I Was a Teenage Whore

by Nicole Erb, A2 Ensemble Member

Nicole Erb in our Classical Styles class. Photo by G. Wade

Nicole Erb in our Classical Styles class. Photo by G. Wade

Now that the title of this post has your attention- I know what you’re thinking. Ugh. ANOTHER production of The Crucible. Are you kidding me? I’ve seen that play a billion times (not a hyperbole). So why, oh why, would Antaeus make it part of their season? The answer is pretty simple. It’s a story we still need to hear. Really.

You’re saying to yourself, “But Nicole, every time I see The Crucible I just start thinking about that Monty Python bit where they’re screaming about witches.

I know! I totally get it- it’s really hard not to equate ducks with witches. Or you say, “But I saw the ‘quintessential’ Crucible with blah blah blah and I don’t think I’ll ever see a good production again.”  I get it. I actually saw Liam Neeson (pre-his punching wolves in the face and destroying terrorists phase) and Laura Linney as John and Elizabeth. I cried the whole time. The back wall of the set was made of window panes and as the world of the play got crazier and crazier, the panes began to fall and shatter. At the end of the play, all the remaining panes crashed to the floor and shattered. This production is one of the reasons I decided I wanted to be an actor.

So why are we doing it? The Crucible remains a story that reverberates in our world. And it’s a great big giant ensemble story (for a great big giant ensemble company). For those of you who think The Crucible is stale, consider this; we, as a nation, have seen a whole lot of violence and pain in the last couple of weeks. As a response, this TED talk started floating around the social media sites. It’s a lecture by Philip Zimbardo on ‘The Nature of Evil’.

Zimbardo’s “The Nature of Evil”

The Poppet.  Photo by A. Goodman

The Poppet. Photo by A. Goodman

Mr. Zimbardo has found  that evil is born of the intersecting of three different things: 1) personality (Abigail Williams is a teenager in an incredibly violent world, who understands the value of power) 2) environmental (Salem is a town that still lives in both colonial and Puritanical levels of fear of Indians, God, the Devil, famine, plague, etc.) 3) institutional (the conventions of Puritan society, the management of the trials themselves- the Salem witch trials are the only trials of the time where spectral evidence is allowed). This isn’t just a philosophical rambling- it’s integral to understanding both how societies create evil like the witch trials and how we’ve managed to let it happen time and time again.

Is this all too general and highfalutin’ for you? Think these characters are unrealistic? Then let’s get specific. Go back a couple weeks ago- a letter was leaked to the internet from a crazed Delta Gamma sorority president to everyone in her chapter. If you haven’t read or seen a dramatic reading of it at this point, you probably need to watch Michael Shannon’s dramatic reading (I’d even call it the “quintessential” dramatic reading of the letter).

Sorority Letter by Michael Shannon

I find myself completely surprised by the letter. When I first saw Michael Shannon’s take on the whole thing I thought, “Wow. That girl is nuts. Straight up crazy.” But when I went back and actually read the letter, I realized that even though an insane tone is being used some of what she says is probably pretty on point.

Act One of The Crucible. Photo by P. Proctor

Act One of The Crucible. Photo by P. Proctor

To get back to The Crucible– I couldn’t get Abigail’s speech to the girls in Act One out of my head. Is bringing a pointy reckoning really that different from asking someone to “tie themselves down to a chair and punch themselves in the face”? In contemporary terms it’s fairly close. And this comforts me IMMENSELY. I’ve been fighting a real battle to not make Abigail a total monster- a portrait of evil. That’s what she becomes, not what she starts out to be.  You have to keep in mind, she’s a queen bee in Salem, she’s had a REALLY hard life (Indians, smashed heads), she thinks John Proctor is going to leave his wife for her, AND she’s a child (17 in the show and 11 in real life). All these things create a perfect storm of personal crap, opportunity, and pressure. As wrong as the girl who wrote the Delta Gamma letter was, you can hear the personal stress that she is under. There’s something there that (as nutty as it is) I can empathize with- that’s how I begin to see Abigail as something other than a complete monster.

Get to the point, Erb! What I’ve been attempting to get out is that Miller’s world and our own are not that different. I’d like to think that we’ve changed a lot since the Salem Witch trials and the McCarthy hearings, but I’m not sure that we’re that fundamentally different. Human psychology is tricky that way. And what The Crucible gets at, at the most basic level, is that mounting pressure and fear.

Ann Putnam puts it best: “There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!” Everything is conspiring against this town and these people. And in spite of that we hope. John Proctor changes. Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey stand for their principles. It’s a level of heroism that we aspire to in modern day. But when we can’t get it in life, isn’t it great to see it in the theater? I hope that you find yourself thinking John Proctor will triumph. I hope for the sake of Salem that one night the heroes win.

ERB_Nicole 2012A2 Ensemble member Nicole Erb draws back the curtain on rehearsals for The Crucible, our next mainstage production opening May 16 & 17. Tickets now on sale at www.antaeus.org


Shaw’s Version of Hell

The Cast of St. Joan

Okay, I admit it…I’m a Shaw geek. Have been ever since one of my very first Broadway shows – ST. JOAN with the late, truly great, Lynn Redgrave at Circle-in-the-Square in NYC (in a cast, by the way, that also included our fellow Antaean and my very good friend, Armin Shimerman!)

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to play roles such as ‘John Tarleton’ in MISALLIANCE at Center Stage, Baltimore and ‘Andrew Undershaft’ in MAJOR BARBARA at San Jose Rep.

And believe me when I tell you…this stuff is challenging and oh-so rewarding to work on. The demands of language, facility of language, rapidity of thought, clarity of ideas — and, of course, discovering the beautifully human Shavian characters within those demands…it’s an actor’s dream job.

Peter Van Norden in St. Joan

And DON JUAN IN HELL is no exception. For those unfamiliar with the piece, DON JUAN… makes up the bulk of Act 3 of his enormous play, MAN AND SUPERMAN. Seldom performed in the context of the whole play, it is most often performed as we are doing it here in ClassicsFest — in a concert version (the most famous of which had Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Agnes Moorehead as its four cast members and toured the world back in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s).

It’s a piece separate from the rest of the play…a dream, really, containing characters that are faintly reminiscent of the characters in the rest of the play. But it stands firmly on it’s own two feet —  a brilliant piece all on its own.

So, in Shaw’s mind…what is Hell? Indeed, what is Heaven? How does Shaw’s ever-popular theory of the “Life Force” work in these locales? Or does it? How about the relationship between Man and Woman, Father and Daughter…God and the Devil?

The characters as statues.

Don Juan, Dona Ana, The Statue (Dona Ana’s father) and Lucifer, himself — these are the characters you’ll meet in, yes, Shaw’s version of Hell.

The concepts and the comedy are flying, fast and furious, in this 90-minute discussion/debate/argument/play — and you’re likely to take away some ideas that will tickle you, puzzle you, and maybe even amaze you. Come and join us. Sunday, November 11 and Monday, November 12 at 7:00 pm.

It’s Shaw. What could be better?

Peter Van Norden
November, 2012

Antaeus member Peter Van Norden on our next offering in ClassicsFest 2012: Part Two – Don Juan in Hell.  Peter plays The Devil.  Of course.  Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.

A2 does Shakespeare’s “King Phycus”

We asked cast member Buck Zachary to talk to us a little about Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” by Tom Willmorth, opening tomorrow night as the next installment of A2 Last Call for Theater.  We asked the questions, he crafted the answers, we checked for typos and grammatical errors, he expressed his dismay at our lack of faith in his syntax skills… and now we leave it to you to make of the play what you will.

**Please note:  the original Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” is a full length entertainment with an intermission… which we amorally (and potentially lethally) hacked to pieces for our own evil purposes… with the reluctant yet game permission of the playwright.  Read the original.  It has all the good bits.**

AC: Tell us about the play, and your part(s) in it?

Buck Zachary NOT in costume (no, he is). Photo by Holly Abel

BZ: I’ve been describing Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” to people as “Shakespeare via Mel Brooks” (which I hope Mr. Willmorth would take as the highest compliment).  It throws several of The Bard’s most recognizable characters into a blender with a healthy scoop of wackiness and dumps it all out on the stage.  It manages both reverence and irreverence in the most delightful way.  We have six actors playing upwards of thirty roles.  There’s kings, ghosts, lovers, clowns, epic battles, live music, a play within a play, mistaken identities, plenty of mayhem.  I have the distinct pleasure of switching back and forth between Brutus, Richard of Gloucester, Goldenberg (think Guildenstern), and the Earl of… ahem…  Athol.

AC: What makes this show great for the A2 Ensemble?

BZ: SKP is the type of show that really gives every actor the chance to “chew the scenery,” as it were, but also relies very heavily on the chemistry of the ensemble.  And because of the abbreviated rehearsal period, we really had to click from day one.  Fortunately, because of Antaeus and A2, we’ve all had opportunities to work together in the past and we had no trouble at all hitting our stride.

Buck with Belen Greene as “Macbetty.” Photo by Kendra Chell

SKP is also a wonderful foil to Antaeus’s current production of Macbeth.  As well as sharing a set and an actor, SKP borrows some major plot points directly from “The Scottish Play.”  While you need not have seen one to thoroughly enjoy the other, I think an audience member who has seen “Mackers” will find some fun surprises in SKP that other audience members might not get.

Ultimately, SKP is a rapid fire comedy that’s really going to keep the audience on their toes.  No one should have trouble staying alert for an hour for our late night shows, and for our prime time Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they’ll start their evening with a great show and still have plenty of time to hit up the local Tiki bar!

AC: If you could use one word and a sound effect to describe SKP, what would they be?
BZ: “Zounds!”  And the low, descending, two-tone blast of a ocean barge.

The famous baguette-pineapple scene with Buck & Patrick Wenk-Wolff. Photo by Holly Abel

AC: What gag makes you groan the most in the show?
BZ:  Ha!  I hope this question doesn’t give people the wrong impression of the play!  Most of the humor is actually very smart.  There are those moments though.  I’m actually a big fan of the “groaners.”  I don’t want to spoil anything in the play, but I’ll share one of my favorite exchanges that has actually been cut (strictly for time).  I include it here in all it’s groan-inducing glory.  Juliet asks her cockney Nurse about Susan, the Nurse’s daughter, who sadly died in birth, entangled in the Nurse’s cord (a great setup, I know…).

Abby Wilde (NOT as Juliet – which she also plays – but as a wizened old Roman hag). Photo by Kendra Chell

JULIET:  Didst thou just say I played with Susan, Nurse?

NURSE:  Lordie lord, you did!  Thou wert inseparable.
JULIET:  You said she died in neonatal noose.
NURSE:  But thou did love her so, my heart did break
To from your arms my little angel take.
You’d romp for hours, playing seek and hide.

Gross?  Sure.  Funny?  I sure think so!  There’s nothing quite that dark left in the show, but the there’s plenty left to gleefully cringe at!

AC: Have there been any offstage comments, bloopers or happenings that rival the play in hilarity?
BZ: No… all the comments, bloopers and hilarity have happened onstage, and I hope they continue to do so!  If we make the audience laugh half as much as we make each other laugh in rehearsal, we’ll have a great show on our hands!  It’s almost become a game of who can make who break first.  There are a couple of moments built in where we get to briefly improvise, or milk a particular bit, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s “go time.” I think a large part of SKP’s charm is going to be watching us try to keep it together while it brazenly charges forward.

AC: What has been unique about working on this show? The challenges?
BZ: SKP certainly offers its fair share of challenges, not the least of which has been the language.  As laugh-a-minute and slapstick as SKP is, it’s also beautifully and tightly versed in iambic pentameter, adding to its authenticity.  While keeping it light and quick apace, we’re also forced to be very meticulous with the words.  It plays a wonderful trick on the audience that way, often mixing the low brow with a brilliant attention to detail.

The cast of SKP (most of them – the others are changing). Photo by Kendra Chell.

Of course there’s the obvious challenge of playing multiple characters, each with a different costume, physical persona and dialect, and often not having much time at all to switch between them.  Add to that the six physical entrances and exits to the stage that we often have to sprint between and the dozens of props we have to keep track of, and it’s going to be a pretty chaotic hour for us.  I’m sure something will go awry every night, but if we do our job, no one will notice.  🙂

All that being said, a special “kudos” also needs to go out to our dedicated production team, especially Alexandra Goodman, our costumer.  With each actor playing several distinct characters, often with mere seconds to change from one to the other, she certainly has her work cut out for her.

AC: You came from Chicago not that long ago.  Do you remember the first production of SKP?  Did you have a chance to see it?  Have you seen anything else that Strange Tree has done?
BZ: I moved to LA just a few months before their original production of SKP opened and Strange Tree really started to make a name for themselves.  So… no, no, and sadly… no.  I know a couple of the insanely talented people associated with the company though, and I hope to get back and see something of theirs soon!

AC: What makes Chicago theater different from Los Angeles theater and vice versa?
BZ: There are pros and consto both, but I think what it boils down to is Chicago is a town primarily for theater actors, and LA is primarily a town for film and television actors.  And rightfully so.  There are a lot of great projects being filmed in Chicago, and a lot of great theatre happening in LA, but basically, in my experience, that’s the way it is.  The Chicago theatre community isn’t as influenced by the cut-throat (for lack of a better term) element of “the biz” as what I see in Los Angeles.  I consider myself pretty fortunate to have

He’s right about that “tightly knit” feeling. Photo by Alexandra Goodman.

fallen in with Antaeus so soon after moving from Chicago.  It really has a tightly knit feeling of an artists’ community that a lot of Los Angeles seems to be lacking.  And it’s inspiring, as someone who wants to make a career out of acting, to be surrounded by theatre artists who have been able to make a living as film and television actors and still find time to tread the boards every now and then.  What LA may lack in community though, it makes up for in opportunity.  If you have an idea for a show or a film, and you’re passionate and willing to work, there is SOMEONE who will help you make it happen here.

AC: If you could say anything to Tom Willmorth right now, what would it be?
BZ: I’d grasp his forearm manfully and whisper a sweet “Hey Nonny” in his ear… the one that works.

AC: What would your mother say about this production?
BZ: She’d love it!  But she’d like my parts best.  :0)

A2 Member
, Buck Zachary, patiently answers our questions on Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” by Tom Willmorth, directed by John Apicella.  Make your reservation at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested Donation $10

The Crucible: The “Oooooooooo”

ARTHUR MILLER’S THE CRUCIBLE—a process, a passion, a purpose—part of ClassicsFest (March 25 & 26, 2012)

So, it all started in the dressing room of The Malcontent.  Mr. Foxworth was adjusting his wig and glasses, preparing for an entrance as Malevole, the disguised Duke Altofront, and I was NOT preparing for an entrance as Maria, Duke Altofront’s imprisoned wife, since it was NOT yet the fifth act…sigh…but I was lacing (or unlacing, I can’t exactly remember) Ms. Jules Wilcox into (or out of) her corset like I always did, in preparation for her entrance as Aurelia, the cheating wife of the usurping Duke Pietro, when a conversation was struck up that went something like this…

Jules:  You guys are such a great “stage couple”.

Bo & Ann:  We are!

Jules:  You guys should do The Crucible.

Bo & Ann:  Ooooooooooooooo.

This is how things get started at Antaeus.

However, as I’m learning as a rather new company member, this is not how things “end” at Antaeus.  As many of you know, Antaeus is fond of what we like to call “process”, which basically consists of grabbing a few hours here and there and sitting around a table with a play and reading it and talking about it and reading it again and talking more about it and looking things up about it and arguing with someone about it, etc.  What is remarkable to me is that this rather ordinary act of sitting around a table and discussing and studying a play can lead to something rather extraordinary.  That “something”—as it seems to me—is the transformation of a mere personal desire to “play a part” into a rather altruistic need to share the entire play—its story, its message—not only with our fellow artists, but with the world as a whole.

In other words, what has happened, particularly in this case, is that instead of just myself and Bo saying “ooooooooooo”, the whole gang, that read the play at the Down-n-Dirty Reading last October, said “ooooooooooooo”.

So, here we are, thick in the scheduling, pre-rehearsing, rehearsing, cancelling rehearsing, re-scheduling rehearsing, casting, re-casting, putting together binders and scripts, emailing, texting, calling that is the “process” of ClassicsFest.  It’s a challenging road and requires many dedicated and patient hands; however, because of what happened at that reading last October, because of that communal “oooooooooo”, these minor inconveniences pale in comparison to the opportunity that lies before us:  the chance to read one of America’s greatest plays, by one of America’s greatest (some say “the greatest”, but O’Neill diehards would beg to differ) playwrights at a time when the message and story could not be more relevant.

As most people know, The Crucible was written by Arthur Miller as a response to the Red Scare/Cold War mentality that swept America and culminated in the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.  Calling up the frightful tale of the actual witch-hunt that took place in Salem in the 1690s, Miller’s allegorical tactics could not be lost on his audience of the day.  And even for those who were not alive in the 1950s or have been versed in that painful time in American history, they can still be left with no doubt of Miller’s intentions and opinions as he boldly includes a series of essays on the subject of our human (and particularly American) proclivity towards “scape-goatism” within the text of the first act of the published script of The Crucible.

And while, as an actor, it’s frustrating to have such “digressions” within the middle of the action of the play (especially while trying to memorize lines!), it soon becomes apparent that these essays provide a much needed historical and sociological context for anyone attempting to work on a production of the play.

Of all the brilliant insights that Miller has and presents about our human and societal nature, the over-arching idea that is so very frightening in its accuracy is our inability to change:  that we, as a people, as a country, as a society, tend to repeat the same horrendous and violent acts over and over again; we seem to be incapable of learning from our past, to make a better future or even a better present.  We still seem to love a good ole fashioned “witch-hunt”.

Some of his most potent excerpts include:

“The Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserve, his home base and the citadel of his final stand.  To the best of their knowledge the American forest was the last place on earth that was not paying homage to God.  For these reasons, among others, they carried about an air of innate resistance, even of persecution.  Their fathers had, of course, been persecuted in England.  So now they and their church found it necessary to deny any other sect its freedom, lest their New Jerusalem be defiled and corrupted by wrong ways and deceitful ideas.”

“The people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower.  A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which was at this moment in power.  The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today.  It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces.  No hint of such speculation appears on the court records, but social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.”

“The Salem tragedy…developed from a paradox.  It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its resolution.  Simply, it was this:  for good purposes, even high purposes, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies.  It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose.  But all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.  Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized.  The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.  When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday.  It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.”

“The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression.  It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for everyone so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims…Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions.  Land-lust which had been expressed before by constant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be elevated to the arena of mortality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbor and felt perfectly justified in the bargain.  Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”

“These people had no ritual for the washing away of sins.  It is another trait we inherited from them, and it has helped to discipline us as well as to breed hypocrisy among us.”

“Like [the characters] on this stage, we conceive the Devil as a necessary part of a respectable view of cosmology.  Ours is a divided empire in which certain ideas and emotions and actions are of God, and their opposites are of Lucifer.  It is as impossible for most men to conceive of a morality without sin as of an earth without “sky”.  Since, 1692, a great but superficial change has wiped out God’s beard and the Devil’s horns, but the world is still gripped between two diametrically opposed absolutes.  The concept of unity, in which positive and negative are attributes of the same force, in which good and evil are relative, ever-changing, and always joined to the same phenomenon—such a concept is still reserved to the physical sciences and to the few who have grasped the history of ideas.  When it is recalled that until the Christian era the underworld was never regarded as a hostile area, that all gods were useful and essentially friendly to man despite occasional lapses; when we see the steady and methodical inculcation into humanity of the idea of man’s worthlessness—until redeemed—the necessity of the Devil may become evident as a weapon, a weapon designed and used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church-state.”

“Political opposition, thereby, is given an inhumane overlay which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized intercourse.  A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence.  Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a congeries of plots and counterplots, and the main role of government changes from that of the arbiter to that of the scourge of God.”

What strikes me most about these essays, however, is not merely Miller’s capacity to articulate his beliefs and observations in such an exacting way, but the fact that he chose to include them in the text of his play.  It’s as if he knew that by themselves, they would be “interesting” or “thought-provoking” or “clever”, but when embedded into the rich, dark world that he’s created out of the Salem tragedy, they become an echo that reverberates within the human heart.  We know that what he says is true.  Not because it is historical, or “well-phrased”, but because he is speaking through his play, his art, his “poem” to the world.  And when we hear through the heart, we hear well.  And we do not forget.

I’m reminded here of the lines of William Carlos Williams which seem to ring so profoundly true and loud today:

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Antaeus Member, Ann Noble, is project initiator of ClassicsFest: The Crucible, along with Bo Foxworth (Elizabeth and John Proctor).  Tickets are now on sale.

Academy Spotlight: Elizabeth Zerebko

Hello hello!

I am Lizzie Zerebko, and I am currently taking the American Classics at Antaeus under Rob Nagle.

After being born and raised in the Pasadena area, I went on to study Theatre at USC. I had a brief stint in London while studying at BADA (British American Drama Academy), which reinforced my love for classical theatre- I’ve never looked back. After graduating in 2010, I worked at A Noise Within as an intern and took classes there for nearly a year.

Certainly my favorite post-graduation project has been “Shakespearience” at the Alex Theatre, a field trip that serves as an introduction to the wonders of Shakespeare. The audiences (1,000+ students each time) are unlike any other- they allow themselves to feel moved by the material, and have no problem verbally expressing it! Their unique energy is overwhelming at times, but ultimately very rewarding. When I was a wee freshman in high school I saw this show myself, and it is a wonderful opportunity to give back. I can’t wait to perform again this coming March. (www.theatricaleducationgroup.com).

I could, of course, tell you that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a performer since I was ten months old, yadda, yadda. BUT- what I remember most as the true change in the way I viewed theatre was a daytime student matinee at Pasadena Playhouse’s production of PRIVATE LIVES, directed by Art Manke. The overwhelming beauty, intriguing style, and sublime execution have colored my pursuits through the years, both in acting and directing.

It was from that performance, I believe, that I garnered my conviction that theatre should be beautiful… somewhere at its heart should be the search for and attainment of beauty, or the failure thereof.

My goal is to talk to Art Manke one day and just let him know what a great influence that particular show has had on my development. I hope that I am bound to run into him at some point, as Facebook tells me we have far too many mutual friends. Hopefully I will be able to give him that compliment and validation- after all, as theatre artists isn’t it our mission to affect the individual with human truth for days or years to come?

What brought you to Antaeus?

With this developing belief and the resulting inclination toward the classics, how could I not be drawn to Antaeus? In fact, I had been looking at the classes for years before I was able to audition, even while I was still at school. The welcome I have experienced this fall, paired with the dedication and talent of those I know involved, tells me that I have come to the right place.

My time with the American Classics has been wonderful. I know that I speak for many when I say that the class gives us an outlet where we can be truly excited and challenged by what we are working on. Rob has been astoundingly flexible and supportive, and has let each of us form our personal class journey to fit our needs. As long as the pieces fall within the guidelines of O’Neill, Williams, and Miller, we have been able to take on whatever material we are drawn to- whether a traditional two-person scene, a monologue, or a female version of Death of a Salesman featuring a Wilhelmina Loman. Our guest moderators have been very informative as well, bringing fresh eyes and new perspectives to make even more well rounded scenes.

The level of talent in the student group is truly apparent in the work. I am constantly impressed, as their honesty and willingness have created some of the best theatre I have seen in a long time. Everyone’s positive attitudes also create a nice support system that allows for more risks, regardless of the “success”.

I can walk away from this fall’s class knowing that I have reached for things that have scared me, highly triumphant with some…and no so much with others. I’ve been reminded of the immense detail and continuous thought that separates a good performance from a great one. I’ve remembered my personal weaknesses and my ticks and tried to work through them. AND, in the grander scheme of theatre scholarship, I am walking away with a wonderful comprehensive introduction to three distinct American playwrights, each with their own distinct voice that I had never been able to hear before. I am thrilled. I can’t wait for some High Comedy in the spring.

I will leave you with my favorite quote, shown to me by a dear friend and mentor:

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

-Louisa May Alcott


Thank you. Any and all of my information can be found on my website, at http://www.zerebko.com.

Academy Spotlight: Marjo-Riikka Makela

Tell us about yourself (where you’re from, maybe where you studied, how long you’ve been in LA, your favorite credits):
I’ve been to Los Angeles for about 3 years now. I’m originally from Finland. In my early twenties, I worked as a professional actress in a big repertory theater company in Finland. I had the wonderful opportunity to perform many lead classical theater roles, and also have fun with completely different, more modern characters, such as Peppi Longstocking. Even though it was a very wonderful experience to work on a repertory company, doing 3 shows simultaneously and having a monthly paycheck from the theater, I felt that I needed to learn more and grow as an actor. Working can at times be very result oriented and there is not always much room for exploration or “taking risks” which is a necessity for any artist in order to grow. With only a little amount of actor training at that point, I was simply doing it all by instinct (and probably pure good luck!) so after working non-stop for a couple of  years, I got worried that I would start repeating myself or developing mannerisms and therefore was hungry for learning new ways and gaining deeper understanding of the actors process and character transformation. I decided to expand my artist journey to study acting and directing in Denmark, Russia and U.S.A. I trained at the Russian Academy of Dramatic Arts (GITIS) and also have an MFA in Acting from CSULB.  Here in USA some of my favorite roles include Medea in direction of David Bridel, Yelena in Uncle Vanya at the Classic Stage Company’s summer series in NYC,  and my work with Sarah Kane and Andrei Malaev-Babel at the Stanislavsky Theatre Studio in Washington DC. My directing credits include Shakespeare, Chekhov, Schiller, and devised work.Tell us why you love acting or what made you choose it as your profession, etc. I feel that acting chose me. First it was a hobby for me, as I already had two other professions (I had prior degrees both as an equestrian trainer and gymnastic on horse, and as a psychiatric nurse) but very quickly theater took over all my time completely and there was no point of returning or doubting since then. I knew I had a whole new life in front of me right at my very first theater rehearsal, and at the opening night of my very first play, I knew I had arrived home. I believe that acting is a profession of calling. I wish to be serving something greater than myself, working together with the ensemble to tell a story of another human soul, and this way striving to expand empathy in the world. As one of my student’s so well put it: “Actors are professional human beings!” I feel so very blessed to be able to practice this art form and to PLAY all day long! What keeps us young is inspiration, and I am allowed to bath in it daily! Antaeus is a wonderful place for any artist to grow and share this love for theater!

What brought you to Antaeus?
I was so very blessed to meet Liz Swain via our mutual Michael Chekhov acting technique teacher friend. We spoke about the art of acting and of course Shakespeare all night, and I immediately knew that I wanted to deepen my understanding of Shakespeare with her! She is truly  a world class teacher! I have been very impressed by Antaeus as a company. The high level of training and talent at Antaeus is undeniable!What do you want to gain from the class?  Do you have a specific “problem” on which you want to focus?

I really wanted to embrace the whole experience with “new-born eyes (and ears!). Even though I have a lot of experience (and technique) as an actor, I’m a complete beginner in my Shakespeare in English. The images are so much more vivid and beautiful and the text works me in a completely different way than it did in any foreign translations I worked earlier in my career.  Liz has opened up a whole new universe to me!

What do you think of the class so far?  Absolutely in love with Liz and the class!

What is your experience with classical theater?  Has class reinforced/changed what you previously thought, or have you learned new things, etc? Yes reinforced many things and opened new doors to language!
Tell us a fun fact about you or highlight one of your unusual special skills. I don’t know if I have any special skills, but I speak fluent Finnish and can stand on a horse while it’s galloping! ;o)
Anything new and exciting going on in your life? (doesn’t have to be acting related, can be an engagement, upcoming trip, new dog, etc.) My acting studio has a little scene study showcase coming up. We call the evening: Tennessee Williams-Cafe, and I’m very excited for the wonderful actors in it! Also, I just got invited to direct a production in Brazil and I’m exited for the trip!

Academy Spotlight: Tro Shaw

Tell us about yourself (where you’re from, maybe where you studied, how long you’ve been in LA, your favorite credits).
I am a native Berkeley girl, raised by a couple of social hippies in the amazing bay area.  I had a burning passion to study acting from a very young age, and I ended up at Carnegie Mellon University, where I earned my BFA in Acting.  I moved out to New York in June, 2008 and had the great good fortune to be cast as Anybodys in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story” about 3 months into my living in New York.  Being a part of that show changed my life, and it was absolutely thrilling and challenging and very fulfilling.   I had a bit of difficulty adapting to the hussle and rush of the New York lifestyle, and not too long after the end of my contract I came home to Berkeley and gave myself a break.  I drove down to LA to visit a few friends in October, 2010 and I sorta forgot to leave.  Here I am a year later, and I absolutely love it here!  I’ve had an opportunity to direct, produce, act, sing, dance, and even take classes again.  Its been a wonderfully freeing experience.

Tro Shaw

Tell us why you love acting or what made you choose it as your profession, etc.

When I was 4 yrs old, my aunt was stage managing with Berkeley Shakes (now Cal Shakes).  They were rehearsing a production of “Romeo & Juliet” and the director wanted street urchins to be a part of the opening fight scene.  I actually got to stand down center, as a sword fight broke out over my head, and scream out, “Mama, mama!!!”.  My acting was so convincing that my own mother, who was reading in the back of the house, jumped up and ran to me, distressed.  I apparently said, “Mom, I was just acting!” She says that was the beginning of my love for theater, but all I know is that its a passion I’ve had for as long as I can remember.
I decided to make it my career when I saw a production of “Chicago” around my 13th birthday, and was moved by the passion and skill of the two main women.  It made me want to work at my own craft in order to have the flexibility to do any kind of role; singing, dancing, shakespeare, anything.What brought you to Antaeus?}
When I first arrived in LA, I couch-surfed a bit, and ended up more than once on the Joanna Strapp’s couch.  She and I had been friends at Carnegie Mellon, and she has always been an extremely generous person.  She told me about the Anteaus, and how much she enjoyed being surrounded by so many passionate artists.  I also spoke with my aunt, who has always been like a mentor to me in the arts, and she spoke very highly of Anteaus’ work and their overall reputation.  So I decided to audition, and I’m so glad I did.

What do you want to gain from the class?  Do you have a specific “problem” on which you want to focus?

My main goal with taking this class is to free myself from self-imposed limitations.  When you’re working in a college conservatory program, its easy to feel that you are limited by your weaknesses, and by your classmates’ strengths.  For example, I always felt like I wasn’t the most emotionally free actress, while a couple other girls in my class were extremely emotionally free.  I also didn’t feel very brave in school, so I am finding myself overcoming some of that in this class.

What do you think of the class so far?
Geoffrey Wade is an amazingly supportive and nurturing teacher.  He finds a way to balance the two components of teaching a class like this (acting coaching and scene directing) with such a delicate and refined skill.  Its lovely to watch him work with others, and thrilling to get up yourself and work with him.  I also feel so lucky to be in a class with people from so many different backgrounds and experiences.  Each actor has a unique strength and struggle, and it makes for a lot of exciting work every time we meet.

Tro in class with Guest Moderator, Andy Robinson

What is your experience with classical theater?  Has class reinforced/changed what you previously thought, or have you learned new things, etc?

I was surrounded by shakespeare from a very young age, and even in elementary school I felt as though the text made sense to me in a way that was somewhat innate.  During my training at Carnegie Mellon I was able to work in great detail on many classical scenes from Greeks to Shakespeare to Checkov to Ibsen to Miller to Williams.  I had the opportunity to play Natasha in a CMU production of “The Three Sisters” with guest director, Vladimir Mirodan, from The Drama Centre in London.  This class has definitely reinforced a lot of my conservatory training, and its been a great reminder to me of some key things, like the importance of giving all you have to your scene partner in order to make something happen between the two of you.  The most successful scenes so far have been when both actors were totally invested in each other and truly responding to what the other actor was giving them.Tell us a fun fact about you or highlight one of your unusual special skills.

I was a gymnast from age 4-12, and I can still do a mean back flip.  Also an aerial (no-handed cartwheel).

Anything new and exciting going on in your life? (doesn’t have to be acting related, can be an engagement, upcoming trip, new dog, etc.)

I just celebrated my one year anniversary with LA and also with my boyfriend, who I met two weeks after I got here.  I couldn’t be happier!Tro Shaw is currently in the Greeks/Shakespeare Classics Class. Auditions for our Spring Semester of Classes take place on January 13th and 14th. Email academy@antaeus.org for more info.