Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An interview with Ryan Schabach

Ryan Schabach makes his MCT debut as Bill in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. In Wisconsin he has performed with Next Act Theatre, In Tandem Theatre, Door Shakespeare, Third Avenue Playhouse, Forward Theater Company and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.  A graduate of UW-Madison, he has also worked with Stages Rep, Utah Shakespeare Festival and Unity Theatre.

Ryan Schabach
Tell us a little about your character Bill? What are some of his key characteristics and motivations? 
Bill is high up on the corporate ladder in the management sector of the Seagram’s Corporation.  When we first meet him he has recently transferred his office (most likely a lateral move within the company) from the world headquarters in White Plains, NY to a condo unit a few hours drive west.  Organization is a key feature of Bill's day-to-day lifestyle.  It may appear to the outside eye that he is a bit OCD, but this character trait is a tool in which Bill is able to, at the very least, appear to have some sort of control in his life.  His marriage is on the rocks and he is emotionally lost in a sea of confusion.  Bill is a sensitive soul and kind almost to a fault...he takes to heart what people think of him and he is always aiming to please those around him.

Talk about the benefits and challenges of being part of a two-person cast. How has your experience been in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?
The format of the 2-person show is such a joy to work under.  It affords the artistic team the time to have serious and often times, personal conversations about their motivations.  Those conversations transfer to the stage in ways that only a small cast collective can accomplish.  The moment-to-moment acting is allowed time to create nuance in very specific acting/reacting beats.  One challenge that appears obvious would be the line-load for the two actors...but there is something wonderful about the added lines that allow the actor to better comprehend the playwright's intent.  I seem to have a better understanding of my character's needs, wants and desires with the added time on stage.  Because you have more time on stage to interact with your scene partner you don't have to create as much of a back story for your character...it's happening in real-time on stage!  And that is exciting not only for the actors but also for the audience.  This play is such a joy to work on because I feel so close to my character...I have the opportunity to wear him on my vest because we are so close in philosophy and sensibility.  The amazing team that makes up this production and those in the office that have created such a welcoming and positive environment to work under at MCT, are the real heroes behind this project...and I thank them everyday for this opportunity.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?
I have had the great fortune to create a character called Buttons in 4 BRITISH PANTOS at Stages Rep in Houston...during these four holiday productions I would bring children from the audience onto the stage to improve funny scenes with them....there is truth to the statement, "children say the darndest things." 

What is interesting to this story is that I am scared stiff when it comes to improv

If your character could spend a day in Milwaukee, where would they go and what would they do?
Coffee shop reading of some classic 18th century French romantic philosopher...at Colectivo (your choice of location...Bill loves them all); 6 hours at the Milwaukee Art Museum; wait in line for the opening of the HOBBIT at the iPic in the Bay Shore Mall (with buttered popcorn because Bill works out at the downtown YMCA every other day); and topped off with a local IPA at O’Lydia's.

An interview with Dan Katula

Dan Katula takes on the role of Jack Foster in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. He returns to MCT where previous roles include Will in BUS STOP, Warren in MOON OVER THE BREWERY, Buddy in KIMBERLY AKIMBO, Angus in THE DRAWER BOY and Charlie in DIRTY BLONDE. He has also worked with First Stage Children's Theater, Renaissance Theaterworks and Bunny Gumbo/Combat Theatre, Door Shakespeare and the Cleveland Playhouse. His work as a puppet builder was featured in the Milwaukee productions of WHO KILLED SANTA? and he built the elephant for MCT’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.

l-r: Ethan Hall & Dan Katula in BUS STOP (2012)
Tell us a little about your character Jack? What are some of his key characteristics and motivations?
Jack suggests ordering a pizza early in Act One, this is clearly his motivation for the rest of the play.

Talk about the benefits and challenges of being part of a two-person cast. How has your experience been in THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?
I like being able to guess who has been eating my food, but the massage chain is is hit or miss.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?
l-r: Travis Knight, Amanda Hull & Dan Katula
Meeting my wife Allison doing summer-stock theatre.

If your character could spend a day in Milwaukee, where would they go and what would they do?
Lakefront Brewery
tour (6:45 and 7:10) wander down to Water St. and end up at Arts Performing Center.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


by Ashley Argall 

Maya Angelou once said, “If you can’t change something, change your attitude toward it.”
Playwright Wendy MacLeod

Award-winning playwright Wendy MacLeod seemed to have these words in mind when writing some of her most famous works.

MacLeod possesses a unique ability to examine the world’s misfortunes through comedy. Her plays do not shy away from challenging subject matter, but her uniquely lighthearted and comical characters create a tone that is positive, irreverent, and entertaining.

MacLeod says her main goal as a playwright is to fully express her outlook on life at a given moment.

Considering the themes of her plays, MacLeod’s outlook seems to understand that troubles exist in the world and that many cannot be easily fixed. However, instead of lamenting life’s miseries, MacLeod opts to poke fun at them.

Through her candid, witty, and intelligent writing, she provides audiences a unique perspective on human suffering, leading them to leave the theater uplifted, inspired and, most greatly, entertained.

MacLeod’s uplifting and comedic writing style has proven quite popular. Her 1990 play THE HOUSE OF YES became the second-longest running show at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre and premiered oversees in both London and Berlin. It later was adapted into a Sundance award-winning film.

In 1994 and 1995, SIN and SCHOOLGIRL FIGURE, respectively, premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and in 1997, THE WATER CHILDREN premiered at The Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles where it earned six L.A. Drama Critics Circle nominations and earned recognition in L.A. Weekly, which called it, “the most challenging political play of 1998.” The play grapples candidly with the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.

In 2003, MacLeod wrote the two-man comedy THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE, which premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre and was produced at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. The Chicago production was so popular its sold-out run was extended twice.

Be on the lookout for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s rendition of the play running from November 20 – December 15, 2013!

"THINGS is a departure for me, in tone and form,” MacLeod said in an interview with Mark Howell in 2004. “It is a comedy, but more traditional, bittersweet, and REAL than my other plays.”

While the play deals with a variety of human troubles, including loneliness and infidelity, it takes on a much more relaxed an conversational style. Comedic lines are subtle and natural, as opposed to overtly dramatic. Audience members can almost picture themselves in the room with the two main characters, Bill and Jack, sharing in their conversation about life.

The play is written from the male perspective, a departure for MacLeod as a female writer. As the Chicago Tribune put it, “Despite (or maybe it’s because of) its origin in the female mind, this…play…probes the vulnerabilities of heterosexual, middle-class, decaying maleness….with good humor, affection, and incisive accuracy.”

MacLeod says the main theme of the play concerns the “restlessness and dissatisfaction” she believes many affluent people suffer.

“Once they’ve solved their basic problems – choices about their careers and mates – there’s this, ‘And then what?’ There’s this real yen for some kind of connection. The most banal choice is to flail around for a sexual connection. But in the second act of THINGS, two men make another sort of connection - a humane one.” 

Through this connection, MacLeod looked to end the play, as she always does, with an uplifting tone. “When one person treats another like a human being…there’s hope in that gesture.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The art of a 'bro-mance'

An interview with director Michael Cotey
by Matt Wickey

Michael CoteyAs most regulars around the Broadway Theatre Center know, MCT's mission is to produce intimate, high-quality, professional theatrical works while employing, supporting, and nurturing local talent.  It is this dedication and mission that allows both MCT and its friends to celebrate the work of artists like Michael Cotey, director of MCT's upcoming quirky, 'bro-mantic' comedy THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE by Wendy MacLeod.  Michael is a Milwaukee-based director and actor who enjoys an incredibly impressive resume, working in nearly every theatre company in the city.  His work has also been featured in places such as both the Utah and Illinois Shakespeare Festivals, not to mention Youngblood Theatre Company, where he was a co-founder and artistic director from 2009-2013.  As a young theatre artist myself, people like Michael Cotey truly inspire me, so I was thrilled to be able to talk with him and gain an insight to his perspective on THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE. Michael was generous enough to let me "pick his brain" on all topics regarding the upcoming production, where the special relationship between man and man is investigated and uncovered. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

For context on the conversation to follow, a bit about THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE's featured characters.  In the play, we first meet the character Bill McGinnis.  Bill is a seemingly stable and well-mannered man, and he has just moved in to a new condo with his wife, who we soon learn is "at her folks."  While Bill awaits her arrival alone in his new home, he hears a strange voice: "Hello?"  Jack Foster, his new next-door neighbor, has arrived.  And thus, our 'bro-mance' is born.

Matt Wickey (MCT): What is it like working on a script that examines a 'bro-mantic' relationship, with the unique perspective of a female playwright?
Michael Cotey: I find it fascinating when a playwright captures a voice other than his or her own so completely.  And (playwright) Wendy has done that here with two distinct male characters.  Just as actors use their great capacity for empathy to understand and relate to unfamiliar circumstances and emotions, Wendy has successfully empathized with what it means to be a man-and further, with how two men, seemingly different from each other, will stumble upon what unites them if left to each other for long enough (with just the right amount of beer to lubricate the conversation).  I couldn't be more excited to begin working on Wendy's marvelous and well-paced dialogue with the two "bros" of this 'bro-mance': Ryan Schabach and Dan Katula.

MW (MCT): This unique opportunity to speak with THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE playwright, Wendy MacLeod, fascinates me.  What has this connection provided to the process?  And further, what has it been like, in general, to have the chance to communicate with the playwright of this unique work?
MC: It's always great to have the opportunity to speak with the playwright, and Wendy has been very receptive to any questions I toss her way.  In my experience, I have often found that playwrights, while willing to help, enjoy seeing how we answer the questions of the play through our own exploration of it.  I imagine that's part of the excitement of writing a play.  Unlike a movie, which exists in a more permanent medium, a play can be revisited and the same set of questions can be addressed with a wholly different set of answers by the simple virtue of putting different people in the room to work on it.  My conversations with Wendy have been primarily simple clarifications and gathering her thoughts on what worked or didn't with previous productions of the show.  The rest I'm leaving up to the fun of the rehearsal hall.

MW (MCT): What first struck you about this script/piece?  How does this script "speak" to you?
MC: I'm drawn to the exploration of the relationships Bill and Jack have with the women in their lives; specifically how much they stake their personal identity in the loves of their life.  That's something I absolutely relate to, and in the two and a half years I've been married, it has been strange (in a great way!) to see that line between "mine" and "hers" or "me" and "us" blur.  Part of this show questions who we are if we aren't defined by our relationships with others.

MW (MCT): How well do you envision this script translating to the Studio Theatre space at the BTC?
MC: This script is perfect for a space the size of the Studio Theatre.  Scenic designer Steve Barnes has transformed the Studio Theatre into what looks like the skeleton of the same generic condo you'd see in any city of any state in America.  It feels empty, a bit of a suburban wasteland with something essential missing, not unlike how both our main men are feeling in the show.

MW (MCT): What excites you most about working on THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?  Also, what are some of the challenges that you face (as a director) with this production?
MC: This is a real genre shift from what I'm used to tackling as a director.  Many of the things I've directed either have had a lot of moving parts, multiple scene and/or time shifts, larger-than-life characters, or all of the above.  In THINGS, we have two people in the same room, measuring each other up through their conversation.  At first glance, I wondered what I would bring to this script.  Upon continued study, however, it became clear that the real gymnastics of the play lie not on the surface with theatrics, but deep in the thoughts and in the thread of the conversation.  Peeling away the layers of this story one by one and at the right time will be the challenge, and that is very exciting for me. Thankfully, Dan and Ryan are both exceptional actors and Wendy's script is a strong foundation for any production to stand on.

MW (MCT): What would you like the audience to take away from THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE?  What would you like this production to accomplish?
MC: This show asks a number of questions about relationships, love, mortality, expectations, and preconceptions (among other things), but it offers few answers to those questions-and smartly so, in my opinion.  A major theme in this show is about taking honest stock of where we are in our lives, hence the title: THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE.  What we do with that knowledge after we cut through all of our defenses and deflections, and get to the honest, core truth of it…well, that's up to us to determine.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this play is hilarious!  It does all of the above with humor and wit.  Like any good comedy, honest revelations are sudden and slipped in at just the right moment to sneak up on us between the laughs.

THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE runs November 20 - December 15, 2013 in the Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center, located in the heart of Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward.  Hope to see you at the show!