Travel through three generations of adventure, grief and love. Co-presented by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities and the Sabes Jewish Community Center, we are pleased to bring you Leah’s Train by Karen Hartman March 7-22, 2015 (all performances at the JCC). Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you a chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this first interview, meet director Chava Curland.
Director: Chava Curland
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?
My dad took me to see shows at a very young age. We had regular tickets to CTC and when I was 10, he started taking me to see shows at the Guthrie. I was enchanted with this make-believe world where anyone could be someone. And when a friend of mine convinced me to take acting classes in middle school, I was hooked. While I was a teen actor at The Children’s Theater Company– though it is weird for me to think of myself as an actor for them as I only did 2 shows, small parts there–I remember thinking during a particularly arduous technical rehearsal that the decisions the director was making, the questions he was grappling with with the designers were ones that I had ideas for, ones that I had my own answers to. I thought, I can do this. So, I changed from an fine arts to a theater major going into Ithaca College and said “I’m a director’. Big headed to say the least—I am highly embarrassed by what I must have been like as a know-it-all freshman in college.
Since then, my road in theater has taken me many different directions—as an actor, a mask maker and puppeteer, a dancer/movement theater artist, playwright, world traveler–but I always come back to directing and to the power of the rehearsal process. Directing is not just telling people where to move like chess pieces in space–it is excavating a story, like an archaeologist, digging deep into the dirt of the lives of the characters–its forging relationships within this micro community of a production–crew, cast, company, audience–we are a little microcosm–and it is also to be a visual artist, the painter who sees the whole canvas of the evening but must decide which strokes need to be made to reach the final image. Thats why I stay in it–to be an explorer, a painter, and part of a community all at the same time.
Have you worked with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? How and in what capacity?
I last worked with 20% as an actor in Changes in Time. I played Court.
How has this directing experience been different than working for 20% as an actor?
I get to see the full picture. I can follow the little tendrils of my thoughts on a scene, experiment with different points of view and different arcs to the play–and certainly a lot more responsibility to the play and actors in that sense. Otherwise, I would say working with the company and the people in it isn’t that different as a director. Everyone has been so wonderful and supportive—though that was the same as an actor, too 🙂
Tell us what originally drew you to the Leah’s Train script. Why did you want to direct it?
Its deceptively simple. You look at the words on the page and think–hmm, this seems pretty straight forward. But when you look at the motivations behind the words and the disconnect between what people say and do, there is a whole deeper level of tension and intention that is going on. It’s a play full of rich emotion and specific history, yet takes place in the neutral impersonal space of a train. I saw a prime opportunity to work on a powerful, reality driven story but within a more abstract onstage world.
I also feel strong personal connection to sense of ancestry and healing of generations past in the play. My father’s side of the family is Polish Jew and they fled during WWII to Russia, then Siberia, then Uzbekistan, and at the end of the war to Berlin before finally getting passage to NY in 1951. While Leah’s train predates WWI, the haunting echos of the past the follow Ruth on her journey I feel in my own life.
Did you have a specific vision for what the cast would look and feel like during the audition process?
I didn’t have a specific vision for the cast, but rather a sense of how they needed to function together—Hannah and Ruth needed to be powerful players together, Ben needed to have chemistry with Ruth and Hannah, Leah needed sense and Sammy sass. But beyond that, I tried not to have any preconceptions of how they would look or talk. I wanted to be surprised, discover what could work or not based on what was coming out of the actors mouths.
Do you have any hopes about what the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, thinking, etc.?
I hope they come out of this thinking about their own family and the journey that had to happen for each person to end up where they are right this moment. Ruth says “family is made, not born”, but I think that’s false. We can’t runaway where we come from–we can only accept it, make peace with it, and build our own lives from there.
What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?
Theater and Non Profit Admin–I work as a Company Associate for Girl Friday Productions and Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Germanic-American Institute. I also have fun training my dog, Ruby-Rue the Corgi-Aussie, playing very nerdy board games, salsa dancing, making masks/art creations, practicing yoga/acrobatics—and exercising (which means using the steam room) at the JCC.
What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?
The lakes, rivers and the bike trails—especially around late April/May when everyone is waking up from hibernation and spring fever is catching on. I love seeing all the people, dogs and life bustling around on the Greenway and the Grand Rounds.
What is your favorite type of transportation?
Anything that lets me feel the breeze.
If you have one, tell us a little bit about your most memorable train ride?
While I don’t have a specific train ride in mind, I’d say the times when I commuted between NYC and The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in CT. I was living in NYC, with a real nice off-Broadway literary internship, but me being the crazy-always-need-to-be-busy person I am, decided that I also wanted to Apprentice under the Droznin Russian Movement teacher at the O’Neill’s National Theater Institute. I would leave Queens at 2:30am and take a 3-4 hour train ride (including subway and connections) up along the dark coast. I’d see the bright city fade away to old, abandoned looking towns, then trees shoot past my window until I could see some brief silver glints of the ocean. I would arrive in New London in the bluish- predawn light, and just as I would pull into the O’Neil grounds, the sky would go pink and a round orange sun would pop up over the horizon.
Then, I would beat up my body for 6 hours of intense acrobatic work, ride back that night and go to work the next day. It was grueling, but those train rides, which brought a sense of peace, freedom, and possibility, were the thing that often got me through the week in the Big City.