I Am a Seagull: v.V

The cast of The Seagull, Act I (photo by A. Goodman)

We had our first previews of The Seagull at The Antaeus Company last week – which means we had our very first audiences! For weeks we have been rehearsing for our fellow actors, director, designers and occasionally our artistic directors. Last Thursday night was the first night in front of an audience of fresh eyes. And these eyes were seriously fresh – aka young. The seats of the Deaf West Theatre were packed with students from Louis Fantasia’s class at the New York Film Academy.

The students appeared to be in their late teens to early 20s – the same age as Nina and Konstantin in our play. Many of these students were working on Nina/Kostya scenes in class and had a lot of questions for us. One of the young women in the audience asked me at the talk-back,

Jules Willcox, Act IV (photo by Alexandra Goodman)

“How do you prepare for Act 4?”

This is a tough question to answer in only a few minutes. Two years pass by between Acts 3 and 4. These aren’t easy-breezy years for any of the characters, least of all for the character I play – Nina. I won’t add any spoilers to this post, but I will let you know that Nina undergoes a major psychological and physical transformation in those 2 years. I let them in on some of the things I work on when prepping for that scene – dealing with the circumstances, sensory work and the moment before. I also explained that everybody’s process is so different and personal – that what works for me may not work for them. The biggest thing I’ve realized while working with 2 casts is that Chekhov gives us so many hints, obstacles and rich circumstances but the character isn’t real until it is inhabited by an actor. Each actor that takes on a role in “The Seagull” brings something different, so each performance becomes a whole new play.

I recommend playing this while reading the next bit:
Tchaikovsky – Op. 39 No. 15 Italian Song (Act II – Piano by John Allee)

Avery Clyde & Patrick Wenk-Wolff (photo by A. Goodman)

As the Samovar cast trickled into the theater on Thursday night, you could sense them all slipping into character. The effervescent Avery Clyde (Masha) puts on something black and broods to tunes on her iPhone. Patrick Wenk-Wolff (Medvedenko) rattles off random facts about the Death Star. Gigi Bermingham (Arkadina) gives me a compliment about my costume and follows it up with a quote from the play and a wink (“But we don’t want to spoil her”).

Adrian LaTourelle & Gigi Bermingham (photo by A. Goodman)

Adrian LaTourelle (Trigorin) in turn, compliments the lovely Gigi. John Achorn (Shamrayev) presides over the library. Joe Delafield (Treplev) messes up his hair and immediately looks like a petulant teenager. Gregory Itzin (Sorin) simply picks up a cane and his whole physicality changes. James Sutorius (Dorn) turns up the charm (he goes to 11). Reba Waters (Paulina) sigh deeply as she gazes on our prop flowers.

“The Seagull” opens tomorrow March 1 at 8pm.

Antaeus Member, Jules Willcox, shares her experiences working on our production of The Seagull. This is the fifth installment. Tickets now on sale at  www.antaeus.org

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Announcing The Rubles & The Samovars!

Previews start this week for Antaeus’ production of The Seagull, and our fantastic actors have been separated into 2 casts – The Rubles and The Samovars.  The full casts will alternate Saturday night and Sunday matinee performances.  On Thursdays and Fridays we’ll mix them up, which will be known as The Tsars casts.

Check our website (www.antaeus.org) to see when an individual actor is performing…

SAMOVARS RUBLES
Gigi Bermingham ARKADINA Laura Wernette
Joe Delafield TREPLEV Antonio Jaramillo
Gregory Itzin SORIN Micheal McShane
Jules Willcox NINA Abby Wilde
John Achorn SHAMRAYEV Armin Shimerman
Reba Waters PAULINA Dawn Didawick
Avery Clyde MASHA Joanna Strapp
Adrian LaTourelle TRIGORIN Bo Foxworth
James Sutorius DORN Kurtwood Smith
Patrick Wenk-Wolff MEDVEDENKO Bill Brochtrup
Brian Abraham YAKOV Brian Abraham
Bonnie Snyder THE MAID Janice Kent

I Am a Seagull: v. IV

Jules Willcox as Nina

It’s tech week for The Seagull @ The Antaeus Company! The set is built, the lights are up, and distant Russian folk songs sound like they’re being whispered behind your ear as winter storm sounds fill up the theater. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, our award-winning costume designer, is busy fitting 2 sets of costumes for each character. Luckily, my Nina counterpart, Abby Wilde, and I score extra points because we are similarly sized and fit into the same costumes. A clap of thunder emanates from the theater and it stirs up some nervous anticipation as we depart from scene work and start focusing on the technical aspects of the play.The next 8 hours will be devoted to our stage manager, director and designers as they map out light cues, sound cues and scene transitions.

Andrew J. Traister directs Gregory Itzin & Antonio Jaramillo

I sat down with our director Andrew J. Traister earlier this week and got his thoughts on working at Antaeus and being a director in LA. Check out what he has to say:

How did you get involved with Antaeus?

 I’d known Anne Gee Byrd and Armin Shimerman from my regional theatre work. About 4 years ago Anne Gee asked me if I was interested in directing a reading. It was a play called St Crispin’s Day that John Sloan had brought to company. It was a very clever play about the soldiers on the field during Henry V. It was pretty successful and I was hoping they’d pick it up. Then Kitty asked me to direct a production of Arcadia for ClassicsFest.

This August, I was accepted as an associate member. Right after I got accepted I asked what’s the protocol [to start directing at Antaeus]. They said there are 2 plays this season that are promised to other directors but the third is undecided. They picked The Seagull and asked me to pitch to direct. I told them my ideas and it seemed to excite them. A few days later they called me to say that I could direct the play. You never really get to pitch too often so that was exciting.

Why did you want to direct The Seagull?

 Number 1, besides it being a great play, I’ve always felt cheated in my career because I’ve never gotten to do Chekhov. Some of the best work I do is investigation of the psychology of a character. The other thing is a chance to do it here with this great company. When you look at the cast you go “This is a great cast!” The challenge is getting a play this layered and interesting up in 3.5 weeks with a double cast.

So tell us what you think about double casting.

 It’s a blessing and curse in many ways. The blessing is that there’s so much more information coming at you – instead of 1 actor you have 2. When you are batting more information around, more ideas, you get a stronger consensus of what direction to go.

Can you give us a specific example?

 The other day we were doing Chekhov’s 3rd act. There is a scene with Trigorin and Arkadina and she is trying to seduce him physically and intellectually into staying with her. We had one part that we really liked that was really physical and the rest was just walking around the table. Bo Foxworth and Adrian Latourelle our Trigorins kept trying to make it better and they actually came up with the solution. Once they got that solution I was able to help them focus it with Arkadina and make it even better. That was a prime example and there are a couple more – you’re probably involved in a couple yourself. It really helped solve a huge problem. It’s fun because instead of just talking to 11 or 12 you’re talking to a cast of 24.

The downside is that once I get a group of actors to a place where I polish the scene and if the other actors haven’t been watching or are out working I have to start at square 1 all over again. Then it’s about finding the best the actor has to offer – not replicating what you’re doing or what your counterpart is doing but finding the best for the individual actor.

Kurtwood Smith as Dorn

An example here is James Sutorius and Kurtwood Smith who both play Dr. Dorn. They have very different interpretations of the role and it would be presumptuous of me to tell these 2 actors who’ve worked in the theater longer than I have how to do it similarly. That’s part of the fun. The problem is when people are out or working on film or TV – that’s the point of having double casting – I have to bring them up to speed. That’s the biggest problem. I enjoy the bigger collaborative effort of everybody. It’s a lot of fun but it’s exhausting. It seems like you do everything twice.

I know you’ve worked quite a bit regionally – what are the challenges working as a director in LA theater?

 I think when you look at LA there are theaters that have great reputations and they have those reputations for specific things. They’ve spent time developing their signature style so that when you pick up a paper you know what you’re going to get. It’s a safe bet. Then there are all these others theaters and who KNOWS why they exist! Are they creating a body of work or just a night-to-night thing? Last year was a banner year for the Antaeus – they won season of the year, production of the year. They truly utilize this amazing group of actors – young people, old people, film actors, Broadway actors. If you come to see this play you’ll see great acting…and hopefully great directing of great actors in a very funny, unique masterpiece.

Any final thoughts for us?

 I’m having a ball. It’s great fun. Gigi [Bermingham] asked me “Are you having fun?” and I answered “I’d rather be doing this than anything else.”

Antaeus Member, Jules Willcox, shares her experiences working on our production of The Seagull. This is the fourth installment. Tickets now on sale at  www.antaeus.org

I Am a Seagull: v. III

A glorious thing happened last week…the cast of The Seagull @ Antaeus  Company got “off-book,” meaning –everybody memorized their lines. Of course there were a few of us who showed up to the first read-through memorized and a few of us who were still clutching our scripts until the bitter end. However, for the most part, the process of blocking the show last week got the script into our bodies which aided the dreaded process of getting off-book so we can finally put a living, breathing play on stage.

“Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul” – William Somerset Maugham

I’m not sure if anybody else feels this way, but this is my favorite time in the rehearsal process. This is when we really get to play! This is when we take our biggest leaps and have our greatest growing pains. We take the intellectual understanding of the play from the tablework + a lush and informative environment in which to work + the discovery of our relationship with our fellow actors and we fashion a play out of this beautiful chaos. I think American novelist John Cheever (known as the Chekhov of the suburbs) put it well when he said, “Art is the triumph over chaos.”

The artist’s process is a major in theme in The Seagull. Two of our main characters are writers who are struggling with their own demons. Trigorin is well-established in Moscow, but questioning his success in comparison to such greats as Tolstoy, and Treplev is trying to create new forms in an environment that isn’t quite ready to hear his voice. This is representative of a cultural shift that was happening in Russia at the time.  Bo Foxworth who plays Trigorin gave me a little insight on this,

“I started reading Anton Chekhov:  A Life by Donald Rayfield and it’s so interesting to find those little nuggets from his life that inspired him to write his plays and characters and how, what was happening at the time in Russia, influenced him.  When Trigorin tells Treplev that there’s been a lot of interest in his writing from Moscow AND Petersburg, I found it interesting that Petersburg was the PARIS of Russia, and to be a writer of interest in Petersburg was significant.  Famous writers in Moscow were bourgeois, but Petersburg was the cultural hub, they were artists.  Chekhov was very caught up in the competition between Moscow and Petersburg publications as he was rising to fame.  It was his popularity in Petersburg that really put him on the map.”

There was also a major shift happening in theater – especially around acting. Constantin Stanislavski, arguably one of the most important figures in the history of acting, was in the process of revolutionizing theater. He created a system for actors to develop authentic and realistic experiences onstage instead of the representational acting that was popular at the time.

“The task of our generation is to liberate art from outmoded tradition, from tired cliché and to give greater freedom to imagination and creative ability.”
– Constantin Stanislavski

The first successful production of The Seagull was at the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT), which was founded by Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovch-Danchenko. MAT still uses the image of a seagull as their emblem. This production was notable because the play and the actors’ performances strived for an honest reality.

…which is what I’m going to try to achieve right now in rehearsal.

  • Next week: An interview with our director Andrew Traister

There should be more sincerity and heart in human relations, more silence and simplicity in our interactions. Be rude when you’re angry, laugh when something is funny, and answer when you’re asked.

ANTON CHEKHOV, letter to A.P. Chekhov, Oct. 13, 1888

Antaeus Member, Jules Willcox, shares her experiences working on our production of The Seagull. This is the third installment. Tickets now on sale at  www.antaeus.org

I Am a Seagull: v. II

The Cast of The Seagull (Abby Wilde as Nina)

Today we begin week 3 of rehearsals for The Seagull @ Antaeus Theatre Company. As I mentioned last week, our company is comprised of working actors….so, I’m a few days delayed with this post because I’ve been shooting a vampire movie. Nope, I didn’t get to don fangs, but I DID get to do my best Count von Count impression from Sesame Street.

When I was on set I had the following interaction:

“What’s that play you are working on?” 

Me: “The Seagull – it’s a play by Anton Chekhov.”

Response: “Cool.” Yeah – cool period, not cool a bazillion exclamation points as I’d hoped.

“Why are you working on such an old play?” 

It’s funny how easily I forget that most people in LA are not entrenched in the classical theatre world. Hmm – what’s the best way to answer this question?

“Well…as an actor it stretches you to work on masterpieces…” and something about “universal truths”…yadayadayada…

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about working on classic plays, so I figured I wasn’t alone. If you are wondering why the heck we are doing The Seagull in Tinseltown, check out what a few of my castmates have to say:

Foxworth and Achorn in The Malcontent

Bo Foxworth, who plays one of our Trigorins, had this to say about The Seagull:

“Is it much different from what audiences are drawn to everyday in their living room? Audiences today, particularly here in Los Angeles, centered as we are in the entertainment industry, can relate to the ego-centric actress striving to remain young and relevant.  The famous writer who has been pigeon-holed by his public and desires to write something meaningful and relevant.  The starry eyed young wanna-be actress that might do anything to be famous.  The struggling young writer searching for his voice. Take an ensemble of beautifully realized characters and mix in love and unrequited love, their struggles and quarreling and the humor and absurdity that sprouts from it, and you have the makings of a Hollywood reality show.”

John Achorn, one of our Shamrayevs, gives us his personal feeling on performing Chekhov:

“Chekhov provides me with the opportunity to explore layer upon layer of character.  What appears to be one thing motivating him is often contradicted partially in actions given in other scenes.  I relish the chance to explore the multiple facets of what seems to be a simple character.”

Finally, Micheal McShane, who plays Sorin, weighs in on the difference

McShane in Cousin Bette (w/ Alicia Wollerton)

between working in Film/TV and theatre:

Live theatre is visceral because there are fewer filters between you and your audience, and combining all the elements (light, sound, blocking) into a cohesive moment is a vindication of your experience and ensemble is a fortifying ritual. I’d rather watch six actors create a War Horse in front of me, than marvel at an animatronic War Horse. Don’t get me wrong though; the artists pulling cable and running eye movement for the War Horse in the close ups are gifted, skilled and employ the same sensitivities; but I’ll bet you a bowl of chili that they learned it in the theatre.”

You’ve heard it from a few of us, but we want to hear from you. Tell us why YOU think classical theatre  is relevant or why you love to see/work on Chekhov, just click “leave a comment” below and share your thoughts!

Antaeus Member, Jules Willcox, shares her experiences working on our production of The Seagull. This is the second installment. Tickets now on sale at  www.antaeus.org