Leah’s Train: Actor Jessica Smith

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 theJCC).  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 actor Jessica Smith.

Actor: Jessica Smith

Actor: Jessica Smith


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

I was a late bloomer when it came to theatre.  Before I got the theatre bug, I had been doing competitive martial arts for years before taking time away to focus on college.  My first play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the part of Helena when I was 18.  After that, it was all about theatre and the arts and creating.  I fell in love with the world that allows people to play the world’s best game of pretend with people who are so passionate, so out there, and are willing to play right along with you.

Is this your first show with 20% Theatre Twin Cities? Tell us briefly about your past experience with the company?

This is my first show performing for 20% Theatre, though I had the privilege to be the company’s fight coordinator for their production of If We Were Birds earlier this year.

Tell us what originally drew you to the Leah’s Train script. What interested you in auditioning for this show?

When I read this script, I fell in love.  It was so different than what I expected.  There’s the sense of mysticism and connection that I loved about it right away as well as these awesome raw characters.  It was actually the opportunity to work for this company again that convinced me to audition for this play and I’m so glad I did!  Once I had read the script, I was that much more excited about the possibility of being involved.

Tell us a little bit about the character you play?

Ruth desperately wants to matter.  She has this incredible ancestor (her grandmother) who has been put on a pedestal by her mother and herself her entire life.  She feels as though she is never going to measure up to her grandmother’s achievements and so she has tried to disconnect from her family while trying to matter in her career field.  She relies on her boyfriend and her patients to have a place in the world, but things are about to happen that will force her to view family in a different perspective.

This experience has probably been quite different than doing fight choreography for If We Were Birds? How has it been different to be on the other side, now acting for 20%?

It’s been interesting-both absolutely wonderful and a little scary.  When I’m fight directing, I’m in charge of what’s going on and I’m the one providing direction.  It’s a switch to be in the position of the one being directed.  At the same time, though, the process has reminded me why I love acting so much.  The letting go, the moment you decide to throw everything into a scene and just let loose.  It’s magical.

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

For the bills, I bartend, I’ve got a great group of regulars where I work, and hearing their stories and discussing life with them is always interesting, to say the least.  Otherwise, for free time, I love dancing, being in the outdoors when it’s warm never gets old for me, and if there’s a place with live music-I’m there, and if there’s good beer there, bonus points!

What is your favorite type of transportation?

I miss riding around on the moped I used to own.  So much fun!

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If We Were Birds Interview: Dana Lee Thompson

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 have given you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this last interview, meet actor Dana Lee Thompson.

Actor - Dana Lee Thompson

Actor – Dana Lee Thompson

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

I am Dana Lee Thompson and I was born in Kansas City, Missouri.  The world of acting was always a mysterious and interesting concept growing up, but I only contributed that interest to all the TV and movies I watched.  I would sit there in the move theatre staring at the people on the big screen thinking to myself, “I can do that.  I can entertain an audience of people and cause them to have real emotions from made up stories.” I was naive about my opportunities and didn’t grasp that I could actually participate in live theatre.  It wasn’t until high school when I was in my Debate & Forensics class, that my teacher suggested I audition for one of the children’s theatres in the area.  It was my senior year of high school when I was in my first professional show at Theatre for Young America, in Kansas City.  And even still, after that experience I waited a whole semester in college before the epiphany struck that I could major in theatre.  I originally enrolled in college under a Communications/Public Relations degree.  My mother told me, “Study something you love.  It doesn’t matter what you get a degree in, just as long as you get a degree in something.”  The theatre bug had bit me and left a mark.  After those words from my mother and remembering the feeling I had on stage, there was no turning back.  I graduated in 2005 from Missouri State University with a BFA in Theatre Performance.

What excites you most about If We Were Birds?

I’ve never worked with such dark material, hahaha.  It’s horrifying, and that brings me a level of excitement.

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 part of the chorus, The Pious One.  Being part of a chorus usually provides it’s own set of challenges.  We work as a unit, but maintain our individualism because each of our experiences are important and crucial to the telling of the story.  The reward is to work with a cast and production crew that truly wants to bring forth a breathtaking piece of art.

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?

Well, I had to look up the word pious.  And for those who are in my similar shoes, pious means “devoutly religious”.  The Pious One wants to find all of her answers through her religious beliefs.  I believe that she is looked up to in her community, but walks around with a sense of entitlement and self-ritiousness.  I have been playing with her character in rehearsals and Ive decided that no matter what the situation, whether it’s the evil things that have happened to The Pious One or the evil revenge she plots, The Pious One will rationalize everything to “God’s will”.

I haven’t played a character quite like The Pious One before.  She is not a stretch for me as an actor, but more of a stretch on a personal level.  Though I do believe in a higher power, I don’t consider myself religious, especially not devoutly so.

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

That’s a hard question to answer.  I imagine that this play will impact every person a little differently.  I think that part of the purpose of this production is to give a voice to the stories that many of us may choose to ignore, forget, or to even pretend never happened.  The production takes the history of women and puts it in your face and says, “HERE!”.  We will all digest it differently, but what kind of after taste will it leave behind?  Being in the rehearsal process, I’m still digesting, but I’m sensing a bit of heartburn.

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

I am a fulltime administrator at CLIMB Theatre.  My title is Maintainer of Excellence in Performance.  CLIMB is a non-profit touring educational theatre company.  One of the many roles of my position is coordinating the Twin Cities Unified Theatre Auditions which is going to be March 14th-15th of 2015.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

My favorite thing about the Twin Cities is he diversity, and all the appreciation for the arts in the community.

What is your favorite type of bird?

Swan

If We Were Birds Interview: Director Lee Conrads

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 some of the artists involved in our production. In this interview, meet director Lee Conrads.

Director - Lee Conrads

Director – Lee Conrads

 

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

I did theater all through high school, but primarily as a costume designer. My senior year I (accidentally? — I’m a little fuzzy on how it actually happened) volunteered to direct a project for my theater class. I had never thought about being a director, but it was the most fun I’d ever had. At the time I was in the throes of college application season and pretty stressed about having no clue what I wanted to do with my life. The idea that I could be a director as a profession started to percolate and I think my 17-year old self is still a little shocked that it’s actually happening.

Have you worked with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? How and in what capacity?

My very first interview for a theater job when I moved to Minneapolis was with 20% Theatre –and I got the best “no” I’ve ever gotten. From my interview, I was ultimately offered an ASM-ing position for The Children’s Hour at the JCC. But then I directed two monologues for The Naked I: Insides Out last winter, and got to hang out with Rapture, Blister, Burn as the house manager last spring.  To be directing is an absolute dream-come-true!

Tell us what originally drew you to the If We Were Birds script. Why did you want to direct it?

When I first read If We Were Birds, it felt like a play I had been looking for for a long time. I am really interested in telling stories that ask us — as audiences and artists — to sit with difficult situations and complex problems to which there are no easy answers, with the hope that that exposure makes us gentler, more empathetic and compassionate humans. But I also have an almost evangelical interest in classical and historical theater. Too often when those plays get produced they are put on a pedestal of “how theater used to be;” I’m really excited about finding ways to resurrect ancient (or even just old–this is as applicable to Ibsen and Shakespeare as it is to Classical drama) stories such that they have the same effect on modern audiences as they had on the audiences they were written for, without compromising the forms of their essential Classical-ness. It is incredibly rare to find a play that does both of those things. If We Were Birds is very special.

If We Were Birds is staged through the lens of Greek tragedy. 20% Theatre Company does not generally produce classical work. What makes If We Were Birds an exception or more relevant 20%’s mission?

The most common reaction to this play from reviews I have read of other productions of this play is that it is a “contemporary take on a classical tragedy,” but I think it’s actually the opposite. One of the most classical elements of this play is the Chorus, which Shields has populated with characters whose stories are informed by the experiences of women who have been the survivors of sexual violence as a weapon of war in contemporary conflicts.  By weaving together past & present and fiction & reality, particular through the Chorus, Shields makes it impossible to write off this story as archaic. Two of the conflicts she draws on have happened within my lifetime, and likely all of them within the lifetimes of our audiences. To me this play is so clearly a classical take on a contemporary tragedy.

Did you have a specific vision for your cast during the audition process? What purpose does the chorus serve?

It was really important to me — and also really important to Shields — that the Chorus represents as broad a swath of womanhood as possible. So it was really important to me that we have as diverse a cast as possible in terms of age, race, body shape, various presentations & experiences of feminity and womanhood as possible. It was also really important to me that the cast as a whole have good chemistry and feel like a group of people who would be able to would be able to collaborate well.

20% Theatre Company produces plays with heavy subject material and/or controversial subject matter. Are there specific trigger warnings we should make audience members aware of?

Yes.

The worst case scenario is that this production causes any kind of harm; I think that is most likely in a situation in which someone comes to the production without knowing what they are getting themselves into and that experience is damaging to their mental health.

There is an enacted rape as well as graphic descriptions of violence–sexual and otherwise.

Shields never condones any of these acts–in fact, the play is really an 80-minute condemnation of them–but it is important to the storytelling that we look directly at the atrocities that are being discussed and face them head on. The production isn’t going to do anything to soften that, but I absolutely don’t want anyone to come to the experience unprepared.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, thinking, etc.?

One of the things I am really trying to let go as an artist is the idea that my art says something and my sucess lives or dies depending on whether the audience “got it.” There is a universe in which I am an insufferably didactic director and I don’t want to live there. So yes, there are some very specific things I am trying to say with this play (though some of it is also just me screaming into the void about injustice that I feel powerless to mitigate — there are ways in which this play is very cathartic) but it is far more important for me that the audience goes through the experience with us — with Philomela — and is forced to just sit with a terrible situation with no easy answers. And I hope that that experience makes all of us — audience & artists — more compassionate, more generous human beings.

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

Unfortunately, I am historically terrible at having a life outside of theater; I’m working on it. I do have a desk job as a “data-entry drone” that I am grateful for because it pays my bills. I was a history major in college, as well as a theater major, so I spend a fair amount of time being an insufferable know-it-all about historical matters. And I spent the month of June teaching backpacking to elementary and middle school girls at a summer camp in North Carolina. It was a blast so I am trying to remember to make time in my life for the outdoors.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

I’m pretty sentimental about the skyline. Especially in the winter, when I am racing around — over scheduled & hating the weather — every once in a while a catch a glimpse of the skyline and maybe a really nice sunset and think, “wow, this is actually an incredible city.”

What is your favorite type of bird?

Probably the sparrow, less because of the actual bird and more because it is the central metaphor of one of my all time favorite books (go read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell). I think I am way more into metaphorical birds than actual birds.

 

 

 

If We Were Birds Interview: Tara Lucchino

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 Tara Lucchino.

 

Actor - Tara Lucchino

Actor – Tara Lucchino

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

I grew up near Pittsburgh PA in a suburb north of the city called Natrona Heights. I went to a tiny grade school and later graduated with a class of 32 from St. Joseph High School. When I was still in elementary school, there was an English teacher at St. Joe’s named Mr. Carosella (Mr. C. for short), who also happened to be the director of the plays and musicals that the high school produced. Mr. C. always invited our school to see the plays that the high school performed. I remember being in awe of these upper classmen and the shows they were able to work on. It was because of Mr. C. that I chose to go to St. Joe’s. He was able to get anyone, whoever they were, to go up on stage and tap into whatever raw talent they may have possessed. I don’t know how he was able to create magic out of thin air when he worked with us but he did.  He believed in us and he inspired us to think outside the box. He used to give his opening night pep talks and always ended his speeches with the simple wish for us that we would “sparkle”, and because of him, we had the courage to do so. It was his letter of recommendation that helped get me into Penn State’s School of Theatre.

What excites you most about If We Were Birds?

I love mythology and the ancient Greeks so I was drawn to this piece for those reasons, but particularly exciting is the modern spin this play takes on an ancient tale that’s still very relevant in the world today.  I’m also really looking forward to see where this piece will lead us creatively, as an ensemble. The group that we have gathered is incredibly talented and I’m really excited to see where the process leads us.

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

Being a member of the chorus, it is essential to work together as a collective consciousness. All of us need to be on the same page at all times. Early on in the rehearsal process we had several chorus rehearsals to work on just that, and it’s been really cool to see how we’ve all started to meld into a tight knit group. That said, we also need to develop our own distinctive individual characters. As a Greek chorus we are the voice of the people, but specifically in this play, we are the voices of all the women who never had their own voice, or who may have once had voices, but then had them taken away. We represent thousands and thousands of women who have been silenced. The biggest challenge will be to develop fully realized characters who are truthful to these women; To do all the research and do all the background work and in the end to be worthy to step into their shoes and tell their stories.

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?

I am a servant woman in the chorus, The Mysterious One. I have chosen to create my character’s backstory by drawing on stories and accounts of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In my research I came across a collection of beautiful poetry translated into English and written by Armenian women, some of whom were survivors of the genocide and some who wrote their poetry a generation after.  I was blown away by their tenacity of spirit and their style. The pieces are incredibly lovely and they were definitely a source of inspiration for me. I have done Greek Tragedies in the past and I have played incredible and amazingly strong women, but this character is not like anyone else. She has gone through so much yet she still stands strong and keeps on fighting. I’m excited to see how she continues to develop in this process.

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

I can’t really say what I want people to walk away feeling after viewing this show. There are a whole range of emotions that will be possible for people to carry out with them. What I want the show to do is to continue a dialogue. I want people to talk about what happens and I want most importantly for people to walk away with these stories. The stories of these women. They’re hard to hear and perhaps soul-crushing to even imagine, but in talking about them, at least we are taking a step in the right direction and we’re keeping their memories alive.

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

For the past two summers I have volunteered at a grief camp for children called Camp Erin. It is run by the Moyer Foundation and it does amazing work for children here in the Twin Cities Area and their families. For more information you can watch a documentary about the camp that was produced by HBO (and nominated for an Emmy this year) called One Last Hug.

I also enjoy reading, writing and and playing guitar. I recently collaborated on a few songs with a local singer-songwriter, Daniel Bonespur and you can hear me singing on his newest album entitled Dead People. You can check it out here.

Lastly, I play Janet in Rocky Horror Picture Show (the Twin Cities Shadow Cast) at the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis. Shows are always the last Saturday of the month at 11:55 pm. Come and catch us. You’re bound to have an excellent time!

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

All the amazing people who have welcomed this Pittsburgh girl with open arms and who have made me feel so very much at home! Xxxx

What is your favorite type of bird?

For this show I have been studying Cranes. They are such beautiful and graceful birds and they have an air of mystery to them, which is perfect for my character. It’s fascinating to me that they pop up in mythologies in many different cultures all around the world. Watch a video of the Japanese Cranes doing their mating dances and it looks like a ballet. They’re all incredible birds!

 

 




 

 
 

 

 

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