Monthly Archives: November 2009

Actors’ Theatre ExPats Out in The World

Actor Shayne Dukevitch

Shayne Dukevitch, now in New York City

Over the years Actor’s Theater has worked with several actors, directors, choreographers and stage technicians who have gone on to pursue full time careers in the theater outside of Grand Rapids.  We’ve contacted some of these ex-pats to ask them to bring us up to date on their current work and share a few reminiscences about their time at Spectrum Theater.  Our first ExPat is Shayne Dukevitch.

So Shayne, what shows did you work on with Actor’s Theater and in what year?

I performed in Voir Dire, directed by Laurel Merlington in 1998.

What’s your favorite Actor’s Theater memory?

Mostly I remember how much fun we had as a cast both in and out of rehearsals.  Laurel created a great environment to work in and we used to carry that camaraderie outside after rehearsals.  I think we spent a fair amount of time at The Cottage Bar, if memory serves.  I also remember having several “Lightning Line” rehearsals that were pretty interesting.  We would sit around outside the theater (the weather was great) and we’d try to get through an entire two-hour play in forty-five minutes by zipping through our lines one on top of the other.  It was actually quite fun and we really learned to listen and jump on our cues that way.

What have you been up to since leaving Grand Rapids?

I moved to New York later that year and have been here ever since.  I went to TISCH School of the Arts at New York University first, studying at the Atlantic Theater Company and Stonestreet Film and Television conservatories.   Since graduating I’ve been working as an actor as much as I can.  I got my Equity card in 2002 and have worked in the SPF Festival, at the Player’s Theater and with Theaterworks USA.  I’ve also done some film and voice over work.  Three years ago I got to spend a summer in Oxford studying Shakespeare at the British American Drama Academy as well which was an amazing experience.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m actually working with another Grand Rapids ex-pat, Michael Davis, on developing a theater company.  We’re called Eurisko Performance Group and we’re going to be producing our first play next year, perhaps at the NY Fringe Festival, called The Great Divide, by Charles Messina.  We’re very lucky in that we know the playwright and are going to have the chance to collaborate directly with him.  The play is all about relationships and new love verses old love and the really unique thing about it is that the audience gets to choose the ending.  I’m very excited about putting the play up and can’t wait to get to the fun part (rehearsals.)  Right now there’s a lot of fund raising and other producing necessities that I’m learning from scratch.  It’s a bit daunting, but very rewarding all the same.

What have you taken with you from your Actor’s Theater experience into your current career?

I think the best thing I got out of working in Grand Rapids theater was a sense of confidence.  I come from a dance background and was with the Grand Rapids Ballet for many years before having the courage to try out acting.  Working with Laurel at Actor’s and with Fred Sebulski on a GRCC production helped me find the guts to audition for the drama program at NYU.  I’ll always be grateful that they supported and encouraged me and helped me find my voice.

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How Do We Choose Our Plays?

2009-2010 Season at Actors' Theatre

Be sure and check out our audition page to try out for upcoming shows!

By: Kathy Boylon, Board Member

A question that surfaces with some regularity among Actors’ Theatre patrons is, “How do we choose the plays we perform each season?”

I thought the best way to answer it was to sit down with my good friend, Kitty Carrico Carpenter, chair of the play selection committee, and get her views. I’ve been on the committee a few times throughout my years on the board but Kitty is the current chairperson and can give us an up to the minute report…. Maybe even a preview of what we may see next year. Who knows…?

Kathy: Kitty, Can you explain to our readers what the process is for choosing a season of plays?

Kitty: Well, we start with a wonderful committee, a “Dream Team”. This year it consists of Maureen Kirkwood, past-president of the board. Surprisingly, Maureen has never served on this committee before. She’s very excited about being on it. Amy Osborn Kaechele, who Actors’ patrons will recognize from the many characters she’s portrayed on stage. The wonderful actor, Sammy Publes, most recently seen in Top Dog / Underdog our opening show. Will Gearring, another terrific talent, a young actor and budding director who recently joined the board at Actors’ Theater; and Jon Clausen, a continuing-ed student, like myself, who is also a talented actor currently focusing on directing. He is also the student intern working in the office at Actors’ Theatre.

Kathy: Isn’t Fred on the committee? I thought he was always the “final say”.

Kitty: No, he’s not on the committee, but more on that later.

Kathy: How is the Play Selection committee formed? Can anyone apply to get on the committee?

Kitty: You kind of answered your own question.  People suggest someone who has expressed interest in serving on the committee.  We get a mix of board people and non-board people, but they all have to have some connection with Actors’, either as someone involved in the shows or as patrons.  Our niche is so different from the usual fare.  People have to understand – and have experienced – our mission statement when they see or work on a show.  We’ve had committees where only one or two people are active in theatre and the rest are interested patrons and volunteers.  The current committee is all performers or directors.  I have names of people to suggest for next year’s committee, and a number of those people are patrons.  We just try and choose people who are willing to commit to the time involved.  Reading and reporting on a large number of plays in a short period of time is a huge commitment.

Kathy: OK… well, when does the work start?

Kitty: It starts in August and we meet through April.

Kathy: What do you do during all those months?

Kitty: The committee reads and evaluates scores of plays.

Kathy: Where do you get the plays?

Kitty: Plays are recommended to us; we’ve read about them and they piqued our interest. There is a cache of plays here at the theater that we keep and go through. We try and keep it current and new.

This year for the first time we have a Literary Manager, Randy Wyatt, chairman of the Aquinas College theater department. Randy is a playwright himself and has his finger on the pulse of new works coming out across the country.

Kathy: How do you keep track of all these plays and what people thought of them? Between August and April I would barely remember that I read a play let alone what I thought of it.

Kitty: We have a point system, from 0 – 10. I keep an excel spreadsheet with each reader’s scores and it there’s a macro built in that averages the scores. If they want to use it, each member of the committee has a form they can fill out with various criteria to help them remember what they were thinking about a play as they read it

Kathy: What happens at the meetings?

Kitty: We discuss the plays and people assign scores.

Kathy: So it’s kind of like a book club?

Kitty: It’s much livelier than that.

Kathy: Livelier, huh? That makes me think of my sister, Mary Vee’s book club in Seattle. She told me that some of the rowdier members have gotten into shouting matches about a book. Apparently, they get very …er, passionate…How about Play Selection meetings? Does it ever come to fisticuffs?

Kitty: Fisticuffs? Where the heck did that come from? No, it never gets really heated.

Kathy: What fun is that?

Kitty: Oh, it’s lots of fun. Sometimes a person hates a script but majority rules. A person who loves that same script will try to persuade everyone to his or her point of view.

Kathy: So when you’re reading & discussing the plays do you have any specific criteria for the scoring?

Kitty: Mostly we use the Mission Statement. We want to know does this play fit our mission statement.

Actors' TheatreKathy: As a reminder to our readers, the Mission Statement says: “Actors’ Theatre is committed to bring West Michigan the best in entertaining, innovative, challenging and thought-provoking theatre.”

Kitty: Also when Fred started Actors’ Theatre it was for the actors. So we look at is it good play for actors to do. Would they be challenged?

Kathy: Do you look specifically for controversial material?

Kitty: No. Challenging doesn’t mean controversial. We are theater that makes you think. Our audiences may love or may hate our shows but they are rarely ambivalent.

Kathy: So you’re saying that you really don’t look for controversy? C’mon….. don’t you want to shock your audiences?

Kitty: We look for good quality scripts that wouldn’t ordinarily be seen in this market. Sometimes that means a controversial script.

Other theaters do classic and mainstream plays and musicals but our mission is different. Whether it’s a play with a gay theme or a play about a serial killer or a play with a crazy wacky theme like Kimberly Akimbo they all have a message and should be seen.  Shows like that in a theater like Actors’ add spice to Grand Rapids and make it a more interesting market. Think “Cool Cities” and stuff. We’re the spice. We have a “green” art museum, bike paths, Actors’ Theatre. All together it makes it an interesting place.

Kathy: What about Corpus Christi? I stage-managed that show we had protesters kneeling in the snow; we had to move off the GRCC campus for our second week and we were in the news and in the letters to the editor for a year. But it was a top selling show.

Kitty: We don’t pick shows to piss people off. Corpus Christi was one we wanted to do. It wasn’t picked because of the controversy. It was heart wrenching to be kicked out of our theatre. But Fountain Street Church welcomed us and we had four times the seating. It’s bittersweet to be kicked out of your own home. We thought Corpus Christi was very spiritual.

Kathy: What about money?

Kitty: Well, I get paid a lot to do this. And I pay the committee to choose plays with roles I could play. (laughs.) No seriously, budgets are actually in the next level of criteria but we do keep it in mind while reading.

A play like August Osage County, for example, has a huge set that might eat up the budget for the whole year.  And we pay actors so shows with a large cast cost more. Right now one play we’re reading would require buying a whole magic act. It’s a great play but can we afford it? A lot of that goes into consideration.

Kathy: Anything else?

Kitty: We don’t want a season with all male or all female characters. We look for balance towards the end of the selection process. For example this season there was a sort of domino effect because the rights were not available for one show and then some shows were too similar in themes so it ended up that three plays had to be changed.

Kathy: What about musicals? We aren’t doing any this year. Don’t you always have to have at least one in the mix?

Kitty: I can’t comment because I was not on the committee that chose the season. Kyle has asked that we consider some for next season. But sometimes there just aren’t any available that fit our criteria. Also, I don’t vote on any of the shows, not just the musicals. I have no ear for musicals. There are people on the committee that do so I will not vote on those. I just administrate [the committee].

Kathy: Then????

Kitty: At the end we present a slate of 10-12 plays from which to choose a season. The people deciding the final season will be the directors, with Kyle, and with Fred, We may also consult with Don Rice about the technical aspects of the shows and Catie Dreher about the lighting.

We choose a slate instead of a season because of the above and are the rights available? And even if they are at one point they may be pulled because the show goes on a road tour.

Kathy: So, what plays are you doing next year?

Kitty: A lady never tells her age – or her play selection slate….

Kathy: (sigh) No scoop here I guess….

Incidentally, you can see Kitty onstage in our upcoming production of “Frozen” opening on December 3rd.

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Thawing a Frozen Heart

Frozen by Bryony Lavery at Actors TheatreArticle by: Michael Dykstra

The criminal brain is an “Arctic, frozen sea,” says Agnetha, an American visiting London to research her thesis, titled “Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act?” But the gray matter of murderers isn’t all that’s trapped beneath a metaphorical layer of ice in Frozen, the second production in Actors’ 29th season.

Agnetha is the first of three main characters we meet in this humane, riveting drama. Next up is Nancy, a woman whose 10-year-old daughter disappeared on a visit to her grandmother’s house. Then it’s Ralph, the subject of Agnetha’s research, who is in prison for kidnapping and murdering young girls.

As we watch these lives slowly intersect, we come to understand that all three are linked not just by circumstance but also by a kind of emotional paralysis: Ralph displays a chilling lack of remorse for his crimes. Nancy is trapped in an ice-cold tomb of despair. And Agnetha is hardened by – well, we’ll leave that for you to discover.

Suffice to say, each character is stuck in a bleak place from which there seems little hope for escape. But playwright Bryony Lavery obviously believes in the power of the human spirit to break free from the emotional bonds that shackle us. Because Frozen is not some dry, clinical investigation of a terrible crime – it is, according to British newspaper the Guardian, a “big, brave, compassionate play about grief, revenge, forgiveness, and bearing the unbearable.”

Frozen was first performed in Lavery’s native England in 1998, and it won a prestigious Best New Play Award. It opened off-Broadway in February 2004 and transferred to Broadway three months later, with a cast including Emmy Award winner Swoosie Kurtz and Brian F. O’Byrne (currently starring in ABC-TV’s “Flash Forward). The production closed in August 2004, having earned four Tony Award nominations, including Best Play, and one win – for O’Byrne as Best Featured Actor in a Play.

Was it Plagiarism?
Shortly after Frozen closed, newspapers around the world reported that Lavery had allegedly plagiarized “significant portions” of the play from “Guilty by Reason of Insanity,” a 1998 book by psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis, and from an article about Lewis that had appeared a year earlier in The New Yorker magazine.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the original The New Yorker article, invited Lavery to his apartment to discuss the matter. Lavery acknowledged drawing on Gladwell’s article to create the character of Agnetha, because she wanted it to be authentic and accurate, but she told him, “I thought it was O.K. to use it. It never occurred to me to ask you. I thought it was news.” In the end, Gladwell wrote a second The New Yorker article in which he described Lavery’s appropriation as “permissible borrowing.”

The controversy effectively ended there (though one suspects legal remedies also came into play). This was the one speed bump in an otherwise remarkable career. The Guardian newspaper has described Lavery as “one of the best but most consistently underrated playwrights in the (United Kingdom).” She’s written more than 20 stage plays as well as television films, radio plays and books after becoming “fed up” with the poor parts available to her as a young actress.

Playwright Bryony Lavery

Bryony Lavery, Playwright of Frozen

The Power of Forgiveness
For all the work she’s done and will continue to do, Frozen remains a defining production for Lavery, both professionally and personally. While she was working on the play, her 74-year-old mother was admitted to the hospital for a very simple operation. The surgeon punctured her intestine and she died. “What occurred to me,” Lavery told Malcolm Gladwell, “is that I utterly forgave him. I’m very sorry it happened to my mother, but it’s an honest mistake.”

How could she forgive him for this, she wondered, when she had held onto petty grudges for much lesser offenses? And if she could forgive this surgeon, could the victim of a horrific crime actually absolve the attacker?

This is really the crux of Frozen: an attempt to understand the nature of forgiveness. That’s a worthy topic for all of us to examine – especially when it’s framed in such an entertaining production as this. You’re sure to leave the theatre eager to debate the issue. And that’s what Actor’s is all about!

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Interview with Randy Wyatt, Grand Rapids Playwright

Interview by: Steve Taber, Board Member

Playwright Randy Wyatt

Grand Rapids Playwright, Randy Wyatt

Randy Wyatt is a director, playwright, professor, and improv coach. His new play Harmony tells the story of a church coming apart at the seams. The play is about what happens when there are multiple levels of truth, and about how different people react to the truth differently. It is also semi – autobiographical in that it’s based on a real incident in the church that he grew up in. Fred Sebulske, the founder of Actor’s Theatre, has been working with Randy as a dramaturge and will be directing a Free Staged Reading of the play on Wednesday, December 9th at 7 p.m. I began the interview by asking about Fred’s role in the shaping of the piece.

Randy: When I first came to Fred, I brought him a series of journal entries that I had written a couple of years ago which I then called, “The Magician’s Snakes.” They were basically a series of non-fiction stories, and as they say, based on true events. Although, as the play began to develop, I really took some liberties. Harmony is not a documentary – in the play sand falls from the ceiling. Obviously, that did not actually happen!

Steve: But it’s a great little visual metaphor. Theatrically, I loved it. It reminded me in the best way of the angel’s wings fluttering in Angels In America.

Randy: When I’m teaching playwriting, I read some student plays that are just talking heads. I think, “No, no, no… you have to think in terms of theatrical image.” That’s what we talk about when we leave the theatre. We say, ‘Oh my gosh, wasn’t it amazing when Elphaba flies in the air at the end of Act One in “Wicked”?’ It’s these big images that we talk about later, yet so many plays have all of this witty dialog between two people… who sit at a desk and do nothing.

Steve: I also think sometimes people forget that theatre, like church, a communal experience.
Harmony by Randy WyattRandy: Yes, and the different past of each person changes how they experience the play.

Personally, I’ve written and read a lot of non-fiction, and I’m a big journal writer. Mining my own life for theatre is not uncommon for me, but there is a danger in it.  You think “Is this just dirty laundry?” or  “Is this remotely interesting to anyone else?” I’m so steeped, or I was, in the religious subculture. I know the language of it. I know what’s going on there. I know the passion of it. I don’t know of any other plays that deal with Church splits… and I read a lot of plays. I’ve never come across one that deals with the drama that’s involved.

To be honest, it took me a couple of years to come around to the idea of writing a play about my former church splitting. People were asking me why I hadn’t already, but to me, I had written it in my journal and it was done.  Somehow though, the idea kept festering. So eventually I put my journal entries in a folder and went to Fred.  I said to him, “Tell me if this is interesting, because I know you will be honest with me – and if you come back to me and say this is only interesting to you Randy, then I won’t waste my time and I’ll move on to other things.”

Well, Fred came back and said, “No I think there’s a play here.” And if Fred thinks that there’s a play there – I’m going to develop it. So that’s what I did; but the development process has been really interesting.  Harmony is based on my home church.  Even though I wasn’t there at the time, (I was here in Grand Rapids,) my brother Mitch was at the center of all of this mess.

For example, at the church was a youth pastor named Eric. I knew him because I had been kind of a mover and a shaker in my home church, and people talked about me after I left. So he was interested in getting to know me because he was interested in getting to know everyone. I would get e-mails from him, and he was very interested in my brother’s life and I thought, “Who is is this guy? And why does he care so deeply about us?”  The types of things he did, or rather much of his reasoning, inspired the character Charles in the play.

Things later kind of exploded at the church. I was on the periphery of it when it happened.

Steve: Are you still witnessing it?

Randy: Yes, this church split still effects the lives of many of the people that I grew up with. Let me tell you about Jon Ellenberger. I had only known him as a young kid, he was only three or four when I was at the church, but Jon was fascinated with what had happened with our church, and he’s a friend of my brother Mitch.  He has also been a fan of my writing for a couple of years, so when he found out I was doing this, he said he would be interested in interviewing people that were involved for me.

You know how it goes though, I am writing, and taking it very seriously, and then along comes someone who says “I’m going to do this thing for you,” and I think, yeah you go ahead and do that.  But I don’t take it to heart, you know? But Jon interviewed his parents first, (his mother became the inspiration for Vera in the play,) and it was a two-hour, fascinating conversation during which I learned all of this different stuff that I had never heard before.

Steve: Well it’s Rashomon isn’t it? Everybody has a point of view.

Randy: Right!  And I thought, wait a minute, that doesn’t jibe with what I had been told or I had thought. Then Jon said “Now I’m going to talk to Eric.”  And, of course I said “OKAY!” It turns out that Jon is a fantastic interviewer. He asked exactly the questions I needed, thought of stuff that I hadn’t, and gets people to trust him… these interviews, I would listen to them with my jaw open.

Steve: How many did you have?

Randy: He did three, and he was planning on doing a fourth with someone who I never dreamed would talk about the church split. He had a plan. Jon talked to his parents, he talked to Eric, and he talked to my brother. Honestly I thought that talking to my brother would be pointless because I talk to my brother, but it wound up being fantastic because Mitch says things to Jon that he would never say to me. At the time I had no idea what a great tool it would wind up being.

The big thing that I got from it, and there were all kinds of things that I got from it, but the big thing was: nobody knows what really happened. You would think that main events would sync up somehow, and I guess they sort of do. But the play became about truth. It became about – here are these circles that speak about having absolute truth all of the time, and therefore being able to make decisions on their whole life based on these truths, yet we live in a world that pretty much acknowledges there are many different truths. Whose truth are you talking about?

Steve: So after the interview process and then coming to all of those realizations, did it offer you a way of finding the play, finding your way through to it?

Randy: It was a different play after I listened to the interviews. I thought I had known what had happened and I realized, I really don’t.

Steve: Well after living through Corpus Christi at Actors, and Seven Passages at Actors, this seems like the place to be doing it.

Randy: I actually thought about both of those things too.

Steve: It’s interesting to me that it shares some of the same themes of your plays that have been performed in the Living on the Edge Series, Deletion and Breaking In.

Randy: It’s funny but lately I find it difficult to write believable characters that are not drenched in the Internet. Or twitter. Or Facebook.

Steve: Because of the times?

Randy: Yeah. It almost feels like I’m writing Amish characters if I keep that out. That’s my world. And that’s everyone I know.

Steve: Should we consider Harmony a work in progress? How do you feel about it right now?

Randy: This one feels like it’s finished. I may adjust a few things here and there but usually you can tell where you are. There have been plays that I’ve written where there are multiple drafts, but you get so you can tell when it’s close to being finished. This right now is my third draft and it feels like it’s close.

You can see a Free Staged Reading of Harmony on Wednesday, December 9th at 7 p.m. at the Spectrum Theatre, home of Actors’ Theatre on the GRCC campus.

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Actors’ Theatre Presents Frozen by Bryony Lavery

Frozen by Bryany Lavery December 3, 4 & 5 and December 10, 11 & 12

Frozen is ultimately a play about the nature of forgiveness.  It asks the question, “How far can forgiveness and grace extend?”  When a victim of a violent crime is confronted with this question and possibility, we get a glimpse into the meaning of such grace, even though the outcomes are completely unexpected. ~ Stephanie Sandberg: Director

Nancy, a mother, retreats into a state of frozen hope when one evening her ten-year old Rhona goes missing. Agnetha, an academic, comes to England to research a thesis titled “Serial Killings: A Forgivable Act?” Then there’s Ralph, a loner with a bit of a record who’s looking for some distraction… Drawn together by horrific circumstances, these three embark upon a long, dark journey that finally curves upward into the light in this “big, brave, compassionate play about grief, revenge, forgiveness, and bearing the unbearable” (The Guardian).

The cast of Frozen includes Actors’ Theatre veterans Kitty Carpenter, Ralph Lister and Rebecca Monterusso and new to our stage Steve VanderZee. The production staff of Frozen includes director Stephanie Sandberg, stage manager Jessie Leugs, assistant stage manager Kim Contreraz, set and lighting designer David Leugs, properties designer Leslie Kohn, sound designer Steve Nardin, dialect coach Elizabeth Terrel and costume designer Heather Brown.

Sandberg states “serial killing is the most unimaginable, perhaps the most unforgivable of crimes and yet we are asked to examine whether or not grace and forgiveness can heal such violence and the pain it causes.”

Tickets range from $22.00 for adults to $9.00 for student rush tickets an hour prior to performances.  For Thursday performances, a second ticket is $10.00 with the purchase of the first ticket at full price.  The box office number to reserve tickets is 616.234.3946 (box office opens on Monday, November 16, 2009 at noon for season ticket holders and on Monday, November 23, 2009 at noon for the general public.)

Actors’ Theatre is dedicated to bringing the best in entertaining, innovative, challenging and thought-provoking theatre to West Michigan. We believe in the inclusion of all.

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