Lake Acting Company has already had an incredible season so far, bringing in an array of talent both on and off the stage and producing both dramatic and comedic plays, plus a children's musical on the side. And they still got two plays left to go.
The next production to hit the stage is Charm. Opening up this Friday the play takes a look at the life of scarcely-known writer and women's rights activist Margaret Fuller. Exploring her life and influence while also analyzing 19th Century culture in America, with a bit of humor attached to it all. And if making its world premiere here in SLC wasn't enough, the play is soon to make its way across the nation for further productions. For this interview we get to chat with the entire cast, as well as playwright Kathleen Cahill and director Meg Gibson about the play and bringing it to life.
Brik Berkes, Cheryl Gaysunas, Jayne Luke, Jay Perry, Robert Scott Smith, Nicholas Wuehrmann, Carianne H. Jones, Max Robinson, Kathleen Cahill and Meg Gibson
Gavin: Hey everyone, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Cheryl: I had been a professional actor in NYC for (mumbled large number) years, but since moving to SLC in 2006 I have only done shows that didn't require too much time away from my daughter. She is now five and even though she claims she is suffering from separation anxiety, I think everyone was really ready for me to get out of the house.
Jay: I'm a Leo, I enjoy afternoon perambulations in the woods, tinkering with old cars and sitting down for a skosh of tea and a pleasant book after a long day of perilous jungle tiger stalking.
Robert: I'm a grateful actor, who happens to love working at SLAC. Unfortunately, the commute is a killer from NYC so I only get an opportunity to come here once every one or two years. I'll keep coming as long as they'll have me.
Nicholas: I grew up in New Jersey and lived in NYC for sixteen years, currently residing in Orlando. I perform in drama, comedy, Shakespeare, operetta, musical theater, cabarets...
Carianne: I am Carianne H. Jones, I am playing Anna Barker and Sparkler in Charm. I grew up in Utah. I have my BA in Musical Theatre from Weber State University. Like almost all Utah actors I work during the day and then go to rehearsals at night. It is a busy schedule but worth it. I have aspirations of moving to New York to pursue acting in the near future.
Max: I'm a working actor. That's all I've done for over 35 years. I've done nothing else. And it's what I wanted to do! I have three older brothers; our father was a doctor. One day he sat us down and said, "if one of you wants to become a doctor, I will pay for college, I will pay for med school, I will pay to help you set up a practice, but it has to be in your heart. I only want you to become a doctor if it's truly in your heart and in your bones." None of us became a doctor. My father never pressured us.
Gavin: What inspired all you to take an interest in theater?
Robert: I co-hosted my junior-high talent show with a friend of mine, where we had to do caricatures of teachers and some of the "popular kids". Afterwards several people suggested I consider taking theatre classes in high school. Let's just say that I did and here I am. That friend of mine, whom I haven't seen in at least fifteen years, is coming to see the show.
Max: I was a terribly shy, withdrawn kid, and I was on my way - purposely - to the back of the class so I wouldn't be noticed. Then part of you craves, you know, "I want somebody to listen to me." In high school I tried out for the school play, Sabrina Fair, and I got in. I went onstage, and for the first time in my life, people were listening to me. Well, they had to. I could effect them. I came to the punchline of a joke, and they laughed. And the playwright did it for me! All I had to do was say it loud enough. My first theatrical experience - I think it was fifth grade - we did The Pied Piper Of Hamelin Town, so everyone was involved, and I got a great role. The kind of roles I usually play. The evil mayor of Hamelin Town. "The Pied Piper, we're going to cheat him out of his money. Heh, heh, heh..." So, about a week before we go on - again, a kid, ten years old in the 1950s - we found out we're doing it in period, and we were going to have to do it in tights. I didn't want to do it, but we all had to be in the show, so I was demoted to one of the town's people. My job was to pull some of the papier mache rats across the stage with fishing line. Of course now I would have said, yeah, give me that great role!
Cheryl: I became interested in the theatre because I am a middle child and clearly didn't get enough attention.
Carianne: I can't say what actually inspired me to take an interest in theatre. For as long as I can remember it has been the only thing that seemed worth doing. My parents, especially my Mom, started taking me to theatre at a young age. I specifically remember City Rep Children's Theatre, we had season tickets for years. That was probably the catalyst.
Nicholas: My parents were always very encouraging, and my fourth grade teacher produced a production of Macbeth for our class in which I played Macduff and the Doctor, and the scream of Banquo. My friend who played Banquo couldn't scream, so I stood in the hallway screaming for him as he got stabbed.
Jayne: I saw Rita Moreno in the film of West Side Story when I was ten years old and decided "I want to be like that!"
Gavin: Katherine, where did you come up with the idea for Charm?
Kathleen: I've loved the writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson since I was in college. I was looking for inspiration and they inspired me. I never tire of them, even all these years later. I keep reading them and in the course of doing so, I came across something called "the Margaret Fuller Problem." I may have been able to ignore this phrase the first time I saw it in print, but after I saw it ten or more times, I needed to know what the problem was. So I found out about Margaret Fuller -- and why, exactly, she was a "problem." It turns out the problem wasn't so much with Margaret as the people she associated with in her time -- the 1840's. She didn't fit the feminine standards of her era... mainly because she was too smart, too well educated, had too much desire and ambition. Although I have it about a million times easier than Margaret, I have, in the course of my life, often been made to feel that I was too smart for my own good, had the wrong kind of ambition, and wanted too much from others. I identified.
Gavin: How did you decide upon the characters you chose, and how was it for you developing them throughout the play?
Kathleen: I started thinking about a play on the subject of Margaret about five years ago. I started writing it in 2008. It opens on Friday at SLAC. She had a tragic ending to her life -- the fates were not kind to her. So I hope she's looking down from her astral perch and getting a good laugh at Charm.
Gavin: Meg, what made you jump on board so quickly to direct this one?
Meg: I was lucky enough to be on a list of possible directors when SLAC committed to producing the world premiere of Kathleen's play. I read the play and said to my deeply astute playwright husband, Keith Reddin," Would you read this? I think it's really amazing." He did. I remember him standing in the kitchen as he said, "Grab this. It is great." So, I read it and read it and pitched my ideas for production to the artistic staff and Kathleen. I would say this out there stuff and there would be silence on the other end of the phone. I thought "well, maybe they're just being polite. But, maybe not." I got the gig.
Gavin: What has it been like for you taking the source material and fully putting everything into production?
Meg: I will never be as well read as Kathleen is with these literary giants. I knew Thoreau, I knew Hawthorne, I knew some Emerson. Did not know Margaret Fuller at all. What a pleasure it has been to dig into their lives, their writing, their letters. I realized their notions of Transcendence were the root ideology of all I believed in. They were the beginning of an essentially American experience, deeply influenced by the physical expanse and beauty of the American landscape of the early 19C. I think it is this experience of primordial landscape that lead them to free themselves from the bounds of conventional Christianity. For us, all of this radical rethinking culminated in the cultural revolution of the 1960's. But, the restraints of intimacy remained bred into these men. Margaret wanted connection, true intimacy, and her desire for it changed these men forever. Their writing reflects her influence. And Margaret didn't stop until she found what she wanted. It was a long journey. The question is how far have we come? The Transcendentalists wanted to be like us. They began this journey to freedom. We now have some pretty sweet freedom and can do anything we want with whoever we want. And that is a mighty achievement. But how much of that choice really brings a true intimacy? And, frankly, I'm envious of them now. I'm in awe of the size of their minds, of their thinking. They were gorgeous. Maybe, that's our evolution- to continually ask that question, experiencing the primordial splendor of each other's being if we are lucky enough. To go beyond, gender, race- and to master the discipline of learning, so that our minds are these splendid vessels of knowledge and impassioned reason. What bliss! This undeniable right of being human, this pursuit of happiness. This evolution is what Margaret Fuller consciously put in motion. She was a master of wit, laughter, love. Charm offers a magical, comic way of addressing this evolution. Kathleen is way funny and smart, the challenge of bringing her intention to life is a juicy one. This company of artists has served that intention. We've had a blast. I've never laughed so much in any rehearsal, ever. I think the Salt Lake audiences will too.
Gavin: For the actors, what was it about this play that caught your eye to audition for it?
Brik: I was involved in the reading of Charm for the National New Play Network in Atlanta, and was immediately drawn to the way Kathleen told the story.
Robert: Actually, Meg suggested to me that I look at Thoreau. Her suggestion worked. This play is so up my quirky alley, I was instantly attracted to the heart of the play. It's a beautiful play about human relationships. It's all inclusive.
Cheryl: I haven't stopped thinking about the script since the first time I read it. I have been obsessed with a role before, but this one feels like a great gift I have been given.
Nicholas: I saw a reading of it in Orlando and was intrigued, and auditioned there for a workshop production of it with Orlando Shakespeare Theatre. I was cast as Emerson and had the great opportunity of working with Meg and Kathleen there, and with Patrick Flick who cast me in the role and oversees all new play development at OST.
Max: To be truthful, a job. That's what initially caught my eye, and then the more we found out about it - it's a new play, that's exciting. And the nature of the play. I didn't know Meg Gibson's working process. From opening day, her opening speech, I thought, this is going to be so refreshing - this whole process. In a way, it was perfect for the nature of the play and the material. It's an exploratory thing, and it's just been great.
Carianne: Honestly, I initially auditioned because I knew there was a part I could play. Then after reading it I thought I really, really, really, really want to be in this production. I liked the source material. And I could tell from just the initial reading that this was unique, that there was going to be a style in this unlike anything I had worked on before. I also wanted the opportunity to work with Meg.
Jayne: I participated in the reading at SLAC in the Spring of 2008. I thought...this is a GREAT play! I really wanted to be a part of it. I hadn't been in a show at SLAC since 2006 so I was really happy when I was cast and I got to "Come home to SLAC."
Gavin: What was the audition process like for you and what was it like getting the part?
Nicholas: It was a thrill getting the role in Orlando and even more exciting to be asked to come to SLAC to do the same role.
Cheryl: I auditioned for Kathleen and they taped my audition for Meg to see. I think Keven called me the next day with the role, and I spent the better part of an hour alternating between jumping for joy and thinking, "what have I gotten myself into?"
Max: It was videotaped and sent back to Meg in New York. I realized the nature of this part is that Brownson's there for one purpose, so I just went full out. I figured Meg Gibson, the director, could pull me back or push me forward. I'm pretty adaptable as an actor, and I think directors like that.
Carianne: The audition process is always a little nerve racking for me. I had to come in prepared with an Aria. I sang Ache Ich Ful from Mozart's "The Magic Flute". From out side the audition room I could hear the competition... and it was steep. I found out shortly after that I had been called back and Saturday would be the second audition. All those called back were there and I remember watching while many of my peers did their scenes. Being in a call back watching people is both inspiring and upsetting. I went in with choices and I watched other people make different choices sometimes better sometimes not. I also know some people take other people's ideas. It is hard to watch and I know I was casting the whole show in my head like crazy. I stuck to my ideas about the character and didn't waiver, which turned out to be a good thing. When I was called and offered the role I couldn't believe it. I accepted the role immediately and proceeded to tell everyone I knew about being cast. It wasn't until the first week of rehearsal was over that I thought, "Okay, I'm in. I'm not going to break my leg or get replaced for some reason... I am really in."
Jayne: SLAC auditions are like no others in town. The final audition lasts about four hours and is almost like a workshop for the play. You certainly feel like you get a chance to show what you can do... unlike some other auditions where you are in and out in three minutes. I remember Meg Gibson ask me to read one of the scenes as if I was a wild New England turkey. That must be why I got the part.
Brik: I would say getting the part of Nathaniel/Count O was unlike any I've ever experienced because it was based on my reading in Atlanta, and at the time I had never dreamed I would be getting on a plane and flying to Salt Lake City to be a part of the premiere. So there was no pressure. I doubt the same would be said if I had gone through an ordinary audition process.
Jay: The callbacks were intensive and gave me a good taste of what was to come in terms of period and general style. I remember everyone proudly rooster-strutting around the room all buttoned up and contained, nodding politely and so on. I was really drawn to the parts of George and Sam and was very happy to be cast in those roles.
Robert: I happened to be in SLC the same time as Meg and I read for her then, then a few months later I met with Meg again in NYC and taped an audition for Kathleen. I had the privilege of having Keith Reddin read for Margaret. I was quite happy that it worked out and I was able to join the cast.
Gavin: Considering the work, how has it been for all of you fitting into these roles?
Carianne: Fitting into the role has been fun. Trying to do it in a corset has been a challenge. I like my character, through her I get to challenge my own view of women and what their roles were in the ninteenth century and what the status quo of today is. That is one of the great strengths of Kathleen's play, it challenges you to think about then and now. It is written predominantly about the past but it is relevant for today's audiences.
Jayne: I love my part because I get to play three very different women. At first, Meg just let's you play and take lots of chances. After a while she becomes very definite about what she wants. She is truly a craftswoman of theatre.
Jay: We were assigned book reports detailing the lifestyles and influences of the time which gave us all a common language that informed all kinds of choices. It's been a great challenge and a lot of fun to explore characters in this period and style.
Robert: I feel that I've given life to Kathleen's Thoreau and the fact that she hasn't cut the part says something. Doesn't it? Seriously, it's work. It's always work, but this is why I do this, it's the rehearsal, the figuring out, the confusion of it all. Every role has its challenges, but this one has been the one I find closest to me. Which can make it even more difficult to do.
Nicholas: I've loved getting to know Ralph Waldo Emerson from various sources; reading about him, researching his life, the period in which he lived, finding amazing quotes of his which I regularly post on Facebook, and learning to embody him as seen by Kathleen in her fantastical play, and expertly guided by Meg's creative vision.
Brik: I have had a wonderful time exploring the period and style of this piece during the rehearsal process. It's comforting to be in an environment where you can make bold choices and fail, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again as the saying goes.
Cheryl: My brain doesn't work anything like Margaret's, but her longing makes total sense to me.
Max: Every show delineates itself in what you have to do to prepare for it. The nature of the show, the nature of the role - it takes on aspects of you, and you take on aspects of the character. Brownson, the way he's portrayed in this, is not a character of great depth. He's there for mainly one purpose, to play a nemesis against Margaret Fuller. He represents all the vitriolic reaction to her. The other characters gravitate towards her more - ambivalent and wary of her, but still with a great fondness for her. I started reading some stuff about Brownson, and it's confusing. He changed his mind all of the time; he was a Universal minister, then a Unitarian, and a Transcendentalist, then he was anti-Transcendentalism, and he was against Roman-Catholicism, then he became a Roman Catholic and attacked Transcendentalism as some airy-fairy, nebulous, vague concept that nobody could pin down. What was interesting for me was to investigate the period. The nature of this thing we call Transcendentalism. I had fun just learning about this whole period.
Gavin: What's the interaction been like for all of you, both as actors and as the characters?
Robert: Ask Jayne Luke about Koosh! For me I just sit and watch Jayne Luke and Max Robinson work and that is a theatre smorgasbord. Brilliant.
Jay: It's a wonderfully talented cast with amazing depth and humor both onstage and off. It's a joy to be a part of.
Nicholas: It's a great cast; everyone gets along and we have a wonderful time together. Creating the characters and relationships has been part of the ongoing growth in our relationships as actors.
Max: The Edgerton grant gave us that lead time to explore in a relaxed way. We have had a great luxury with the grant money to have that extended rehearsal period, that luxury of time, an easiness - to explore in a relaxed way. I can't speak for the other actors in the show, but many times playing the beanbag or koosh - particularly the beanbag - yeah it's fun, but it's also an exercise in awareness. What is nature of awareness? Sometimes it is letting go of trying to win something instead of simply observing. Why wasn't I aware that that beanbag was coming to my left? Because I was so intent on what was happening over here. Then you apply that to art. You can be locked into one preconceived idea. That's what's so great about Meg. There's a fluidity - this free flow of ideas - 90% of them you're not going to use, but 10% of them... There's something there that can be expanded. I think all the other people in the company were on board with the tone that Meg set from the beginning, and it's so important. A director doesn't realize that they set a tone from day one. Everyone's afraid from day one: am I going to make a fool of myself? Am I as good as so and so? To set a tone of nobody say you're sorry, don't apologize for trying something. Nobody's going to put you down. What?! When directors say, "What? Where did you come up with that?" Little putdowns, which then as artist, you become very careful. "What does he want me to say?", instead of, "I was hired to come up with ideas". 90% you're not going to use, but don't demean them - because then you're going to get a lockstep performance that's very credible, but nothing that it out of the ordinary in a magical way... like a donkey braying on all fours.
Cheryl: Everyone had been lovely.
Carianne: The interaction between us as actors has been really good. I don't mean to be looking at this through rose colored glasses but Meg and Kathleen did such a great job with the casting, immediately I could see why people were cast. Everyone has come to this rehearsal process with such preparation, I felt the complexity of the characters from the first reading. And we all came in with such furvor for the material that the rehearsal room always felt like it was filled with rich, creativity. On stage Meg has given us a great opportunity to try a variety of choices. Although some of them have not made it to the final product having had the chance to try those ideas will make the performances richer as a whole. As people I have had a good time getting to know everyone. I was familiar with most of the folks in the cast but didn't really know anyone. Since then I think of many of these people as dear friends. Several spent Easter with me and my family.
Brik: I have the luxury of going from one extreme to another because of Nathaniel and Count O, in my scenes with Margaret (Cheryl). In the beginning, I have all the anxiety of repression and self doubt as Nathaniel comes to grips with his feelings for Margaret, but then there is the blissful release of passion and love that I get to experience as Count O. So I guess you could say I get to have my cake and eat it too!
Jayne: For me, the best thing about being in theatre is that you get to meet and work with such interesting people. The people who have been cast in Charm are REALLY INTERESTING PEOPLE. ..and they are very, very good at what they do. Then you combine that with these interesting characters out of American history. They literally defined early American literature and they all knew each other. I have loved researching their lives. And I love the way Kathleen has humanized them in her script.
Gavin: Going into opening night, what are your overall thoughts on the production?
Jayne: I believe this is going to be an extraordinary production...I have worked in theatre for over forty years and I don't often say that. I love almost all my opportunities to work, but sometimes one comes along that is extraordinary. Meg is an amazing director... Kathleen has written a play that will have a long life in American theatre... the cast is wonderful... and the designers, Keven Myrhe, Brenda Van der Weil, Jim Craig and Cynthia Reese have created a beautiful world of transcendental fantasy. The play will be stunning to watch.
Robert: My thought is to simply tell the story and get out of the way.
Jay: I just can't wait to share it with an audience.
Max: I think it's gorgeous. And interesting. Meaty and perplexing... which makes it intriguing. There are so many shows with a nice tidy beginning, middle and end, you know? And the timeline follows this, and it's very predictable. Instead of - a beach ball. Where did that come from? Why is there a beach ball on stage? Instead of letting go and letting images come in and not trying to make judgments so quickly. It's like when I saw Cirque du Soleil's Mystere down in Las Vegas. It's so magical, such pure theatre. There are images that are created onstage - at the end, a giant snail comes on. What?! For one, it is beautiful - and because it's so out of context, it's magical. You suspend - not just disbelief - you suspend judgment of meaning, that it has to mean something. You experience this kind of magical, odd experience and that kid-like quality of seeing - like a kid for the first time seeing a snail - a real snail. What the hell is that? It's going up the side of a wall! How does it do that? It's shiny and... Not having to attach meaning, but there's a definite feeling of wonderment. It brings attention to things. Meg's process lends itself to this intuitive sense. It works for Charm.
Nicholas: If the audience response is anything like it was in Orlando for the workshop production, SLAC's audience is in for a wonderful and rare treat.
Brik: I hope the audience gets as swept up in the story as I did at the reading back in December.
Carianne: Overall thoughts going into opening night- I am excited for audiences to see it. I hope audiences get it. The technical elements in this show really add to the performances. We do not have the traditional four walls, this is not realistic at all. We have a convention here that has helped enhance a style. Scenes take place in a surreal way, sometimes they overlap and sometimes there is more than one scene happening at once. It is very much like a dream. I think it has been put together in such a way that audiences will understand, that is my hope. I also hope people love it as much as I do. I know I am not the only person involved in this production who feels that this is their baby in some ways.
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?
Nicholas: Two weeks after we close I'll be on my way to Ohio for the summer to perform with the Ohio Light Opera in five shows. My main roles there this summer are Herbie in Gypsy, Don Medigua in Sousa's El Capitan and Count Boni in Kalman's The Gypsy Princess.
Cheryl: Hopefully more work.
Carianne: For the rest of the year I am waiting to hear about other theatre's seasons and I will throw myself out there again like everyone else. Fingers Crossed.
Max: A week after Charm finishes, I go down to Cedar City. It's the first time I've been down there. I'm doing the new musical of Great Expectations and then a couple of little parts in The Merchant Of Venice, and then I'm understudying the Porter in Macbeth. So it's great. I love the desert down there.
Jayne: PLEASE, GOD, LET ME GET ANOTHER JOB.
Robert: Great deeds are possible!!
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Max: Yes, Cedar City Shakes this summer!
Nicholas: Just the obvious.
Cheryl: Under the name C.G Williams, I have illustrated a children's book called Everett The Incredibly Helpful Helper, published by Abbeville Kids. Be the first person on your block to buy a copy! I will meet you for coffee and sign it!