The Antaean Brain: An Assistant Director’s POV

The company of Mrs. Warren's Profession at Antaeus. Photo by G. Wade

The company of Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Antaeus. Photo by G. Wade

I’m not really sure the first time that Antaeus came into my consciousness, but the company has been one that I’ve wanted to work with for a while: especially because of the urging of some of my mentors, who have all been involved in one way or another. I participated in an Antaeus “down and dirty reading” of James Joyce’s The Dead, a collaboration between the Antaeans and the USC cast of the production that I worked on in college. Now that I’m involved with Antaeus in an official capacity, I have the opportunity to see just how this unique company is able to keep the pulse of classical theater alive in Los Angeles.

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Seeing Double? Bill Brochtrup & Arye Gross share the role of Praed. Photo by G. Wade

One of the things that Antaeus is known for is their use of partner casting; double casting each role and performing with rotating casts through the run of each of their productions. As I watch the rehearsal process unfold, there are several things about the rehearsal process that are illuminated. First, I’ve always been told that no one will hand you anything in life. That seems a broad generalization but there is a piece of truth in it for #MrsWP (the production’s Twitter handle). If an actor is not prepared to work (which, astoundingly, every single actor in this cast always is), the other actor is able to jump in and work. This pushes the rehearsal process along much faster than it normally might. Second, the opportunity to watch the play run its course and then to step into it and experience the journey for yourself is a chance usually only afforded to understudies. Now, it is one afforded to each member of every Antaeus production. The chance for self-reflection is paramount in any rehearsal process and the Antaeans take full advantage.

Daniel Bess & Rebecca Mozo in rehearsal. Photo by G. Wade

Daniel Bess & Rebecca Mozo in rehearsal. Photo by G. Wade

We’re deep into rehearsals for #MrsWP and I’m sort of starting to figure out what I’m doing here. It’s an interesting position to be coming into an established group of people who all have a very similar vocabulary and working method, or “Antaean brain” as I like to call it. This being my first production experience out of college, it’s interesting to segue from an academic/education atmosphere to one that is strictly professional with all attention focused towards the show that will open in a month and a half. What I’ve come to realize over the last few weeks working with Antaeus and the lovely #MrsWP-ers is that this experience is not for me to learn how to negotiate the waters of a Shaw play, however rough and rugged they are, but rather to learn how to translate the vocabularies of fifteen different people into something that I am able to understand and work with, a skill that will be one of the most valuable I will ever learn.

The vernacular of laughter: Director Robin Larsen with Dramaturg Christopher Breyer. Photo by G. Wade

The vocabulary of laughter: Director Robin Larsen. Photo by G. Wade

When you work on a production in college, the performances are really the last thing that’s worried about. It’s about process; it’s about learning. It’s about learning different ways into different pieces and exploring different working methods so that one may ultimately figure out how the hell to make headway in what may seem like an impenetrable work. The one thing that is different is the vocabulary. At USC, everyone works with the same vocabulary, normally the one of the director. If I were to walk into a certain rehearsal and mention that an actor should maintain the fixed point or cultivate a curiosity about their secondary activity, there would be no confusion. Coming to Antaeus, I’m learning how to translate the vocabularies of everyone in the room into my own working vernacular and communicate effectively on several different wavelengths. I’m slowly realizing that this is not a skill to take for granted.

Kaufer_ZachZach Kaufer is our fantastic assistant director on the Spring 2013 production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  Zach was very pleased to learn we don’t  “partner cast” our production team. Tickets are now on sale: www.antaeus.org

Mrs. Warren Speaks on the World’s Oldest Profession

The cast of Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo by Holly Abel.

When I was asked to write a blog about what drew me to initiate a reading of Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession for the 2012 Summer ClassicsFest, my mind immediately went back to February of this year, when I had the challenge of playing Mu Sochua, Cambodian human rights activist in a documentary play called Seven at USC.  Sochua, who has labored tirelessly on behalf of Cambodian women and children forced into prostitution by human traffickers, has frequently spoken out about the tragic plight of these innocents, who are often kidnapped into slavery, or else lured by traffickers who promise them jobs to help their poverty-stricken families.

Of course, the horror, abuse, and deadening of the soul that Sochua details when she speaks of these victims are almost too horrible to imagine.  Bur Shaw, when he wrote Mrs. Warren’s Profession over a century ago, seemed determined to try to make Victorian society imagine the similar circumstances of young women of that time.  Shaw’s play was scandalous when it first appeared on the scene.  It was originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain in Britain, and a few years later, an American performance in New York was halted by the police, who arrested the cast and crew.  Moralists were outraged that Shaw would even attempt to take a sympathetic stand toward prostitutes, and the desperation that forced many into employment by the brothels.  But Shaw argued back that “the world’s oldest profession” was, for many desolate young women, the only means available by which they could try to raise themselves above their destitute childhoods.

Director Cameron Watson leads the discussion. Photo by Holly Abel.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is not only an argument for societal compassion, it is also a study of societal forces vs. personal character and individual choice. Kitty Warren insists she is justified in her choice of livelihood because for her, there is no other viable means by which she could have escaped her poverty.  We see that Kitty has not only escaped, however, but flourished handsomely.  Due to her “success,” she has raised her daughter Vivie in more than comfortable means—yet she has been an absent mother, painfully and inexplicably distant from Vivie’s life, instead throwing her time and energy into her secret profession for her own pleasure at best, and from her own desperate ambition at worst.  And so the question arises:  At what point does Kitty cross over from the motive of rescuing herself and her daughter from poverty and providing a better life for them both, to the moral corruption in maintaining a “success” that ultimately rests on the continued exploitation of others?

Jeanne Sakata w/ Laura Wernette in Merry Wives, CF 2010. Photo by E. Marlow.

Such complex questions—as well as the gut-wrenching struggles of a mother and daughter who, though they wish to love each other, may be separated by a chasm too wide to breach— are the fascinating qualities that drew me to initiate this reading of Mrs. Warren’s Profession in our Summer ClassicsFest.  We hope you will enjoy the challenge of wrestling with this brave and brilliant play, alongside all of us at Antaeus.

Antaeus member Jeanne Sakata on initiating and starring in G.B. Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the next offering in ClassicsFest 2012: Part Two. Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.