Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on the Cast and Crew of Vpstart Crow’s An O. Henry Christmas

By • Nov 16th, 2007 • Category: Backstage, Interviews

Listen to the talkback discussion [MP3 22:13 10.2MB] with the cast and crew of Vpstart Crow‘s An O. Henry Christmas.

Christine: Thank you for those of you who stayed for our talkback. The first thing I would like to do is have the cast go through and introduce themselves and say their name, their part and what they do when they’re not here. I know a lot of people tend to be curious about that.

Janet Devine Smith: I play Fran. I worked for the National Institute of Health for 11 years as a self processing technologist and just retired in March. I’m working part-time in a doctor’s office right now, but I want to spend more time with theater.

Carolyn Cameron: I play Agnes. When I’m not here I’m a senior consultant for CGI Federal. I am a senior training consultant. I work primarily for the Center for Medicare Services. Almost everybody here has a health background.

Ted Ballard: I play Grover. When I’m not here I don’t do much. I am retired.

Catherine Kelly: I play Margeruite and I do too much when I am not here. I work for an advisory board company. A health care think tank as a print specialist. Nothing to do with health care and with my boyfriend Tommy, I volunteer for City Dogs Rescue. A great animal shelter in DC.

Mike King: I play the role of Hal. In my spare time I rehearse for this very role (just kidding) I work for a local grocery store full time and that leaves my nights open to do things like this.

Joseph Thornhill: I was playing the role of O.P. And I usually exist in a sort of a daze when I am not acting which is what I consider my real profession to be.

Jonathan Marget: I play the role of Dinty. I am retired from the chief counsel’s office of the IRS and in retirement I have been reading lots of dull technical stuff for recording for the blind and dyslexic. I have put in over 3500 hours there.

Christie Swaney: I’m the Assistant Stage Manager.

Greg Crowe: I play Guido. I review computers and network technology for a magazine.

Sallie Willows: I’m the Stage Manager and my real job is an Administrative Assistant for an insurance company.

Morgan Sexton: I was sound design and general jack-of-all-trades for whatever they needed to have happen and in my spare time I’m a full time lighting tech.

Christine Lange: I’m the director and my full time job is actually a billing assistant for a long term care pharmacy. Alright, now it’s your turn. Does anybody have any questions?

Question: Was there any autobiographical truth to this? Was O. Henry really a jail bird?

Christine: The easy answer is yes.

Joe: This story is fairly fictional obviously, but to my understanding he was in jail. I don’t know if it was actually in the US, though. It was? I know there was an issue with him going to Venezuela. I don’t know if he was ever in a train yard in New York City. That was probably a literary license issue.

Christine: The order is a little bizarre as well. He was actually accused of embezzling from a bank. That took place in Texas. This play is set in 1893, but all of that happened much later. I think, Carolyn, do you know the year?

Carolyn: You know I don’t. I think it was the late 1890’s, but what happened was he fled with his wife and child to Venezuela. He coined the term “Banana Republic.” They lived there for several years until his wife got Tuberculosis. He wanted her to come back to the United States. So when he came back with her he was arrested again and put in jail. He actually escaped from jail twice and finally his wife passed away and he went back to jail where he served three years of a five year prison sentence, but he never spent a day in a jail cell. He was a pharmacist’s assistant and so he got to stay in a little room in the pharmacy by the jail. That’s just a little bit of trivia.

Christine: Next question?

Question: I recognize Gift of the Magi. What were the other O. Henry stories that were embedded in this?

Christine: I probably shouldn’t admit this, but the Last Leaf is the one that kind of ties them all together. The story that Marguerite actually plays out is my favorite O. Henry story: The Last Leaf. I actually don’t know the titles of the other stories. I’m sorry. I can’t answer that question.

Question: Was a lot of the dialogue taken out of the text from the stories?

Christine: Yes. I think actually that the playwright did a good job of the text that wasn’t specifically from an O. Henry story, but used his trademark language and then the twist at the end. I think that the play write did his research and tried to make it as authentic for O. Henry’s voice as possible.

Question: Since none of you are professional actors, so to speak, you’re part time actors, how do you overcome the issue of stage fright? I remember being in a high school play when I was a senior (that’s been many years ago by the way) I remember that we were supposed to have a prompter that was down under the stage or something who was going to tell us if we missed our lines. I missed about four pages of dialogue. They told us if we did something like that not to react, but my immediate reaction was to slap myself in the forehead. How do you over come that fear?

Janet: I run through my lines every single day just for that reason. I went through a period of time where I didn’t have any fear of forgetting the lines and then I went to perform one time when I was a singer and ended up making up the words to the songs because I had no idea what the words were to the song. Ever since then I’m a little more prepared than I used to be.

Response: What’s the best way to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

Joe: It’s also something you overcome with time. I think every actor has to deal with a little bit of stage fright every time they are on stage. After awhile if you really want to keep doing it, you learn to love performing live and you learn to love performing in front of people. You learn to enjoy it so you get a kick out of being in front of everyone. So what used to scare you now kind of makes you feel excited.

Janet: Fear makes us do our best work.

Kathryn: I find that I don’t get stage fright unless I know people in the audience. Like Today. Hi Mom, hi Dad. I was terrified.

Sallie: Even though I’m Stage Manager for this show, I have acted in other shows. I don’t know what it was as they say the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd. I got out there and I always really enjoyed it. I never really had stage fright.

Response: Honestly, when you get so caught up in a role you just flow with it. You don’t realize there is an audience out there sometimes, at least with me.

Greg: It also helps that the lights are so bright that you can’t see out there at all. You think you’re by yourself. Like singing in the shower.

Jonathan: For my part I am very nearsighted and there is one great advantage to not being able to see on stage.

Christine: Do we have another question?

Question: First of all it was fantastic. This is my daughter Chase’s first thing she’s ever seen in a theater and I didn’t know what to expect. I had never heard of this center before. It’s a fairly small place and I’ve acted in small places before and done small films also. Is it harder to act in front of 30 people or 3,000?

Response: A smaller audience usually means a more intimate setting. It’s usually easier to draw people in with a smaller audience. It’s easier to make them a part of what you’re doing. A bigger audience you have critics and cynics and people who just don’t quite get it. You have the kid in the third row throwing a temper-tantrum. It’s harder to be able to pull everything in with a bigger audience.

Response: To counter that, it’s really great to perform for a humongous crowd because the psychology of a larger crowd is is that emotions run quicker through them. When you have a smaller audience or group of people they might be less likely to react to some of the things you do, but if you play in a full house for instance. I’ve played in front of 100 people before, their reaction are stronger and it’s more fun.

Response: As an actor we really do feed off your energy as an audience. There are times when we’ll go upstairs and say that it was such a dead audience and ask if they were even listening to us? Did we do a good job? Don’t be scared to laugh even if there are only five of you out there please, you’ll get a much better show. I was just going to say that I always think of an audience as individuals because I like to play to all the audience no matter what size they are. I’ve played to 1,000’s and very small theaters. Sometimes when there were two or three people in the audience. I feel like when you’re on the stage that you want everyone in the audience to appreciate everything you’re doing. That’s how I justify it.

Response: I think that we do this because we love it and we do it because it’s our way of giving back. I think when we hear, and you’ve got a lot of people here that do a lot of volunteer work. This is a lot of time. People put in a lot of energy and they really want the audience to enjoy themselves. So when we hear you laugh and we hear the applause and we hear you snicker it just makes our day. We just really feed off of it. We really appreciate it.

Question: I was struck by the similarity between this show and Man of La Mancha, where the narrator is getting people into unfortunate circumstances to tell a story. How did you feel about that?

Response: It’s actually kind of ironic because there is one of my lines where I say I was thrown out on the street and I never knew my father which was almost exactly from Man of La Mancha. It has a very similar kind of theme.

Question: Were there any other similarities?

Response: Well there’s the prostitute.

Christine: Any other questions?

Question: Why did you all choose to be in plays?

Response: For the longest time I thought of myself as kind of boring. When I was younger I loved Halloween and then when I got into the ability to start acting I thought well why not? I can be something more interesting than I was and it just kind or grew from there. You just enjoy it.

Sallie: I started doing it back in high school and found out I just had a talent. I realized I had a talent for it and I enjoyed it so much. It became a passion. I took some time off. About 30 years actually. I just got back into doing it a couple years ago. As I say it has just developed into a passion again.

Greg: I think the opportunity to be another person for awhile in front of people is kind of unique among people and, you know, it’s just fun, a lot of fun most of the time.

Response: I mainly just do the tech part of everything. I have done some acting and it’s a lot of fun, but I prefer just to build the sets and have people comment on how nice the sets and the lights and the sounds are versus being on stage.

Response: When I was in high school in DC in the 50’s we still had mandatory Bible readings at the start of the school day and my homeroom’s director of Religious activities was the biggest guy in school. He selected those of us who came early to school to do the Bible reading. My homeroom teacher was the high school drama coach and she liked my Bible reading and on the basis of that encouraged me to try out for plays and I’ve been hooked on it since then.

Joe: It’s more fun than data entry. When I was in high school I got involved with choir. I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t want to be an actor. I guess the choir people, the orchestra people and the actor people all hung out a little bit. I was involved with some play, but it wasn’t that I wanted to do. I sang for several rock bands for the next ten years after high school, you’ve never heard of them. If you had, I’m sorry. After that was over I had a girlfriend who was into theater in the area and she said why don’t you try out for a show? You did a little stuff in high school. And I was like, oh right. And she said no really come on, let’s go. I’ll go with you. I was like OK. I tried out and I got it. I played the thing and somebody told me they liked it and they liked me. I decided this was better than sucking at rock music. I can actually do something that people like. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Response: How do I follow that? I started in ballet (thanks Mom) and church plays (thanks Mom), but really I’m just a nicer happier person when I’m in a play than when I’m not so that probably means I should keep doing plays.

Response: What I like, I enjoy performing, but I like seeing the whole process from the beginning. You start out with a script with just some writing on a page and and then the director casts the show so now you have all these actors and then they are assigned characters. Then they begin to take on those characters. Then you have a prop person they have to bring all the props and the costumer brings all the costumes in. The set builder builds the set and during the rehearsal you start seeing all those elements come together. Then on opening night you’ve got the set, the props, the costumes, the actors, the characters, and it all comes together.

Then the real enjoyment comes when you start getting feedback from the audience. You can feel that during the show and then at the end of the show as people walk out you can hear the I really enjoyed that or I though that was funny or I thought that was sad. Hopefully they thought the sad part was sad and the funny part was funny. Then when the show ends there is kind of always a little sadness there because you’ve formed a camaraderie with the cast and in this area you generally see the same people in different shows so you see them performing anyway. I like seeing the entire process come together and performing is a major part, but it’s also only one part.

Response: I started in 2nd grade as a bird. My first play I was a cardinal and I had to wear this big giant beak and I thought it was so cool. Then I did plays all though grade school and high school, and continued to do them. I guess I wish my advocation were my vocation, but then there is the bill part and that sort of thing. I agree with what Joe said, acting beats data entry any day. I think that Janet said something the other day that really stuck with me. She said that she quit acting for awhile and the world just looked black and white and then when I started acting again everything came back into color. So I just stole your line if that’s what you were going to say.

Response: I started when I was very young. My twin sister and I used to do all the religious plays at the Catholic school that I went to. She was Joseph and I was Mary all the time because we were the only ones that could remember the lines. Then when I finally got into high school and found out that people could do musicals, that was just the best thing that could ever happen. I was so excited that I could be on stage. I had horrible stage fright at first. All the way through high school I sat in the back of the chorus and wouldn’t come forward at all. Eventually I wanted to do it so badly that I got over it. I got a degree in science first to do something practical and that has paid the bills throughout the years, but then when I was in my 30’s I decided what I really wanted to do was sing so I got a degree in vocal performance. It was totally different going to college for something you love because the classwork was so easy and so wonderful. Everything that I learned was exciting.

Christine: Next question?

Question: When you do something like this, how long does it take from the time you get the script to til the actors are assigned and the rehearsals until you do your first play. How long does that take? How many hours are involved?

Christine: It actually varies by show. This show actually auditioned the week after Labor Day. We’ve only been doing about three rehearsals a week. Mostly my fault. I was in a lot of weddings and I didn’t let them rehearse without me. We started the second week of September. Three rehearsals a week. We do two during the week night. Those were about three hours and then a longer one on Saturday so it’s really only between nine and twelve hours a week of rehearsal. So I guess that gives us two months, right? Two months. I think that’s pretty average for what we do in this theater. We have about eight weeks from auditions until we actually open.

In terms of play selection, I actually picked this play last July. We knew ahead of time that it was going to be part of the season. So it was sort of like getting ready. There is some work that you do before you know who your actors are. I always feel that I want to know who I’m working with before. I don’t want to make decisions for them. It’s important that they are a part of every step of the process so it’s really those eight weeks that make all the difference.

Question: I want to know how long you’ve been directing because you look very young.

Christine: I’m sure everybody’s been wondering anyway. I’m 28 actually, but I’ve been directing for ten years. I average about a show a year for those ten years. I think I’m trustworthy.

Question: Do you have open auditions or do you have to be a part of the group?

Christine: All of our auditions are open. Our next set of auditions should be coming up in December. I believe our first show is going to be The Importance of Being Earnest. That will probably open in February. Those dates are still being set, but to get our eight weeks in we’d be looking at auditions in December. We are a professional theater so we do pay our actors, but it’s pretty much gas money if even that with the price of gas going up. I don’t want to say a community feel because we are professional, but at the same time it really is more for the love of the art and the opportunity than it is actually making a lot of cash at the end. So all of our auditions are open and we welcome everybody. Actually that goes for our tech, too. We’re always happy to have new faces because anybody who is willing to be involved in theater, we can find something for you to do.

Christine: Does anybody have any thoughts they would like to add?

Response: This is a nice place to do theater. It’s really a nice group of people. Everybody is very supportive. I’ve lucked out. Maybe I’ve lucked out and just gotten a great cast. I’ve had some bad ones, but here it’s just been great. The people have been great.

Christine: Well, thank you all for coming today and I hope that you have a great day.

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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. Hey Mike and Laura! Thank you so much for posting this! Again, it was a pleasure working with you both as Vpstart Crow’s PR guy. My time with Vpstart Crow is over now, but I do hope to see and/or work with you both again in the near future! 🙂