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Friday, February 22, 2013

COMMUNITY THEATRE IN ACTION: BOBBY KENISTON INTERVIEWS THREE WONDERFULLY TALENTED MEMBERS OF THE REEDY POINT PLAYERS IN DELAWARE


Emily Ciuffetelli as Kelly and Kevin Austra as Derk in Reedy Point Players' production of END O THE MOVIE by Bobby Keniston

Hi!  This is Bobby Keniston, and welcome to Theater is a Sport!  Today...

One of the great joys of being a playwrght is ocassionally being blessed to make contact with the people across the country who are prodcuding your plays.  For the last two years, I have been blessed to have been in contact with the Reedy Point Players of Delaware City, Delaware, ever since they put on a production of my play A Forgetful Remembrance.  This year, I learned they were producing my play End of the Movie, making them the first theatre group ever to produce more than one of my plays (my first repeat business, if you will)! 

I have been in touch with Gail Springer Wagner, who starred in A Forgeful Remembrance last year, via facebook, and she informed she would be directing End of the Movie for their annual one-act play festival.  I was overjoyed, and reached out to Kevin Austra and Emily Ciuffetelli, the two talented young stars, to offer to answer any qestions they may have while preparing for their performances.  I am delighted to say that I am now facebook friends with these three lovely individuals who worked so hard to come together and create a brilliant production of my play.  They received much acclaim with their recent performances during their one-act festival, by winning awards for Best Actress (Emily), Best Director (Gail), the audience's People's choice award, a special judge award, and an adjudicator's award.  And, most exciting of all, they were voted to repesent the Reedy Point Players at the upcoming Delaware Theatre Association's Festival. 

I asked Gail, Emily and Kevin if they would like to be interviewed for my blog, because I feel they exemplify some of the greatest joys community theatre has to offer.  I am very pleased they took the time to answer my questions.  So without waiting any longer, let me introduce you all to three talented, well-spoken, people who are truly passionate about the theatre they create.

BOBBY: Thank you Gail, Emily and Kevin for taking the time to answer some of my questions. As you know, the name of my blog is Theater is a Sport, because I believe that theater is not only a craft and an art form, but also requires the mental and physical commitment most athletes strive for. In your experiences, would you agree that theater is a sport? (feel free to give examples)

EMILY:  I completely agree that theater is a sport! Just like on a sports team we have to work very hard every day and "practice" to get a great final result. Being part of live theater in any aspect whether it's directing, acting, or being part of the crew requires you to constantly be on your toes and alert. I always say that rehearsals are like my yoga because they always calm me down and help me to relax. I'm actually doing my senior research project on music therapy and in one of the articles it talks about how arts in general are very valuable to having and maintaining good mental and emotional health which I could not agree more with.

GAIL:  I had never thought of theatre as a sport until you mentioned it in your blog.  Having been a serious athlete most of my life, I can now see how theatre is, indeed, a sport.  Superficially there are try-outs (auditions), the coach (director), the team (cast), equipment (props), field or court (stage).  We practice (rehearse) several times a week honing our movement (blocking).  Delving a little deeper, as actors we get into the zone the same as in sports and focus on the game (play).  While a play may followed a dictated course more than a sporting event, actors must be prepared mentally and physically for any turn of events such as a dropped or jumped line or malfunctioning props and recover to move forward with the play.  While we may not compete with other “teams” except in festivals, we do compete with ourselves to improve our stage skills.

KEVIN:  I would absolutely agree that theater is a sport! Just like an athlete would do prior to a game, theater has a lot of mental preparation and practice. It takes time to develop characters as it would take time to develop a "jump-shot" in basketball. Mental and physical commitment aside, it is VERY competitive!!!! Yes, I would definitely agree that theater is a sport!

BOBBY: You all appear to be regulars with the Reedy Point Players. Please give me some background on how you started with this fine group, a bit about the prductions you've worked on, and how the Reedy Point Players have shaped you as performers. Feel free to include details about the Reedy Point Players mission and their place in the community.

KEVIN:  The Reedy Point Players was the first theater group I've ever been part of. Originally, I got involved doing backstage work for community service hours for college applications! The first show I worked on was The Christmas Express (2004) which so happened to be the first show Gail Wagner did with the RPP. That was how Gail and I first met. It wasn't until the year after - 2005 - where I made my stage debut (in a cameo) as Harpo Marx on stage.  
RPP's mission is as follows:
“To present live theatre productions for the cultural education, entertainment, and inspiration of the community. 
To welcome and provide an avocational opportunity for all volunteers interested in the theatre arts to participate in the many activities of community theatre.”

GAIL:  When I graduated high school, I wanted to be an actor or a lawyer. I had never really been cast I much in high school because I wasn’t part of that “clique” or my sports schedule didn’t mesh.  Some coaches make you choose.  After auditioning for Ithaca University and tanking the audition, I lost my confidence.  I wasn’t aware of community theatre in my area or I may have been more involved.  After many years, I took some acting lessons locally and we worked on an indie film which brought the “bug” out of hibernation.   In 2005, I decided to jump back in with both feet and auditioned for 2 roles in different projects (1 with Reedy Point).  I was cast in four projects (2 through the other projects) which staged September, October, November, and December– the December project was my debut with Reedy Point and I was hooked.  Reedy Point has always been extremely welcoming without a lot of the cliques and “drama” that is sometimes prevalent in theatre. RPP is open and accepting of new talent both on and off the stage.  A few of our actors have taken a turn at writing their own plays – both full and one act –and have seen them staged by RPP.  Our Christmas shows cast children from the local community and helps them develop confidence and speaking skills.  Personally, the RPP stage has been my haven.  My parents both were very ill and passed within 6 weeks of each other – my father at Thanksgiving and my mother at New Year’s.  The Christmas show that year was my safe place to go and not be me for a little bit.  It helped keep me sane.

EMILY:  I first started with Reedy Point 4 years ago when I was a freshman in high school. Although having been at a performing arts school for middle school, I had only just started acting a few months before and only been in one show before. Matt, A friend also involved with the group, called me on the phone and said "Hey Emily, do you know the show Miracle on 34th street?"
"Well, I've seen the movie."
"Have any interest in being a part of it?"
"Yeah sure!"
"Great! You have an audition in two days!"
So I went and auditioned and was cast as Susan Walker (Natalie Woods' character) and  the rest is history. I've done 15 shows over the past four years, nine of which were with Reedy Point. I owe so much to Reedy Point Players. They introduced me to fabulous people who have provided me many opportunities and have helped me grow not only as a performer but as a person.

BOBBY: Emily, I see that you attend a performing arts high school. First off, I think it's very cool that Cab Calloway has a school named after him--- he was a great performer. Secondly, I have always wondered what the experience of a performing arts high school would be like (outside of playing Schlomo in a production of "Fame", I don't know much about them). Tell me a little bit about your experience at Cab Calloway and what the curriculum is like, and how it has shaped you as a performer.

EMILY:  I could talk forever about Cab but I'll try to be brief!  Cab Calloway School of the Arts has a middle school and a high school which you audition for prior to 6th and 9th grade. I have been there since 6th grade and have always been a vocal music major. This year I triple major in vocal, advanced acting, and triple threat. Being at a performing arts school provided a very unique experience and environment to grow in. While we are a performing arts school we don't just sing and dance around all day (like most people think) academics are very important to us and we are actually 2nd in the state for academics. No they were not exaggerating in Fame that there is constantly singing, acting, or instruments playing in the halls. There is always something happening. The best part about going to an arts school, is that everyone is talented, and the worst part about going to an arts school, is that everyone is talented. Meaning that you don't nearly stand out as much and there are very talented people who may never get cast in the shows but, you get an arts education like no other and that's something I wouldn't trade for the world. Also, oddly enough, there aren't really "cliques" at Cab. Everyone can get along with everyone else. In fact most of my friends aren't in the same majors I am. Before I came to Cab I was bullied and very shy and had very little self-confidence. Now they've "created a monster" and the real me can really shine. Being accepted and having the self-confidence I have now is something I could never thank them enough for.

BOBBY: Kevin and Emily: you both are young performers. What are some lessons you feel you have learned from being a part of theater that you can take with you as move on to the next chapter of your lives?

KEVIN:  I have learned SO MUCH from community theater. So many people who want to learn how to act go out and pay lots of money for lessons and such and in a way - I see that as a scam. Yes, those places teach upcoming actors "the ropes" of the business and offer them good advice, but take it from me, community theater gives you so much experience, insight and education of acting and theater and it's FREE! The lessons I have learned is networking (always keep in touch and stay on good terms with the people you work with), always show up on time - to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and most importantly to be humble.

EMILY:  Wow that's a great question. Of course working well with others of all ages is a big one. In a monologue a friend of mine performed recently there was a line directed to the invisible scene partner that said "Do you know why you can't act? Because you can't put yourself in someone else's shoes." That is so true. To be an actor you have to be able to put yourself in other situations that may have never happened to you. You have to be able to imagine how you and/or your character would react and feel to being in those situations. I think that alone could be the most valuable thing I could possibly take with me from theater.

QUESTION 5: Gail, you appeared in "Forgetful Remembrance" for Reedy Point Players last year, and this year directed "End of the Movie". Do you prefer acting to directing or vice versa? Why?
Gail Wagner in Reedy Point Players' production of "Forgetful Remembrance"

GAIL:  I love acting and usually when I act, I am still jazzed after I walk off that stage running on an adrenaline buzz similar to what I experience after a game. The audience gives me feedback and I know if the job I am doing is correct.  When I act, I really only have to worry about me and my character and making sure I perform well.  I may have concerns about the production as a whole but my focus is doing my job right.  Now, as a director, I love taking the seed of the play and watching it come to life.  At our theatre, the Director also usually ends up being the stage manager as well.  Our directors are very hands on.  No play is staged unless it has a director and the director takes the play from its submission through the performance and strike.  As a director, though, I worry about it ALL.  Costumes, lines, actors, set, lighting, audience, strike, parking, box office, etc.  It is an enormous job.  When I am done a show each night as a director, I am both physically and mentally exhausted.  It is the reason I try not to do any directing in a row.  I have encouraged actors to direct one acts or skits so they better understand the process and thereby, in my opinion, making them better actors.  I prefer acting but to see a particular piece staged, I will volunteer to direct.  It was the case with End of the Movie. The only caveat I wanted to add was that Kevin cast me as Sister Aloysius in Doubt.  It was the most mentally demanding role I had ever performed.  It was a challenge to be someone so against my own character and I was so exhausted (but satisfied) at the end of each performance.  It is a highlight for me.
BOBBY: This question is for all three of you: please tell me a bit about the rehearsal process for "End of the Movie".... though it is a short piece, there are a number of complex emotions involved. Gail, as the director, how did you guide your cast into building these characters, and Kevin and Emily, what are some ways you brought your own personal insights into the creation of these young people?

GAIL:  The actors needed to be able to carry those emotions and Emily and Kevin, or SuperKev as we refer to him, nailed it.  We worked on the show in chunks but always with an entire read or run first.  I feel it gets the actors into characters.  I also had Kevin and Emily write a bio for their characters – this, to me, helps gel the character in the actors mind and creates the back story.  We then discussed their backgrounds.  There were certain ways I wanted some things said or done but the actors also brought their own style to the characters.  They would try different ways of saying certain lines or moving a certain way.  I would ask for their opinion because the actor needs to be vested in the character.  We also worked on the pauses and silence and not rushing the lines.  It was one of the comments made to us about Forgetful Remembrance by a judge was to make sure we took advantage of the pauses.  In End of the Movie, they are powerful.  One item Emily and I incorporated was when Derek is looking at jumping the second time, she begins to use the fencing as a ballet bar.  To me it illustrated that Derek was trying to use the railing as an instrument of his death and Kelly was making it into something else entirely and distracting him.  Kevin and Emily are friends and have great chemistry together so they are willing to get into each other’s faces during the argument.  It really helped.   A conscious decision I had was for them not to touch until the end when they are leaving the stage.  Kelly hip checks Derek and playfully puts his arm around her.
KEVIN:  The rehearsal process for End of the Movie was - what I would call - 4 week boot camp! Although it was a simple One Act, we only had about 7 days total of rehearsal (not including Tech Week) which is not the norm. Emily and I had to pay strict attention during rehearsals and write all over our scripts with notes that Gail provided us. We were expected to use those notes in our performance - which required us to go home and practice and return for the next rehearsal and be better. Furthermore, Gail wanted us to develop a background for our characters so that we could relate to them and understand their pain - which we did, as well as presented them. The material for Derek I couldn't personally relate to it BUT I understood it - which is most important. By understanding the context, it's easier to fall into character and start "becoming." 

EMILY:  First off let me just say that Kelly is one of my favorite roles yet. It is one of the more emotional roles I've played and I love getting to play around with the levels her dialogue offers. Kevin and I have known each other and been good friends since I was in Miracle on 34th Street which really helped with building the relationship between Kelly and Derek because we aren't afraid to try things with one another and get in each other’s faces. Kelly doesn't have much of a background in the script. You know she's from the 80's and that she killed herself but you don't know why or what her life was like. So Gail asked Kevin and I to write bios for our characters. I had many options to go with Kelly but I decided to help with the bond between her and Derek that her story should relate to his. I had that she had never actually met her mom because she died when she was a baby from brain cancer and she also didn't have a very good relationship with her father. I saw Kelly as being an outcast at school and not having many, if any, real friends. She was bullied a lot except by one boy who had always been nice to her since kindergarten. But one day his friends pressured him into being very cruel to her and she had just reached her breaking point. In the beginning of the show I play Kelly as being on the verge of almost too peppy, then moving to very upset during her outburst, to being more of her real self after she recovers. I have her as overly peppy in the beginning because I feel as though after being depressed her whole life she is working on being more positive in her "group therapy sessions" so she tends to over-compensate. I had also decided that this was Kelly's first assignment on her own which makes her even more nervous and unsure of her own roundabout way of saving Derek. I really take the approach of how the lines make me feel and then relate them to how I think Kelly feels. Performing this show is exhausting with the amount of emotion that's stuffed into its short timeline. I loved and still love exploring Kelly and going on her journey.

BOBBY: I am happy that you will be taking "End of the Movie" to the Delaware Theater Association Festival. Would you say that the DTA is a good networking opportunity for the Reedy Point Players? Is it valuable keeping up-to-date with what other theaters are up to?

EMILY:  I personally have never been to DTA before but I am looking forward to going to meet more Delaware thespians and see what everyone else has to offer.

KEVIN:  Absolutely, it's a good networking opportunity! For the Reedy Point Players, DTA is a "promotional event!" It's our chance to get out there and show other theaters that we exist! It's also a way to recruit other actors/actress into our shows - which has happened before. Entering these festivals is NOT a money maker for us, rather it's a way for our theater to get noticed and to draw and bigger audience. It's valuable keeping up-to-date with what other theaters are up to because it gives the "artist" inspiration. Not only does it provide inspiration but there's nothing wrong with some healthy competitiveness. 

GAIL:  Yes, the 1st time we entered a competition 5 years ago, we had no idea what we were doing but we brought back 2 very accomplished actors to perform at our theatre in another show.  We make contacts at the festival and can borrow sets/costumes/props from each other.  It also allows other theatres to see the actors.  I was offered a role in a show w/o audition because the person has seen my Forgetful Remembrance performance. 

BOBBY: (Again, for all of you) What are your personal goals or aspirations when in it comes to performing? How important is it to you that theatre remain a part of your life?
 GAIL:  Very important – it fills my creative need
 KEVIN:  In a perfect world, YES, I would love to be a professional actor! Whether it be Broadway, film, or TV, I would love to be part of it! Regardless, of the road I take in life, theater will ALWAYS remain part of my life as it is my creative outlet! There is truly nothing like it. 

EMILY:  Theater will always be a part of my life. I have always known that. I will be attending Elon University (North Carolina) in the fall as either a Musical Theater or a Theater Studies major while taking the education courses so I can teach it. I have experience directing and love that as well. I've always wanted to try writing a script so I see that in my future as well. In a dream world I would be a working actor for as long as possible and then settling down and teaching theater at a high school or college level. Last year I created and taught the theater program at the Delaware School For The Deaf and perhaps would like to make deaf theater a part of my aspirations to teach or at least influence.

BOBBY: This is not so much a question, as an opportunity for each of you to share a story you feel exemplifies the best of your experiences with performing, whether with Reedy Point, or any of your other experiences.

EMILY:  As I said before when I was in elementary school I was bullied a lot and had very few friends. I never felt accepted anywhere or like I really fit in. Even my first two years at Cab I felt a bit like an outsider. But then I was given my first role at the end of 8th grade. I auditioned and got the role of Todd, a 5 year old boy in Check, Please! Being in that show and on that stage was the first time I ever felt like I was home. And that was when I knew theater was what I wanted to do. That's my favorite theater story of mine because although I had always been exposed to theater since very young that's where it really started for me.

GAIL:  I have so many but the ones that jump right up are 1) Kevin Austra’s grandmother saying that the acting is Doubt was as good as she saw in NYC; 2) hearing people cry in the audience during Forgetful Remembrance and having men tell me they were mad at me for making them cry; and 3) most importantly, watching the actors grow and mature, especially the younger ones.  I see them grow in confidence and ability.  I always have a sense of pride when I see that happen.

KEVIN:  Plain and simple, I have had the most fun experiences in my life in community theatre. The people I have done shows with in the past have been incredible actors and friends and the relationship's I've developed with them has been something I will always treasure. You become a "Family" doing shows and that is very important to us as human beings - having that connection. 

BOBBY: If you could tell people one thing about community theatre in order to convince them to become a part of it, what would that one thing be?

KEVIN:  Community theatre is FUN. You meet loads of new people and you get the pleasure of captivating an audience! 

GAIL:  It is fulfilling on some many levels
EMILY:  Do it. Just get up and try it. I guarantee you will walk away learning at least one new thing about yourself even if it's just that performing is not for you. It's an experience everyone should have.

BOBBY:  FINAL SHOUT-OUT: Please feel free to give a shout-out to some special people who have made your time in the theatre so wonderful! 

GAIL:  All my fellow players for helping me grow as an actor, RPP for getting me back into acting and giving me a shot at directing, my husband for lending a hand where needed, and my two sons who are great actors on their own.

KEVIN:  Kristina Lynn (former RPP President and Founder), was the director of The Christmas Express and was the one that got me on board to do the backstage work. If it wasn't for her generosity, I probably would have never discovered this artistic realm. 

EMILY:  There are so many fabulous people I have worked with over the past few years! Some of the standouts are of course Gail who has watched and helped me to grow as an actor and taking me to new levels. Kevin is always a pleasure to work with and makes relationships on stage so easy. David Reyne has been a mentor for me and I could never thank him enough for what he has taught me not only as an actor but as a young adult. My best friend Molly Keifer who is my best friend that I met through Reedy Point and I know if she's not in the show is always in the audience to support me and I can always count on her to give me an honest critique of my work. And of course my parents who have never stopped driving me to rehearsals and feeding the fire to me "theater- junkie" life style. Much love to you all!

Again, I would like to thank Gail, Emily and Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions, but, even more, to thank them for working so hard to bring my play to life.  If you would like to learn more about the Reedy Point Players, check out their website here:  http://reedypointplayers.com/  To check out their facebook page and become a fan, click here;  https://www.facebook.com/messages/#!/reedypointplayers?fref=ts

To become a fan of Theater is a Sport on facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/messages/#!/TheaterIsASport

And to learn more about A Forgetful Remembrance and End of the Movie, visit www.brookpub.com and search for me, Bobby Keniston.

I am truly proud to be a playwright when I get to meet folks like Gail, Emily and Kevin.  They, and many others like them, are why I love to write plays, and it is their enthusiasm that keeps me working hard at it.  I wish them all the best at the Delaware Theatre Association's Festival! 

Until tomorrow, please remember:  theater is a sport!

1 comment:

  1. I,m glad there others who find community theater rewarding.

    ReplyDelete