Lies and Laughs Abound in Show People

by Betsy Labiner

Show People, by Paul Weitz, is a love letter to theatre. Or possibly hate mail. Live Theatre Workshop’s production dives whole-heartedly into the play’s metatheatrical examination of the performing arts, acting, and the theatre industry. Under Chris Moseley’s direction, Show People adeptly shifts gears between celebratory and elegiac as it delves into the highs and lows of the lives and careers of actors. Plot twists abound. It’s a fun, if occasionally dark, play, and audiences ought to be aware in advance of its self-consciousness and self-referential theatricality. These traits reach a maniacal pitch near the end of the play, so make sure that if you go, you’re willing to be in on the jokes. 

Lesley Abrams as Marnie and Steve McKee as Jerry. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Lesley Abrams as Marnie and Steve McKee as Jerry. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

 

The play is a tight, fast romp – ninety minutes with no intermission – following two late-career actors, Marnie and Jerry, respectively played by Lesley Abrams and Steve McKee, as they meet a young man, Tom, who has hired them to play his parents in order to introduce them to his girlfriend, Natalie. While Marnie and Jerry work self-consciously to inhabit their parental characters and flesh out their roles on the fly, they’re thrown curve after curve by Tom, played by Taylor Rascher, and Natalie, played by Emily Gates. 

All four actors are delightful in their roles: lively, deeply layered, and with excellent chemistry amongst themselves. Abrams was hilarious perfection as Marnie, giving everything from strident cynicism to loving warmth with impeccable comedic timing. I found myself watching her even when other characters were speaking; her physical reactions and facial expressions were a highlight in a uniformly strong cast. As Natalie, Gates provides a more naively optimistic counterpoint, bubbling with undimmed enthusiasm even as Abrams lobs backhanded remarks. McKee skillfully melds Jerry’s self-indulgence with bewilderment and, in a few especially evocative moments, even aching sadness. Rascher shines most in the moments that make the audience uncomfortable, as he – and we – struggle with the lines between reality and fiction. 

Show People delivers a palimpsest of performances. Even as the fictions layer one another, intrusive realities can’t quite be banished. Some lies contain grains of truth, and some acts seem to be entirely too honest. Even the characters themselves can’t quite identify the boundaries of reality as the lines blur between self and character, fiction and fact. In one exchange that exemplifies the play as a whole, someone asks, “What if it’s real?” The response: “It’s not.” “But what if it is?” 

Steve McKee as Jerry, Taylor Rascher as Tom, and Lesley Abrams as Marnie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Steve McKee as Jerry, Taylor Rascher as Tom, and Lesley Abrams as Marnie. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The comedic meditation on acting and theatre is layered, calling attention not only to the professional craft, but also the more mundane performances people put on every day, particularly in situations when they want to impress or endear themselves to others. These moments range from painfully relatable awkwardness to laugh-out-loud absurdity. While likely all audiences can relate to some of these elements, such as the act of telling someone you like their baking when you don’t, those whole live and work in the performing arts will find that this play speaks directly to them, for better or worse, from start to finish. The play ruminates on the joy of acting, the drive to perform, the need to be in the spotlight, and, more bleakly, on the harsh reality that chasing that spotlight can be a heartbreaking endeavor. 

Despite the unflinching discussions of poverty and hardship, an idealized vision of the theatre is present as well. The play reiterates that creation and performance are labors of love. “The stage is a place that demands empathy,” the audience is told, and so it does. While the stage demands empathy, the play indicates, it also creates it. Theatre forges bonds between actors, audiences, and all the individuals bringing a work to life. The play points out these multilateral relationships, asking audiences to investigate their own role in show business. 

Show People clearly loves actors and artistic creation, but has no illusions about their world. In one anecdote about playing a horse and doing so topless at the director’s insistence, the audience is briefly confronted with the harsh reality of the exploitation of women in the theatre industry and the power dynamics between directors and aspiring and/or under-employed actors. The story is brief, but searing. It encapsulates both shame and desperation, condemning the situation even as it elicits sympathy and understanding for the individual having made the choice to go ahead in such a role. The anecdote is a minor moment in the play, but it continues to resonate long after. It is a jarring reminder of the coercion that can and does occur. This reminder should not go unheeded – we as participants in and consumers of theatre must demand ethical practices in which all participants are treated with dignity and respect.  

Take on the role of audience member! Show People runs July 25th through August 24th at Live Theatre Workshop (5317 E. Speedway Blvd.). Shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 pm, as well as Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online at LiveTheatreWorkshop.org or by phone at 520-327-4242.

Up Close with Maryann Green: Acting, Teaching, and Making Art on the Fringes

Maryann Greeninterviewed by Gabriella De Brequet

When did you start working in theatre and what compelled you to the art form? 

I’ve been doing theater since I was 10. I started acting “professionally” in community theatre in San Francisco in the mid-90s, and continued acting on and off since then. I worked for IATSE in college, and I’ve been directing pretty consistently since I got my masters’ degree 12 years ago, and have been a producer of alternative theater for the last 3 years. 

When I started acting as a kid, it was the sense of community I felt that kept me coming back. I was never a star, but I didn’t care. My older brothers were really into sports and the theatre kids were my team. As I got more into the experience of creating, performing, and later producing, theatre I realized that you can extrapolate that sense of community beyond your cast and crew – you’re really creating that feeling between performers and audience, and among the audience themselves, through this shared creative, thoughtful, emotional experience. Which is why I love what I do with Fringe and Live Theatre Workshop’s Etcetera program so much. I create a space where the connections can happen. 

How has teaching informed the work you do outside of the classroom? 

I love being able to share my professional experience with my students, both as an actor, and director. I love that I can tell them about how adults are keeping theatre in their lives, even if they didn’t study theatre in college, or if they have a “day job” that has little to do with the arts. But it’s also about how my experience outside the classroom informs my teaching. I apply what I learn from every show to how I teach and direct students. But there is the occasional moment, when I’m directing, when I’ll really get back to basics with the actors- what’s your objective, what are the intentions in this scene? And sometimes I’ll even do exercises with my actors that I would do in the classroom. 

What theatre trends have you noticed your students gravitate to and are they different from the trends you gravitate to?

What I love about my students is that by the time they get to my advanced class, they’re really willing to take creative risks. They’re willing to go on the journey with me and they’re as concerned, if not more so, with what they get out of the experience of creating theatre than pleasing an audience of their peers. They’re willing to challenge their peers’ (and friends’ and family’s) notion of what theatre can be. So we can do a totally avant guard piece, and Hamlet, and a modern dry sarcastic comedy all in one school year and they’re all in. 

Because of that we’ve kind of been able to push the envelope of what high school theatre can do. We were the first high school in Arizona to do The Laramie Project back in 2006, and Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses in 2016. 

What would you like to see more of in the Tucson theatre community? 

I’d love to see more community in our community theatre. I feel like each company operates in this little bubble that competes for audience as well as actors. I know that’s changing a little bit, and I can’t wait to see where it goes… Multiple theatres holding combined season auditions? Why not! Sharing your season early to avoid overlap? Yes please! Discounts for “industry” folks? Heck yeah! 

Do you have any upcoming projects that you want our readers to know about?

Tucson Fringe is hosting a brand new event this weekend called B/lending Forms, where we paired artists of different media (poetry, sculpture, stand up, spoken word, dance,mural, etc) and supported them through the creation of a new piece that combines their talents. That’s at Steinfeld Warehouse on Saturday July 20th. And of course applications are open for the 2020 Fringe Festival until Aug 31st at midnight. (info on both events at tucsonfringe.org

And LTW’s Etcetera Series submissions close on August 1st. 

 

The spotlight series is an on-going series where we spotlight local female and non-binary artists in the Tucson Community.

Up Close with Gretchen Wirges: First Love, Improv, and Getting Behind the Scenes as a Director, Actor, and Playwright

Gretchen Wirges
interviewed by Gabriella De Brequet

Which came first for you, improv or theatre?

Theater! Definitely my first love. Though, interestingly I spent a good part of my early years behind the scenes as Stage Manager, prop master, set designer. A few years after I moved to Tucson I was taken to an improv show and became a regular audience member. When the opportunity came to take a class I was really afraid because I didn’t know what I could do with a script. I went to and realized that the freedom and creativity and trust and community involved in improv was exactly the freedom I’d always wanted in theater. Now I can apply those skills and that sense of play and comfort to scripted works as well. It’s the perfect marriage of everything I love about performing.

How has teaching influenced you and your craft?

As with most things, when you teach something you understand it on a very different level. I love to see students find the ability to be vulnerable and trust their own ability to be in the moment. This reminder always helps me focus on stage. I practice what I preach. Be truthful. Listen like a thief. Let go of story and embrace the relationship. I take deep breaths, I make eye contact with my partner, and I listen to them and to the deeper meaning behind the words. I always perform as though one of my students is watching.

Gretchen Wirges (center) as one of three in the Chorus of Stones, the gatekeepers of the Underworld, in Euridice, with Leah Taylor (left) and Julia Balestracci (right). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Gretchen Wirges (center) as one of three in the Chorus of Stones, the gatekeepers of the Underworld, in Euridice, with Leah Taylor (left) and Julia Balestracci (right). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

What do you think Tucson’s improv and theatre community is lacking?

On a practical level, rehearsal space. Haha. No, but really. It’s kind of symbolic of the bigger issue I see. I’m on the board of the Tucson Fringe Festival. And what Fringe focuses on is providing a beautiful space that allows artists to create. But Fringe is only one weekend a year (January 9-12 by the way! Woot!) Some theaters are encouraging a bit of this with new play festivals and late night series for local writers and performers. But we can do more. We can create more spaces and creativity workshops/outlets to encourage writers, dancers, actors, directors, song writers and visual artists. Can we collaborate? Can we inspire each other more directly? Can we put something on stage that is beautifully new and fresh written by a local playwright instead of one of the classics being considered? Can we designate one night a week to a think tank for local creators/playwrights/devisers? I just think we can do more to showcase the process of creation, instead of just the product.

Have you been inspired by any local comedians or performers as of late?

Amanda Gremel and Samantha Cormier, who starred in Always! Patsy Cline at Live Theater Workshop. The two of them really wove this beautiful story using humor and music. They both blew me away with the way they connected with the audience and each other. Samantha Severson in Stupid Fucking Bird at Winding Road. Vulnerable, powerful, and moving. Clair de la Vergne and Nicole DelPrete in Blood wedding. They were so, so, so lyrical and strong and truthful.

Do you have any exciting upcoming projects that you want our readers to know
about?

Sure! I’ve got a few:
Tucson Fringe is putting on an incredible event July 20th at Steinfeld Warehouse. It’s called B/lending Forms. Visual artists, performing artists (actors, singers, dancers, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, etc) and spoken word/poetry performers partner up to devise a unique multimedia performance for an exciting new project that blends art and expression. Presented to an audience in an art-gallery style walk through. It’s going to be incredible!

I’ve just started work on a devised piece of theater that will debut next season at Something Something Theatre! My intent is to take an age-old female trope and look at it from a feminist angle. It’s an exciting project and I’m really thankful to Something Something for the opportunity.

I’m also in rehearsals with the troupe I direct, Unwritten. We create a fully-improvised, full-length play using a theatrical form called The Woolf. It’s super engaging and really difficult to do well, but they really dig in and knock me off my socks every time they perform. We will be appearing at a to-be-named theater this fall. People can check out our Facebook page if they want to know about upcoming performances.

 

The spotlight series is an on-going series where we spotlight local female and non-binary artists in the Tucson Community.

Up Close with T Loving: an Interdisciplinary Creator, Producer of Mischief & Magic, Justice Instigator, and Public Health Professional

1 Loving_SHOCO 2017_Julius Schlosburg.pnginterviewed by Gabriella De Brequet

T Loving is an interdisciplinary creator, producer of mischief and magic, justice instigator, and public health professional. Creating in the bend of whole truths through devised, ensemble, and traditional practice, much of T’s work focuses within/in service and prosperity of communities of color, LGBTQ, female-identified and gender nonconforming individuals, refugees, and migrants. They create through unpacking the body, juxtaposition, overlap, repetition, and disintegration and concentrate on unraveling false narratives and exploring liminal spaces.

Pronouns: they/them

When did you discover that you needed to pursue a career in the arts?

I don’t think I’ve ever decided to pursue a career in the arts, per se. But my junior year of high school was when I realized I wanted to cultivate a relationship with performance art.

Each year my high school did a spring musical. I was in Alpha Choir, so participation was required but as lead roles were shared among a small group of individuals, the rest of us weren’t necessarily encouraged to audition. Tired of being “(insert #) Tree from the Left”, my junior year I auditioned for the role of Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS and got it. Later that year, I was asked to audition for a festival touring production of SCARS & STRIPES with Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and landed it. Although these roles and productions were disparate in time, space, and subject matter, I saw numerous connections between them. The most significant residing in humanness— desire, trying, succeeding, failing, and going (whether pushed or choosing) into the fray again.

In performance art, I found new ways to connect to, discover, and understand myself and the world around me. It gave me access to examine, pick apart, and re/weave the threads that connect us. That’s what I’m pursuing.

What qualities do you look for when choosing to take on a project?

Primarily, I look for projects anchored in good people who are willing to take risks, explore beyond the page, and create and learn from and with each other. I’m interested in interdisciplinary projects—blurring genres, development techniques, and methods/mediums of presentation and projects that mess with traditional senses of what theatre is, how it looks, where it happens, who participates in the creation, and whom it is for. I look for projects that uplift truths, voices, and beings ignored/buried and challenge colonialist ideas and norms. I look for projects that implicate and instigate reflection on who we are, how and by whom space is taken (up), and how we re/create (shared) place.

Do you have any dream roles or projects?

Yes, yep, indeed. Currently, I’m soul deep in Britteney Black Rose Kapri’s Black Queer Hoe and can’t stop imagining, in slips and slivers, my being living this magic in performance.

Also, Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf; Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (a biomythography in novel form that I’d love to explore as a performance work); Shakespeare’s King John (specifically the role of Constance); and Nicky Silver’s Fat Men in Skirts (as a director or Bishop or both?).

Are there any projects that you have done in the past that you would like to do again in the future?

Mostly no. I would like to work again with local writer, educator, and social activist, Lola Rainey, on an evolution of her American Haiko: PAIN, which focused on unpacking intergenerational trauma. I’m in sincere gratitude to have worked with her and To-Ree-Nee Wolf on this project that carved deep into me. They are both so talented, ferociously honest, and real in the most ‘fierce and deserving of all the mad respect’ kind of ways. I’m interested in unpacking a new generation of stories and more fully exploring trajectories of healing through this vessel.

But again, mostly no. I’m not interested in nor do I think it’s possible to recreate what has been. I’ve worked on amazing projects with magical people. Each project has offered opportunities for learning, growth, and cultivation. I don’t believe those offerings were given so I could come back to the same moment, but so I would have something to take forward into the world and build anew.

Do you have any exciting upcoming projects that you’re looking forward to sharing with the community of Tucson?

Yes. I’m currently working on a project located in queerness, gender, and culture focused on food as resistance. I was honored to perform a selection of original work examining and ruminating on Queerness, Color, and God, at Kore Press’s Queer Performance Salon, May 2018. I’m looking forward to continuing its development and sharing more with/in our community.

 

The spotlight series will be a continued series where we spotlight local female and non-binary artists in the Tucson Community.