A Smashing Success!

Well friends, it’s that time again. Opening Night has come and gone and the first weekend of Death of a Salesman was a smashEmily Andersoning success!

I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed my time working on this production. It has been the most incredible time watching this cast grow from the first read-through to Opening Night and watching their characters emerge and take form. I am so proud of everyone who is involved and I urge you with all sincerity and earnestness to see this incredible show that we have created.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do. If you have friends who haven’t seen it yet and you love them and want them to have the theatrical experience of their lives, bring them along.

Are you worried it’ll be too depressing? Check out our One Word Reviews, and see what word this show made other patrons think of (hint: it’s not ‘depressing’). Are you worried that a show that is so famous that it’ll be laden down with history? Check out Laura’s blog about how seeing something like this can be good for you much like the little trees that dot your kids’ plates. Are you worried that it’ll just be boring people talking about boring life? Check out Evolution of a Set and get a glimpse of all the cool stuff you can look at if you catch yourself ‘zoning out.’ Finally, to you want to get a preview of what it is you have to look forward to? Check out my photo gallery of behind the scenes shots and some of the Opening Night Gala. It’s pretty awesome. I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin.

Come see the show and say hi afterwards!! I would love to meet you all!!

'Magnificent Terror' - An interview with Martha Wigmore about her role in "Death of a Salesman"

The second time I met Martha Wigmore she made me cry.Emily Anderson

It was in rehearsal for (you guessed it!) Death of a Salesman and Linda is on the phone with her oldest son, Biff, and she tells him some wonderful news about something Willy, her husband, did. She is so exuberant and happy...then as she listens to the other end of the line she gets quiet. She slumps a little more. You can literally watch her heart as it breaks within her, but she picks up the pieces and, incredibly, soldiers on.

And I cried like I haven’t cried since the first time I saw Les Miz on stage.

I thought you might like a chance to get to know this absolutely incredible woman, so I asked her to sit down with me and talk about some of her experiences with this show and with acting.

Emily: So Martha, how many shows have you been in?

Headshot_MarthaWigmore_135x135Martha: Salesman is my 30th show since I first started performing ten years ago in 2002. What a lovely benchmark!

E: What is that like?

M: In productions at other theatres I have especially enjoyed playing classical roles, including Baptista (played as a mother) in Taming of the Shrew, Lady Britomart in Shaw’s Major Barbara, and Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.

I also treasure having played Lyric Arts’ friend Tim Gage’s mother in his play Danny is Going to Die.

E: Have you done any shows at Lyric before?

M: I’ve been in 9 shows at Lyric Arts, plus one Fishing Widow's Cabaret. Some favorites might be: Death of a Salesman as Linda Loman, directed by Robert Neu, April 2013 Leading Ladies as Florence, directed by Robert Neu, September 2011 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Big Mama, directed by Scott Ford, September 2010

E: How do you like working at Lyric Arts?

M: One could say that I’ve felt Lyric Arts’ embrace from the get-go! I’m forever grateful to director Phil Bologna for casting me...in my first plays at Lyric. I’ve learned so much here. It’s always been a great ride at Lyric.

E: How you approach a character like Linda?

M: Without the accumulated experiences I have had on stage, I could never feel as safe with the role of ‘Linda Loman’ as I do at this time. It has felt that this role, this production, this director and I converged at the right time. That said, every moment in this role is a magnificent terror. There is tremendous responsibility to properly tell this playwright’s truth.

I love doing this role at this time in my life where my experiences so exquisitely inform my understanding of this character and her family. There’s a lot of love in this couple or they couldn’t be together. This is OUR story – ‘OUR’ being all women, all men. It is us, on so many levels.

I love plays with muscular language, in which the act of speaking is a physical act. Miller’s language just ‘sings’, start to finish. Death of the Salesman is the ultimate actor’s play.

E: How do you think we’re doing?

M: This cast, director, and crew is a memorable convergence of talent. It is evident that at this point we share a deep respect for the beauty of this masterpiece. But there is nothing stuffy in our explorations of the play – every day brings new discoveries and approaches. The cast has caught the immediacy of this story for all humanity, regardless the time period. There is such truth and unguarded exposure in these performances. It is deeply moving and humbling to be working with this group.

E: How you like working with Director Robert Neu?

M: None of the productions I have been in has had the complexity of Salesman in both technical and acting aspects, and Bob is as thoroughly prepared as a conductor for rehearsal. He comes each day intimately familiar with the entire ‘score’, the text of the play, and is a master at planning and using rehearsal time to greatest benefit. Bob has a deep appreciation for the ‘music’ of Miller’s text and is dedicated to make it sing and feel appropriately varied through our performances. He is respectful of actors, perceptive with his questions and careful with his suggestions, creating a rehearsal environment in which it is safe for the actor to explore. The idea of discovery fuels the rehearsal process.

E: Is there anything you’d like to tell the folks at home?

M: I’m the poster-child for lifelong learning and growth. I was too shy to even consider performing or singing until my 40’s. But various hobbies gave me life experiences that steadily built up my confidence in public, and finally my shower-singing moved to the stage (with clothes on!). All of which flowed from learning to love myself so that I could genuinely ‘love my neighbor’. That’s one powerful tool.

E: Can you sum up Death of a Salesman in three words?

M:  Resonance, Nakedness, Love

Cool as a Pre-Pickled Pickle

As an actor who has had to step into a role at the last minute while the rest of the cast is already over halfway done with regular rehearsals, I can say with the utmost authority that it is one of the scariest things a human being can do. It is incredibly intimidating to insert yourself into a group that has already established itself and its routines and in-jokes.

That being said, Megan Rodriguez is as  as she walks into her first rehearsal as Miss Forsythe. You know, it’s hard to be asked to play the most beautiful girl in the room, but, somehow, Megan pulls it off with perfect grace and humility and just the right amount of va-va-voom.

Did I mention? Not only is she joining Death of A Salesman, but as of the time of this writing she is also performing in our very own Hello, Dolly! as Minnie (the other hat shop girl). Two characters in the same brain? I would melt from confusion and exhaustion and stress and worrying about saying the wrong lines at the wrong show and I’m hyperventilating just think about it. Why did you make me live through this terrifying imaginary scenario?!!? WHY?

But Megan has this down. She’s an old hat at this whole ‘acting’ thing, having performed in four previous shows here at Lyric Arts. She says this theatre “...feels like home. I love the layout of the theatre and the proximity of the actors to the audience. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore in the building!”

So remember when I said it’s so stressful to come into a show when the cast is already bonded? Megan loves it. At her second rehearsal ever for Salesman she said “It’s refreshing stepping into a role where the rest of the cast is already off-book and I need to catch up. But everything is running so well. Bob [Neu] is just amazing.” Salesman will be their 4th show together.

So let’s recap: Megan Rodriguez is amazing.

She will get about half the rehearsals the rest of the cast and she will still shine like a bright summer day and you, my friend, will remember her. Even if she’s on stage for only a few minutes, you will remember her well after you have left the theatre.

Clothes make the character

Let’s talk about costumes shall we? Let’s talk about costumes and their effect on a character. Let’s talk about costumes and their effect on the frazzled actor who is trying to remember roughly a million lines while making an emotional connection to the character standing next to you whose name you have forgotten and is played by a very nice actor whose name you have also forgotten, but you can’t stop the scene to ask them what their name is because you’re in the middle of one of your million lines and that would not be a very good use of rehearsal time.

Clothes make the character.

It becomes especially apparent in period pieces like Death of A Salesman which takes place in a time period that most of the people in the cast only know through books and movies. When creating a character you are supposed to inhabit their entire surroundings; talk like them, act like them, move like them. If your character is, say, a call girl in 1949, but you have no memory before 1990, how can you faithfully inhabit that character? Much of it falls on the actor to do research into the time period and figure out things like walking, talking and whatnot, but sometimes it’s just not coming together the way you would like it to.

That’s when the costumer comes in with the perfect piece or outfit and when you put it on it all. makes. sense. The movements become more natural, the awkward voice or dialect makes sense, and you feel like you have been transported to whatever time period/location/whathaveyou that your character resides in. It’s an incredible feeling.

I bring you this long and probably overly analytical introduction so I can talk to you about Samantha Fromm. She is the costume designer extraordinaire for this upcoming awesome-period-costume-fest-for-the-ages. And she is awesome. The last time we worked together I had to unexpectedly step in during Becky’s New Car and Samantha was just a champ coming in on her off day to fit me into costumes that would make me look like a millionaire socialite. And you know what? She did.

I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that women have a lot of clothes. We have untold numbers of options on color and somehow through all of these options someone like Samantha comes in, assess the scene and the character and finds the perfect outfit complete with shoes and accessories and the correct time period. She puts more thought and effort into one outfit for a show than I have put into anything in my entire life. Ever. And she does this for a dozen or more people per show, and, since she does this for a living over at the world famous Guthrie Theatre, there could be 20 or more shows per year. I’m getting stress-sweats just thinking about it.

So you should come to see Death of A  Salesman if for no other reason than to appreciate how much work Samantha put into every single costume on stage. Also, she put me into this super classy velvet dress for my call girl character and I love it so much I want to never take it off ever! so come to support Sam. And see my awesome dress. But mostly for Sam.

Acting 102

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this yet, or if it comes across at all when you read this, but I am stupid excited for you to see Death of a Salesman. This production has 11 incredibly talented actors at the top of their game. Some you have seen before, others this is their first introduction (and what an introduction!). I just saw a run through of the second act. There was no costumes, or lighting. There are no sets except for a table and some chairs. The actors almost all carry scripts. But in the climactic scene around a family dinner table and the denouement that follows I am not ashamed to tell you I nearly wept it was so beautiful. On our first read through Bob Neu told us that he has a hard time getting through a reading of this play, let alone a performance and we shouldn’t be shocked if he starts to cry during rehearsal. I thought he was trying to be funny or overdramatic, but now I understand. He got a little teary today too.

I’m going to go over a few of the actors in this show and tell you why I love them and why you should be deliriously excited about seeing this show.

Warren Sampson (Willy Loman): The last time we saw Warren on the Lyric Arts Stage was this past Christmas in Annie where he played Drake the Butler, but it is for this show that he will be remembered for at Lyric Arts. Willy Loman is one of the most tragic characters in American Theatre and Warren plays him with such ferocity and honesty that you are immediately sucked into the story he is trying to tell. When I nearly wept at rehearsal, it was because of Warren.

Martha Wigmore (Linda Loman): Everything this woman does on stage is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. The honesty she portrays as a beleaguered wife and mother who only wants what it best for her family is heart wrenching. When Martha talks, you listen, and you believe, and you pity her and marvel and her strength.

Ty Hudson (Biff): Ty plays Willy and Linda’s oldest son Biff. Biff is a bit of a loser when we meet him, but then we get flashes of his high school years and the transformation that Ty makes between these two drastically different personas is remarkable. As the fresh-faced high schooler Ty is all earnestness and happiness, but as the jaded adult dealing with conflicting emotions about his life and his family he is mesmerising.

Max Lorei (Happy): Happy is always happy. He does everything in his power to make sure the same goes for his family, even if it means stretching the truth a little to do it. Max plays Happy carefree and suave, but with just the right amount of sadness and fear running through it to show how much Happy cares about his family.

So this is the Loman family and they are four of the best reasons I can give you to make you come see this incredible show. We also have touching performances from Bill Marshal, Ryan James Coble, and Kirsten Sawyer, all of whom were leads in Lyric’s last show Becky’s New Car, Megan Rodriguez, who is on stage right now in Hello, Dolly!, and Brandon Holscher and Kenny Kiser. Seriously,  this cast is the most incredible thing I have ever seen and it would be a shame if you had to miss it.

Let's talk character

This week I thought we could talk about the hints a playwright gives us to subtly tell us about a character. According to the world’s reference book, Wikipedia, the two girls that Happy picks up in a restaurant, Miss Forsythe and Letta, are....fallen women. Now maybe I’m taking this too personally, or just reading into it too much, but I respectfully disagree. Let’s begin with Miss Forsythe. She enters the restaurant and is stunningly gorgeous and catches the eye of Happy, the Playboy of the Loman family. He spins a tale of being a salesman and how it’s good work then, after a beat or two, asks her if she...’sells.’ When I read the script for the first time I saw those lines and innocently imagined that he was asking if she was a fellow salesman, possibly for makeup or some other feminine product. It hadn’t really crossed my mind that she was selling the ultimate feminine product, but when Bob Neu added those two beats between those two words the possibility became more than just likely, it became insulting.

Miss Forsythe counters with a quick ‘No, I don’t sell,’ which, coupled with an icy glare, would be enough to deter any normal man from continuing the conversation, but not Happy. He tries to smooth things over by telling her she should be on the cover of a magazine to which she replies that she has been; many times. This strikes me as the kind of thing a woman would say to put a man in his place. Oh, so you want to make me feel better about asking if I was a prostitute by telling me I’m pretty enough to be on a magazine? Well I have; what have you got to say now, punk?

Assuming that this is not true, she is merely extending the truth must the way Happy does when he say he went to West Point and Biff plays for the NY Giants. It makes them more interesting than they actually are, and maybe people will respond positively to that.

Letta is a similar case, but I am almost convinced that she is not a call girl. I am not saying this because I play her in this production, I say this because she is excited about Jury Duty. So excited, in fact, that she might have to leave the party with these two attractive men early so she can get to bed and be on time at the court the next day. Would a call girl be that excited to uphold the law that wants to put her behind bars? Would a call girl even be called in for Jury Duty?

Now it’s true that I get most of my knowledge about prostitutes and call girls from Law & Order: SVU and CNBC specials, but this does not strike me like the behaviour of a woman who is above (and below) the law.

But, really, what do I know? You will have to be the ones to decide when you see the show, and let me know what you think! Gals out for a night on the town? Or Call Gals out for a night on the town? Send us your ideas!

Until next time,

Emily

A first peek backstage

Welcome! You have officially entered the musings (read: ramblings) of a first-time Lyric Arts Actor. Woo-Hoo! This is essentially a public diary to clue you all in on what goes through the mind of an actor while rehearsing a show A) at Lyric Arts and B) with the awe-inspiring Bob Neu. So a little bit about me: My name is Emily.

More you say? Well, I’m in the unique position of being both an actor and a staff member here at Lyric. If you’re a frequent patron of our arts you’ve probably seen me running around like a chicken with its head cut off during a show. This is called ‘House Managing.’ I also do some administration work during the week. I’m still new, I only just started in September, but I assure you this is the most fun I have ever had. If you ever get a chance to work here (volunteering totally counts!) I would highly recommend it. Also, I haven’t done theatre in about four years. Nerves much? Oh yeah.

Now, having sat in on a few of Bob Neu’s rehearsals in the past I had a general idea of what it was going to be like to work with him. He is gentle with his actors, never shouting or berating them into giving him what he wants, but he has a definite vision for how the scene should play, sound and look and he will not settle for less. It’s incredible. I’ve seen him run the same scene with the same two actors and lead them from a nothing-special scene to a place where he is happy with their delivery, but he gives them room to wiggle and find their character's voice. The combination of the two can be breathtaking.

I think that brings us, more or less, to today. My first rehearsal. Holy Bajeezus I’m nervous.

Now the rest of the cast has been rehearsing for the past two weeks, but my parts are pretty small so I haven’t been needed until now. Let me tell you, they’re AWESOME. Everyone seems to be playing at the top of their game, taking the full weight of Miller’s words and making them seem effortless. There’s a healthy combination of seasoned Lyric veterans and fresh faces that brings an energy of giddiness to the rehearsals. It can be hard for an actor that is not in very many scenes to bond well with the actors who spent hours together night after night. But, gosh darn it. I’m gonna try.

So I get there about an hour early. Partially so I can watch the earlier rehearsals and see how everything seems to be going, and partially so I can write this blog. But mostly to watch them. They’re rehearsing the exuberant family moment right before my big entrance. As I sit here and watch and write and write and watch Bob turns around and says, “Now you’re going to move these chairs into position and get ready to go on.” WHAT?! We’re 45 minutes ahead of schedule! I haven’t fully prepared yet, I’m still not quite sure what to do with my hands, and my hair looks awful! He can’t expect me go on like this. And yet, he does. And so on I go. 15 minutes later I have a new accent, a new attitude, and a newfound purpose-driven character. That right there? That was magic. I also get to go home early which is nice. I wonder how often that will happen...