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 Alyssa Ruiz: an ensemble member at Stories that Soar!

Alyssa Ruizinterviewed by Gabriella De Brequet

How did you get involved with Stories that Soar!?

I was apart of Stories that Soar!’s high school program at Desert View High School when I was 17 or 18, I ended up loving it and planned to audition for the ensemble, but I got a school scholarship, so I went away for two years. As soon as I came back this summer I auditioned and got in, and I don’t regret it at all. It’s so much fun!

What has working with Stories that Soar! taught you about your community?

That kids are very aware of everything that happens to them. They are a lot smarter than we think they are. Adults underestimate youth especially, so I’ve learned to accept everyone no matter their age. I don’t necessarily agree with the statement “The older, the wiser”, I think with age comes experience, but a child can be just as wise.

What do you think every performer can benefit from being part of an ensemble?

You learn how to collaborate and especially in Stories that Soar!’s case you play a variety of roles in the same show. As a performer you learn how to to use your body to create multiple characters. Are you everything and every one.

Photo courtesy of Stories that Soar!

Photo courtesy of Stories that Soar!

Do you have an all time favorite story that has been adapted for the stage?

Yes! A few shows back we did Lemonade. We performed it entirely in silhouette. This little girl wrote this story about this old man who would drink lemonade and eat toast with jam on the porch every day to remember his wife who had dementia that passed away. This little girl’s writing was incredible; her vocabulary was out of this world.

What are you looking forward to sharing with your audience on Saturday’s 2019 Best of Stories that Soar! show at the Fox Theatre?

All the work that the kids have put in! In total they wrote 15,000 stories this year. All the dedication they have put in to feed the Magic Box is incredible. They are invested in the Magic Box. It’s become something that’s essential to their school. Writing becomes less of a chore for these kids and that’s really powerful.

Magic Box at the Fox: Best of Stories that Soar! 2019 show will be Saturday May 11th from 3pm to 5pm at the Fox Theatre (17 W. Congress St.). For tickets visit foxtucsontheatre.ticketforce.com. For more information about Stories that Soar! visit literacyconnects.org.

 

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