Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pride and Prejudice: A Holiday Extravaganza

During Horse Girls I started rehearsals for Pride and Prejudice. This was to be the 4th iteration directed by the original director and adapter -- who is British. So really, we had the best insight!  The actress who played Elizabeth was reprising her role for the third time, and the actors playing Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were performing the show for the second time. The entire cast was the most experienced cast I've worked with to date and it was a delight and a lesson every day of rehearsal.

We were performing the Christmas/Holiday show for Book-It Repertory Theatre's 25th season. We ended up selling out the entire run after our second week, and added a performance because of popularity. This was the longest running show I've performed, to date. It came in at just over 30 performances.

I had such a great time playing a character I've never had the opportunity to play. I love classic work, I love dialect work, and I love character roles. Most of my time in Seattle I've spent playing 'leading ladies' or 'ingenues'. This is the gift I've been given by Seattle, because this city has yet to type cast me. This time, I was being given the opportunity to play the slightly dour, very inquisitive, uniquely insensitive, and incomparably competent Mary Bennet.

I read 12 books onstage every night. By the end of the run I had read the history of Japan, the history of Jesus Christ, the history of World War II, the collected short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, several tales from the 1001 Arabian Nights, The Story of The 47 Ronin, two encyclopedias full of random pages about numerous subjects, several presidential addresses, and all about the inventions of Thomas Edison.  I also got some great arm muscles from miming piano playing every night.

Mostly, I was reminded of the lessons I'd only recently learned during Frankenstein.  And I learned some new ones too.

1. Performing a show night after night, and sometimes more than once in a day, can be the most rewarding experience. Even if I was exhausted I would still wake up the next morning and think I had the best job ever.
2. Always remember your training--warming up really is the most important thing you can do.
3. Supportive shoes can make or break a long running show.
4. Baking for your cast is always the right idea.
5. Dancing 300 year old dances teaches you that dancing then was no less exhausting than dancing now.
6. Layers upon layers of clothes onstage that make you incredibly hot is still my favorite thing. Maybe this is why I love classical shows so much.
7. Hearing a young or an old person tell you after a show that they love this book and you helped them want to read it or read it again never gets old.

I'm sure there were other lessons, but I can't think of any more at the moment. It was an incredible experience, and I made great new friends, and I'm grateful for my time spent on this wonderful piece of literature.

Reviews posted for posterity:

Broadway World


Seattle Weekly

Seattle Times


Heed the Hedonist

Push to Talk

Drama in the Hood

I'll post the pictures when I receive them. I had one week off between the end of this show--and the beginning of my next!

Horse Girls and girls and girls and girls

I returned from my summer in the south reluctantly, but excited to start the projects I had signed on for. I submitted myself for the UPTAs in September. I started making my plans for the regional theatre movement I was attempting to start for myself.

The day after I got back, I had a photo shoot for promotional photos for the show. The reason I agreed to Horse Girls was not only the incredibly fun and challenging new script I had read, but because for the first time since college I was going to do an all women show! An ensemble based script, I was playing the lead Ashleigh, who was a preteen award winning equestrian. The director was a friend who had previously asked me to do a reading of the script a year before that I'd had to miss. Now, all these women were coming together to produce great work--at the perfect time. The subject matter starts fluffy but quickly turns dark. We ended up opening the show the week after a terrible school shooting in Marysville, WA. Because of this event, our opening night was poignant, tragic, and very real.

 We drove out of Seattle to a ranch that had offered us their horses and land to take some pictures. We hadn't rehearsed and we didn't know each other (as is often the case with these things) and got to bond over an afternoon of horses and girl talk. I couldn't wait for the next two months with these ladies.

As Development Director at Annex Theatre (who was producing this show as part of their season) I was a staff member, and company member, and now a cast member. Another of the cast members was also playing my sister Lydia in Pride and Prejudice, and before we opened Horse Girls we were already spending our days rehearsing for P&P.

I also had the pleasure for the first time since moving to Seattle to act with another Stephens College alum on stage. We were delighted to be working together after our time in college and it really brought us back to our roots in creating plays by, for, and about women.

The rehearsal process was challenging and exciting. We were working with a new script, a young director, and a great team. It was an incredibly physical show, not only in the sense of stage combat, but also the idea of putting yourself back into your preteen body and working so hard to be 'grown up'. We sang, we danced, we yelled, we cried, and we told our story.

In the end the New York based writer flew into Seattle to help us tech the show, and we opened to sold out audiences. The run of Horse Girls sold better than any other off-night show in Annex history. With an all women cast! I've attached the reviews below if you'd like to peruse them.

Seattle Times

Drama in the Hood

The Stranger

I had the thought during the run of the show that not often does it happen that I'll get to spend two contracts in a row working with mostly female casts! It was a joy, a gift, and a reminder of how I started and where I came from at Stephens College. I was inspired in those weeks to continue to do all I could to work with as many women in this field as I possible.

Shortly after we opened, a New York premiere of the show was announced, with another Stephens Woman in the cast!  The end of our run at Annex was sad, but we were all moving onto different shows and knew that we'd work together again.

I can say this show was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in my professional career.

Rewind 6 months: The Summer of My Discontent

We last left off over six months ago when I was taking a bit of a life break to do some traveling and deep thinking about my career path, the city I want to live in, and some family matters. I ended up traveling from Seattle east through Idaho and Montana down to camp in Yellowstone in Wyoming. From there I headed south to Colorado where I stayed for a week in Breckenridge.

Now before I left Seattle on my summer trip of 2014 I had done a quick and dirty audition for Pride and Prejudice for Book-It Repertory Theatre (with whom I previously performed in Frankenstein). They then called me the night before I set out on my trip to ask me to do a callback, which of course I was unavailable for because I was leaving. I offered to push my starting time back a few hours the next day if they could fit me in because I desperately wanted to be cast. But unfortunately the timing didn't work out and they said they'd have to move onto callbacks without me. More fortunately it was at this point in my travels in Breckenridge that I missed a call from the director offering me the part of Mary Bennet/Miss Darcy. I immediately called him back and accepted the role for the upcoming December 2014 production!

The director left me with one tidbit of information that would help to inform the rest of my summer: if I had been near the end of my EMC weeks (of which there are 50, and I was not near the end) and wanting to turn Equity (which I would like to do eventually) then I would not have been able to be cast in the show. They had reached their budgetary quota of Equity actors for this show, and were no long able to take on more. The main reason for my travels in the summer of 2014 aside from seeing family and reconnecting with my roots, was about looking into some new markets.  This phone call quickly taught me that I'm nearing the point in my Seattle career where casting (though already completely out of an actor's hands to begin with) was going to soon be based on my ability to financially fit into a theatre's budget. Moving on up in the world!

This got me thinking as I continued my journey south through New Mexico and into Texas in my Suzuki Forenza Wagon that this was the beginning of a new chapter in my career. I was ten weeks into my EMC program, soon to be 20 after Pride and Prejudice, and that would almost mark the halfway point in my 'professional but affordable' career. Now of course I have the option to not turn Equity immediately and to continue to gather weeks until a theatre makes me 'flip', so there's not necessarily a rush. But regardless, I had a revelation. There were many theatres I wanted to work for in Seattle that hadn't picked me up yet. But I was also incredibly unhappy with the weather and the cost of living. It dawned on me that it was very important for me to begin looking into other regional theatres, and new cities in places that I would enjoy living in more -- while these theatres could still afford me. This was my strategy: if I can get regional theatres to get to know me and hire me while I'm still cheap, they're much more likely to do so after I turn Equity. After all, a huge part of theatre is networking and who you know. And no one outside of the city of Seattle had heard anything about me.

So I set to work splitting my summer between family, friends, and travel. I visited Austin (mostly), Dallas, New Orleans, and even road-tripped to Florida. The one city I missed that I'd like to explore is Atlanta. I really enjoyed Austin, and made it a point to see several shows there, though the summer season was slow. I saw a show in Dallas as well, though New Orleans had nothing playing when I stayed there. I did get to talk to friends and alumni and made some great professional connections in all the cities and was able to compare market size, pay rates, cost of living, and generally if I'd enjoy living there.

I'll list my discoveries, and if you ever want any more details, feel free to ask.

Equitable or even slightly larger than the Seattle theatre market. They have more 'mid-size' theatre companies, which means more theatre companies that pay near the Book-It or Taproot level, and have the same quality of production. I find Seattle to be lacking in the mid size theatre category, which is the reason there isn't enough paying theatre in town here. Dallas also has the Dallas Theatre Center, The Children's Theatre, and several larger theatre's in the Ft. Worth area next door. Basically they were the highest paying city I visited, but they also had the highest cost of living and I'd have to live in the big bad city again.

A smaller city, more equitable in population to Seattle. This city has a fringe artistic vibe. Everything created is brand new here, and there's a big excitement surrounding art. It doesn't seem to be a saturated market yet, but it also doesn't seem to pay a lot. I learned from friends that there are 3 or 4 good paying theatres in town, and the Zach Theatre reigns among them all. Regardless, I really enjoyed the city! It was bikeable and felt like home. It's also the closest city to my family, currently. The cost of living is lower here than Seattle, for the most part, and the location is between Dallas and Houston if I ever needed to spread myself in all directions. There's a ton of commercial and film work to be had in this city, and the pace of life is just so different from Seattle. Obviously, I fell in love with this city.

New Orleans:
This city was the cheapest city I visited by far. It's so ridiculously affordable to live here! They have a great small theatre scene, and of course their famous Fringe Festival that happens every fall. Again, the theatre schedule was slow in the summer, but I heard great things about the quality of work being done in this old, historic town. Again, not incredibly high paying for their performers in general, but some wonderful companies to work for and a fun place to live. I have a lot of friends that say they love to visit but would never stay, but I have to admit that I could totally see myself living in New Orleans. Every street was a new adventure, and the culture is so inviting and artistic! And I could bike everywhere, which I would recommend, because driving was scary.

All in all I had a fantastic summer seeing some great small theatre and relearning how much I love and miss The South. They're my people, and though I love to travel and I plan to live many places, I think I'll always go back there.

I also learned a lot about where I'm at in life. I have a great drive to do theatre professionally, and while I've been living in Seattle that has been my one focus. All of my jobs have been theatre related, and my entire schedule has been filled to the brim with acting, teaching, developing, and selling theatre. And I've loved every second of it. But I'm starting to feel like it's time to love where I'm at, and this city just isn't doing it for me anymore. Now, that's not to say I'll never return, because I would love to. I love most everything about Seattle. But right now I want to slow down and build my hobbies and try something new. I want to continue to do theatre and work for theatre in my life, but I need to put a little bit of life back into my theatre.

So the plan was hatched as I made my way back up to Seattle in September of 2014. I was driving back across the country to fulfill two more contracts I'd signed--Horse Girls at Annex Theatre and Pride and Prejudice at Book-It Rep.. I had no idea what would be in store for me, but I knew I had to make every last experience county because my Seattle chapter was coming near to its First (of possibly many) ends.