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Gavin's Underground

SLAC: Circle Mirror Transformation

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-04-13 -

For an actor to play an actor rehearsing a play within a play... that particular part probably has to be one of the biggest self-examination pieces you can find. Its not really discussed within the acting community since everyone finds their own way to bring characters to life, and very few plays or musicals breech the subject to begin with, most of them with hilarity or improbable predicaments attached. See: Crazy For You or Pirated Penzance. But when it occurs you have to wonder, even if it is by script, if you're not seeing some of the truth slip through, or if when the actors leave the stage they're all filled with joy saying “we got them.” But that's a discussion for another day...
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Salt Lake Acting Company's production of
Circle Mirror Transformation takes a very different look into the lives of five actors involved with a summer community theatre production, watching the drama within unfold as they change personally throughout the course. I got a chance to chat with director Adrianne Moore as well as four of the actors involved about the production and their thoughts behind it.

Colleen Baum, Shelby Andersen, Andra Harbold, Michael Todd Behrens & Adrianne Moore
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http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org/

Gavin: Hey everyone. First off, tell us a bit about yourselves.

Adrianne: Well how much do you want to know? I'm from New Zealand originally and have worked as a director and vocal/dialect coach in New Zealand, Australia and New Zealand before coming to the States. Directing training - I have a diploma in Directing from the British Theatre Association and an MFA in directing from Florida State University. I'm on the faculty in the theatre department at Utah State University. I have directed for various theatres in Utah and I'm also a dialect coach.

Michael: I've been working for SLAC for years and have loved every minute of it. My day job is in the financial industry. I'm a graduate of the U, a husband to an amazing wife and father to two painfully adorable children. I can't stop acting, kind of like a bad habit. I need it... bad.

Andra: I'm Andra (Alexandra) Harbold. In February, I directed the World Premiere of Kathleen Cahill's The Persian Quarter with Nell Gwynn, Deena Marie Manzanares, Shane Mozaffari, and Josh Thoemke at Salt Lake Acting Company. To get to turn around and act in Circle Mirror Transformation has been another incredible gift.

Shelby: My name is Shelby Andersen, I am a junior at Weber State University studying musical theatre. I am from Salt Lake City and have been doing theatre since I was eight. I never know what to say in these questions because everything seems so boring. I am a cancer and a lover of music and theatre!

Colleen: I'm Colleen Baum and I'm... um... An actor? I like horseback riding, eating and... stuff. I like to sing in the shower and use up all the hot water. Hope that's not too much information.
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Gavin: Adrianne, how did you come across Circle Mirror Transformation?

Adrianne: Keven Myhre gave me a copy to read last year when they were selecting directors for their season. I then came in to talk to the Artistic Directors of SLAC (Cynthia and Keven) about the play - what my take on it was, what I loved about it and where I might take it were I to direct it.

Gavin: What made you decide to take on directing duties at SLAC?

Adrianne: I have actually directed for SLAC before. I did a short piece called Water Images that was part of a production called The Water Project and before that I directed a comedy called Hold Please. I have worked a lot as a dialect coach here too. I love working for SLAC - their commitment to the writer's work, the time to really investigate a play, the collaborative spirit of the place.
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Gavin: For the cast, what were your initial thoughts about the play when you heard about it?

Andra: I first heard about Circle Mirror Transformation last winter when my husband and I were planning a trip to New York to see our friend Lori Myers in David Cromer's production of Our Town. Lori is currently playing Theresa in the Chicago Victory Gardens' production of Circle Mirror Transformation. Playwright Keith Reddin and Director/Actor Meg Gibson were at SLAC for Too Much Memory and Charm, and I asked what else we should see while we were there. Keith's immediate recommendation: Circle Mirror Transformation.The night we saw Our Town, we had dinner with some of the cast, and they all urged us to see CMT, too, but the Playwright's Horizons production was sold out the entire time we were in the city.There was so much love and humor in the way everyone spoke about the play, it started feeling like a friend of a friend who, inevitably, I would eventually meet and love. And so it is.

Michael: The title made it sound like some magical, mystical, fantasy/sci-fi play, which totally turned me off. Then when I heard it was about theatre games in an acting class Iwas completely turned off. Butwhen I read itI realized I was very wrong. It's a warm, funny play about goofy people and their awkward journey through this class that may as well have been a yoga class or a pottery class or a creative writing class but it happened to be an acting classwhich proved to be a great vehiclefor seeingthem stumble through life.

Shelby: When I first got the e-mail about the audition I was excited because I saw there was a role I could potentially play! When I first read the script I loved it. In the first scene I laughed out loud, I thought it was hysterical and so relatable to my life!
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Gavin: What was it like for each of you auditioning and eventually getting the part?

Shelby: I had a blast. I felt really good about my initial audition and was excited to hear I got called back. When Kevin called me to offer me the role I practically yelled "Are you kidding?!" at him. I couldn't believe it, I was so thrilled.

Michael: Auditioning always sucks, always. It's nerve-wracking, degrading and uncomfortable. That being said, it wasn't bad, (except for the theatre games).And then, there is nothing like Keven calling me on the phone to offer me the roll in spite the fact that I was up against some really good actors. I always feel like Sally Field at the Oscars, "You like me, you really like me!"

Colleen: Auditions were great, a lot of people were called back, so it was nice to be able to read with so many new faces that I had never met before. The only actress I didn't get to read with was Shelby - I didn't know what she would be like and I have been delightfully surprised ever since!

Andra: In Circle Mirror Transformation, each of the characters give a monologue as one of the other members of the class - that's what we were asked to tackle for the initial audition. Monologues - particularly in an audition context - can be terrifying. My imaginary scene partners tend to change height, scurry into corners, stare blankly, etc. Monologues in auditions remind me how glorious it is to play with other actors. But Annie Baker's writing is remarkable. What looks so deceptively simple on the page asks so much of you as an actor and gives you so much to play with. I auditioned and hoped. In callbacks, Adrianne had us begin with group Viewpoint work, which I loved. Ridiculous, hilarious, and muscular. When I found out I'd been cast, I literally jumped up and down several times. Like a pogo stick. Ridiculous and muscular kinesthetic response. In front of people who were stationary and calm.
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Gavin: Considering the content is based in community theater, does this feel almost like a self-examination of acting, or more parody on the subject?

Adrianne: I definitely don't think it's a parody. Of course there is a lot that's bizarre about some of the exercises utilized in training actors in both professional and amateur settings. And the incorporation of these exercises in the play and how the actors respond to each other while doing these exercises definitely provides a lot of the humor in the play. However these same exercises are also a means of real discovery and of forging connections between various characters. The simple act of being present, of paying attention, really listening to others – these experiences have a very positive effect on the characters lives. Also it's not really community theatre in that most of the participants of the group don't see themselves as actors and they are not putting on a play. Really it's a group of people taking drama classes in community center. I don't think its particularly a play about the world of theatre. These theatre classes just provide the framework for an investigation of these individuals, their relationships, their aspirations, at this particular time of their lives.

Andra: The play has so much humor, but it doesn't feel like parody. It feels true.I keep thinking about clown work.Which perhaps sounds horrible if you haven't seen great clowns, but I've seen some extraordinary ones, so I mean this as the highest of praise.Think Tony Shaloub. The characters swim in their effort to communicate and connect. Pauses and silences feel like an obstacle course. It's physical. The play - and the experience of playing within it - is incredibly, often excruciatingly, human.

Michael: It's both. I feel a sort of catharsis in theway this play demonstrates sometimes how ridiculous some of these exercises are. But then, even though the people in the class don't intend to go on to beprofessional actorsthey benefitfromthe introspection that these exercises bring.

Colleen: Well it's a community Creative Drama Class for adults and so in some ways it is a parody of sorts, but mostly it's aboutsome veryunique people and how they deal with life and each other.At the same time they are doing some theatre exercises and games that force them to deal with someissues that they might not have otherwise dealt with.

Gavin: As actors, playing actors, what's your take on the group of characters you're portraying and how they evolve throughout the play?

Michael: I approach every roll the same, who is this guy and what does he want? The answers change from minute to minute but the questions are always the same. It doesn't matter if he's a teacher, a cop or acarpenter taking an acting class. This has been a particularly rewarding process because the play is so well written.

Shelby: I wouldn't define these people as actors, they are people throwing themselves into a new experience. My character, Lauren, wants to be an actress and takes the class to progress and learns a lot of things she never planned on getting from the class. It's interesting because in my case, you get to see Lauren ten years after the class and where life has taken her.
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Gavin: How has it been for each of you fitting into these roles and interacting with each other?

Andra: I have loved working with Adrianne, Colleen, Janice, Shelby, Michael and Morgan. We laugh a lot, appropriately and inappropriately. In our conversation with Trib's Ben Fulton, Morgan talked about finding lung space he never knew he had, he's been laughing so hard in rehearsals. Just an aside from rehearsal experience: if Colleen laughs, I'm lost. Or Shelby, or Michael, or Morgan... No corpsing on stage. But it all feels connected to how on target the play is. It makes you squirm and reel and free fall.

Shelby: It's been a great journey. I have had an absolute blast. I love my cast. They are hilarious and I laugh a lot at every rehearsal.

Michael: We all have our own personal strengths and weaknesses and so do all of our characters. Somehow we've managed to put together a decent show in spite of them all.

Gavin: Adrianne, what has it been like for you working with cast and crew to put this together and bring it to life?

Adrianne: Wonderful. The play is very dense and although I thought I understood it fairly well going into rehearsal there were certainly parts of the script that were a big surprise once actors got hold of it. This is always true to some extent but the story was certainly much more complex than it at first appeared. The actors knew in advance of course that we would be playing a lot of theatre games in preparation and so we did! So just about all the games and exercises you see on stage we played in rehearsal and a lot more besides. Apart from the secrets game. The character of Marty discovers the peril of this one and I decided she should be my guide here. Despite "I just want you to know that I hate theatre games" warnings from some of the actors, they all did throw themselves into it. And of course as well as making for a fun rehearsal period this has infinitely enriched the production itself.
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Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night?

Colleen: I just hope I remember the order of the scenes. Otherwise - can't wait!

Shelby: I can't wait! Bring it on! I hope the audience enjoys it as much as I do.

Adrianne: I guess just waiting to see what audiences take away from the experience. You get very close to a play when you work on it for a long time and I'll be intrigued to see what audiences make of characters, relationships, particular moments. It's not really a "will they like it" but more an interest to see if they make connections with their own lives.

Andra: I can't wait to experience this play with an audience.

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?

Shelby: Continuing my studies at Weber State University and hopefully doing some shows there!

Michael: Rest.

Adrianne: I've been doing some dialect coaching for a film and will direct a production of Proof for Utah State University this fall.

Andra: More!
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Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Shelby: Come see the show! That's not obvious, right?!

Michael: I'm starting an online toilet paper cozy business with a southwestern theme called "TP Tee-pees".

Colleen: Mike Behrens can help set you up with an IRA - he's got business cards too!


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