Friday, February 28, 2014

A #1 rating, An Article about Lori Matthews, and Another Round of Reviews

We're #1 in Milwaukee Magazine's World Premiere Weekend
"Why? Because MCT’s Monty Davis Play Development series has brought some great Wisconsin voices to the stage, nurturing and staging premieres by state playwrights."

 A Flair for the Dramatic
Connect Stoughton's article about the playwright of October, Before I Was Born, Lori Matthews.

Waukesha Freeman
"The set design by Charles J. Trieloff II is detailed and authentic, and the costumes by Andrea Bouck reflect the contrast between Anne and the family she married into."

Tom Strini Writes
"The most important thing happens among and within Martha, April and even hapless Houston. They've all come to know one another and themselves a little better as they passed through the ordeal. They've become a little stronger. They know that whatever the news, they can handle it.
Best of all, Matthews doesn't make them say it. No noble speeches in this play. Anne and Martha simply stand together on the porch and gaze stoically toward the headlights. They will endure."

 Broadway World
"C. Michael Wright's direction mingled with Matthews's script allows the audience no comfort in a tidy conclusion when the palpable uncertainty to these mass human tragedies comes alive on stage. What does one do during these horrific events? Just listen or stare at the pictures on a media screen, especially in the 21st century, where destruction can be endlessly paraded before an audience?"

Wisconsin Gazette
"Much of the play’s success has to do with the emotions Matthews brought to the writing process, which helped her to deal with the deaths of her parents, even though neither of them were harmed in the blast."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


 Check out what reviewers are saying about OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN

Third Coast Daily- 
"I’ve for years enjoyed McMillion’s commanding stage authority portraying domestic anchors and conveying homespun pragmatism. But here she believably adds a growing sense of hidden tension, self-doubt and even anger at the growing failure of the younger generation to match her stubborn traditional roots."

Milwaukee Magazine-
"There is more than a touch of Tennessee Williams in April Paul’s Anne and Ken T. Williams’ Houston. The “charm of the defeated” for sure, but also the familiar push-pull between yearning and circumstance."

Tap Milwaukee (Journal Sentinel)-
"But the heart of this often very moving play doesn't involve the disaster that sets it in motion, but rather Matthews' quiet and probing exploration of how we respond. Do such disasters bring out the best or the worst in those living through them?"

Shepherd Express- 
"Director C. Michael Wright deftly balances the growing tension of the factory explosion’s outcome with the emotionally charged atmosphere inside the family home."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Interview with April Paul

April Paul

April Paul returns to MCT for OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN after appearing in PICNIC, the “Old Time Radio Drama” in partnership with Wisconsin Public Radio, YOU’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND, as part of the Young Playwrights Festival 2010-2011, and the 2011 staged reading of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN. Other recent projects include the independent film "Waterwalk," as well as FREAKSHOW and SPIRITS TO ENFORCE with Youngblood Theatre. She has a BA in acting from UW-Milwaukee.
Tell us a little about your character, Anne? What are some her key characteristics and motivations?

Anne is a fashion-forward, hard-working, and independent woman, who always likes to look her best, be her best, and do her best. On top of that, she is 7 months pregnant, which slightly heightens and alters some of her emotions and motivations. Given our circumstances, you never know if she is going to handle something with ease, or fly off the deep end. I thoroughly enjoy all her strengths and weaknesses, and as she may seem a bit dramatic, you can’t help but love her.

In 2011 you played Anne in MCT’s staged reading of October, Before I Was Born. Please share insights on what it is like to return to this piece for a fully-staged production.

Raeleen McMillion & April Paul in PICNIC (2009)
This has been an amazing treat! In 2011, something inside me changed. I’m not sure why this experience had the kind of weight that it did, but this story affected me in a way I never thought it would. Even before I knew that we were going to stage this production, I was still telling everyone about this story and the explosion at Tennessee Eastman in 1960. There was something about these relationships; this family, their town, the local chemical company, and the recognizable feeling of having to WAIT… it made an impact on me. Returning to this piece has allowed me to live in this world a little longer, and (unlike a reading, which has little risk) sometimes living in this world gets tough and life becomes real intense, but there is so much hope and love that holds everything together that it’s easy to come out unharmed. Lori Matthews has written a wonderful play that speaks to everyone, and I’m so glad to be a part of all this.

Playwright Lori Matthews attended your first rehearsal and is available as a resource to the artists in MCT’s production. What is it like having access to the playwright?

It’s fantastic. She’s fantastic. Period.

Your character is pregnant. How is your physical approach to this role different from other characters you’ve played in the past?

Well first and foremost, it’s a huge challenge. Often times, when developing a role there is complete artistic freedom in terms of physical choices, and there still is, because every woman carries differently throughout their pregnancies, but it’s been a much more technical approach rather than a spontaneous one. Between live interviews, documentaries, reality television, and internet blogs, I have spent several hours watching and learning about the stages of pregnancy. Even with all that, it was hard to begin my physical process until I actually had the baby bump.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?

Choosing an experience that stands out above the rest would be impossible, because each one has taught me something different about life and about myself. Every moment I spend in the theatre is my favorite moment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

An interview with Ken Williams

OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN actor Ken T. Williams makes his MCT mainstage debut after performing in the staged reading of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN in 2011 and the Young Playwrights Festival one-acts A ROSE FOR MRS. KEMP and NAUGHTY CHILDREN. He most recently appeared in THE UNDERSTUDY at Renaissance Theaterworks and has also worked with First Stage, Optimist Theatre, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Ensemble and Bunny Gumbo. He is a graduate of UW-Milwaukee. 

Ken T. Williams

Tell us a little about your character, Houston? What are some of his key characteristics and motivations?
Houston is an ex-convict that currently lives with parents having just recently been released from prison.  He is not someone who thinks before acting and usually puts himself in difficult situations because of that impatience.  Houston is living in the shadow of his older siblings especially Paul who seems to do everything right.  His objective throughout the play seems to be motivated by a desire to be useful.  Yet at every turn his usefulness gets him in trouble.  

In 2011 you played Houston in MCT’s staged reading of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN. Please share insights on what it is like to return to this piece for a fully-staged production.

First of all it’s great to be able to revisit a character you enjoyed playing.  But even more so when you get to see that character come to life on the stage. There is also a sense of ownership in having spent time with this character for more than two years.  Michael knew pretty early on that he wanted to stage this show so I knew I would have the chance to play with Houston again.  I can't wait to see where Houston takes me over the course of the production.  To be able to grow with a character and see yourself grow as well.  We change every moment of the day therefore our characters must change as well.

Playwright Lori Matthews attended your first rehearsal and is available as a resource to the artists in MCT’s production. What is it like having access to the playwright?

It is an absolute blessing.  Although Lori did such an excellent job writing this script and we talked so much during the reading that I haven't needed to contact her often.  But it is so nice to know that if I get stuck or we get to a point where we need a little perspective we can call her and she is more than willing to shed some light for us.  At the same time Lori is more than willing to share this with us and let us make these characters part of who we are and that is something really special.  

You are currently performing in THE UNDERSTUDY at Renaissance Theaterworks and in rehearsal for OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN at the same time. What are some similarities and differences between the two characters? Do you ever find that working on multiple shows at once affects either character?

Well both Harry from THE UNDERSTUDY and Houston from OCTOBER,BEFORE I WAS BORN seem to mess things up for themselves but in very different ways.  Harry's problem is that he doesn't know what he minute he hates movies and the next he's jazzed about them.  He leaves Roxanne but immediately regrets the decision...especially after he sees her.  Harry is serious about his career and how it is perceived but his personal life is in shambles...and he knows it.  Houston on the other hand doesn't have a clue how bad off he is.  He loves to blame others for the hardships he's had to suffer in his life.  Responsibility is not something he is comfortable with and when it falls in his lap he can rarely, I say rarely, rise to the occasion.   

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?

Every moment I get is my favorite.  I love diving into a character and living in their shoes.  I love filling in a back story and realizing the relationships, discovering the objectives, looking for the obstacles, and creating the tactics to get to my objective.  I love the process, but more than that I love sharing it with an audience.  I love being in front of a group of people willing to go on a journey with me and taking them somewhere they didn't expect.  There are many defining moments for me in my career, but if I had to choose one it would be working on LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT with a very close cast that included my wife.  That was a show where I spent more time preparing for a character than performing him...and it was amazing.  The whole process opened me up to really using history to dig into a character.  Something that also helps with this show. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

HONORING A REGION: An interview with playwright Lori Matthews

By Marcella Kearns, MCT Lead Educator and Literary Manager

1960.  Senator John F. Kennedy runs against Vice President Richard Nixon for the office of POTUS.  TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee is published, and Hitchcock’s PSYCHO is released.  Arnold Palmer wins the U.S. Open golf championship.  Students protesting segregation in the United States hold sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters at Woolworth.  Wisconsin faces Washington in the Rose Bowl and loses 44-8.  The first weather satellite to broadcast television images of cloud cover is launched by the United States…
Events most significant to us tend to etch such minute detail into our memory and senses that we can place ourselves in those circumstances again effortlessly (whether we wish to or not).  For the residents of Kingsport, Tennessee and the surrounding area, the events of October 4, 1960 have that dread weight.  Lori Matthews, playwright of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN, hails originally from Kingsport, though she now makes her home in Stoughton, Wisconsin.  She was born, as the title of this semi-autobiographical piece implies, less than a year after tragedy struck her hometown.  Just before the first rehearsal and read-through of the play for MCT’s production, she sits with me in MCT’s conference room to discuss her connection to the story and what drew her to explore it as the background for her family drama.

“I imagine it’s similar to people who were in Hawaii for Pearl Harbor, people who were in Dallas when JFK was shot,” she says.  “There’s something that happens in your backyard that changes the way the world looks the next day.  In our area, for a long time, it was this accident.  People knew where they were when they heard the explosion or what they did after.  It was rural folklore.”  The memory extends far beyond the boundaries of the region, as we’ll discover.  In less than half an hour, Ken Lukow, an MCT Friend and retired engineer attending the read-through, will recall for Lori how his company at the time worked with Tennessee Eastman—how he still recalls hearing the news.

Tennessee Eastman Company, a chemical manufacturing corporation, was and remains (as Eastman Chemical Company) the largest employer in the region around Kingsport, Tennessee.  In 1960, over 12,000 employees worked at the complex—“To see it, it looks like a city in itself,” Lori shares.  Around 4:45 PM on October 4, Building 207 of the aniline division of the plant exploded, sending a mushroom cloud into the sky and shattering glass in buildings up to four miles away.  Containment of the subsequent fire and retrieval or rescue of victims of the explosion took the efforts of emergency responders and residents from several neighboring towns and cities.  Lori continues, recalling her research and stories from relatives: “Even though it was a huge company, there was still a sense of community—it left the people in charge broken-hearted that it happened.  Communities gathered to give blood, Boy Scout troops to pick up trash and aid in repairs…At that time, it was everyone’s plight.”  A community tragedy, in other words, also became a community response.
For those who experienced October 4 and even for those who were born after, the event was indelible.  Lori herself grew up a child of Tennessee Eastman employees.  She recalls going to Horsekrickers on Saturday mornings, where children of employees could see movies, roller skate, and socialize, and seeing a piece of shrapnel from the explosion across the street.  She recalls a more pivotal moment in the history of the play’s inception, then: years later, when her mother was in the hospital and Lori was visiting, a nurse came to take some vitals.  Her mother noticed that the nurse had the same last name as one of the victims of the explosion, and she wondered if the two were related.  Then her mother uttered a phrase which would stick: “In October, before you were born...

For Lori, her mother’s recall of the event, her hometown’s experience, and Lori’s personal circumstances—culminating in being with and waiting for news of her mother in the hospital—ultimately provided seeds for the fundamental questions of the play itself.  The notion of any period of suspense in one’s life, whether due to illness, emergency, or opportunity, led her to explore the situation in which audiences will see characters in OCTOBER—three family members waiting to hear about news of loved ones who were at the plant at the time of the emergency.  “How do you fill that time?  What do you do with yourself?  How does that shape how you think about life [in the interim, or after]?  In writing I tried to stay true to what I did know about waiting, filling the time, the worry; the questions of do you think hopefully?  Do you prepare for the worst?  And what do you do when you’re stuck in a room with someone you don’t normally get along with, besides?”  Though the characters involved are rooted squarely in fiction, Lori explains that she wished to take great care in handling the history in which they’re placed with gentleness and respect.  Ultimately, she hopes asking those questions against the backdrop of an intimate part of family and community history honors all those involved in or affected by the event in Kingsport—and, in wider scope, to anyone who has endured a period of waiting, whether the end result is loss, disappointment, relief, or triumph.

Our conversation detours, then, to end in affectionate reflection for the geography in which OCTOBER is set.  Lori mentions that about 60 members of her family attended the world premiere at the Barter Theatre in Virginia and confesses that much of her inspiration in writing stems from the Appalachian region of her birth.  I ask her if for that reason she considers herself a regional writer, despite adopting Wisconsin as her home.  She concurs.  “When I was in graduate school, I had a movement teacher who asked me how I had adjusted to indoor plumbing when he found out I had come from eastern Tennessee…  The stereotype of Appalachia is really different from what I know.  Part of the driving force in many of the pieces I write is to honor the truth of the situation and to correct the stereotype.”  She’s thrilled with the care in the acting and design work already in progress at MCT—from scenic designer Jen Trieloff’s wallpaper choices to Raeleen McMillion’s dialect.

We’re thrilled to have her with us.