Milwaukee's women-founded, women-run theatre company ushers in its 2013-14 season with "The Belle of Amherst," "The Understudy," and the return of RTW favorite, "Skin Tight." TCD spoke with the ladies at the helm of the productions.
Renaissance Theaterworks opens its 2013-14 season with The Belle of Amherst, a one-woman play following the life of poet Emily Dickinson.
Nearly everyone knows the same “fact” about Dickinson: she spent a lot of time moping in her bedroom. The women involved in this production want you to know that’s just not the case; that Dickinson filled up her life with love and wonder.
“This is the journey of a woman who was passionate and had a huge heart,” said director Suzan Fete. “She believed in the good of mankind and also saw things clearly—she could find the exact image to get her point across. She’s a genius; it’s amazing. We really love her.”
Jenny Wanasek stars, charged with the task of navigating the complexities of Dickinson’s character.
“I really enjoy telling stories, and so in that regarding I’m very comfortable being alone on stage,” said Wanasek. “With a one-woman show, you can be working on it 24/7. There is so much material to go through—you can spend tons of time in your head working on the facets of your character.”
Playwright William Luce’s Dickinson was crafted not from supposition, but from Dickinson’s actual words, pulled from her poetry and letters.
It’s easy to forget that during her life, Dickinson wasn’t published. She made attempts, but was continually censored and received little respect for her style.
“I think that’s very valuable when seeing this play,” said Fete, “the thought that she could’ve been lost.”
Stage manager Brandy Kline explained that with this sort of play, more time can be spent on text analysis, and so they all feel particularly close to the story.
“Say you have five characters in a play—you have the same amount of time as with a one-woman production, but you’re spending a lot more of that time on blocking and staging,” said Kline. “Here, we’ve been allowed to form a deeper connection.”
Wanasek found that she was continuously challenged and enlightened through the rehearsal period.
“This play deals with large questions in a very human way,” said Wanasek. “and some aspects of this person really required me to expand and explore. Some things you come across in acting are very easy; you get the person instantly. Or, there are things you haven’t lived yourself, and have to find a way to connect to.”
“Everyone will experience any play in their own way,” added Kline. “But that’s particularly true here, because it’s just packed with life themes that everyone will relate to differently.”
“We tend to make up a lot of meaning from our present perspectives,” said Wanasek. “But there was so much going on with Emily. She loved life so much. She found so much joy in her world, loved very deeply, and had no small life at all.”
“I just find it utterly charming,” said Fete. “It’s funny and clever and a great way to spend your evening.”
The Belle of Amherst opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 at the Broadway Theatre Center and runs through Nov. 10. See the full schedule and purchase tickets online or call (414) 291-7800. Renaissance Theaterworks is excited to bring you the rest of their 2013-14 season, with a show that welcomes a directorial debut from one of their own and another that brings a directorial favorite back, 10 years later:
Date: January 17 through February 9, 2014
Premise: Mallory Metoxen, former intern/administrative assistant at Renaissance turned artistic associate, will make her professional directorial debut with Theresa Rebeck’s play, a heartfelt comedy about how far people are willing to go for their art.
Mallory’s Thoughts: “I’m so thrilled to be directing for Renaissance–they really practice what they preach. They want women in theater to progress; they’re awesome. This was really a long audition process–I didn’t realize how long it would take to find [the female lead]. She walks a very narrow line of crazy, and can easily come off as a caricature. But we found a great actress, and the two male leads in the show really work well with her. There’s just really great chemistry in this play.”
Date: April 4 through April 27, 2014
Premise: Director Laura Gordon directed one of her first show 10 years ago with an RTW production of Skin Tight, and will return to the story with that original cast. Gary Henderson’s Skin Tight is the story of a young married couple’s relationship (it’s as simple/complicated as that).
Laura’s Thoughts: “It’s hard to describe the show and not give it away. There’s a lot of interesting movement, great chemistry and communication. It’s magical. When we did it 10 years ago, it was this little play where everything came together in a magnificent collaboration. We were a little nervous to do it again–to ruin what we had the first time–but it’s a beautiful story worth telling again. I’m interested to see what 10 years of maturity and experience means. I just love the rehearsal process–getting in a room with smart, creative people and making discoveries.”