Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

A chat with actor Janielle Kastner

Q: You, like your character Karla in A Funny Thing... are both writers - she is an aspiring stand up comedian and comedy writer while you yourself are a playwright. In the rehearsal process, are you finding any other striking similarities between you and Karla? And conversely, in what ways to you think you are quite different from your character?

A: The first moment of the play is maybe my favorite, when Karla is workshopping a new “dirty” joke. Partly because as an actor it’s fun to say the word “vibrator” that many times onstage, but also because as a writer I know how exhilarating it is to circle a scary-funny-honest-taboo idea, finally hone in on the exact right words for it, then launch it at an audience and make them deal. One of the biggest differences between Karla and myself is how, while we both like watching people squirm in response to our creative work, I am not great at watching people squirm socially. There are so many moments in the play where I would jump in and fix something that Karla doesn’t, whether preemptively letting someone off the hook when they’re trying to apologize, or even just simply listening to someone tell a story without actively nodding and affirming them the whole time. While Karla has her own grab-bag full of emotional dysfunctions, I’m sure she wouldn’t find herself politely held hostage by a stranger telling a story in line at CVS as often as I. We also both have single moms that mean the world to us, though Karla’s crass/”my artist daughter is selfish”/social worker mom is kind of exact upside-down to my devout/”everyone should come to my daughter’s new play”/special education teacher mom.

A chat with Delaney Milbourn about being the first

Delaney Milbourn, Actor in LIKE A BILLION LIKES

Q: This exciting world premiere has got to be a thrilling project to be a part of - to be the first to bring this story to life in a full production. What has been the most exciting part of working on this production and what themes in the play resonate with you most?

A: First of all, it is an honor to be a part of this project. I have enjoyed working with each and every person on this production. Bringing a show to life, building a world with its own set of rules that both the characters and audience get to briefly experience tends to be my favorite part of theatre. It has definitely been the most exciting part of this process for me so far. It can be challenging to find, it takes teamwork from everyone involved, but it usually brings a cast and crew together in such a unique way. I love it. In particular, I have loved building this world with my fellow cast mates and directing team. I find a lot in common with my character (keep in mind, not EVERYTHING, as Misty tends to be a bit naive and rash more often than not) but all she wants is to have a voice of her own in the world, and, really, just to matter. I believe that is one of the most relatable issues for the younger generation, if not everyone. So when social media is practically a free personal microphone, it seems like the place to feel important. But what happens when everyone else has a microphone? When everyone else speaks  just as loud? What do you do then?

There are many themes this play presents, many questions to be explored, but the plight of seeking worth by means of such an ever fleeting, shallow platform is such an intriguing one for me, to say the least.

A word with playwright Erik Forrest Jackson about the inspiration

Q: Your funny, thought-provoking, and deeply human new play deals with some interesting themes from the trials of adolescence and growing up to gender identity to family dynamics to the pressures young people feel and are under in the age of social media. What was the source of inspiration for this play and what has your process bee like writing and developing the exciting piece?

A: First off, I’ve got to state that it’s been a real honor to debut this work with Stage West, which consistently executes such care and intelligence with their productions. Their embrace of challenging theater and insanely high caliber of playwrights I’m in the company of this season thrill me to no end.

So, to answer your question, I began work on Like A Billion Likes about three years ago, but before it was one play, it was two.

In the immediate wake of the Caitlin Jenner media blitz, I was struck by how several camps quickly formed and faced off. Of course, there were the expected passionate detractors and supporters. But I found another camp quite a bit more compelling: those people who were at sea, struggling to comprehend just what was happening, both in Jenner’s life and in the cultural at large.

I was writing two different plays at the time. One was about a Texas teen who was desperate to get noticed. Another was about a gender nonconforming teen who was determined not to. When I developed the character of a floundering high school principal - the type of guy who would be flummoxed by Jenner and also quietly furious at the erosion of his cis male dominance - I had a lightbulb moment and realized he was a bridge that linked the two in-progress plays. I married the plots and started bumping these struggling, deeply flawed characters up agains one another, and things aligned in surprising new ways.

The piece became an exploration of assumptions and appropriation, of relationships forged out of opportunism and out of a genuine yearning to connect in a rapidly fragmented world - all amplified by the clumsy, inescapable bullhorn of social media.

I hope the play will shake up perceptions, pop some preconceptions, and maybe even make audiences laugh as they hopefully recognize in these characters aspects of their neighbors and maybe even themselves.

 

A chat with BJ Cleveland about putting on the halo

Q: What a role - the Almighty! You certainly have immeasurable experience performing for DFW audiences as one of the premiere talents in our region, and have a long history of fantastic roles and brilliant performances. For you, what is different about this play from others you’ve done, and what most excites you about performing this critically acclaimed new script for the DFW audiences who know and love you so well?

A: Well, THAT was certainly a wonderful intro - It makes God happy! I think it is every actor's dream (and sometimes greatest fear) to work towards a one-man show format – quite a marathon of storytelling on our part. Although I am blessed to have two other wonderful actors, Doug Fowler and Parker Gray, as my "Wingmen" to share the experience, I cover about 93.5% of the lines. It's hard to imagine a role that would come with so much history (infinity), thought, reverence, and pre-conceived notions as the Almighty himself. So, no pressure there, right?

I'm a very physical actor, so the fact that I'm in the Heavenly Lounge sitting and visiting with the audience and not relying on a lot of physicality to tell my stories (or remember them) is a challenge for me (although, there is some hilarious physical comedy and even a song and dance!).

But the script by David Javerbaum (of The Daily Show) is funny, thought-inducing, irreverent, and surprisingly sentimental; I relish the words and re-telling the stories we grew up with in Sunday School from an original perspective. And specifically, talking about Junior (Jesus Christ to you) from a parent's point of view. It's hard not to get choked up. It's new, fresh, and funny. 

So come with an open mind, open heart and exposed funny bone - it will be tickled. 

Of course, GOD has taken over the body of B.J. Cleveland for the night, (and THANK GOD I'm available), so no there's NO telling what HE will say or do!

A word with director Harry Parker about the seriously funny

Q: This highly comedic and fun play is chock-full of laughs and hilarity, but also has some interesting things to say. What do you find most intriguing about the script, and what excites you most about directing this production?

A: For me, the most interesting thing about David Javerbaum’s An Act of God is the way he seasons what is largely a comic spin on God and the Ten Commandments, with moments of serious insight and some thoughtful ideas for the audience to ponder. Javerbaum has carefully modulated these two disparate elements into a carefully balanced evening that is designed to primarily entertain, but also to challenge. There are so many wild, hilarious, and controversial positions espoused by God in this play, that I seriously doubt that An Act of God will line up exactly with any single audience member’s individual theology. But that really isn’t the point. Javerbaum’s quest is to create a hilarious commentary on our concept of God, and he’s happy to provoke the audience along the way to accomplish this. Audiences will enjoy the play most thoroughly if they are able to laugh at religion a bit, and also at themselves.

A chat with Kally Duncan about the audience and the process

Q: This play, like the rest of Posner’s Chekhov cycle, asks that the audience have a unique role to play in the telling of the story - they are not only spectators but participants that the characters need in order to proceed in their story. And each character has their own specific relationship with the audience. What do you find most interesting about this conceit, and what most excited you about this play?

A: Having audience participation makes this show so unique because no two shows will ever be the same! It is set up kind of like a melodrama from the beginning so you know you’re going to have a good time. Whats interesting is that the audience pushes the characters toward different destinations, they guide us to new ideas. And we have no idea how the audience is going to respond! So its like an improv show at times, which can be extremely fun for us and the audience. 

I was so excited to join this cast, not only because the people involved are amazingly talented, but because I have a real love for Chekhov. I fell in love with Anton Chekhov’s plays in college and having the opportunity to bring Sonia to life in such a new and modern way is just incredible. Plus Aaron Posner’s writing is hysterical and so real! I have never laughed so much during a rehearsal process as I have with this show. The excitement of getting to work with such amazing artists was palpable, including the nervous butterflies, and as soon as I sat down at our table read I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime show not to be missed.

 

A word with LIFE SUCKS. director Emily Scott Banks

Q: Having worked on last season’s production of Stupid F*cking Bird must have been highly informative in regards to approaching this season’s production of Life Sucks., both being a part of Aaron Posner’s Chekhov cycle. In your experience of directing both, what do you find are the similarities between these two productions, and what differences can audiences expect?

A: Both Stupid F*cking Bird and Life Sucks take place in the same world - in fact we even decided for our purposes, they were on the same lake, and the characters were likely neighbors or acquaintances. Both plays very much have the same voice and specific sense of rhythm that Aaron Posner brings to his writing. That said, the overall storyline of Bird lived in the element of the air, and was a bit more about youth and early adulthood; whereas Life Sucks is more of the earth, and deals more with the places in middle life. Both very much blend absurdity and heartbreak in a delicious cocktail, and both works invite and include the audience in writing the journey of the show - which makes the audience both necessary and culpable. We also made the conscious choice to not only include Easter eggs in both for those who know the Chekhov source material well, but to carry over little touches from Bird to Life Sucks - not essential for full enjoyment, but a little delight for those who have seen both.

A chat with Grace Montie about the feel

Q: This play is unique, and interestingly contradictory, not only in its setting, but also in elements of its tone, mood, genre, and structure. It is a highly contemporary play that also has an antiquated feel to it – there is a classical three act structure, but the play is completely modern. It’s set at the bottom of the world, but has an innate warmth. How would you describe this play, and, in your experience, what aspects of it seem most unique to you?

 

A: The Royal Society of Antarctica (by the incomparable Mat Smart) is interesting & complex for a myriad of reasons; the main one (in my opinion) being that it centers more on the emotional journeys of certain characters rather than being completely plot-driven. It focuses on the emotional arc of my character, Dee, however the multifaceted people she meets at the bottom of the world begin to reveal authentic sides of themselves that in turn affect Dee’s mentality & attitude in a huge way.

Dee begins the play with a certain attitude & approach that has been forming her entire life, and by Act 3 we see a stark change in her and what she finds important. This shift is completely in response to the quirky people she has met in Antarctica, and the different things she has absorbed while learning their stories.

In addition to the structure, the play is also unique in its’ use of silences. While the majority of the show moves rather furiously, there are certain moments written in the script that require everything to halt, perhaps to emphasize the importance of certain moments. This allows the audience to make the realizations & follow alongside the emotional journeys of specific characters.

This unique play juxtaposes the idea of living in the harshest climate on Earth where death is just one wrong footstep away, with the warmth and charisma these very genuine characters bring to their relationships with each other.

A word with playwright Mat Smart about the inspiration

Q: The bottom of the world is an exciting and unfamiliar place to write about. It is certainly clear that your time in Antarctica influenced the setting and texture of your play The Royal Society of Antarctica, but what about your time there inspired the story you settled on telling and the characters that you wrote to inhabit your version of McMurdo Station?

A: One of the buildings I had to clean as a janitor at McMurdo Station was the Science Support Center.  From the second floor of that building, there was a stunning view of the Royal Societies – the majestic mountain range across the sound from the base.  At the SSC, they had great maps on the walls, and so I often looked at the names of the different peaks.  Also, a woman named Pam worked in the building – who had been coming to the Ice for twenty-something years.  I once asked her if anyone had been born at McMurdo and she said no, but there had been a close call one winter.  I believe all of these things came together to form a curiosity in me of: what would it be like to be born in the most inhospitable place on Earth?  

The Dead Seal, the dance move in the play, was inspired by two things I experienced at MacTown.  The dance that summer that took the base by storm was the Cat Puke.  Picture what a cat’s body does before it pukes – that’s pretty much the dance move.  But I wanted to come up with something very Antarctic-themed, so I meshed that idea together with the fact that there’s dead seals out on the mountaintops in the Dry Valleys.  

Tamara is based on a real life legendary jano that I was there with.  I got to share the play with her during a workshop at Portland Center Stage.  Before the reading, I explained to her that she was the inspiration with one big exception – that the character has a big problem with lying whereas my friend was incredibly honest (perhaps too honest).  She sat next to me during the reading and it was a blast.  Thankfully, she was honored.  She likes to be the life of the party.  

I interviewed a bunch of the scientists there, trying to find the most fascinating experiment and metaphor.  While so many of the projects are vital to understanding climate change, many of them are pretty dull.  I was amazed when I learned about the diatoms – the unicellular creatures that star in the play.  All of the science described is accurate.  It’s so far-fetched, I couldn’t have made it up.

The Biscuits and Honey Butter were amazing.  The best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Lastly, the Poop Chair was real.  And it was epic.  But thankfully, I didn’t have to clean it up.

Find out more about The Royal Society of Antarctica playwright

 

Stage West + FWISD !

Stage West made a commitment back in January with the Ghostlight Project to increase the ways that we give back to our community, especially those portions of our community that have been historically disadvantaged. We each started planting seeds.

While doing a College and Career Readiness Session with a lovely group of young women at Morningside Middle School back in February, our Marketing Director was approached to see if Stage West would be interested in participating in a similar summer program. Would we? Of course we would! How wonderful!

And finally it's time!

The FWISD IROC program (I’m Ready for the Opportunity of College!) is a summer camp facilitated by the Fort Worth ISD Academic Advisement Department. IROC! helps middle school students investigate their potential for college attendance and career exploration. The program involves visiting a variety of business environments as well as participating in local service projects. It has proven to help keep students on a college track, particularly among minority and first generation college students.

Our IROC! camp will be Thursday, July 6. In these interactive sessions, the staff at Stage West will offer students an overview of potential careers in the performance, technical, and business aspects of theater arts. Executive Producer Dana Schultes, actors Garret Storms and Mark Shum, Stage Manager Tiffany Cromwell, Education Manger Andrea Gonzales, Technical Director Ryan McBride, and Marketing Director Jen Schultes will engage with over 100 8th grade students over the one day event. From Q&A sessions to improv games to branding basics, we have pledged to pull back the curtain on a world of careers in the arts and arts management spheres.

The participating students will be representing Leonard Middle School, Kirkpatrick Middle School, Meacham Middle School, Rosemont Middle School, Rosemont 6th, Daggett Middle School, Morningside Middle School, Forest Oak Middle School, Jacquet Middle School, William James Middle School, Meadowbrook Middle School and Handley Middle School.

We are so excited, We can't wait to share what we have learned in our careers, to help the younger generation achieve their dreams of college and careers, whatever path they take.

 

Pages