Two Gentlemen Location: Benedict Hall at Sweet Briar College

Endstation’s shows are always about location, but this year at Endstation, we’re doing something special. We’re partnering with not one, not two, but four different spaces in and around Lynchburg, with shows inspired by and designed for each of them.

Endstation’s original adaptation Two Gentlemen of Virginia opened last weekend at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and a good time was had by all! This weekend the show moves to the campus of Sweet Briar College and to a really special location for Endstation regulars. Two Gentlemen will be performed in front (and on the balcony) of Benedict Hall.

Benedict was one of the four original buildings constructed for Sweet Briar College at the turn of the century when the College was founded. It is named for the College’s second president, Mary K. Benedict, and it was designed by the well-known architect Ralph Adam Cram, who also designed buildings at Princeton College and at West Point. Benedict

Chris Martin & Jude Flannelly

was constructed in 1906 and was the original classroom building for the new school. It also served as a location for academic offices, and even as a chapel. It now also houses an auditorium after the interior of the building was renovated in the 1970s.

Benedict is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with twenty other buildings on the campus at Sweet Briar, as the Sweet Briar College Historic District. Its architecture is legendary and special, and our artists have loved working in this location as they have rehearsed the new play and molded Two Gentlemen around the space.

Michael Stablein, Jr. & Natalie Caruncho

This location is a homecoming for us at Endstation, as well, because Benedict is the space where our first outdoor show was performed on the grounds of Sweet Briar College back in the summer of 2008. In our production of Romeo & Juliet, the Montagues became Virginia aristocracy, and the Capulets Yankee carpetbaggers. Endstation’s R&J was set at the turn of the century, when Benedict itself had just been completed, and the play was both a return to a specific moment in Virginia history as well as a celebration of the Sweet Briar location itself.

The Two Gentlemen of Virginia accomplishes this same feat, utilizing the space around Benedict: its colonnade, its arcade, its balustrades, even the stairs which lead away from the building down to the terrace below. Two Gentlemen’s performance will take place in and around the audience seated on Benedict’s lawn, and action will come from all angles and sides. As Endstation has grown, our love of locations and spaces, too, has grown, and Two Gentlemen takes full advantage of this space that means so much to our company.

The Two Gentlemen Themselves - Photo by Jiana Estes


Aaron C. Thomas has been the Resident Dramaturg at Endstation Theatre since 2010. He is also a contributing scholar for the Brooklyn-based American Laboratory and will be working in the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College in the Fall. You can connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or his blog Tea to Pour.

Meet Our Scenic Carpentry Apprentices

Here at Endstation, an enormous component of our work every year is mentoring and teaching college students who travel many miles in order to work for the company and who get to study with Endstation’s professional theatre artists, managers, designers, and technicians. Every year, our apprentices build scenery, assist with the box office, paint flats, design properties, pull costumes, stage manage shows, and focus lighting equipment. These young men and women are an integral and beloved part of Endstation’s work. This year, we want to make sure our audiences get to know our apprentices even more usual by showcasing them and their stories through the Endstation blog. We have six different apprenticeships, and so we will be posting a discussion with each group of apprentices over the coming weeks. We hope you like them as much as we do, and if you see one of them at a show, go up and say hello!

Aaron: Hi guys, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and where you’re from?

Luis: Well, I’m from Kissimmee, Florida but I’m currently attending Stetson University in DeLand, Florida; that’s almost 2 hours north from my hometown. I heard about Endstation from my tech teacher Krista Franco, one of the founders of the company. She would always talk about the amazing things that occur in the company during my tech classes, so I decided to apply for the company so that I, too, could experience how it feels to work for a family-like-atmosphere company. With Krista’s advice on how to make my résumé and portfolio, there’s only one person I would like to give a shout-out to and it’s her.

Meredith: My Name is Meredith Zotkiewicz and I grew up in the city of New Orleans.  The city itself flourishes with the arts, music, and theater. At the same time, my family also has a huge passion for supporting the arts, which factors into the inspiration aspect of my life. I heard about Endstation by stumbling across the website online. I had no connections to the company prior. The more I read about Endstation and learned who they were as a company I just knew that this was the right choice. I would love to give a shout-out to my teachers at Samford University: Mark Castle, Dr. Don Sandley, Eric Olsen, and Larry Thompson, all of who have guided me to be where I am today.

Oscar: Well, my full name with prefix is William Everett Kyle Richardson (I choose to go by Oscar), and I am from the beautiful state of Kansas. I currently reside in Baldwin City, where I went to school, with my fluffy orange cat Boris Badinoff. I attended school at Baker University… GO WILDCATS… Where I studied a plethora of subjects including history, psychology, music, theatre, and business. I heard about Endstation when I was surfing the web and saw a post looking for scenic carpentry apprentices.

From left to right: Luis, Meredith, Oscar

Aaron: How did you each get started in the theatre, and why did you choose scenic carpentry as a field of interest?

Meredith: I honestly never imagined myself being in the theatre. I admit, growing up, I was one of those hardcore doodlers; still am today. I loved the idea of being creative and I was always drawing something new. I had seen my fair share of performances and was always amazed by the theatre, however it did not occur to me that the scenery had to be built. I just knew that the only spotlight in which I would be seen was in my dreams not the stage. It wasn’t until I took a theatre appreciation class with Mark Castle my sophomore year in college. He saw one of my costume drawings and asked if I would be interested in doing some production work. I love trying new things, especially in the arts, so I tried it and fell in love. That next semester, I declared a minor in theatre. I stuck with it for a few months and started to doubt my decision, but then I was given the opportunity to meet Hilary Vernon-Smith, the Head Scenic Designer at the National Theatre in London and she said “it is our job to make anything possible”.  It was a simple phrase, but I knew right there that I had made the right choice.

Oscar: Many, many years ago in the far off land of Kansas (1,100 miles or so) there was a young music educator who could no longer see himself teaching music to the masses, and when the going got tough, he turned to the one thing that he could do and just lose himself in the doing: scenic carpentry, the building and realization of the sets for theatre. As he learned more and more about the technique and delicate crafting required to realize such beauty, he fell in love with it. That former young educator is, of course, me, and I have been crafting ever since.

Luis: Funny story. I actually got started in theatre in 7th grade. At the time I was taking a TV Production class because I love making films. One day, my teacher came up to me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of his tech crew for the school’s production of The Little Prince. I accepted his offer, not knowing what I was getting into. I didn’t know much about theatre; I was more of a film guy! I remember the first day I had to stay after school and feeling so lost building our set. I had no experience in carpentry and even lighting when I was assigned to be light board operator. Throughout the process I fell in love with theatre because of how everyone works together as a team that at one point it felt like I had a second family. Because of that show, I became so obsessed with technical theatre that I even went to an art school for my four years of high school and am now a Theatre Arts major at Stetson University.

Aaron: Do you have a favorite show you’ve worked on?

Oscar: In the years since carpentry became my passion, I believe I have worked on shows from every aspect of theatre and have learned a great deal about what it takes to stir the hearts and minds of the masses. One season I worked on, called the season of self-realization, was particularly educational, we worked on shows such as God’s Favorite, New York (9/11), and What the Butler Saw. All of these shows, designed/directed by the tag team duo of Mr. and Mrs. Tom and Patti Heiman, were a blast to work on and in hindsight taught me a great deal about everything that it takes to create our art. From inception, to production, to performance it was a great experience and another reason for me to love the world of theatre.

Luis: If there was one show I had to choose as my favorite, it has to be Almost, Maine by John Cariani. I did that show my sophomore year of high school and it was the first time I had the position as technical director for a show. The reason why they let me have such a big role in this show was because in the drama department, there’s a directing class every senior has to take where they have to direct a full production and present it in our black box. I was asked by the director of Almost, Maine to design not only a set but also lights for the show. I really enjoyed it because it was the first time I had the freedom to create anything that I wanted for a show which allowed for me to have so much fun.

Meredith: My favorite show that I worked on was The Wizard of Oz because we made it a steampunk theme.

Aaron: What has it been like working at Endstation so far?

Meredith: I am truly blessed to be a part of the Endstation team, considering the fact that I have only been working in the theatre department for a year. I have had so many experiences and made so many connections without it being a full week yet. I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for I am just at the beginning of this journey. This is the best decision I have made thus far in my life.

Luis: Working for Endstation is a blast! I’ve only been here for not even a week and I feel so close to all the apprentices and staff members. We are one big family which is what I love so much about this company. We all have fun while we work (and also when we don’t) that there hasn’t been a time when I felt bored. I chose Endstation because of that and also because of all the knowledge I’m going to learn from the carpentry department, that I made the right decision in coming to Endstation! Plus the area is beautiful!

Oscar: Down to the nitty-gritty: Endstation, home to some amazing individuals and a company full of lively persons, especially Krista Franco, Aaron Thomas, and Ken Hopkins, who have made this experience in the first week or so a truly eventful and wonderful experience. Endstation is a great company and in the future I hope (and it will) that it remains a wonderful company where young theatre men and woman can come to learn more about the trade that we love so much.

Aaron: Tell us about one of your favorite things to do.

Luis: Well I’m a sucker for movies! I’m one hardcore film lover! From Hitchcock’s Rear Window to Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I have a large variety of movies in my DVD collection that I love re-watching from time to time. I can go for days talking about any movie and don’t even get me started with television series because I’m obsessed with those too! My favorite series to watch are How I Met Your Mother, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Sherlock, and Bob’s Burger.

Oscar: My favorite things to do are screenwriting, daydreaming, spending time with the Queen of my Heart Krystal, and watching/analyzing movies. I am the most outspoken, charismatic, slightly conceited hermit you will ever meet and I choose to live my life as a mystery and as full and experienced as I can (like skydiving).

Meredith: One of my favorite things to do is discovering new opportunities to learn and push my boundaries artistically.  The world is my canvas and I have only begun to explore.

Aaron: Thanks, crew. This was perfect.

Aaron C. Thomas has been the Resident Dramaturg at Endstation Theatre since 2010. He is also a contributing scholar for the Brooklyn-based American Laboratory and will be working in the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College. You can connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, or his blog Tea to Pour.

Two Gentleman Location: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

Endstation’s shows are always about location, but this year at Endstation, we’re doing something special. We’re partnering with not one, not two, but four different spaces in and around Lynchburg, with shows inspired by and designed for each of them. Leading up to this season over the next couple of weeks, I’m posting a brief overview of each of our exciting locations.

Photo by Dan Gallagher

Last year’s Shakespeare show Cymbeline performed one of its final shows at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. President Jefferson himself designed this beautiful home and its lovely grounds. Jefferson’s former vacation house is a National Landmark as well as a gorgeous location.

Often referred to as his “summer home” Poplar Forest was not actually a place Jefferson only visited during the summers to get away from Monticello. In fact, our third president, liking his privacy as he did, built this house as a location to which he could escape in order to get away from the public eye and public life. Jefferson was, of course, quite famous, but he (like many of us) liked his alone-time, and used Poplar Forest as a private getaway.

This year, Endstation writers Walter Kmiec and Jude Flannelly started with three bits of inspiration for our play Two Gentlemen of Virginia.

Photo by Dan Gallagher

The first was Shakespeare’s play The Two Gentlemen of Verona, originally published in 1623. The second was the music and cinema of the 1980s (you’ll hear references to things like Dirty Dancing, Michael Jackson, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pat Benatar throughout the show!). The third was Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. Our team was truly inspired by this location and by the rich history of the place, and Two Gentlemen begins and ends at Poplar Forest. The play is set there, and it will also premiere at Poplar Forest. When, in our play, Jefferson refers to his private home in Virginia, audiences will actually be sitting on the beautiful Poplar Forest grounds themselves: in Jefferson’s own backyard, two hundred years later. We feel very privileged to be performing in this incredible space.

The folks at Poplar Forest know an incredible amount of information about our third president, and touring the house was a great experience for many of the Endstation team last year as we geared up for our performance there. This year, your experience with Two Gentlemen of Virginia can only be enriched by knowledge about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, their friendship, and Jefferson’s own relationship with his beloved home.

Photo by Dan Gallagher

The retreat at Poplar Forest was not exactly conducive to people other than Jefferson himself. After Jefferson died, the land was sold, and many people made changes to the house in order to suit their own needs. The house was designed specifically for Mr. Jefferson. These were his architectural ideas and the shapes that fascinated him. He built the house to cater to his own needs. Our Two Gentlemen has been inspired by those shapes, those architectural ideas, and the play will be utilizing the columns, the balcony, and the lawn. Look for references to Virginia history throughout the show, as well.

We can’t wait to share this new piece with you all, and we are privileged to be able to perform this riff on U.S. American history at this historic site.

Aaron C. Thomas has been the Resident Dramaturg at Endstation Theatre since 2010. He is also a contributing scholar for the Brooklyn-based American Laboratory and will be working in the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College. You can connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, or his blog Tea to Pour.

Our Town Location: Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery

Endstation’s shows are always about location, but this year at Endstation, we’re doing something special. We’re partnering with not one, not two, but four different spaces in and around Lynchburg, with shows inspired by and designed for each of them. Leading up to this season over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to post a brief overview of each of our exciting locations.

Last year, we performed William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery, and this year we will be in residency at the Cemetery for a full three weeks, as we perform Thornton Wilder’s classic American drama Our Town.

The Old City Cemetery is situated in the historic Tinbridge Hill neighborhood of Lynchburg, just north and west of Lynchburg’s downtown. Tinbridge Hill is a historically black neighborhood with deep community roots, and this area of the city is a vital, rich and important part of the city. The Old City Cemetery was founded in 1806, and is the resting place for an estimated 20,000 people.

The Old City Cemetery itself is more than a simple graveyard. It also contains many artifacts from the City of Lynchburg in various places on the grounds. The cemetery contains a large amount of beautiful artwork and statuary, and the grounds are home to four different museums, as well. There is also a beautiful chapel and columbarium, built only a few years ago to honor the numerous religious leaders buried in the cemetery since the early nineteenth century. The OCC also has a Confederate section, a walled-in area of the cemetery that contains the graves of over 2,000 soldiers from the nation’s devastating Civil War. This part of the cemetery contains memorials and a good deal of information about the war, as well as the graves of many men who lost their lives.

Our Town‘s final act takes place in a cemetery on a hilltop – “a windy hilltop – lots of sky, lots of clouds, – often lots of sun and moon and stars.” We here at Endstation love working outside, and the Old City Cemetery is an ideal place for this show. At one point in act three of Our Town, a character is actually supposed to point to a place in the theatre and say “Over there are some Civil War veterans”. In Endstation’s production, this will literally be true!

Our team has definitely been inspired by this incredible and important location. Designers, directors, and technicians have visited the Old City Cemetery numerous times in the last year, and have connected with the space in a powerful way. The play Our Town is about the life of a small town, but it is also profoundly a play about how valuable life is. We feel that the Old City Cemetery will underline and give focus to some of the important themes of Our Town – the idea that life is always fleeting, the power that memories hold over us, and the sacredness of the time we spend with the ones we love.

But before you come see the collaboration between Endstation and the Old City Cemetery, why not visit this amazing location on your own? It is free to the public, the flowers are in bloom this time of year, and it is open seven days a week from dawn until dusk!

Aaron C. Thomas has been the Resident Dramaturg at Endstation Theatre since 2010. He is also a contributing scholar for the Brooklyn-based American Laboratory and will be working in the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College. You can connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, or his blog Tea to Pour.

The 2014 Season: At a glance

Endstation Theatre Company is pleased to announce its 2014 season. This year’s season includes Two Gentleman of Virginia, Our Town and Always… Patsy Cline. Together the three presentations uniquely weave together the three most vital aspects of Endstation’s work: our community’s people, landscape and history.

Two Gentleman of Virginia is an Endstation contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona. Written by Endstation veteran Walter Kmiec with Jude Flannelly, the parody’s heroes Thomas Jefferson and James Madison live in a hybrid world wherein the 1780s meet the 1980s complete with a hair band and fashion maven Betsy Ross. Whether you prefer the Bard or Bon Jovi, this hilarious and highly creative production promises to be a night out not to be missed. Two Gentleman of Virginia opens on the lawn of Jefferson’s retreat home Poplar Forest on June 6 and 7. The production rounds out the remainder of its run on the beautiful grounds of Sweet Briar College June 13-14, 20-21, July 4, and July 18-19. Rain dates are June 8, 15, 22 and July 20.

The second production of the season is Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town co-directed by Artistic Director Geoffrey Kershner and Aaron C. Thomas. This production is performed exclusively at Old City Cemetery. Its location illuminates the message of Our Town. “It makes these themes of the preciousness of life even more potent,” says Kershner. According to Kershner, this production of Our Town “is an embrace of Lynchburg.” The play features a multicultural cast with the purpose of depicting the demographics of the Hill City. The music of local church choirs will also be featured at each performance. Our Town will be performed at Old City Cemetery June 27-28, July 5-6, and July 10-12. Rain dates are June 29 and July 13.

Endstation’s third production of the season, Always…Patsy Cline, is produced in partnership with the Academy of Fine Arts. Written by Ted Swindley and directed by Chad Larabee, Always…Patsy Cline is based on the true story of the Virginia-born country music legend and her friendship with a Houston fan named Louise Seger. The musical play, complete with down home country humor, true emotion and even some audience participation, includes some 27 of Patsy’s unforgettable hits such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

In Endstation’s take the Academy’s Warehouse Theatre is transformed into a Texas Honky Tonk with a functioning bar. According to Kershner, “it will be immersive and like nothing anyone has experienced in that space before.” After Friday and Saturday evening performances a local bluegrass act will follow the show with a set to extend the honky tonk experience for audiences. Performances are July 24-27, 31 and August 1-3 at the Academy of Fine Arts Warehouse Theatre in Downtown Lynchburg.

2013 Interview Project #19 – George

Aaron: George! Since you’re not here this year, I think the first thing you should do is tell us what you’re doing this summer in New York City.

George West Carruth: Instead of living the dream with Endstation, I am shakin’ a leg up in the City. The big project keeping me from Virginia this summer is a production called Ashville by Lucy Thurber. It is a play about a young lady who struggles to find life worth living. The characters drink, smoke, and fight most of the time. Truly uplifting. That starts rehearsing in July, and we will open August 20th at the Cherry Lane Theatre. The theatre first opened in 1836 as a brewery and later served as a tobacco warehouse and a box factory. It’s perfect for our story. A company called Rattlestick Playwrights is producing five of Ms. Thurber’s plays simultaneously. In the meantime, I am running around town. I am directing a staged reading and acting in a few. A crazy director friend of mine has put together a group called Villains TV. He sends each of us audio MP3s of childrens’ television shows and then we show up and listen to the audio as we try to recreate the story for an audience. It is fun because we go in blindly and don’t know what the TV show is until we all hit play on our iPods. It’s a good ego exercise. When re-enacting an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood or Wishbone, ya just have to do whatever it takes to get the story told. Though I miss Endstation terribly this summer, I am working hard and enjoying it. It is my hope that I come back to Virginia with a few extra tricks up my sleeve.

Good to hear. So, how did you first meet Geoff Kershner?

I met Geoff Kershner at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Memphis, Tennessee. The festival is a competition in which actors, with their scene partners, go through an audition process. It begins in a classroom with a few professors watching and culminates in a performance in front of the festival. Geoff was in my first room. He liked my audition. With more respect than I may have deserved, he offered a few notes. I was passed through the two subsequent rounds: Geoff’s notes worked. After the final performance he offered me his card and told me to be in touch. Since the day we met, he has been giving me good direction.

Photo by Patrick Griffith (SBC)

What do you remember best from your first summer at the Blue Ridge Summer Theatre Festival?

My favorite part of the first year I worked at Endstation was at Jason and Leslie Fails’s place. It was a Fourth of July celebration. We played music and howled into the night while dancing around and jumping through a bonfire. Liz Kirkwood and Michael were running through the pitch-black woods. We may have set the yard on fire. 

In what ways do longterm relationships with Endstation designers, directors, and other behind-the-scenes people impact your work as a performer?

Acting is like sex. It should be like the first time every time. Whether it is good or bad, it is absolutely a privilege. And, though it can be quite fun with strangers, there is something sacred about doing it with friends.
 
So much of your contribution to Endstation’s work has been musical – composing tunes for Hamlet (2010), Twelfth Night (2011), Comedy of Errors (2012) and, as far as I can tell, every Sonnets and Chocolates at which you’ve performed – do you collaborate with other Endstation artists on this music? How much leeway does Kershner give you with your music?
 
If music be the food of love, I’m clean starved for a look. 
 
Kershner gives me a lot of freedom when it comes to music, or he at least lets me feel as though I have freedom and control. Working at Endstation has helped me embrace musicianship. Geoff has really pushed me in this way. I had only just begun singing and playing guitar simultaneously when we did Hamlet. The experience gave me affirmation I needed to continue developing the skill. The production of Bus Stop I just played in the City cast me because I could play the guitar. Every one of the Endstation family gives me inspiring encouragement to sing. 
 
Do you also collaborate with Endstation artists on non-Endstation projects?
 
I just collaborated on a project with Michael Stablein, Jr. and Kirin McCrory called Touch Me In Kansas. I am not sure how to articulate the piece. It was intended for a live audience. I will say that another performer and I dressed up in cowboy boots, tighty-whities, dust masks, and goggles, and proceeded to wrestle and cover ourselves with milk from a giant teat and bottle mounted onto the wall. I think the original plan was the bottle and teat were going to be suspended from the ceiling, but one must roll with the punches. In hamster bedding. I look forward to Endstation producing in New York City. 
 
With Endstation you have done both indoor and outdoor performance. Can you talk a bit about the differences between doing indoor and outdoor work? 
 
The physical theatre is designed to give the director, designers, and players as much control over the audience’s attention as possible, for the sake of conveying the story. The auditorium, gymnateria, cafenasium, or any other space that serves as a theatre (Angie Sweigart-Gallagher has carted us to all of these and more) makes everyone’s job easier, including the audience. When we walk into a theatre, everything is taken for granted. Going outside helps me appreciate all the components of theatre more clearly. Dan Gallagher and Krista Franco‘s talents are hugely showcased through the outdoor work. Lighting “outside” is ridiculous. Hamlet is my favorite outdoor light show. Building a set that showcases natural beauty without succumbing to or attempting to conquer the elements is my favorite kind of art. Macbeth is my favorite set. It withstood a Derecho. 
 
You have formed many particularly tight connections with our audience members. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of Endstation’s audiences and how they affect your work with the company?

Wow, this question is intimidating. I think of the Endstation audience all of the time. They have seared into my brain and onto my heart. There is no way for me not to feel cornball here. Well. (I’m breathin’ real hard right now. Feeling embarrassed even though I’m all alone typing.) Last summer, during Big River, John McFadden and I rode over to the Amherst Milling Co. Pulling up to the mill felt like going back in time fifty or a hundred years. Everything was peaceful. Things seemed gentle. We walked into the mill, which is close to two hundred years old. Bill Wydner’s father bought it in 1940, and it was at least a hundred years old then. It’s running the same now as it did in 1940. It smells like it too. In a good way. The dirt felt and smelt more like silt than sand. We walked inside and Mr. Wydner showed us around the mill, explaining what they did there and how it has, and has not changed over the years. Then Mr. McFadden, Mr. Wydner and I found ourselves standing at the doorway. The three of us, in a little circle. We just stood. No hurry or rush or place I needed to be. Just standing with each other. I think John knew something was in the air. Mr. Wydner started to speak. He told John and me that he enjoyed Big River and that he had heard the story in a way he had never imagined. When he said that, he put his hands in his pockets and shuffled just a bit. He was childlike in the moment and it was dignified. 

The most important thing is the audience. They are the other character in the room. When you perform for a beautiful audience, they guide you into uncovering interesting things. I can’t wait to get in front of an Endstation audience again. I hope I grow between now and then, so that we can show each other new things.
 
Do you have any special links to Virginia? 
 
I think Endstation is a torch carrier. Geoff is working on something that will survive him. “End”-station is the perfect misnomer. Virginia is a riveting part of the country. I’m still working on my personal ties to Virginia. I don’t think there could ever be enough. I like Endstation being such a big part of that. My mother’s people come from Virginia. My great-great-great granddad, on her side, founded the Richmond Dispatch in 1850. His name was James A. Cowardin. The Dispatch was a predecessor to the Times-Dispatch. His grandson, my great grandfather, built a cottage in 1921 on a bank of the York River, across from Yorktown. I’ve been going there for part of the summer and sometimes in the Fall for as long as I can remember. It’s a nice place to get lost. No air-conditioning, no heat, no cable, and no shoes required. There are about 300 old issues of National Geographic in the staircase. My brother and I run the flag up the flagpole in the morning, and we take it down with the sun in the afternoon. Everybody must love the sound of screen doors slapping in the distance. I think it is in our DNA. 
 
What have been some of your favorite Endstation shows? Do you have a favorite performance you’d be willing to share with us?
 
The first show I ever saw at Endstation was Complete Works…Abridged. Walter and Derek and Michael. I thought they were geniuses, until I met them. After meeting them, I realized they were better than genius. They are good actors. Michael has an energy for creating that cannot be matched. He is a sharp arrow going straight through everything. Walter is the best. Every actor struggles. The struggles of other actors seems like child’s play to Walter. He seems to struggle on a metaphysical level. He is capable of the grand gesture and the subtlest move, and they are interesting and true. Assassins has been my favorite show to watch. The cast was amazing through and through. The lights were unbelievable. I think there were three hundred and fifty some-odd lighting cues. Give or take fifty. The direction must have been impeccable, because it seems like everything just happened to happen exactly when and where and how it should have. The cast was so good. I wish I could see it again. That’s theatre, though. Josh DeVries’ Czolgosz was so good. Everyone was so wonderful.

What kinds of artistic work do you envision Endstation doing in the future?
 
I like the idea of Shakespeare, musical, and new work. Geoff has amassed top shelf of all components. I like the idea of growing the audience base, spreading throughout greater Lynchburg and Charlottesville. I like the idea of traveling the Sweet Briar, Amherst, Downtown audience that already exists. A traveling company of actors and audience members. The Circus travels, so the crowd does. Almost like fans of a football team going to an away game, but when you travel with and for theatre, there’s no loser. I think there is an excited audience. There’s nothing more fun than an excited audience.
 Read more about these interviews here.
Aaron C. Thomas has been the Resident Dramaturg at Endstation Theatre since 2010. He is also a contributing scholar for the Brooklyn-based American Laboratory and is currently a visiting lecturer in the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College. You can connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, or his blog Tea to Pour.

Kelly Bremner On Bringing UNEARTHED to Life

Today on the blog Kelly Bremner who directs and developed Unearthed shares her perspective on bringing this new piece to life. Don’t miss Unearthed this weekend July 26-28 at 7 pm in Babcock Auditorium at Sweet Briar College.

Tell me about how you came to be involved with Unearthed.

Four years ago I met up with Dan Gallagher and Angie Sweigart-Gallagher in New York.  I knew them from grad school, and Dan and I had worked on a few shows together in those years.  Over drinks Dan told me all about Endstation Theatre Company and its mission to produce material that speaks to Central Virginian audiences. He said the company was going to start doing musicals, and he wondered if I might be interested in developing a musical work with my husband Scott that focused on Central Virginia.  At the time Dan had also been lighting a lot of opera for City Opera in New York, and he was interested in seeing if we could work with Central Virginian source material in the same way that opera develops certain types of characters and epic plots. I thought Dan’s ideas were so amazing, but I felt funny taking on a regional work from a place I didn’t come from.  I put it on the back burner….

Call it fate or what have you, but five months later I was hired at Emory & Henry College in nearby Emory, VA.  Suddenly I was “from here” even though I was a transplant.  I turned my mind back to the project after my first year at Emory as I started to fall in love with the Appalachians.  Geoff and the company invited Scott and I to campus that summer to pitch ideas to get this musical off the ground.  At this point, I knew I would need a playwright, and I had just come off an amazing collaboration with Scott and playwright Nick Lantz, and we were all eager to work with each other again, so I told Nick all about the idea and asked him to share some ideas of potential plots.  I vividly remember meeting with Geoff and Dan at Oh What a Blessing bakery, reading a handwritten note with a number of potential plot synopses, and bursting with passion about the project.  Apparently my passion came across because here we are.

 What is the design concept for this production?

 The opening stage direction of the play is one of my favorite bits of writing from the script.  “Two houses are connected by some woods but separated by 100 years.”  This meant we needed to capture two distinct time periods, and the vastness of an Appalachian forest all on one stage.  Originally we really wanted to do this production in an alternative space like a black box, or even outdoors because I wanted the musical to be acoustic, and I wanted as much intimacy with the audience as possible.  For a number of reasons, we ended up in Babcock Auditorium, but we kept working with the idea of keeping the play intimate.

 Early on, Krista proposed a poetic/non-literal take on the idea of a forest to get at the sense of fairytale and magic in the script that I wanted highlighted.  The result is the abstracted forest, with the houses on the far sides of the stage.  Krista placed a passeral on the downstage edge of the stage in order to get my singers as close to the audience as possible.  This space becomes a literal bridge between the two time periods, and serves as a place where characters can dream in song right next to my audience.  As a director, I am blessed to spend all this time inches from some of the most amazing singers, and I am hopeful that my audiences will get the same thrill out of being so close because of Krista’s design.  It also allows us to put the band right in the middle of the set literally, which is awesome.

 As you can imagine the lighting for the show needed to be amazing, since the idea for the show comes from a lighting designer.  The abstracted forest drop becomes a playground for light, and Dan expertly manipulates the light through the space to both give us a sense of realism, and of magic.  It is through the light that the idea of a fantasy world really gets driven home.

 In the costumes we again went for a sense of heightened realism.  You’ll notice denim on nearly everyone on-stage, as well as a color palette which ties them all in with the forest.  Katie Friedman, one of the interns this summer, was entrusted with the designs, and her work has been just amazing.

A shot from one of the team's previous collaborations "Iphegenia at Aulis." Music by Scott Gendel, Lighting Design by Daniel Gallagher, Directed by Kelly Bremner

 What is it like collaborating with not only your close friends, but your husband?

There are couples for whom this doesn’t work so well, but for Scott and I?  It works brilliantly.  Scott is a genius, anyone can hear that in his music, but my expertise in the practical realities of staging a show helps him keep his feet on the ground.  This is our third major collaboration, and in all three I have had to ask him for at least one major revision.  These conversations aren’t easy in any collaboration, but having them within the framework of also being married could be a scary prospect.  These kinds of conversations are professional, but when talking about music that you have written, they very quickly become personal. I have combined expertise in both music and theatre because of my background, and I think Scott trusts me to not ask for something I don’t think is necessary, and I trust him to listen and disagree if he needs to. For budding Unearthed fans, ask him about the re-write of the first song, Cass’s song, the elimination of a duet with Gaither and Alzy, and a complete re-envisioning of the end of the play.  There is some amazing music on the cutting room floor of this show, but I am glad he trusted me enough to let me encourage the changes I think the script needed.

Scott and I have worked well together since well before we were married, but I will admit this is something that has gotten harder since we had children, since it means we need to find to childcare.  For this reason, we don’t work together as often as we used to, so Unearthed is a real treat.

2 of the cast members also happen to be your students at Emory & Henry College where you are a professor. How does working with them differ in this context? 

It is just awesome. I don’t want to embarrass them, but I am beaming with pride at the work my two students do in the show.  I try to share my passion for new work with my students, and thus they have heard me talking about Unearthed for years.  However, as much as I love my students, out of respect for both their educations and the quality of the Endstation productions, I could not give them preferential treatment in casting.  They needed to get this job without any special help, and both Jackie and Devin should be applauded for getting here on their own.

The three of us made a pact at the start of the summer that we wouldn’t be student/professor for the summer, but would instead be friends and collaborators.  It has been such a treat to get to know them this way, and to watch them grow as performers in this more professional context.  I can’t wait to see where both Jackie and Devin go from here after such a great summer with Endstation.

What aspect of Unearthed gets you the most excited?

Yeah right, you might as well ask me which child I like the best.

 Seriously, I love everything about the show.  Nick’s words, Scott’s music, the design, the story, the way it is inspired by this area, the way it re-interprets the music and folk tales of this region, watching others fall for Unearthed like I have, imagining a future for the work, the people I have gotten to know while putting it together…

This show for me has been almost like bringing a child into the world with a 4 year pregnancy.  The love I feel for this show in unlike anything I have ever worked on, and I hope audiences leave as touched by this play as I am.

Unearthed is playing this weekend only Friday, Saturday and Sunday night at 7 pm in Babcock Auditorium at Sweet Briar College. For tickets call 434-826-0391 or visit endstationtheatre.org/get-tickets/

Interview with Unearthed playwright Nick Lantz

One of our greatest passions at Endstation is developing new work that is relevant to our audiences. For the last two years we’ve supported the development of UNEARTHED: an Appalachian Musical thanks in part to the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Today on the blog we meet Nick Lantz who wrote the book and lyrics for UNEARTHED.

Poet and Playwright Nick Lantz

How did UNEARTHED originate?
I believe Dan Gallagher wanted Endstation to produce a locally focused opera/musical, and he brought in Kelly Bremner and Scott Gendel, and Kelly in turn brought me in on the project. After doing some quick initial research, I pitched a series of plot outlines to Kelly—some of these versions were similar to the final story, and some were quite different, but many included some version of the Stranger character. I have a longstanding interest in folk tales and mythology, and I very much wanted to write the sort of story in which gritty, everyday problems are complicated by something magical or fantastic. Everyone was game for that, so that’s what we gravitated toward.

How did you get connected with Scott, Kelly, Dan and Angie?
We all met when we were living in Madison, Wisconsin (we all went to grad school at UW-Madison). A few years ago, Kelly brought me in to write an opera with Scott, so we’d already worked together on a project. It was a good feeling, going into UNEARTHED knowing the strength of my collaborators.

Tell us about the research involved for UNEARTHED. 

Nick Lantz writing lyrics for "Please Tell Me," a song from UNEARTHED


I started with books, mostly about the history and folk life of the Blue Ridge. My goal, particularly when writing about the characters from 1900, was to build a vocabulary that would sound authentic. I wanted to know the kind of objects and activities that would be part of these characters’ daily lives, because those would be the details they would use as points of reference in the dialogue and songs. I also listened to a lot of traditional songs from the Blue Ridge and Appalachia (Scott Gendel and I actually exchanged playlists, and found we were often drawn to similar artists and songs). I wrote the lyrics of several songs in UNEARTHED to mimic the style of those folk songs, but some of the songs themselves provided inspiration for the story itself.

One example of that is the folk song “The Two Sisters” (which comes originally from England but has many American variations), in which one sister betrays and kills another over a romantic rivalry. That idea inspired the love triangle between Alzy, Cora, and Gaither in UNEARTHED, though the outcome in our show is quite different. In the summer of 2012, Endstation gave me the opportunity to come to Virginia and explore the Amherst area firsthand. This stage of research involved a lot of field trips, and again, this provided a lot of background texture, little details that arise in the dialogue to lend it authenticity but that aren’t essential to the plot. Some outings led to more substantial aspects of the show. For example, several of us took an afternoon trip to the Piney River, which I ended up using as the setting for one of my favorite songs in the whole show.   

How has UNEARTHED evolved over the years?
I pitched a variety of different story ideas at the outset of the project, but even after we settled on one idea, a lot of the details changed, and any change tends to send out ripples. For example, Wade’s mother was originally going to be a character in the show, but she needed to be cut for reasons of dramatic economy. But then I felt it was conspicuous that even though he’s returning home we don’t see Wade reconnecting with his family, so I decided to change his backstory so that he’d been raised by Melia’s family, which completely changed how I understood their relationship. In my early research for the show, I listened to several versions of “The Wreck of Old 97,” which is a terrific railroad ballad about a train wreck that took place in Virginia 1903. I really wanted a fictionalized train wreck based on that event to be a major part of UNEARTHED’s plot and to write a song that paid homage to the original ballad. But as the script developed, the wreck’s importance to the plot kept diminishing, and eventually I felt I had to drop it. One of the changes that was the most difficult (and rewarding) for me was the lullaby that Melia sings in Act 1. It was one of the first songs that Scott and I wrote for the show—it was spooky and dark, and I loved it. But as I wrote the rest of the script, it became clear that the song no longer fit, so we had to scrap it and start over. It was heartbreaking to let it go—I was proud of the text, and Scott’s composition was absolutely haunting. So I was on a train, departing Lynchburg after my visit last summer, and I wrote a completely new version of the lullaby on that train ride. That version is (with some minor revisions) the one that appears in the show now. As much as I was sad to see the original go, I dare say the current version is even better, and the changes to the text allowed us to use it again in Act 2 in a way that I think will really surprise anyone seeing the show for the first time (I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it). The changes that song has gone through really exemplify the way that letting go of something good can make room for something better that you didn’t expect. 


Do you have a favorite character in UNEARTHED?
Boy, that is a tough question. The easy answer is probably Melia, though perhaps for selfish reasons. Many of the lines of dialogue and bits of song text I’m most proud of as a writer are hers, though not by design. The more complicated answer is that because playwrights depend on actors to actually embody their characters, a character who is more minor or a bit “thin” on the page can end up being one of the most memorable parts of the show because of the actor’s performance. I’ve had health problems that prevented me from coming to Virginia this summer, but I’ve been watching a lot of rehearsals over the Internet, and I’m continually surprised and impressed by the life that the performers bring to the characters. So my answer to your question probably changes every time I watch part of the show, which is a great feeling. I think every character in the show gets his or her moment to really impress or surprise the audience.

Tell me about some of your other projects.
While I’ve written several plays, I’m mostly a poet. My third book of poetry, How to Dance as the Roof Caves Inwill be published in March of 2014 (though it’s already on Amazon!). The manuscript just went to the typesetter and I’ve seen the cover, which is pretty sweet. I’m currently writing another poetry collection that is all poems about animals and our (sometimes problematic) relationship to them. Right now I’m reading a lot about taxidermy as research for that project. 

How does being a poet inform your work as a playwright?
I actually feel like poetry and drama come from very different parts of my brain. Part of that is the medium in which the audience encounters each genre. A poem is complete on the page, as text, but plays aren’t complete until they’re embodied by performers in a physical space. A poem can’t depend on the presence of an actor or scenery to create an image—the poem’s magic is that it can create a powerful, vivid image from words alone. As a playwright, I have to always be mindful of the fact that a real live person will have to stand on stage and speak/sing these words. That frees me from some of the obligations of poetry but imposes others. For example, in UNEARTHED, the way that past and present intermingle is inherently physical in a way it could never be on the page. Even though the show contains songs, the lyrics of which resemble poetry in some ways, a song is not a poem, and a poem is not a song. Added to that, the songs in UNEARTHED are so different in style from the poetry I usually write that there’s very little crossover for me. A final difference is that a poet surrenders his or her text to the interpretation of a reader—that’s a reasonably straight light between author and audience. In theater, the text is mediated through the interpretation of directors, composers, dramaturgs, designers, and actors before it ever reaches the audience. The end product rarely if ever matches exactly what the playwright had in mind. A musical like UNEARTHED is the result of extensive collaboration, and the significance of that can’t be overstated. Working with the show’s creative team and watching the rehearsals, I’m continuously amazed by and grateful for the unanticipated details and dimensions that all my collaborators have found in the text.

 
UNEARTHED premieres this weekend July 26-28 at 7 pm in Babcock Auditorium at Sweet Briar College. Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for students. To purchase tickets call 434-826-0391 or click here
 
 

Interview with Cymbeline’s Denee Lortz

If you’ve caught either of Endstation’s Shakespeare productions this season you’ve seen Endstation newcomer Denee Lortz in the lead female role. Denee comes to Endstation straight from graduating from the BFA program at Florida State University. This weekend Denee, along with the cast of Cymbeline, will be performing at Old City Cemetery on Friday, Poplar Forest on Saturday, and Presbyterian Homes & Family Services and the Family Alliance on Sunday. We sat down with Denee to learn a bit more about her and her experience in Central Virginia this summer.

You play more than one role in Cymbeline. Tell us about each of your roles. 

Denee as "Winnie" in CYMBELINE

DL: I play Winnie, a young girl growing up during the Depression with a huge imagination. While in “timeout” she tells the audience her favorite story about a beautiful princess named Imogen. She uses her magical spoon to turn her family into the characters in her story and even herself into Princess Imogen. Imogen is the second character I play. Princess Imogen is a very beautiful woman but spends half of the play disguised as a boy searching for her banished husband.

Your characters in Cymbeline are very different than your characters in Taming of the Shrew. Was it hard to keep track of both when you were performing them simultaneously?

DL: My characters in both shows were so VERY different it made it easy to separate them. Kate is extremely grounded and masculine. Imogen is much more feminine and Winnie is playful and youthful. Also, both shows had such distinct styles which helped keep characters different. I found myself having more difficulty keeping Winnie and Imogen separate. I would switch back and forth multiple times throughout a scene and sometimes the lines would blur, especially in the beginning stages of rehearsal. 

In your opinion, what can audience members expect when they come to see Cymbeline

DL: Cymbeline is a magical experience. This production is full of life and surprises. Cymbeline isn’t one of the Shakespearian shows done very often which is a shame. It’s a fairytale-like show with poisonous apples, wizards, battles, and princesses. It’s suitable for all ages. 

You’ve worked with several of your Endstation colleagues in a university setting. How has the experience been different at Endstation? 

DL: My last show at school was Much Ado About Nothing. Chris Martin and I played opposite each other as Benedict and Beatrice with Walter Kmiec directing. It was exciting and terrifying all at once because I’d never done a Shakespeare show before. At school the directors are getting graded and all the actors are students. Here the rehearsal process is much shorter because Endstation has professional actors collaborating with professional directors. 

You’ve just graduated from college and came straight to Endstation. What is next for you? 

Denee with the cast of TAMING OF THE SHREW

DL: Whats next for me….good question! I’ll be heading out to LA at the end of August to meet with a couple agencies. Stay out there for a few weeks to see how I like it. After that trip I’ll decide where I’ll be starting my career but it’s looking like either LA or Atlanta. Wish me luck! :)  

Good luck Denee! Thanks for all your beautiful work this summer. Be sure to catch Denee in her final weekend of performances on the historical tour of Cymbeline July 19-21. To learn more about the shows or purchase tickets click here.

Hilary Sutton is the Director of Communications at Endstation Theatre Company. She is also a freelance writer and actor. Connect with Endstation on Facebook and Twitter.

New Ingredients for New Work

The first sentences of our company’s vision state that we are “committed to producing new works, reinterpretations of classical plays, and original theatrical productions for the Central Virginia community based on the historical, current, and cultural events specific to the area.” From our beginning, this company has tackled regionally specific material, investigating our surroundings and carving a place in the history of Central Virginia. As a resident actor five years ago, I had the privilege of working on the development of our first devised, regional work, The Bluest Water: a Hurricane Camille Story, written by our then Resident Playwright, Jason Chimonides. The work explored the devastation and lasting effects of the storm system that hit this area in 1969. Receiving widespread attention, a number of company members began to discuss a platform on which to produce such works regularly and uphold this vision.

In the following year for our second annual Blue Ridge Summer Theatre Festival, our current Resident Playwright Joshua Mikel and I founded an additional wing of the festival called the Playwrights Initiative Residency Program. Annually, we pan for the best emerging, professional playwrights across the country and offer them an opportunity to retreat to the Blue Ridge, to write and develop new works on campus at Sweet Briar College. The month-long residency culminates in our Public Reading Series which provides a platform for new work to be read to our company and our community.

In return, we task these playwrights to seek the material necessary for exciting, original, regionally specific plays and musicals for the Central Virginia community.

This task begins the moment our playwrights arrive each summer with a “bake-off”. A bake-off is a traditional playwriting game that acts as a springboard into new work. For our Endstation bake-off we’ve tweaked the rules a bit. It goes something like this:

Each playwright (this year we have four participating in the game) comes up with a number of “ingredients” for a tasty new play. Ingredients are wide-ranging to say the least (talking pumpkins, a period play, Atlantis, spatula, sacred geometry, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). These ingredients are all placed into a hat, and from that creative pantry we select four random ingredients with which to “bake” four new plays. Each playwright uses the same four ingredients, but as any good chef knows it’s not what ingredients you have but how you use them. And these playwrights must use them. Our current commissioned playwright, Tearrance Chisholm, once wrote a work that had to include the ingredient talking pumpkins. He was less than thrilled but incorporated it in the most creative way. Having researched the many different species of pumpkin, he named each of his characters after them. Holding the name Mammoth Gold, a southern gothic patriarch became, in the abstract, a talking pumpkin.

After we have selected these, one additional ingredient is selected individually by each playwright. This additional ingredient has been suggested to us by a member of our company and is (you guessed it) regionally specific. Each one is unique and not shared by any other playwright. To give you an idea of what these regional ingredients look like here are this year’s topics:

  • The Bedford Boys
  • Ota Benga: the Lynchburg pygmy
  • The Rucker Brothers’ batteau
  • The Texas Inn (or T-Room)

Once the ingredients are set, the playwrights have only a matter of weeks to construct the skeleton of a play which acts as a proposal for a new, regionally specific work for the company, the festival, and the community. This proposal is performed at the Public Reading Series, specifically our Posthaste Series. This year’s proposals will be presented to the company and our public at Second Stage | Amherst (in the old Amherst Baptist Church) next Monday & Tuesday, July 22-23 from 7-9pm. This event is free to the public and will include complimentary refreshments between readings.

We look forward to seeing you there and starting a dialogue about Amherst, about Sweet Briar, and the community of Central Virginia.

Michael Stablein, Jr. is Associate Artistic Director of Endstation Theatre Company. Connect with Endstation on Facebook and Twitter.