Constellation Theatre Company’s Lawyers’ Committee and friends gathered for a pre-show party at Matchbox on 14th St with a great crowd of about 50 people. Special thanks to Board Member Scott Chatham and the SunTrust Private Wealth Management Legal Specialty Group for making a contribution to the event! We were joined by Seth Waxman, who later made an appearance in the performance of SCAPIN.
At a regular performance of SCAPIN, one of the characters, Argante, goes in search of a lawyer to get his son’s marriage annulled, yet he never retains counsel. However, on Lawyers’ Night Out, Argante boldly insisted that he would hire a lawyer who had argued in front of the Supreme Court, who was an honorary Special Agent of the FBI, and who was even a former Solicitor General and Seth Waxman stepped out of the audience to oblige. The charismatic Waxman gave the clown guidance and advice that delighted the actors and audience alike, even though it turned out that a farce is settled not in court, but in a chase.
Constellation welcomes people to future Lawyers’ Night Out events! We had a blast!
And special thanks to Edward Cragg for the wonderful photos!
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer, or Kate, sent us this piece she wrote for the Imagination Stage blog (where she works) about her experience working with Constellation Theatre and on Scapin. Scapin opened January 16 and will run through February 16. We’re excited to report its getting fabulous reviews! Meanwhile, here are great thoughts from Kate.
In the spring of 2013, Allison Stockman, Artistic Director for the DC-based company Constellation Theatre wrote to ask if I would consider directing a show for their 2013-14 Season. I have long been an admirer of this company, which won the 2009 Helen Hayes Award for Best Emerging Company. Additionally, I have attended most of their productions since their inception in 2007, often hiring some of the same actors and designers to work at Imagination Stage. I have been at Imagination Stage for over 25 years and have been devoted to my work here in directing, developing new scripts for the world of children’
s theatre, and most recently uniting Theatre and Education in our Early Childhood department. I was quite taken by surprise when Allison inquired about my interest in directing at Constellation, but after talking with Janet Stanford and Bonnie Fogel, (Imagination Stage Artistic Director and Executive Director), I was excited to take on this project! After reading many scripts and talking, we settled on Scapin by Moliere, as Allison and A.J. Guban, the Managing Director, felt that their audience would really love to see a comedy. Since the script has been adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark McDonnell, we all felt that this would be an accessible and fun theatre experience for a modern audience.
One of the exciting aspects of this union for me was to learn new ideas from another theatre company. Having worked at Imagination Stage for so long, we have our own way of doing things, and I was really curious to see how another theatre company conducted auditions and the design process. Once we cast the show in July 2013 (this was very early for Constellation as the show did not go into rehearsal until December, but at
Imagination Stage we do tend to cast early), we began the design process the very next month with a full read through with the cast. We had never done a read through this early at Imagination Stage, and I thought it was such a great idea to have the design team hear the actors that they were designing for before actually coming up with ideas. I hope to be able to do this at Imagination Stage in the future.
After much planning and designing, we started rehearsals on December 2. We rehearsed 6 days a week, from 6:30-10:30 p.m. and then took a week off for the holidays. I went to Imagination Stage every day from 9:00-5:00 p.m., then got in the car with Nick Vargas (my Assistant Director for Scapin), who happens to also to work as the Casting Associate and Coordinator for Early Childhood Theatre at Imagination Stage, to head down to Source Theatre for rehearsals. Near tech week, we ended up going out to the shop where they build the set so that we could actually rehearse on the set before going into the final week of rehearsal (another great Constellation idea!) I was tired working at both theatres, but I was also exhilarated by all that I was learning and all of the great people I was getting to work with.
Having now opened the show, as I sit back and look at the experience, I think the one thing that strikes me is how NOT VERY DIFFERENT this experience was from directing at Imagination Stage. Yes, there were new people to meet and work with and new systems to get to know, but the bottom line was that theatre is theatre, and I knew that my artistic sensibility and the things that I value when it comes to making good theatre (good writing, good actors, an ensemble, the play is the thing—all things lead to the production, and a genuine desire to want to make a great experience for everyone involved—actors, designers, crew, and the audience) were the same as those that are important at Constellation. For me, directing for adults was the same as directing for children, because in the end, we worked together to create a great experience for everyone involved.
It has been an absolute joy working for Constellation. It really is one of the most professional, well managed theatre companies I have had the opportunity to work for. Allison is a very welcoming and collaborative AD. From the start, she made me feel comfortable; like my ideas about the character mattered. Her genius, of course, is that she knows how to reign in the actor’s ideas so that it benefits the story telling and the production as a whole.
The cast is lovely. It’s all about relationships to me, and Ashley made creating the relationship between Claire and John very easy. He is a dream scene partner and an absolute prince. Our scenes also help shape the way I felt about Darius. Believe it or not, Jim and I don’t exchange a single line to each other! Pretty remarkable given that her need for revenge on him is at the core of the deceptions.
Tell us about your character, Claire. How did you work to develop her? What inspired you?
It took a while for me to a handle on Claire. Her hanging onto that much anger for Darius seemed diabolical to me. I don’t hold grudges; it’s a foreign sensation. Thoughts of Iago did flash through my head because of Claire’s own duplicity. But really, I didn’t know where to begin so I decided that rather than make early decisions and choices about the character, I would trust the playwright’s words and let the character develop itself. I didn’t want to worry about consistency or character arc. I just wanted to allow my
self to honestly respond to what I felt in each individual moment. After all, human beings are remarkable erratic and can vacillate between kindness and cruelty pretty easily.
What have you learned about her through the course of the run?
That someone can be utterly ruthless and likeable at the same time.
Do you have a favorite moment in the play?
Choosing is hard. There are so many moments I appreciate and enjoy. The Nagashime. The look on Ashley’s face when he sees the kimono dress. Megan’s art line. Mono no aware. The opening of the second act where I am making the pages to the pillow book; fire and water. And I know there are so many more.
What will you take with you of Claire? Will she stay with you?
I’m not sure how much. Claire and I are two very different people. We both might be driven, but we are motivated by very different things. It was a blast to play a villain though; if you can call Claire a villain.
What’s next on your agenda…where can we see you next?
I get a little short break, then I start rehearsals for The Wedding Dress in January, and then after that, I start rehearsals for Kwaidan in the spring. (both plays are at Spooky Action Theatre)
You’ve appeared in many Constellation productions – tell us a bit about your history with the company
To give you some back ground, I had either heard of or seen Allison and Constellation’s work for a while before auditioning. I first saw The Oresteia, followed by Crazyface. From then on I tried to see as many of the productions as possible. Basically since 2008, I have become a big fan and only missed three shows, with the exception of the year I was out of town with a college teaching gig in Lincoln, NE.
The first season I auditioned for was the 2009-2010 Season. My wife, Charlotte Akin, was cast in A Flea in Her Ear, then I closed the season with The Ramayana. That experience was a special one for me. It introduced me to many of the original company members and the joy that they had for the work, for Allison, and the passion for the mission of the theatre. At the close of it, there was a rumor of a remount, which I committed to right away. I followed that up with On the Razzle which I was lucky enough to be in with
Charlotte as well, and, as I said, the remount of the Ramayana in the 2011-2012 Season. Then in 2012-2013 Season I was asked to be in Zorro and Gilgamesh. Charlotte was in Gilgamesh as well. And now finally in 2013-2014 Season I’ve had the very fortunate opportunity to participate in 36 Views.
Great. Tell us a little about the experience of working on this show for Constellation– what was unique and different about it from other CTC productions.
Well the first thing I should say about Constellation is there is such a love, care, and joy to the process from start to finish on closing night. Whether it is working on a large production with tons of elements – epic in scale such as The Ramayana or Gilgamesh – (both shows had many, many moving parts), or something that is more wordy and “realistic” like 36 Views. The people behind the scenes and the whole production team really seem to support each other. There is such an excellence to what they bring and support, and that comes back to the actors. I am constantly amazed by that. I know it is not always the easiest thing to do.
Darius is described as unscrupulous; a sort of swinging bachelor, ladies man; insincere and cold hearted – – what do you think about him – what have discovered about him over the course of the play? Are all those things true about him?
You always love the character you play. I have a deep amount of love and respect for the steps he takes and, of course, “justify” each of them. I would say he calls himself a deeply fucked up individual and that could be a fair evaluation. But that is for me a very complex evaluation, as I see it. There are the good parts of him that the audience sees with Setsuko, but then there are the stories that others tell (that may or may not be true) and the actions that you see with Elizabeth Newman Orr (the character played by
Megan Dominy). There is a duplicity with Darius, no doubt. I would say that he is what the environment has made him. Very Darwinian. But again, there is his family, which I think is very important as well in the picture of the man: speaking of his father and sister, but no mention of his mother, and what I like to think are his ‘days in Seattle’. Setsuko is a “last chance” as it were to become more human, and unfortunately I would have to say that when that turns south, the money/businessman may recover, but not his heart. Particularly after those he has kept close – John and Claire – turn the tables on him. Once that takes place I would guess the doors are shut and one becomes even more cut throat and jaded.
How do you work – how did you develop this character?
The script is the key. Then the actors I am with on stages – their give and take and our connection to the action of the scene. Of course, the directors guidance is penultimate. I really try to personalize it as much as I can and make sure that every chance for a rounded character is there. Then I just try to tell the character’s truth and the truth of the moment. That is really important to the audience – if they see a lie – that is the worst thing you can do to them. The fun thing in Constellation shows is that sometimes the “truth” can be very big and epic but it can be quite human as well.
What kind of art do you like?
Me personally, I like work from the Impressionist (19th Century Paris) to Abstract Expressionism (post WWII) eras. I am a bit more of a fan of European and American work during those eras. I must admit the Asian artwork we cover in this play, that Darius has a love for, has opened up a whole love of
that work for me. Plus, how can you not see the beauty that is put on that stage via the projections?! But to be honest, the work that gets to me the most are the ones where I get a bit of help understanding. Once someone “enlightens’ me, the light goes off and another world opens up
What’s next on your agenda…where can we see you next?
Believe it or not, I just started rehearsals for a original work over at Theatre J in the last week of 36 Views production, called Our Suburb that runs in December and January. Then I finish things up this year with a remount of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Forum Theatre in the late spring/early summer.
Sue Jin Song is currently playing the role of Setsuko Hearn, Asian art PhD and enthusiast in 36 Views. We had a great conversation about her experience working on this play and with Constellation. Sue Jin has dedicated her performance to her friend Gaurav Gopalan, who introduced her to Constellation Theatre. Gopalan served as dramaturge for our production of The Ramayana. He passed away in 2011.
Sue Jin, this is your first role with Constellation – how has your experience been?
Marvelous. Fabulous all around. I loved working with Allison. “She is everything a director should be and rarely is.” She sets the tone for CTC and in rehearsals. She is very generous and open to sharing feedback from actors, and allows everyone to be part of the creative process. But she is so obviously in control – she’s got the reins in her hand. She chose a great cast who are all tremendously talented and generous. We look out for each other. Everyone came to table with a hundred ideas. Its been a fun, fun process, including rehearsal. I love rehearsing and can do table reads forever. I love Constellation!
I auditioned for this play years ago – there were many regional productions when it first came out. When I got the script this time I found it very smart and was concerned it might be too intellectual. I talked with Allison and Jim [Jorgensen] about bringing out the heart of the story. There is a great love story there and we wanted to pull the audience in emotionally. No one wanted anyone to be a bunch of talking heads. We were able to show the heart of the story. I liked the play and my character more as the process evolved.
I didn’t know much about Japanese art. We took a field trip to the Freer-Sackler. We had wonderful resource materials that Allison and A.J. brought us. I also wanted to see what plum wine (Umeshu) tastes like. The play is very sensual, and I wanted to explore those senses – what were tasting, seeing – it was important to understand those feelings.
You’ve made your acting life work in DC, New York and LA – what brought you here and how has the community been for you?
I was a professional in NY and LA – but I quit and came back here about seven years ago. I got in touch with an actor I’d done a show with and he encouraged me to finish a one woman show, Children of Madea, for Capital Fringe, – which I did and won Best of Fringe Award. My DC acting career grew from there. DC is a great place for theatre. I have had very different experiences here – working with artists who care about art [instead of money]. Still, its been a couple years since I’ve done a play and I didn’t realize how much she missed it. It has been such a positive experience and reignited a hunger. I will continue…if I can work with Allison and Natsu! (Natsu Onoda Power, who will direct her at Theatre J)
Guarev had raved about CTC; everything he said about it drew me to Constellation. He loved it, and now I understand. I love the company’s vision, and Allison is a very special person: it is such a treat thinking about art with a consummate artist who has such a reverence to art and artists. Allison has a strong vision about how artists serve the community and the community is lucky to have them here.
Yellow Face at Theatre J – starts rehearsals in December!