If We Were Birds Interview – Ethan Bjelland

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this interview, meet actor Ethan Bjelland.

 

Actor - Ethan Bjelland

Actor – Ethan Bjelland

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I got to play Johnny Appleseed in this 15 minute community theatre play in my little town of Decorah, Iowa, when I was, like, five or so. I loved wearing a pan on my head and playing improv games, and then I was hooked.

I performed in community theatre and school productions growing up, and I felt totally at home on the stage. When I was experiencing the worst, and most dramatic parts of high school life, I would sneak into the school auditorium and turn on the lights and just lay on the stage to get away from everyone. I’d start to make up monologues of things I wanted to say in real life, but could only find words for in a theater, with rehearsal.

I planned to become an elementary school music teacher, but instead, fell right back into theatre at Gustavus Adolphus College. I found a student troupe of people using theatre as a tool for social justice (“I Am We Are”). There is so much value in a theatrical process and performance as a way of learning and teaching about humanity.

Since College I’ve performed around the state, settling recently in Minneapolis, and have been completely thrilled at how welcoming and personal the artist community is here!

What excites you most about If We Were Birds?

I am fascinated by the myth itself, and the depth of the characters in this retelling. I was cast as Pandion in college, in another version of this story, The Love of the Nightingale, by Timberlake Wertenbaker, and I felt so attached to the story and the themes, and I devoured so much of my time in rehearsal trying to figure out what was going on with the characters in the myth that drives them to do what they do. This play recontextualizes the entire plot, and flips so many of the characters on their heads for me–they all feel so local and tangible. (And I’ve only had two rehearsals so far!) Myths, like fables, are so often less about the souls of the people than the situation and outcome of the plot they find themselves in. If We Were Birds speaks with soul.

What is your role in the play? What do you think will be the most challenging and/or rewarding part of performing this role?

I play Tereus, the son of Ares, the god of war. Ethan, however, the son of Scott and Sue Bjelland of small-town Iowa, is scared of guns and war, and isn’t really excited about excessive competition or displays of oo-rah masculinity. So that’s already a bit of a battle to connect with. I’m definitely working with some tough themes… It’s difficult to find motivation and honesty behind a character with whom you almost hate more than you sympathize after your first read.

Tell us a little bit about the character.  Is this role similar to roles you have played in the past or will this be a stretch for you?

Tereus may feel like a bit of stretch for me at the start, but we have commonalities that come up each time we rehearse a moment with the other actors. As I mentioned, this is such a relationship-based piece, because so much of who Tereus is in any given scene hangs on how he is viewed by the other characters. So far, I can say that Tereus is probably more introverted than I am, but he plots and rehearses what he’s going to do in battle, just like I rehearse for a show, or like I would rehearse what I wanted to be and say in high school. I find that his weakness lies in his emotions. Tereus always wants to be in control of his emotions in order to make clear, sound decisions, and when he loses control, he works quickly to fix what is broken, and pack them all back up. I can find so much in that.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, or thinking after seeing If We Were Birds?

This play will strike many chords, I’m sure. Gender, sexuality, violence and war are not always black and white. There’s so much more than just the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ to so many of these stories, even though they may seem clear from the outside. On the inside, however, the relationships, the brutality, and the conflicts are still very human and motivated.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

I speak Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish, and I am a Norwegian teacher with Mindekirken Norwegian Language and Culture Program in Minneapolis. I also work at Moods of Norway, the cooky Norwegian fashion brand that has just opened its third American store in the Mall of America. (Huge name in Norway, I promise). I like coffee and black licorice and salted caramel, and I am a big fan of awkward situations, paperclips, night walks and night games.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

Right now, I could eat my way through the Twin Cities. There are so many awesome foodies, restaurants, and urban farmers.

What is your favorite type of bird?

A friend of mine told me about this type of parrot called a Kakapo. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated, and I would get really excited if I got to see one sometime, in real life. It’s endangered, can only be found in New Zealand, and cannot fly because it’s so big. It looks and moves like a big green beaver mixed with an owl, and has the most adorable pudgy face and beady eyes. Instead, it uses its wings to parachute off of trees, and its huge feet to climb them. They live to be about 60 or 70 years old and they only mate when this specific New Zealand pine tree makes a lot of pine cones. They also do this really weird mating ritual called “lekking”… Sage Grouse do it, too. And there are some pretty funny videos of lekking out there, in case you’re interested…

The Magnificent Kakapo

The Magnificent Kakapo

 





 

 

If We Were Birds Interview: Chandler Daily

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this interview, meet stage management apprentice Chandler Daily.

Apprentice - Chandler Daily

ASM & Stage Management Apprentice – Chandler Daily

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

My little sister did theater when we were kids, and I wanted to as well but did not get my kicks from acting. Someone gave me an opportunity to stage manage a play called The Curious Savage my freshman year of high school and I have been doing that ever since. I love everything about theater, and no aspect is really boring to me, from the front of house to the sound design to the dramaturgy. That’s why I love being a stage manager, it’s the one place where I get to be a part of all of it. It really hasn’t occurred to me to do something else with my life.

What originally drew you to 20% Theatre’s Apprentice Program?

I have been an admirer of 20% since I moved to the Twin Cities for school and always hoped to work here someday. It has long been my goal to make theater that speaks to the lives of queer people, transgender people and women, and 20% Theatre does such amazing work that is so crucial to the community here. I also appreciate how dedicated 20% is to supporting artists, and I was drawn to the learning opportunity that an apprenticeship would provide as I start working more in the professional theatre community.

What do you hope to learn or gain from this apprenticeship with 20% Theatre and If We Were Birds?

I hope to gain a new perspective on stage management and an opportunity to develop best practices in a way that I don’t get to when I stage manage and have to spend my time staving off crises instead of reflecting on strategies. I have also had the amazing chance to learn a lot about various artistic processes through observation. It has been amazing to work with so many wonderful feminist artists in the warm cocoon that is 20%. They somehow manage to be close-knit and familial while staying incredibly open and welcoming. It’s pretty magical.

What do you think will be the most challenging and/or rewarding part of ASMing this production?

So far, I have really enjoyed watching Lee direct and work through the material with the actors. It has been an incredibly beautiful and organic process full of emotional and artistic collaboration. I anticipate it will be challenging to support actors when they have incredibly strong relationships with some of their fellow actors, and rarely if ever share the stage with others, given that this is a play where many of the characters are existing on entirely different planes and have been rehearsing separately. If that sounds vague and mysterious, good! Come see the play!

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

I am a junior at Hamline University, where I’m on the executive board of Spectrum and do other queer organizing. I am especially passionate in educating other queer and transgender people about their sexual health and empowerment, and building more inclusive radical communities. In my free time, I talk to my little sister, read, and seek out increasingly obscure punk bands on the internet.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

I love how supportive and interconnected the communities are here. Maybe it’s just the infamous “Minnesota Nice” attitude, or maybe it’s that the Twin Cities are much smaller than my home city of Chicago, but I feel like artists and activists here are interested first and foremost in building strong connections and communities. I have experienced so many people reaching out to me since I moved here, giving me opportunities to grow as a theater maker. There has never been a sense of competition or gatekeeping with anyone.

What is your favorite type of bird?

The noble dinosaur


If We Were Birds Interview: Jill Iverson

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this interview, meet actor Jill Iverson.

Actor - Jill Iverson

Actor – Jill Iverson


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I grew up in a very small town in Northern Wisconsin where music was consistently being sung and played. I would watch movie musicals at my grandma’s house every time we visited and have been enamored with stories from a young age. I began doing theater, because my brother was doing it. Dress up, clowning, and make-believe have always been a part of my life, and the more I refine and grow in my craft the more in love with theater I become.

What excites you most about If We Were Birds?

If We Were Birds is such a challenging piece of theater upon first read…and second…and… it will just always be tough, because it is real. These situations still happen everyday, somewhere in the world. You can’t shy away from the material because it is all right there in it’s most basic and honest form. Erin Shields is a powerhouse in her language and makes the images remarkably vivid. These stories are not traditionally spoken aloud by the ones inflicted. This play has a kind of unique responsibility to the text and it’s origins past and present. These are the stories that need to be heard.

What is your role in the play? What do you think will be the most challenging and/or rewarding part of performing this role? 

I am playing the role of Procne, elder sister to Philomela and wife to Thereus. The most challenging part will be allowing the play to work on me every performance and visiting those scary dark places. This play is such an acting gift to women, who primarily interact with other men on stage. Her relationship with Philomela is a part of sisterhood we don’t see viewed as often as we see rivalry. I am delighted to play such a strong, lion-hearted woman.

Tell us a little bit about the character.  Is this role similar to roles you have played in the past or will this be a stretch for you?

Procne is such a strong maternal figure in this piece. I feel she embodies everything society values within a mother.  She is such a beacon of love and courage up until the end, when her trials have proved too great to be handled graciously. This role will definitely be a stretch because as a viewer one is completely on her side until she does the unspeakable. Making that switch believable and valid for the character is going to be my greatest challenge.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, or thinking after seeing If We Were Birds?

The effect of this piece, like every piece, will be different for everyone depending on their world view. What I hope happens is discussion and awareness into a committed compassion within daily life. That is the dream. If an injustice is happening anywhere it needs to be discussed and a solution pursued. I think some people may feel violated, but I also hope they ask themselves how they view others that seem different or lesser than themselves and how the consequences of that thinking might be if viewed on a grander scale. If you sit with outright cruelty long enough, the only solution is its opposite. I want these women in the play to be seen and their voices to be heard. However that extends outside the theater is completely dependent on the viewer.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

Singing makes me happy! I also nanny throughout the workweek. I find children fascinating, and I love getting the chance to view the world through their untainted eyes on a daily basis. They challenge and compel me to consistently question my views on everyday life. It’s pretty cool!

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

The theater scene in the Twin Cities is so varied and compelling. Fringe Fest is definitely a yearly highlight to participate in because you really get to see just how vast the community is. Summer in the cities is like one continuous block party. We don’t take a beautiful day for granted.

What is your favorite type of bird?

I have always loved birds in all shapes and forms, but my first really profound memory was when my mom pointed out a Blue Heron to me and we watched it take off. Watching a bird of that magnitude take flight at sunset in your home town is pretty breath-taking. Every time I see one in the wild I have to stop and marvel at it for a while.

 

 

 

If We Were Birds Interview: Siddeeqah Shabazz

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In our first interview, meet actor Siddeeqah Shabazz.

Actor - Siddeeqah Shabazz

Actor – Siddeeqah Shabazz

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I got into theatre when I was about 14 years old. My dad didn’t want us hanging around the house another summer so he got my sister and me into the Black Rep. Group Theatre. We did The Wiz and it was my first play and I was hooked from then.

What excites you most about If We Were Birds?

I can’t wait to see the set. I have a vivid picture in my mind and I want to see if it’ll come close to that. I am also enjoying everyone’s voice. The characters that are already starting to form with just the few rehearsals we’ve had.

What is your role in the play? What do you think will be the most challenging and/or rewarding part of performing this role?

The Bleeding One (part of the chorus). The most challenging thing is making sure I portray this character just right. She’s a more outside herself than usual and I want to show that and her strength and her tenacity. I think that’s the most rewarding too.

Tell us a little bit about the character.  Is this role similar to roles you have played in the past or will this be a stretch for you?

This will definitely be a stretch for me. She is a strong woman. She doesn’t have much but what she clings to is enough to still show hope and life and the willingness to keep going.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, or thinking after seeing If We Were Birds?

I’m not sure yet. It’s still early and I’m still growing/learning.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

Teen programming at Pillsbury House Theatre.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

This place is very community based so the block parties, concerts, festivals that happen all summer and it really brings people together.

What is your favorite type of bird?

Hummingbird