When Livia Hart becomes famous overnight for painting a giant sex scene on a building that houses an abortion clinic, her agent has a brilliant plan to capitalize on the sudden fame. She urges Livia to sign dozens of other paintings—which happen to have been painted by Ruley Jones, another starving artist and Livia’s lover. Can they pull off the scheme without artistic integrity (make that jealousy) causing damage to themselves and the paintings? This serious comedy examines the relationship of artist to art, and of artist to other artists.>
Not the Artist is Kurt Mc Ginnis Brown’s first production at Broom Street Theater. Kate Boomsma, Manny Jones, Adam Williams, Joe Lutz and Don Dexter make up the talented ensemble that bring this serious comedy to life.
Not the Artist opens February 15th and runs until March 9th. Performances every Thursday Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $11 payable at the door. Reservations can be left on our voice mail at (608) 244-8338.
About The Cast
Kurt McGinnis Brown
Kurt McGinnis Brown’s plays have been performed across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. His award-winning fiction has appeared in several national journals and e-zines. As the former communications director for a center researching land and poverty issues in the developing world, Kurt has worked in Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Peru, and Russia. http://kurtmcginnisbrown.com/
Heather, as the director, tell us how you prepare before rehearsals begin.
Directing starts with the text. You have to understand it before you can envision the world you place your actors in. For Not the Artist I had the benefit of seeing the script early on and absolutely loving the dynamic the characters have with each other. Also, I recently was in New York and soaked up the atmosphere of the art scene, which is the milieu of our play.
What is the most challenging aspect of directing?
Creating a psychologically safe space where actors are free to realize their best work. Each actor has his or her own preferred ratio of structured guidance vs. free expression. The director must figure out what each performer needs in that regard while also challenging them so that they see progress at every rehearsal. You want to inspire the actors to reach a step beyond what they thought they could accomplish.
This play is a comedy but with serious themes about the value of art. What was the most difficult aspect to realize on stage?
The easy way to stage this show would have been to play the characters as broad archetypes. The challenge was making these points of view human and likeable while staying true to their conflicting opinions. The script makes this task easier; the words are wonderful and lay the structure for these flawed but honest people to express the multiple truths about the value of art.
Please tell us about the ensemble and what it’s like working with them.
This script depends on the relationships among the main characters, so it made casting very important. We were excited to get such talented actors to tell this story. Kate Boomsma is one of the most intuitive and natural actors I have had the pleasure of working with. She gives Livia a vulnerability that is irresistible. Manny Jones is a bold and intelligent force on stage. She has amazing discipline and her choices are clean and elegant. Her portrayal of the financially minded, yet free spirited Smooch energizes every scene she is in. Adam Williams is one of the hardest working actors I’ve ever worked with and is a sensitive and inventive performer. He has a knack for comedy and brings a fresh take to the perfectionist/purist Ruley Jones. Joe Lutz and his sonorous voice and large stage presence make him a perfect fit for the role of Ron Hurley. Don Dexter is the consummate professional. He’s also funny and charismatic on stage and brings those qualities to the role of Cop.
BIO: Not the Artist marks Heather’s 11th season with Broom Street Theater. Heather has been proud to appear in many productions at Broom Street and around Madison. She most recently appeared in Brian Wild’s Tales for Another Millennium. Heather has written and directed Oh God There’s Baptists at the Door, Shiny Things and A Woman on Paper. Heather holds a BA
Adam, you play Ruley Jones. You mentioned that you are very different from Ruley, but that you know people like him. Tell us what makes someone like Ruley.
Single-minded obsession, high intelligence, and a large blind spot for his own emotional life and the emotional needs of people close to him.
Describe the challenges in playing a character so different from yourself.
When I first read the script I thought it would be a stretch for me to take on this role. Previous roles I’ve had were more single-note characters, almost stereotypical. On a practical level, I’m not a painter and so learning to live like a painter on stage was the first challenge. Plus I’m much more emotional than Ruley. He lives in his head more than his heart, and therefore his dialogue can be complex to grasp. There is always a logic in what he says, but it takes a lot of practice to find where he’s coming from when he speaks.
You and Heather, the director, worked hard on bringing the character to life. What did you learn about Ruley and yourself in that process?
This is the hardest role I’ve ever played. Heather is an amazing director and she constantly surprised me with how well she knows the different characters in the play and what motivates them. Ruley is a very nuanced character. In rehearsals I found that I have to use more than simply the dialogue to convey his character to the audience. There is one scene in particular where I’m in the middle of the stage throughout but with very little dialogue, while the characters Livia and Smooch dominate the dialogue. In fact, in the scene I’m often merely talking to myself. That’s one of my favorite scenes because I can do so much with my body and facial expressions to bring the character to life, and I get to play off the others with my reactions to what they are saying.
Even though you and Ruley are very different, there must be similarities. What most surprised you about your similarity to Ruley?
I realized that I too have obsessions and daily rituals that I rely on. I’m not as single-minded as Ruley, but I found that I could draw on my own obsessions to understand Ruley better.
BIO: Adam has been very fortunate to find a theater company where he feels endless love from caring people who appreciate him. He recently played St. Peter in Tales for Another Millennium. He thanks his friends, loving family and supportive cast, stage manager, writer, and director. Everyone involved in this production has been extremely helpful and patient throughout the rehearsal process. He owes his biggest thanks to his director, who has taught him to just relax and have fun along the way.
Don, you play Cop. Is it important to create a history for your character, or do you have other methods for getting into a role?
One of the fun aspects of smaller roles is creating the backstory for your character. It doesn’t even have to be the same story, night to night. I’ve created a few facts about “Cop.” He’s married, he’s older (natch), and Mom is still with us. He knows how to take control and make people appreciate that he does. His beat is this Soho-type district in New York; while it has its dangers, it also can be sexy.
Did you draw on your experiences or observations to become the character?
I have known two police officers. Plus I lived in Chicago and L.A. before living in Madison. So I’ve had plenty of occasions to watch the police in action. I’ve seen them question people in bars, handle domestic flare-ups, and I’ve seen how they let you know that they are present on the street. Importantly for this role, I have seen their need to control whatever situation they’re in. Their lives can depend on this instinct.
BIO: Don is appearing in his fifth show for Broom Street Theater, having appeared last year in Autumn Shiley’s On the Corner of Clark and Vine and Christopher Youngren’s Tracks. Don has performed at most of the local community theatres at one time or another, and he appeared on stage professionally in Chicago and in Los Angeles. He also appeared in movies and on television, including a scene with LeVar Burton in a made-for-TV movie called Dummy.
Joe, you play Ron Hurley in the show. Tell us about that character.
For Ron Hurley, fame is the only thing that matters, and being seen on television is the way to get and keep that fame. He has clawed his way to the top, taking jobs in media no one else wanted but slowly finding his way to the gravy job he now has. This isn’t the end. He could go even higher. He fantasizes about doing Sunday Morning with Ron Hurley, or being a reporter for Sixty Minutes. He is a control freak. He will parcel out grunt work to others, but even then he needs to be in charge, because he knows someone else might screw up his work and that one bad mistake could mean the end of this sweet ride.
You are in the big scene that ends Act I and is central to the play. Please tell us about this scene and how it fits in the story.
That scene is a pivotal moment for both Hurley and the person he interviews, Livia Hart. It might be a story that helps Hurley get noticed nationally, and it could push Livia into a prosperous career in painting.
Early in the rehearsal process, much of your preparation was done alone while the others were rehearsing the scenes leading up to yours. Tell us about how you prepared on your own and the challenges involved in this.
My preparation for this role is similar to my work in other shows. I find discoveries in the script and when I rehearse scenes with other actors. I don’t pre-plan anything. I trust that what I need to find for the character will eventually arrive. It always does.
I have done a lot of characters of different types, but I have often been chosen to do roles where the character is either a bully or a pompous fool/windbag. I wonder why this is?
Tell us about any roles you’ve had in the past that might have helped you prepare for Ron Hurley, or did you draw on other experiences or observations to become the character?
If you saw Ron Hurley in a restaurant in Madison, it would be at the Old Fashioned or another restaurants in the square, because the square is where it’s happening. You would notice him calling out loudly at the waitress, hoping that someone would see him and say, “Hey, that’s Ron Hurley!”
BIO: Joseph Lutz has been doing theater for many years now, starting in Baltimore, moving to Chicago, and now in Madison. In addition to acting, he is proud to serve on the Broom Street Theater’s board of directors. He enjoys moonlit drives and long walks on the beach. Call 555-1212.
Kate, tell us about the character you play and your process to become her on stage.
Livia Hart is an insecure artist, but when she receives massive media attention for the sex scene she paints on an abortion clinic, she begins to wonder if she might be an important artist, after all.
I’ve never played a character with Livia’s type of personality. Around friends I tend to be more like Smooch, the other female role in the play. But in rehearsals, when interacting with Smooch, I found myself feeling exactly how I feel when there’s someone in the room who is more outgoing—and obnoxious—than I am. Smooch’s high energy brings out the seriousness in Livia.
And I found that there’s a storm brewing inside Livia. She’s passionate, though that’s not always evident. But when she’s put in a stressful situation, such as the marketing mess in the play, that storm bursts.
When playing a role I find as much as I possibly can in the script and don’t draw from personal experience. The script is my Bible for how to play the character. And then as we rehearse, I find something of the character in myself. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to play that character.
What do you admire about Livia?
The importance that she places on passion, emotion, and relationships. She’s also a badass because she follows her passions more than she follows the rules.
What aspect of Livia was the most challenging for you as you rehearsed?
It was difficult to get inside her head sometimes because Livia is not always honest with herself.
If Livia moved to Madison, where would we be likely to run into her?
Livia would live downtown in a one-room apartment. Her artwork would hang on the walls at Mother Fool’s. Or she and Ruley would live in a house with curtains on the West Side because Ruley became an art professor.
BIO: Kate majored in theater at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Since moving back to Wisconsin, she has been in thirteen Broom Street plays: Tales from the Dork Side, McBeth, Cattywompus, The Wake of Liam Doherty, Television!, M&M, Hitler Was Right, Myth America, The Lamentable Tragedie of Scott Walker, A Broom Street Halloween, Splendor in the Math, Iceland, and 900.
Manny, you play the character called Smooch. Tell us about her.
Smooch wasn’t born at the top of the totem pole, but that certainly isn’t stopping her from doing everything she can to get there. She’s ambitious—when she sees something she wants, she goes after it. She has naked, energetic ambition but still lives by an inner moral code.
When you auditioned, you were at first interested in playing Livia, the other major female role. Were you surprised to be cast as Smooch? What was your process for understanding Smooch and learning to become her?
I was surprised to find myself wanting to play Smooch rather than Livia. Were I to meet someone like Smooch in real life, I wouldn’t like her, yet I’m fascinated by her as a character. For all our differences, she and I have a very important characteristic in common: We are honest about who we are and what we want.
Please talk about the challenges of playing a character that audiences will likely find fascinating but not entirely likable.
I don’t believe any person—real or fictional—is without redeeming qualities. I find myself drawn to those types of characters—many of my favorite films and shows include characters labeled as “unlikable.” But I like them just fine.
Is it important for you to find something attractive about a character in order to play her?
It’s always nice to find some quality in a character that draws you to them, but it isn’t necessary—that’s why it’s called acting. I am, however, especially drawn to Smooch’s vitality and singularity of purpose.
Do you prepare differently when playing a comic role vs. a tragic role?
If I do, I have no earthly clue as to how.
If Smooch moved to Madison, where would we be likely to run into her?
Smooch? In “Fly-Over Land”? She’ll be at one coast or the other, babe.
Mal, in this production you’re the stage manager. Many in the audience don’t know what that entails. Please describe your role.
The simplest way is to say that the stage manager’s job is to be there for everyone involved. During rehearsals, I feed the actors a line if they call for one. I generate a rehearsal report, which contains all major decisions made in rehearsal, and share this report with the different designers—set, lighting, sound, etc.—so they know what is needed of them.
When the show opens, instead of rehearsal reports I write production reports about how the show went, if there were any issues, and what needs to be fixed, replenished, or worked before the next performance. I also carry duct tape, clear nail polish, a first aid kit, and a sewing kit. If a set piece breaks in Act I, I have it fixed (or at least functional) by Act II. If a costume rips, I fix it. I have bandaged scraped knees on little kids and older actors alike. I’m part handywoman, mother, engineer, illusionist—and that’s why I find stage-managing so gratifying.
Describe the joys and challenges of working at Broom Street.
At Hood College in Maryland, I helped build the black box space, which we also call “flexible space.” Black boxes are intimate spaces where it is easy to connect with the audience, if only because you are practically in its lap. However, “flexible” doesn’t always means “possible.” The trick is having the knowhow and experience to creatively overcome any restrictions due to space or resources. In Not the Artist, there’s a prop that gets deliberately destroyed each night. I had to find a way to fix that prop after each show so we wouldn’t need multiples. I worked with the set designer to make this a possibility.
During the down times at rehearsal, you were hammering away on your laptop at your musical. Tell us about your work in theater outside this show.
I have been in theater for 16 years. If I go too long without being involved, it begins to affect my mood. Several months ago, I had a dream/night terror in which my fiancée died and I went to a white witch to have the grief removed from my heart. She told me the only way to stop hurting was to render myself unable to love. Around that time, a friend called to share a song she had written, and we realized we could collaborate to write my dream as a musical.
BIO: Malissa is a 26-year-old tattooed koala bear from the planet Baltimore. She relocated to Madison after falling madly in love with an Earthling named Viktor. She collects teapots, postcards, typewriters, and compound words. She resides with her fiancée, a dog named Scout, a cat named Wembley, a rabbit named Commander Bunbun, and a gecko named Dresden. Currently, she is getting an MFA in creative writing and intends to get a second MFA in theatre and, eventually, a doctorate. She would love to teach theatre at the college level.