge of a flat and long distances over the submerged surface of the flat. When the fish bite this moving lure, they tend to bite hard. The long length of fishing line from the long cast gives the hooked fish room run, and surge, and jump.

How has your technique changed over the years—and what crucial insight did you have about it?

When I moved to St. Louis, I started getting together with a small group of anglers. We jokingly called ourselves the Bassin’ Assassins. About once a month, we would travel to a group of ponds on a friend’s farm. We were not a very experienced group, but the ponds were seldom fished. These bass would bite almost anything. I started by throwing an inline spinner, which is really more of a trout lure than a bass lure. The bass bit it anyway. Since the ponds were a forgiving environment for an up-and-coming angler, I started experimenting. What I learned is that I preferred to fish slow, rather than just rip baits along a path and try for a reaction strike. I liked making the bait appear natural and move like a real crayfish or a worm. I later learned that this style of mimicking prey is called finesse fishing. Finesse fishing is the method I most prefer. It is slower, it gives a good feel for the fish, and being able to tempt a fish with what it believes is actual food is rewarding.

Why do you think people give up on fishing—and is there a way to keep them going with the sport?

I have met many people who like catching, but don’t necessarily like fishing. I think most people get excited to have a fish on the line. They get to steer the fish, reel it in, control it, and grab its lip. Although that’s the excitement of the sport, catching does not always happen. Moreover, sometimes when it does happen, the fish do not fight, or they are too small to be challenging. During most fishing trips, there is a period of time when the fish are not biting. Those are the times when most people give up on fishing, finding it boring. Those that stick with the sport seem to be the anglers that start seeking solutions when the fishing is idle. They start changing lures, alternating retrieve cadences, or switching colors. They start to notice changes in water color or wind direction or sun angle. Those that begin to understand the natural elements that impact the catching. These are the ones that keep going with the sport. I think the best way to learn the types of things that matter to fishing success is to spend time on the water with someone who loves fishing, not catching.

You interviewed five professional anglers, affiliated with Bassmaster for this book—were there any commonalities to their experience and stories?  Are most people who fish helpful to the newcomer?

Fishing is a welcoming community, especially to kids. In my experience, anglers are like golfers, in that they are happy to recount the elements that led up to their par, what club, what distance, what line, and so on.  For anglers, it may be what reels and cranks, what location, or what technique. While some anglers protect their secrets, most are quite open in sharing their experiences. As for the professionals, the most common element of their stories is that they each had a mentor. Be it a grandfather, brother, or family friend, each angler had a generous fishing enthusiast take them under their arm and give them experiences on the water. Although fishing is the second most popular outdoor sport, fishing can seem to be a small and not mainstream community. Really, it’s not. You just need to find a friend.

What does a fisherperson do during the off-season?

The off-season for professional fishing may not be what you think, the off-season is actually in the fall. Professional tours start as early as February, and the season ends in July. While that is the professional ranks, I make the point in my book that I am far from a professional caliber angler. For me, the off season is what you might expect, winter. I live in the Midwest, and I am not a big fan of cold. Some of my peers travel to Arkansas each year to fish for trout in the Ozark mountain streams. Personally, I like the heartiness and the fight of bass, so I stick with that type of fishing. I give my boat a good cleaning about Thanksgiving time, and I park it until the Easter season. I spend the winter reading and writing.

Please discuss the issue of releasing fish after they are caught. Why would or wouldn’t you do this—is it ever required?

Choosing to either keep or release a bass is a thorny issue, and there are passionate opinions on both sides. Large and smallmouth bass are not good eating fish. They are edible, but they would not be a first choice among diners. As such, keeping these fish for food is not the norm. For most of my fishing tenure, catch-and-release has been the preferred method. Recently, however, lake management views have been changing. Bass tend to be the apex predators in most lakes. With few adversaries, the fish tend to overpopulate. When a bass population gets too large, sufficient food is not present to support all of those fish. The fish tend to grow to approximately the same size and compete for what nourishment is available. These fish tend to thin. The industry calls such fish stunted. The bulk of the fish population of a lake can be unhealthy, starving. Some of the new thinking is that small bass should be removed from lakes and rivers to try to prevent the stunting problem. With small bass being particularly hard to prepare as food, the question becomes what to do with them. Dead fish are better used for garden fertilizer or even left on the bank to feed birds and raccoons. Some animal rights people believe that culling small fish is inhumane. Other animal rights people believe that starving a population of fish is inhumane. There are good arguments on both sides. I am a believer that catch-and-keep is the best policy.

What is fish body language and how does knowing about it help when fishing?

Even experienced anglers generally do not know that largemouth bass can change color. The fish have the ability to express the green and black pigments in their skin, or they can mask those pigments. It would not be unusual to catch really green-looking bass on one trip, and then catch really white-looking bass on another trip on the same lake. Coloration depends on how deep the bass are swimming and how much vegetation is in the water. Bass express their pigments when they are in the weeds. The green shades make them harder to find. The suppress their pigments when they are in deep or open water. More whiteness makes them harder to see by other fish looking from the bottom toward the surface. The pigment provides information to the angler. If you reel in a white-ish bass, it does not mean the animal is unhealthy. Instead, it means the animal came from a deep, suspended position to bite the lure. In that way, the coloration of the bass tells you at what depth the fish are feeding. This is valuable information for the angler.

How would this book have been written if you worked on it ten years ago—what has changed in the field?

I do not think this book could have been written a decade ago. Like many pursuits, fishing has undergone tremendous technological change in the last ten years. In that period of time, the industry has developed high resolution sonar equipment, invisible fishing lines, and previously unheard of lure presentations like umbrella rigs. Due to the improvements in the technology, most anglers have been focused on trying new gear. The new gear has been effective in improving catch rates, especially for offshore fish. As the technology has been assimilated, in my experience, questions remained unanswered. For example, if we both have all of the greatest gear, what makes an angler on the Bassmaster Elite tour different from me? In looking for that explanation, it became clear to me that soft skills separate anglers who already possess the latest technology. It really comes back to the human elements to determine success. Mentorship is a factor. It is also sensory skills, creativity, and organization that make the true difference.

What do you discuss in the book that isn’t typically covered in fishing books?

This may sound mundane, but one of the things that I discuss is how to get on the water. Some of the nation’s best fishing lakes are overwhelmingly large. It can be a difficult problem just to get started, and no one tells you that perspective. I point readers to where to launch their boat, where to get a guide, where to stay overnight, and where to grab dinner. Such practical things are often omitted in fishing books. Beyond the practical, few other fishing books will inform readers about things like sensory training and improvisation techniques.

How long does it take, on average, for someone to feel confident in fishing?

Getting confident in fishing can take a while. I cannot really identify a precise timetable, but I would say about five years will not be far off. As with any sport, some people have a natural gift for fishing. They may be particularly aware of nature or unusually observant. These folks usually start fast. For the fast starters as for the rest of us, eventually the angler will have an outing where they catch nothing. A reliable bait does not work or no fish reside in a confident “honey hole.” At these times, whatever confidence the beginning angler has fails. What restores confidence is going back out on the water and trying different lures, different techniques, and different locations until one finds and catches the fish. Having to adapt to different conditions and different quirks is what ultimately makes a successful angler. One would have to have experienced several shut-out situations before becoming assured that success could be achieved under most  fishing conditions.  Personally, going onto a lake knowing that I can effectively fish crankbaits, or spinnerbaits, or soft plastics, or swimbaits is what ultimately gave me confidence. That and being able to consistently out-fish my brother-in-law.

Do you honestly believe that both sensory training and improv training really make a difference to an angler?

Both of these disciplines sound “new agey,” and “fluffy,” as in not tangible. I refer people to a scientific study of a baseball team that employed sensory techniques. The results were measurable. In the book, I tried to translate some of the sensory training ideas to outdoors pursuits. I have tried these sensory exercises, and I believe that they have helped my fishing. My most memorable response to suggestions for sensory training was an angry one. A very experienced angler chastised me for trying to teach people what for him was just being “in the zone.” I guess he had some natural abilities, and he was upset that I was teaching people how to make the best of their lesser gifts. Improv is also a tentative conversation for most anglers. People seem to think that I’m trying to get them to try out for Second City Comedy or something of that ilk. No, I’m trying to provide permission and instill a process for experimentation. Sometimes just knowing it’s okay to cast a jig with a purple streamer or a crankbait with a worm weight ahead of it on the line is acceptable as long as it is purposeful.

You really make the sport sound approachable and fun.  How were you able to do that?

Two teachers in particular had an influence on my life. A high school English teacher was a fiend for economy of language. Second, a college professor once lowered a grade on a paper saying that I turned in ten pages because I did not have time to write eight pages. He wanted editing and economy. I brought those sentiments into my professional life, and I became a big advocate for clarity and simplicity. I believe that writing in that fashion makes most topics approachable.

Fishing can get really complex, and the industry is heavy on jargon. I have heard professional anglers take more than a full minute just to tell you the details of their rod, reel, line, and lure combination. I do not think it needs to be that complicated. One of the things that I really liked about the anglers that I worked with is that they too kept it simple. For example, one only used two lure colors, among the hundreds of choices. If the pros can reduce the options to two, so can weekend anglers.

Finally, fishing is fun. Something about the man versus beast situation is primal. Fishing is a rite of passage. Getting proficient at fishing is really just calling upon skills you use in other areas of your life and channeling them productively into this particular pursuit. Most people have the life skills that enable at least some measure of success at fishing. I am hoping to draw these out of people so that they enjoy the peace, beauty, majesty, and intellectual challenge of the sport as I do.

Thanks so much, Joe, for talking with Stage Voices.

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Photo permissions (from top): Skyhorse; Joe Kinnison; Tyler Carriere 

(c) 2021 by Joe Kinnison (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

JULIET STEVENSON: ‘MY AGENT SAID: GO TO HOLLYWOOD. I THOUGHT: I JUST CAN’T DO THIS SH*T’ ·

(Donald Clarke’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 8/21. Photo: Juliet Stevenson: ‘The union was a big part of our lives. It seems absurd for a bunch of actors to be talking about the revolution. But we did that then.’)

She comes to Galway next month (kind of) in an adaptation of José Saramago’s Blindness

Juliet Stevenson has been a force in British acting for more than four decades. She landed at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in the late 1970s and, after a short period of spear carrying, triumphed as Isabella in Measure for Measure, Rosalind in As You Like It and Madame de Tourvel in the company’s legendary production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. She was scientist Rosalind Franklin in the BBC’s terrific Life Story from 1987. We could go on.

For a brief moment there was, however, a possibility that she could have become something else. Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly Deeply, in which she played a cellist communing supernaturally with her late husband, was a critical and financial hit in 1990. 

“My agent said: ‘you have got to go to Hollywood’,” she says. “ ‘Go for the big stuff.’ I absolutely couldn’t manage that. I just didn’t feel that was my element at all. I thought: ‘I just can’t do this sh*t – schmoozing, swimming pools, wandering into casting directors’ offices? It is not my thing’.”

Rodeo Drive’s loss was Shaftesbury Avenue’s gain. She continued to boss the West End. She is immovable from high-end television. And now she is available to light up the Galway International Arts Festival in Simon Stephens’s adaptation of José Saramago’s novel Blindness. Or is she? Premiered last August in London’s Donmar Warehouse, the show, a timely tale of a pandemic, makes use of the actor’s recorded voice. The audience sit in spookily lit, isolated positions and listen as an unseen Stevenson, preserved in a binaural sound, drifts around them.

“No, I won’t be there,” she says. “I would give my eye teeth to be in Galway. I love it – one of my favourite places on earth, but no. I’m not saying this because I’m selling the show to you, but, when I went to it, I thought: ‘well, this is not going to be very immersive’. But lots of my mates said to me: ‘I honestly thought you were at the show because you knew I was coming today – that you decided to do it live.’ They felt that.”

Recorded on complex microphones shaped to emulate the human head, the sound replicates the experience of a source moving left, right, above and below. But does this still counts as live theatre. Stevens, the hugely prolific theatre maker best known for his adaptation of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has thought deeply about this.

But the assembling of strangers in one place for a shared experience is also a vital part

“I think it’s a fair question,” he says. “You know there was a time when we used semantics to suggest the opposite. Ha ha! When it was really clear that no piece of live theatre was legal in London. ‘It’s not theatre!’ It raises quite interesting philosophical questions. The form is predicated on two elements. One of the elements I think is inarguably missing: the live presence of a performer. I think it would be disingenuous to lie about that. But the assembling of strangers in one place for a shared experience is also a vital part.”

It must have been strange attending the show last summer. The uncertainty and unease were that bit greater than they are today.

“Sitting in the space with people I’d never met before, experiencing this piece together was as theatrical an experience as I’ve ever had,” he says. “In that sense I would strongly argue that there’s much which is very theatrical about this.”

Saramago’s 1995 novel concerns a city afflicted by an inexplicable epidemic of blindness. Stevenson’s character is spared and is thus able to talk us through the near-total breakdown of society. Noting that this is a “testimony of a survivor”, Stephens argues we are dealing with an optimistic text. Really? There are some grim messages here. At any rate, it feels like the ideal project for the pandemic years. And yet . . .

(Read more)

PHYLLIS WHEELER SHINES A LIGHT ON HER TEEN NOVEL: ‘THE LONG SHADOW,’ FROM ELK LAKE PUBLISHING, INC. (INTERVIEW) ·

In her second interview for Stage Voices, Phyllis Wheeler talks race in America, during three different time periods; stranger danger and comfort zones; and walking a mile–in someone else’s shoes.

Author Phyllis Wheeler tells stories that encourage us to step outside our comfort zones. She’s done it—she and her husband spent twenty years raising their family in a black neighborhood in segregated St. Louis. She’s been a journalist, an engineer, and a homeschooling mom. Now she’s thrilled to be following her dream of becoming an author for young people. Find out more and get a free short story at phylliswheeler.com .

View The Long Shadow on Amazon

Visit Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.  

 

Photo by Arpit Mehta

Without giving too much away, tell us about your novel.

The Long Shadow is a racial reconciliation novel featuring time travel. Fourteen-year-old Richie, from white suburbia, thinks it is a good idea to run away from his guardian – until he finds himself whisked back 50 years, fighting to survive a freak storm, afraid to accept help from a black man.

As Morris mentors him in woodsman skills, a friendship develops. Richie wants to repay his life-debt to Morris and embarks on another trip in time, to 1923 in Missouri.  Can he prevent the lynching of Morris’s grandfather?

Why do you think The Long Shadow stands out in the youth market?

First of all, it’s on the topic of our times, racial reconciliation. Many people want to know more. Secondly, it faces a hitherto-taboo topic head-on. That topic is lynching. Our nation’s sad history of lynching and terrorism against Black people has been ignored or avoided in the past, but it’s high time we pulled it out and dealt with it, in my opinion. Thirdly, the book carries an emotional punch that’s unusual in middle grade fiction.

What seems to be important in writing for young readers (ages 10-14)?

  • Young people find role models when they read, so it’s important to have characters in your story readers want to emulate.
  • Personally I think a happy or mostly happy ending is important. Who wants to read a book and get depressed by it?
  • Beyond that, kids are looking for the same story elements as everyone else: relatable characters, strong plots that keep moving, a satisfying resolution.

All ages might notice your ability with structuring the novel, which takes place in three different times.  Why did you think you could make that work–and, for writers, how do you think and work with structure?

I worked with the basic three-act structure for starters, and then added a sub plot that has its own three act structure. I guess I thought I could make it work because I got positive responses from people who read the manuscript.

More details, if you are interested:

There’s a story setup in Act 1, present day. At the beginning of Act 2, Richie embarks on a journey to find independence, running off to the woods.  Richie eventually realizes he has been sent back fifty years somehow. Act 2 contains various setbacks and consequences as Richie, in the woods in 1969, interacts with a person of a different race, Morris, whom he fears. They begin to build a friendship.  Richie urges Morris to return to his family in town, but Morris has fears related to his grandfather’s lynching. And now the sub plot: Richie takes off for 1923 to try to prevent the lynching. That story contains three acts as well. After that sub plot finishes, we return to the main story, coming to resolution in 1969 and then the present day.

What kinds of research did the book involve?

I set the present-day sequences in Webster Groves, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where I live, so researching that was easy. The 1969 sequences were mostly set in a wooded area of my state where my husband and I have spent a lot of time, near Farmington, Missouri.  And, in 1969, I was 17 years old. I remember it so clearly. So the part I had to research was 1923 in Columbia, Missouri. I dramatized an actual lynching, that of James T. Scott. This took several days of research in libraries in Columbia.

Now, Columbia happens to be the home of a big university: Mizzou, the University of Missouri.  This had two beneficial effects for me:

  • Grad students over the years analyzed the town history, including Jason Jindrich in 2002 researching how Black people lived in Columbia in the 1920s.
  • Mizzou journalism school student journalist Charles Nutter was present at the mob scene and wrote extensive eyewitness reports.

If the lynching had been in a different town, I wouldn’t have had these resources. I chose that lynching to base my story on not because of that, though. It was simply the most recent one in Missouri on record at the time I checked, and I needed a recent one in order to make the time line work.

The Long Shadow has characters of different races.  As a white writer, what are the traps and issues you faced not being limited by only working with your own race? 

Because I’ve had so many Black friends and neighbors, I think I can walk a mile in their shoes, but I really can’t, I have discovered. I learned to lean heavily on feedback from Black people who read my work. They point out where I am off, and I tear things up if needed and fix it. It’s a humbling experience.

As a homeschooling parent, in the past, what kinds of learning materials did you look for–and how would you envision The Long Shadow being used in homeschooling and schools?

When homeschooling, I looked for materials that I could hand my students and they could do on their own. So I am working on a homeschool “unit study” of at least 20 pages that will serve as a literature study, covering some Missouri history and geography, learning to write haiku, and more. I’m going to put it up on my website at PhyllisWheeler.com/the-long-shadow .

For regular schools, I also have some free classroom discussion questions available. This book should generate some deep discussions on the topic of racism.

What is racism? In my mind, it comes from fear. We are all wired for stranger danger. So we all need to be aware of the negative aspects of that and be willing to reach out, reach beyond our comfort zones.

What did you find yourself learning, as you wrote? 

I learned a lot about the sordid history of the treatment of Black people in Missouri. I was shocked to discover that after emancipation their settlements were sometimes relegated to edges of creeks, which flooded, and without proper sewers, so the water was contaminated.  This happened both in Columbia and in the St. Louis suburb where I live. Even in the nicer Black neighborhoods, there was no paving or street lights.

I also did some introspection about my feelings on the subject of race and racism. That was an eye opener too.

Because of its setting, are you finding Missouri is becoming key to your sales?  To what extent do you think this is a national or international book and why?

Local Missourians seem very interested in a racial reconciliation book, and it’s selling well here. But it’s also doing well online. I believe the book speaks to anyone who has experienced a segregated environment. That’s a lot of people! It’s not just a kids’ book. I am finding that adults are reading the book and recommending it to each other. The reconciliation theme can speak into our divided culture.

How do you think your personal experience prepared you to write this novel?

I lived as a child in Jim Crow Mississippi. There were laws about segregation. There were whites-only bathrooms and water fountains. The schools were separate. The only time I saw Black people was in a store—and in my home. My mother hired a maid to clean our house once a week. The maid lived in a row of shacks just a stone’s throw from our middle class house in a subdivision. Those shacks must have had no plumbing and just some kind of stove for heat. They were primitive. The contrast was so great in my young eyes.

As I grew up I lived in many places. In St. Louis I got married, and we decided to raise our family in a Black neighborhood. We had some wonderful, welcoming neighbors who showed us the warm heart of the Black community, which most white people in St. Louis never see.

View The Long Shadow on Amazon

More about The Long Shadow:

Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable. A well done and powerful story. It is certainly stuck in my head.—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis

I loved this book. I could not stop reading it once I had begun. It is a delightful story, as well as a very painful one, told very well without a wasted word. I gladly recommend it to anyone. —Jerram Barrs, professor at Covenant Theological Seminary and author of Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts

I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author

Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.—Elsie G, age 13.

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?