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

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