PREVIEW JANUARY 24, 2013
By Theresa Rebeck
A slick comedy where High Concept meets the down-and-dirty of the entertainment business when Jake, a grossly overpaid Action Movie star, decides to turn an undiscovered Franz Kafka play into Broadway hit. Things begin to implode when Harry, an embittered and idealistic understudy, arrives for rehearsal and discovers the stage manager is his ex-fiancée.
Directed by Kelly Kitchens , featuring Mike Dooly, Brenda Joyner and John Ulman.
“Waiting in the Wings.” On February 3rd, following Seattle Public Theater’s 2pm matinee performance of The Understudy please join our cast and crew along with very special guests SAG-AFTRA Co-President John Patrick Lowrie, Actors’ Equity Liaison Committee Chair Roger Curtis, Erin Bryn Fetridge owner of EBF Talent, and actor (and repeated understudy survivor) Alyssa Keene as they share their thoughts and insights on the inevitable collision of art and commerce and the Kafkaesque absurdities that frequently arise. Q&A moderated by Artistic Director Shana Bestock. A reception and Meet and Greet will follow.
An Interview with: Kelly Kitchens, Director of
By Cole Hornaday, SPT Communication and PR Manager
Q: On first blush The Understudy appears a comedy-satire about the collision between art and commerce, but there is much more to it than that. The play also deals with the notion of Kafkaesque forces beyond our control. That seems a pretty heavy notion for a comedy. Is this play a comedy?
KK: It is a comedy—and it’s a satire; but it is one of Rebeck’s most tenderhearted plays. I think she’s really generous and kind to each of these characters. I think the best comedies are stories that are told with a great deal of heart and honesty. At times absurd circumstances raise the stakes and help create some great comic moments. In the end, The Understudy has a lovely balance between satire, farce, and sentimental comedy.
Q: You have a really amazing cast of people: Brenda Joyner, Mike Dooly and John Ulman. What excites you about working with each of these artists?
KK: They’re all truly talented and truly fantastic at what they do. I think actors are built with a whole universe inside them. I believe that about these three people. I also respect that they are capable of both the deep notes that need to be struck in this piece as well as being brilliant comedians. I can’t wait to get in the rehearsal hall—its going to be an exciting, moving, fun ride.
Q: Do you think there is indeed a malevolent and Kafkaesque force at play in the world that is in conflict with the dreams of the artist?
KK: I believe Rebeck thinks that there’s definitely an ailment. She clearly has something to say about the state of Hollywood and its impact on theater and the difference between show business and a life in the theater. The question she wants to raise in this play is, “Can art survive culture?” By culture I think she means popular culture and those big star vehicles. I think Rebeck really believes in theater; I think she’s fighting for its survival.
Q: Rebeck’s script calls for some dynamic stage design. This creates some unique challenges for a space as intimate as SPT. What design alternatives have you and scenic designer Richard Schaefer considered?
KK: Rebeck is going for a particular level of theatricality; as long as you address the character of that theatricality, I think you can do that regardless of your budget and your space concerns. Granted, it would be much different if we were producing this play in a larger house with a different configuration. Doing this show on Broadway or in a theater like the 5th Avenue—a space, say, with hydraulics and wing space and fly space—you could certainly heighten that theatricality. But when you consider Rebeck is investigating the nature of theater and art and how different it is from the movies, it’s interesting to be working a space that doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles; we can challenge ourselves in how we creatively adapt that theatricality. I’ve got a great design team with Richard Schaefer (lights and set) and Dustin Morache (sound) and know they are going to have fun with those creative challenges.
Q: With all of the rich symbolism in this play, do you consider the set a character in this story?
KK: Its more so the unseen forces at play in these characters lives—of which the set is one; along with unseen characters of Laura (the board operator), Bruce (the absent second star of the show), agents, directors, and so forth—that is driving the destiny of not only this put-in rehearsal but their lives.
Q: The Understudy also brings up questions about theater’s place in our culture. Clearly people like you and I see a great, universal value in theater, but we have all, since the day we started doing it as young people, heard time and again that theater is dead or that it’s dying—and yet it persists. Do you think theater is dying?
KK: Here in our community I see it thriving. Which is not to say it isn’t a struggle at times—and the untold work and sacrifice it takes from countless administrators and donors and many others to keep it thriving can’t be measured—but I believe we live in a community that is not only committed to the necessity and making of theater but also a community who genuinely supports the arts.
Q: I concur. When it all comes down to it, there are far fewer creative constraints here giving us a great deal more freedom than you would find in so many other communities.
KK: Doing a play like The Understudy in Seattle is going to be a unique experience. We have such a savvy theater community both as artists and audience--one that will probably know more of what rehearsals entail than perhaps the average big Broadway house audience. It’s also going to be interesting to see how a script that satirizes the intersection of art and commerce plays to a Seattle audience, especially in a community like Seattle Public Theater’s. And though many audiences love a glimpse back stage and that may be the draw, there are big questions raised in this script, it’s not just a romp; yes, Rebeck puts her characters in some truly comic circumstances but she also gives them sparkling dialogue and shifting opinions that are cutting and loaded.
Q: On some levels, the humor found in The Understudy appears geared toward a more theater-savvy audience. Does the story hold something more universal for SPT audiences?
KK: Yes. I like the questions that Rebeck asks and I hope that our audience asks themselves those same questions. The Understudy is much more than just a backstage farce. I think it’s fun and it’s definitely a comedy but I hope our audiences ask themselves questions about where art and commerce collide and how that affects the health of the theater, the community, and ultimately of the individual. And hopefully the play will give them a little window of empathy for what artists have—gladly, lovingly—taken on and what they have to navigate in their lives to make it work. I think theater is vital to our culture—it brings us together as a community, asks some tough questions, gives a place to laugh at ourselves, and helps us find empathy. Like Rebeck, I am a passionate supporter of this incredible art form—and want to thank all those who are as well.Kelly Kitchens is an Artistic Associate of Seattle Public Theater as well as a professional actor, director, and teaching artist who has been living and working in Seattle since 1997. She has worked with Book-It Repertory Theater, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Opera, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Endangered Species Project, Theater Schmeater, Taproot Theatre, Annex Theatre, Wooden O Theatre, and W.E.T./Washington Ensemble Theatre. Recent SPT directing credits include The Cryptogram, Back Back Back, and The Santaland Diaries as well as 2012’s Youth Ensemble production of Sweeney Todd produced in conjunction with Seattle Opera. Kelly is a proud member of the Sandbox Artists Collective and of Actor's Equity Association. She holds her B.A. in Theatre and English from Vanderbilt University and her M.F.A. in Acting from the University of Texas.