Orphans – A Passion for Process, Part II

32626984_598218887241620_1841686774003269632_okThis is the second half of my interview and rehearsal observation with the creative team of Orphans. We recommend reading up on Part 1 before diving into Part 2!

Étude #3
For the third scene study, Pavel and Meyers prepare to improvise all of the dialogue, putting the whole scene into their own words, while continuing to focus on active movement.

Pavel, “This is the hardest part.”

Cotter Smith, “This is the hardest part, because once we start speaking as actors, we stop moving. Which is why Stanislavski insisted on the continuation of movement, because we’re actors, we think language will do it.”

The scene is rehearsed with improvised dialogue. It is slightly more tentative, and the energy is slightly lowered, as the actors try to pair their own words with action. The concentration is intense, and the observer notices moments found in the earlier exercises beginning to be integrated into the more realistic version of the scene.

The actors are so young, so committed to this rehearsal process and this show, one has to wonder about the show’s appeal to them. After all, they are producing the show on their own, without the umbrella of an established theater company or financial institution. It’s a lot to take on for a 35 year old play.

It turns out, this is all Max Pavel’s inspiration, and he has been spearheading the effort to produce the play for well over a year.

Pavel explains, “It sort of fell in my hands about a year ago. It’s just one of those plays….it just hits you hard. It just leaches onto you, and it just really effected me in a way that I couldn’t shake off….I connected to it personally. It’s about family and I was living alone at the time, far away from family, and I was yearning to do some theater. I was really missing these two guys…”

Pavel, Meyers, and Bolden

Pavel, Meyers, and Bolden

With that, Pavel points towards fellow cast members Ken Bolden and Dylan Marquis Meyers. Bolden taught acting to Pavel and Meyers at the University of Pittsburgh. After the two graduated in 2014, they went their separate ways,  moving to different cities in California and Bolden remained a fixture in the Pittsburgh theater community.

Having been introduced to Orphans at an audition in California, when Pavel returned to Pittsburgh he had the idea to produce the play, and he called Bolden and Meyers. “I thought the relationships in the play resonated with our own relationships in certain ways…there were aspects of brotherly love, tough love, and a mentor/father figure that resonated…”

Pavel notes with some amazement that he started off with “the idea for maybe just a single weekend performance, but it has since snowballed into something much bigger.”

As defacto producer for the show, Pavel created an Indiegogo campaign (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/orphans–28#/) to fund the production. To date, the campaign has raised $7,250 through mostly small donations. Fundraising ended officially on May 24th, but donations will happily be accepted after the campaign ends.

Director Ingrid

Director Ingrid Sonnichsen

A special Equity Members Project Code agreement allows AEA members, Ken Bolden and Ingrid Sonnichsen, to participate in a project. There are rules in place to protect the actors, as well as a limit on audience size and budget allowed for the show. This type of special contract allows AEA members to pursue independent projects about which they are passionate that otherwise would go unproduced.

Sonnichsen hopes “this (project) will help whet people’s appetites” for more Project Code productions, since “there are a lot of wonderful actors here in town who have projects they’d love to do. And it would just enrich the theater scene.”

Max points out it is particularly challenging to both produce and act in the production. “It puts a much heavier load on everybody’s plate.” But, as stage manager Sophia Marshall explains, “Everybody who is here, actually wants to be here, which makes it so much easier.”

Étude #4
Finally, the actors end the session by rehearsing the scene with the text as written in the script. They take a beat, a breath, and then EXPLODE into the scene. Somehow, they’ve integrated all of the exercises into this dynamic moment. They never stop moving. Their emotions are labile. Their interactions are unpredictable, even after having experienced the same scene 4 times in a row. It’s truly fascinating and leaves one anxious to see the full results of the entire performed play.

When the scene ends, everyone exhales a collective breath and the energy is dispelled for the moment. The guests at the rehearsal are escorted through the rubble that currently takes up a large portion of the space at Aftershock Theater, where the show is being rehearsed and performed. It’s completely apropo for the vibe of the show, and the artistic team is excited to be performing in this in-progress space in Lawrenceville, and are eager to share the history of the venue with all comers.

Aftershock in transition

Aftershock in transition

Aftershock Theatre started its life as the Slovenian Auditorium. It was purchased by CMU arts management grad Andrew Minton, who serves as executive director for Aftershock, and who is currently raising funds and renovating the space to serve as a “relevant, accessible, and affordable [theater space for] the growing population of Millennials and GenXers” in Pittsburgh. Information about Aftershock’s mission, history, and projects can be found on their website.

Orphans has been planned not as an isolated evening of theater, but, in the spirit of Aftershock’s vision, as an “event” that will start with guest bands playing in a space across the hall from the performance area and then end with the audience experiencing the production of Orphans, which utilizes the space itself, it’s open staircases, exposed walls, windows to the outside, HVAC system, all of it, as the stage.

It really is the perfect setting for this gritty, visceral, physical play, another example of the love and attention the artistic team have put into every aspect of creating the show. Orphans is clearly a labor of love.

The show runs from May 31 – June 23, 2018, Thursdays-Sundays. There will be one industry-night performance on Monday, June 11th. Performances take place at the Aftershock Theatre, located at 115 57th Street in Lawrenceville. Tickets can be purchased here.

If you are interested in studying Active Analysis with Cotter Smith, you can contact him at smithink@aol.com.

Photos courtesy of the Orphans team.

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