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Spotlight on: the Cast and Crew of Vpstart Crow’s The Seagull

By • Oct 15th, 2006 • Category: Backstage, Interviews

Listen to the talkback session at Vpstart Crow, discussing Anton Checkhov’s The Seagull [MP3 29:20 8.4MB]. View the show schedule, our review and photos of the show.

Jay Tilley: Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for sticking around today to be part of our talk back today. Again, thank you for coming to see Vpstart Crow‘s production of The Seagull. Again, just let me first of all introduce myself. My name is Jay Tilley. I’m the Director of Communications here. I just want out point out a few other individuals first. Mr. Stephen J. Cramer who not only is the owner of the Cramer Center, but he’s the managing director for Vpstart Crow. I guess he’s kind of important. He does some stuff around here.

Also want to make note that we do have a brand new Artistic Director, Christine Lange who was our interim Artistic Director, is now our permanent Artistic Director. She unfortunately, couldn’t be here today. She wasn’t feeling well, but she sends her best wishes to the cast and crew on a job well done. And thanks to the audience who came out today to join us.

For those who may be listening who may not be familiar with Vpstart Crow, we are one of the few professional theatre companies in the Manassas and Prince William County areas. We’ve been around for about twelve years now. We perform, not only the works of Shakespeare, but also other theater classics. What’s interesting in looking back at our history I’ve found that we have never actually performed a Chekhov show. This is definitely a very challenging type of work to do. I want to give a hats off to the cast and crew for a job well done. Definitely not easy to do.

Actually what I should probably mention, too is this production. The Seagull features a recent adaptation by Tom Stoppard. He’s probably most well known for his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. He’s also known for the Invention of Love. And if I’m not mistaken he wrote the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. Very well known playwright. What I’ll do now is let the cast and crew introduce themselves and then we’ll start the questions. We’ll start with this gentleman here.

Jeff Davidson: Jeff Davidson and I play Dr. Dorn.

Melissa McConnell: Hi, I’m Melissa McConnell and I play Masha.

Pamela Berthold: Hi, I’m Pamela Berthold and I play Irina Arkadina.

Allison Plourde: I’m Allison Plourde and I play Nina.

Rodger Graham: Rodger Graham. I play Konstantin.

Bob Lavery: Bob Lavery, Shamraev.

Adrienne Showker: Adrienne Showker, Polina.

Phil Baedecker: Phil Baedecker, Sorin.

Paul Tamney: Paul Tamney, Medvedenko.

Zach Arnold: Zach Arnold, Yakov.

Melissa: Melissa Jo York-Tilley, Production Manager.

Jamie: Jamie Bartosavage Erdman, Costume Designer.

Sallie: Sallie Willows, Stage Manger.

Carlos: Carlos Fischler, Director.

Jay Tilley: Unfortunately William could not be with us today. He had to leave, but he played Trigorin. I know you could pronounce it better than I could. So now the gauntlet has been thrown down. The die has been cast. Who will ask the first question?

Audience: What went into your decision to choose the Tom Stoppard adaptation of this play?

Carlos: Out of all the translations I did like the language. He really did clean up the script from a lot of stage directions. You really don’t want to pick a script that really micromanages what the actors are going to do. You really want to discover those choices yourself. The language, you know. Other translations had, I guess the way translators had strange twists really didn’t seem logical. It didn’t flow. He really changed that. This translation really got away with a lot of French. Other translations have foreign languages, foreign words, foreign sentences interspersed throughout. Instead in Tom Stoppard’s translation you have the actual words in English so I think the audience gets a better experience in that translation.

Audience: Tom Stoppard would probably have flying gazelles or jugglers or something strange happening in the play, but as an audience member, I was very surprised to se that he did a very strong classic traditional translation that got away without he bells and whistles.

Jay Tilley: Excellent, so who else has a question?

Audience: Did you find that Stoppard actually shaped the play in any ways that would be something you would comment on? I know that when I’ve actually looked at adaptations of translations of Chekhov myself for production value a while back and you can find yourself with very different plays when you do that. Would you comment on anything at all that you found in the Stoppard translation/adaptation?

Carlos: Thank you. That’s a great question. I don’t think the story changed at all. I think it’s the same translation as everybody else. What I did read in the beginning in the preface to the Tom Stoppard script. It did say that he had in mind the actor and the lines the actors would have to say so he was thinking about the rhythm of what the actors would be saying, which is interesting because I don’t think the other translations I don’t think that’s what they were thinking about. The actor on stage. So having that inside knowledge I think the actors appreciated that. But it’s the same story just with a few changes.

Audience: So was it tricky learning the Russian names and walking differently and the costumes looked really great. They look heavy and things like that. So I want to hear about that whole process.

Allison Plourde: I thought it was very very difficult. Especially the Russian names for me. I had a very hard time doing that. We had a Russian lady come in and actually help us with the names. Natalie Joseph. I thought she was extremely nice and very very helpful.

Bob Lavery: Natalie as you can see from the program, has a masters and speaks fluent Russian and was very helpful on the pronunciations which are all very different. She came several times and worked very well with us. I think everybody enjoyed her class.

Jay Tilley: One question that’s been asked in past talk backs which I think is a great question is what drew youto your character? What did you find the most difficult about your character, the most fascinating? So why don’t we just go down the line and I’ll put Jeff on the spot gain.

Jeff Davidson: What drew me to my character? I don’t know if I’m really drawn to this character. He’s kind of aloof and a little distant emotionally from everybody. Although he is a keen observer of what’s going on. I think that’s his main thing. I think he just observes everyone around him and reserves judgment. Except for in the case of Sorin who is an old friend I think. He feels open enough with him that he can kind of berate him, but I think he’s kind of hypocritical a little bit.

Melissa McConnell: I, too was not exactly drawn to the part of Masha when we first started. Part of that being I struggled with her character and I was trying to challenge myself not to play her in a stereotype angry, bitter, young woman who is madly in love with someone who won’t give her the time of day. Which, I think everybody can relate to that, but at first it was a challenge not to create this angry, angry young woman. But as I started developing my character I soon realize that we can all relate to her and her struggles and trying to be accepted and loved by someone who won’t accept her and won’t love her. And then I soon realized that everybody can sympathize with that at some point or not in their life. And then I kind of fell in love with her.

Pamela Berthold: I don’t know an actress alive who wouldn’t love the role of Irina. It’s the kind of role that allows you to, you can expand as much as you choose to expand into the space because she is sort of the eye of the hurricane and there is chaos around her, but in the center of her world all is still. So it’s an interesting role. You can make a different choice. I find that I make different choices every time we do this show so far because she’s credible coming from places of vulnerability as much as she is coming from places of utter, you know, being completely unaware of the effect she is having on her son in particular, but also her lover, Nina and others in the play. I think the challenge with her and Melissa was talking about the challenge with Masha. I think the challenge with Irina is not to play her, again in that stereotype diva over the top kind of all of a sudden it’s 1983 and we’re looking at Dynasty and I just need the big shoulder pads to go with it. I really don’t want to be Joan Collins here. Finding the humanity within a character that could be just sort of brittle all the time. And I think Act III in particular gives me a chance to show those colors. And it’s fun and I enjoyed it.

Allison Plourde: And I, too had a very difficult time getting into Nina. But as I started to get into the part more, I felt I was being drawn towards her innocence. I love the fact that she is so positive about her life and where she wants to go. I think the challenge for me was going from being such a positive, wonderful creature and going into that world with that wonderful naivete and then coming back and having had all these terrible terrible things happen to her and going through the real world bringing that all back. That was what I had difficulty portraying. I felt that in the end I felt that she was truly a pillar of strength.

Rodger Graham: Konstantin is a role I’ve always wanted to play since I’ve read any translation of this play. I think he is the epitome of an artist and what happens when we let the world and the critics and everything get to you. Whether it’s from family or the one you love or of the forces outside of you and what that can do to the creative spirit. And to anyone in the arts that lets that get to them. The challenge there was, I think, playing the extremes. Going from being the kind of, “I’m out there. I’m going to do this.” And then one minute being completely angry and bitter that the world has treated me this way. Or sad and depressed that the world isn’t getting any better. And the flip flop there was not only what drew me to the role, because of the challenge, but also of a large part of just how difficult it could be.

Bob Lavery: I was drawn to the role by unemployment, which is something that actors had. The role was available. I’d worked with Vpstart Crow before and they’re fun people to work with. Carlos had directed me in Mice and Men so I knew it was fun. It would be good. I came here and got the part and that’s how I got the character. At my age it could have been a couple of them. Shamraev really isn’t a character. If you stop and think about it, he is a device. When Shamraev comes on stage something serious has been going on. He comes in, talks loud, waves his arms around, breaks everything up and gives people an excuse to go on. Otherwise everything would get entirely too maudlin and too sad. And I think he also adds a little bit of a stereotype that adds a little bit of comedy to it to lighten things up when they’ve gotten too heavy.

Adrienne Showker: Polina is a very isolated sufferer. Nobody really notices her in the play. Nobody really acknowledges her. Nobody really talks to her. She’s sort of just there. Yet she is a very passionate person on the inside, but her suffering is all very lonely for her. That’s not me so I couldn’t really identify her either. The other part of her is she’s very submissive to her beastly husband here. And that’s also not me. So it was challenging.

Phil Baedecker: My response is going to be very similar to Bob’s. I’m always looking for plays that have roles suitable for 60-odd year old men. I’ve never done Chekhov before so that was an attraction. I’d worked with Vpstart Crow a couple of years ago on The Importance of Being Ernest and it was a good experience so that got my attention. I read the play. Focused on Sorin because I felt I could see myself doing it. And fortunately I came to the auditions and the director agreed with me and gave me the part.

Paul Tamney: Much like Phil and Bob it was a matter of timing. I felt like being in a play so I started auditioning. I don’t always feel like being in a play. Medvedenko was kind of tough. I was interested in playing a character that listened more than he talked. I enjoy that. Listening on different levels. The hard part was he gets mistreated a lot. I went to Carlos one day and said, “What is it? He’s hard of hearing? He doesn’t hear what people are saying? He doesn’t see?” And Carlos said, “No that’s not it.” We discovered that there’s other things on his mind other than what’s happening around him. That was interesting to look for and sort of a life saving idea.

Zach Arnold: Similar to Bob, Phil and Paul. I hadn’t been on stage in about three months and I had that itch again. I decided to audition for this show. Previously I was in Uncle Vanya back in college. I enjoyed myself with Chekhov and figured to give it another chance and see if I could do it better. As far as Yakov goes with the difficulties of performing him. I wanted him to be a complete character instead of just being a glorified stage crew with a couple lines here or there. But mainly his main purpose is to move the set and move things a round into different scenes. Bottom line I think Anton Chekhov felt sorry for some poor sap and gave him a couple lines. Also the difficulty I found with it, the challenge was being on stage and not having any lines. I needed to be interesting to the audience without being distracting from the action. So that was my main objective with Yakov.

Jay Tilley: One thing I should probably note about Chekhov, too is many consider him to be one of the first playwrights to focus more on internal characterization and drama as opposed to plot. Carlos, I’m curious, what are the challenges with directing something like that?

Carlos: First you’ve got to get past the Russian. What are the challenges with it? I think theater has grown a lot since The Seagull first came out. I think a lot of things that The Seagull changed about theater are now accepted, had already accepted them before. I had to learn subtext. What is the character saying? Does the character mean what he or she is saying? What are they not saying? What are they not doing? I think Chekhov was the first. You know back then it was melodrama, Shakespeare, and then Chekhov.

And I think now with Chekhov and the work of Stanislavsky, I think we all have an understanding of it and we just jump right into Chekhov and use that. We’ve got one step ahead with it. The more time you spend with this play, the more you just admire the genius behind it and you just keep finding more and more. There are so many things happening on every different level in this play that it’s amazing how it all got fitted seamlessly in. Especially once we staged the production it became apparent that the playwright had put in all the costume changes for enough time for costume changes, for scene changes. Everything just fit together beautifully on stage. That’s just even something else I didn’t even anticipate besides the script which already was a powerful piece.

Audience: It seems that some of you have worked together in other classical pieces, notably Shakespeare. You’re doing Chekhov for the first time, which is in a lot of ways, I would suppose, a different sort of classic. But how do you find working together as an ensemble, if you have. Is it helpful to you in doing Chekhov? And how long have you been working on this in rehearsal, since it’s a difficult thing to work on with an intensively ensemble sort of thing?

Zack Arnold: As far as working as an ensemble, really the only person I’ve worked with previously in this cast was Melissa, in Julius Caesar, this past January. I think we all came in with the idea that no one character was the star of the show. The one that really blasts everyone out of the water. Because even though Irina and Nina and Konstantin all have the larger plots, that draw the most text, you have multiple sub-plots running under, and we understood that and we wanted to make sure that everyone had their moment in the sun I guess.

Paul Tamney: I’ve only worked with Phil, but there’s not a whole lot of characters and we worked on it act by act, rather than scene by scene, so everyone was around a lot. We had all these subplots all the time. and got used to each other, and that helped a lot.

Phil Baedecker: I don’t think my approach to the play because it’s Chekhov is really that much different that almost any other theatrical production. I mean it’s a process, you start out two months before the opening night and it’s an adventure. Getting to know your own character, getting to know the other characters. And then learning about each other and reacting to each other’s interpretations of their particular characters, and their relationship to you. It’s just an interesting process. And that’s always fascinating to me. I’d prefer to be doing this than almost anything else.

Adrienne Showker: I would just add that when I got the role of Polina, I thought to myself “well, this is a very small role.” It only has, I don’t know how many lines, 25 lines or something. So I said to Carlos, “do I have to come to all the rehearsals?” And he kinda said “well, yes, you do. Because she’s kind of around a lot.” I thought well, ok. So, after coming for a while, it was actually really a good thing. And it was a really good learning tool and these people up here on the stage, are extremely talented. And I’ve learned a lot from them. Initially, everyone was very serious, when we all came in. And I thought, wow, this is what professional actors are really like. After about six weeks, everyone started becoming a little more friendly. And really, the characters are so important to everybody, I think that they were working really hard on it, so, I think it was a great ensemble.

Bob Lavery: Well, I worked with Melissa before, and I worked with Andrea before. I worked with Carlos before, but basically I came for the pretty girls. The ensemble, you are very right, the ensemble was important. I’m like Phil. I didn’t approach this that much differently, I learned my lines, then I get my blocking and the rest of it. But the way you do your lines and the way your blocking comes out, and the business, is inspired by the people around you. Because you have to react to them. And this is a very very good group of professionals. I mean if you read the program there is a lot of experience here, a lot of varied experience. So, they’re the ones who make the rest of us come out and look good. I wouldn’t have said that before.

Rodger Graham: I actually came into the process not knowing anyone. This is actually the first play I’ve ever done in the area. You just put yourself out there, and you see what happens. I love the fact that having everyone around all the time just helped so much with, for example, if you weren’t doing something you could work another scene, or you could have people there watching you. It just kind of brought everyone together. Ensembles are just so much fun.

Allison Plourde: This is actually the first show I’ve done in this area as well. I loved getting to know these people. Every single person here I love you guys, I really do. What I found wonderful about this is that every single person in here is a professional. And took it very seriously. And working with them as a group just made me feel wonderful that I’m working together with every single person here.

Pamela Berthold: I just want to add that it’s not a coincidence that we all stopped being so serious right around the time we were getting into costumes and needing each other to pull up our zippers. Because although I agree with you Carlos that the stage time works pretty well for the changes, a couple of us have pretty quick things. And I just want to thank my good friend, Medenvenko, Paul over here, who has to zip me up everyday that we do this play for Act II, into the big fluffy white dress. He’s the only person who is not out on stage and I’m like “Can you please,” and it’s like…. “yeah, ok.” I almost wish we could show you the play behind the stage, because there is a play going on back there as well.

Melissa McConnell: I’ve worked with Bob, and Zach and Adrienne before, but I had a wonderful time meeting everybody else and working with everybody else. One of the things we really did in this play that I haven’t done I don’t think in any other play is discovering the symbolism, the metaphors in the simplest little things. Such as the lotto game and the numbers which I say. At first I was like, “How am I going to remember the numbers and the order of the numbers.” We slowly discovered, with the help of everybody and especially Pamela that there really was a purpose. Even to the numbers. Something so simple that I didn’t discover at first, but there really was a purpose in saying those numbers and the meaning behind them.

The other thing I was going to say as far as working as an ensemble in this play. I kind of found that to be a bit difficult. We’re all kind of lost in our own self pity and our own world. We say these lines to each other that are non sequitur. He has this thought and I have my thought. We’re all kind of trapped in our own imprisonment. So at first I found that very difficult to work together because we’re not together. We’re all just kind of disconnected and that’s why we all kind of struggle through this play. There’s no happy ending because we can’t seem to get out of this state of depression. But anyway as you delve into it and discover the subtext, you realize that we all struggle in together I guess.

Jeff Davidson: I’ve only worked with one other person here and that was Phil. We did Brigadoon a few years back at a theater which no longer exists. I have enjoyed meeting everyone here and working with the staff and the cast and getting to know people a little bit. It’s a good experience. This is my first Chekhov play. I’ve always wanted to do Chekhov for a long time and now I’m getting my opportunity and I’m really loving it.

Jay Tilley: Well one thing we haven’t heard from yet, we’ve heard about the hard work the actors are doing but, there’s also been a lot of hard work behind the scenes. I’m curious to hear from our illustrious Stage Manager Sallie Willows, our Costumer Jamie Erdman, and our Production Manager Melissa Jo York Tilley. So we’ll start with Sallie.

Sallie Willows: I guess what brought me here was I needed Christmas money. This is my third production with Vpstart Crow. I was in Anne Of The Thousand Days as Elizabeth Bolin. I was the Stage Manager for Comedy of Errors. It was a lot of fun working here and it’s been a lot of fun working with the cast and trying to bring things together. You feel like you’re really working towards something. A really good end result and that’s what we’ve had here is a really good end result.

Jamie Bartosavage Erdman: I was in Las Vegas in the beginning of September and I get this email going,” I know you’re busy but.” And then I get a phone call, “I know you’re busy but. . . ” So I ended up having to pull together all of the costumes in a matter of a couple of weeks, which for a period piece can be rather difficult. I have to thank the cast for putting up with me and listening to what I say and for Carlos for already having a set vision for what he wanted his actors to look like and what the characters were wearing. It made it very easy for me.

Melissa Jo York-Tilley: Tilley being Jay Tilley’s wife so you see how I got in this. Christine Lange the Artistic Director called and asked me to step in and try to take care of this beautiful, wonderful cast and give them a stage that they could act on and be showcased in. I did my best to give them what they needed. And that’s about it.

Bob Lavery: I’ve been saving this up for months. Actually longer. I want to thank the people from ShowBizRadio for being here. They’ve covered quite a few plays at Vpstart Crow. You gave review of us when I was at Landless Theatre with Godzilla and a couple other things. We appreciate your publishing audition notices for us poor actors and saying nice things about us. Thank you.

Jay Tilley: Bob actually beat me to the punch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with ShowBizRadio.net, that’s the address, ShowBizRadio.net. Now their theater critics, but that’s ok, no one’s perfect. They do a great job of covering local theater, not only in Virginia, but also DC and Maryland as well. They also offer in addition to reviews, spotlights on actors, directors, behind the scenes. People throughout the area. They have audition notices. They have news. So definitely check out their website and thank you Mike and Laura for being a part of this today. And thanks once again to the cast and crew for a great job and for everyone who came to see the show today and most importantly it’s a great show. Tell your friends. Come again. Thanks so much.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

One Response »

  1. Thanks again Mike and Laura for recording The Seagull talkback with the audience and posting the audio file and transcript on your website. Our talkbacks are always a lot of fun for all involved and a way for audience members to learn more about the whole “page-to-stage” process. 🙂

    Very best regards,

    Jay Tilley
    Director of Communications
    Vpstart Crow Productions, Inc.
    http://www.vpstartcrow.com