A Conversation with Brad Armacost

As we approach the closing weekend of C.S. LEWIS ON STAGE, company member Brad Armacost reflects on his experience of bring a literary icon to life on the Provision stage.

C.S. Lewis On Stage

Brad Armacost as C.S. Lewis

For many, C.S. Lewis made an impression on them as a young reader. What was your first introduction or first memory of the work of C.S. Lewis?
I suppose my first introduction to CS Lewis was the through the world of Narnia and our Encyclopedia Britannica. When I shared my delight in reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with my father he sent me off immediately to learn more about this fascinating man who was equally at home writing for adults, children, academics, philosophers and theologians. I remember my father being delighted that I took an interest in Lewis’ work, as he considered him “one of us.” I never never really knew what he meant by that. Maybe it was that Lewis was Irish or that his writings on Christianity were quite in line with my father’s own views. I choose to think it was because my father recognized Lewis’ appeal to the common man. That universal voice rings as clearly today as it did fifty years ago.

Do you have a favorite work by C.S. Lewis?
A Grief Observed is probably not an obvious choice as a Lewis favorite, but the generosity of spirit is evident even as he kicks and screams and yells at God in his grief. As he expresses doubt he shows us our doubts and anguishes are part of our growth as human beings. It helps us understand that “bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”

Why do you think C.S. Lewis is such a compelling figure?
His writing is full of grace, humor and heart. His generosity of spirit. That he shared with the world the things he knew and loved in such a delightful fashion.

How does it feel to return to a role you’ve played before?
Its been about seven years and I’d like to think I’m a bit wiser (wishful thinking). I’ve seen my son grow into a fine young man headed off to school in Boston this fall (our only child). I’ve had the honor of playing CS Lewis in SHADOWLANDS here at Provision. Coming back to this role is like slipping on a comfortable, well worn pair of shoes. It’s our job to polish them and walk with you through this gentleman’s world on this particular night. It’s a glorious journey and one I’m honored to be taking with Tim and all of the folks at Provision.

C.S. Lewis On Stage

Brad Armacost as C.S. Lewis

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Profile: Caroline Heffernan of Wonders Never Cease

We got a chance to chat with the youngest star of Provision Theater’s newest and final play of the 2010-2011 season, Wonder Never Cease. The show opens tonight and 11 year old Caroline Heffernan is thrilled to be making her Provision Theater debut!

Though this is her first Provision show, Caroline has a resume longer than some seasoned performers. She’s already appeared in multiple national commercials and has been on stage at The Goodman, Infusion Theatre Company, Collaboraction Sketchbook and most recently as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird at Steppenwolf Theatre.

PTC Blog: What was your first performance experience and how long have you been an actress?
I started acting at age 5 in a television commercial for a bank and my first play was “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre when I was 8.

PTC Blog: How is it different working on an original show vs. a show that has been done before?
It’s a new experience. In ways, it’s more interesting because you don’t have anyone else who has played the part before you that other people might compare you to. You can put yourself into your character and create her.

PTC Blog: What are the similarities between you and your character, Leah? What are the differences?
We are both alike in the sense that we are near the same age at the same point in history and we both are very creative and like to explore the world and our imaginations. We are different because I don’t see angels, my parents are not divorced and I have a great father. I also have siblings and a loving family and I go to a public school. The last difference is that I live in Chicago and she lives in LA.

PTC Blog: How do you prepare for your roles?
I read the entire script first and memorize my lines. Then, I decide who I think this character would be like physically and emotionally. Next, I go over my lines again the way my character would. I try to become that person as best as I can when I am on stage and with other actors.

PTC Blog: What is it like working with adults everyday?
It’s fun and hard at the same time. I like it when the adults tell jokes and play cards and games with me. I also like adults that figure out who I am as a person and become closer to me. It is hard sometimes when they don’t realize I’m a child and they say and do things they shouldn’t around me. It is also hard if they treat me like I’m too much of a baby.

Starting tonight, you can see Caroline and the rest of the talented cast of Wonders Never Cease every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Provision Theater Company, 1001 Roosevelt Road, Chicago.

For tickets, visit http://www.provisiontheater.org or call 866-811-4111.

And tune into the Provision Theater blog early next week to see photos and updates from opening night!

A New Play With New Faces

You may already know that Provision Theater’s newest project is an original work. You may also already know that the script is penned by Artistic Director Tim Gregory and is based on a popular novel by writer Tim Downs. But what you may not know is that many of the faces you will see on the Provision stage are appearing there for the first time. This cast is crawling with newcomers, both to Provision and to professional theatre arts. Frederick Williams plays Emmet and though he’s done numerous films and voice over work, this is his first experience performing in live theatre. “It’s my premiere!” he says with a big smile, “This is a new kind of acting that I’m learning!”

The cast has been rehearsing for over a month, but this isn’t your average rehearsal process. Since the writer is also the director, the cast has gotten a rare opportunity to provide input on their characters. Holly Bittinger, also new to Provision Theater, plays Liv Hayden, the play’s famous actress who might be a little past her prime by Hollywood standards. “Tim wrote the script but he allowed us all as actors to have input.” she said, “During the rehearsal process, if something didn’t ring true we’d figure out something that worked better.” Holly also used the original novel that the play is based on in her preparation for the role. “There was information in the book about my character that wasn’t included in the dialogue and it helped to inform my choices. It’s definitely a very useful tool.” Anna Dynarski, who is making her professional theatre debut as Annie, agrees, “Tim (Gregory) is very open to your ideas and how you think your character would say something… you have more liberty with this kind of script.”

Jobe Cerny, who plays Hollywood agent Morty Biederman, and Mike Wollner who plays Wes, are also new to Provision Theater, although you’ll probably still recognize them. Both have extensive national commercial resumes and as well as appearing in quite a few films. Jobe observes that Chicago is “a very healthy theatre city, with a lot of organizations that foster new works. It’s interesting to help create a new script that will go on to have a life after words and I think it’s an important thing for actors to do.” Mike Wollner agrees and details how he was able to use his improvisational and on camera training during the process. “We’ve been able to work on and tighten the script through improve techniques and that’s kind of how it works on a film set. That whole process is a big workshop.” What sets this show apart from the actor’s standpoint is the fact that they have had the chance to be the first to develop their characters, working directly with one of the people who helped create them. And it’s a rare opportunity for the performers to be able to participate in the development of a new work. As Mike summed it up for us, “The classics are great, but you don’t get to workshop Shakespeare.”

Next on the Provision Theater blog…an interview with the youngest star of Wonders Never Cease, Caroline Heffernan!

The people behind the story

The Hiding Place is off and running, having just finished its third week of performances. Opening weekend was a great success, not just because of a full house and a Jeff recommendation, though both very nice, but also due to some very special guests.  We were lucky enough to not only have John and Elizabeth Sherrill, the authors of the book, come to the show opening night, but also stay for a talkback with the audience. The Sherrills have sold something like 50 million books world-wide, and written countless articles for Guideposts, where they’ve been on staff for over 50 years, among others. Their books have been adapted for film, radio plays, audiobooks, and theater. They also started their own publishing company, Chosen Books, 40 years ago. Successes aside, they were incredibly down to earth, funny, and more than gracious, with us as well as each other. It was truly entertaining, and inspiring, to witness the witty banter they’ve cultivated over 63 years of marriage and working together. 

As someone who had been watching the play evolve over the previous month, it was interesting to hear the kinds of questions an audience member would have, having just seen it for the first time. It was also awesome to gain some insight into how this all began in the first place. Elizabeth Sherrill had gone to see Corrie ten Boom speak, and was so moved by her story, and felt it was so relevant, that she approached her afterward and asked if she would want to write a book. The rest is history.  Anyone who has read this book can attest that you really feel like you know this woman, so to hear stories from people who actually did was a rare gift.

One of the most fascinating things I learned was actually born of an annoyance.  One audience member asked what it was like to work with Corrie ten Boom, and the Sherrills answered that it was great, except for one small problem: she couldn’t remember details. They would ask her to describe what a person looked like, and she would give a description of their character. In one example, Elizabeth had asked Corrie to describe one of the men, and after several responses describing the kind of person he was, Elizabeth asked, “Yes, but what did he look like?” to which Corrie responded, “He looked like a man.” She wasn’t trying to be difficult, or make some sort of statement, she simply did not notice physical and material details.  While they admitted that it was a wonderful trait in a person, to a writer, it was agonizing. It actually became a bit of a running joke between her and the Sherrills, eventually leading to her writing them from various locations, playfully describing her surroundings in vivid detail, to prove that she could.

Corrie was aware of her strong personality and tendency to be brusque. She was stubborn, but admitted when she was wrong and asked for forgiveness. She was a real person, and it made her more relatable to learn of her quirks. We were also able to learn a bit about Meyer Mossel, who is in both the book and the play. Elizabeth accompanied Corrie on a visit with him, and could attest that he was just as warm as he is described to be.  During their visit, he gave Corrie the gold Jewish star he had been forced to wear during the Nazi occupation of Holland. He said he never knew, until that day, that the reason he kept it was to give it to Corrie. It is now in the Sherrill home in a frame; a little piece of history.

I love that I can say that, even after the rehearsal process is over and the play is in production, I am still learning about Corrie and her story. It reaffirms its relevance to history, literature, and people in general. And with each new medium and each new audience, it will continue.

For more information on the Sherrills, as well as Elizabeth Sherrill’s new autobiography, please visit http://www.elizabethsherrill.com/index.html

 

Tech week!

If you’re wondering what ‘tech’ means, and you probably are,  it means the stage of the rehearsal process when the designers come in and all of the technical aspects of the production are put into place. Cues are set, and the team plots out the way the show will run. Over the last month, we’ve been watching the characters come to life. Now, it’s time to do the same for their world.  You really get to see the shape a show is taking, and in that respect, it’s pretty exciting. It also means that opening night is right around the corner.

There is a lot of time and energy that goes into tech, and it’s awesome to see all the great ideas you’ve been hearing about put into action. Tech is always a long process, as it’s also the time to learn what does and does not work, and everyone has to be ready to think on their feet. 

Over the years, I’ve been to my fair share of tech rehearsals, serving a number of purposes, and I’d be lying if I said this was my favorite part of the process. However, it is very necessary, and there are aspects that I’ll never tire of.  Where else can you watch a modest home evolve into a concentration camp without leaving your seat? It’s when you first experience the change of tone a light cue can subltly convey; when you can truly understand the depth some underscoring can add.  It is a time when you can appreciate all the hard work that is being put into a production, from all sides.  There are amazingly talented designers working on this show, and you will certainly not want to miss it.

During tech rehearsals, there is a lot of downtime for actors. It is common for them to go off on their own, read, work on lines, etc.  There was a point earlier this week, when I heard laughter during one of the scenes in the Ten Boom home, and I turned to see all of the actors from the end of Act I watching the play. It was really cool to see such interest and support, especially during their ‘free’ time.  As an actor, it’s always a good feeling to be a part of a play that you wish you could watch. With this cast, the camaraderie and respect for the play and story itself is clear, which, while nice to see onstage, is even better to see filling the seats behind me.

Meet the Volunteers

Every play is supported by a myriad of behind the scenes hands – writers, lighting designers, sound designers, set designers, stage managers…well, you get the idea. But at Provision, we are proud to have an another set of hands supporting us throughout our production: our volunteers.
Recently, they gathered on the stage at Provision with Artistic Director Tim Gregory. Snacking on homemade baked goods brought by volunteers, Tim open the meeting by sharing Provision’s vision for the Hiding Place and then members of the team shared why they felt drawn to share their talents with Provision and how they could be a part of supporting The Hiding Place.  It was, in a word, inspiring and by the end of the night the room was buzzing with excitement.

Like all of our behind the scenes crew, you might not always see our volunteers at work, but we couldn’t do it without them. We’d like to share some of the amazing stories of our volunteers over the next few months, so keep checking back!
In the meantime, check out pictures from our volunteer meeting on our Flickr page.

Interested in learning more about volunteering with Provision? E-mail phenz@provisiontheater.org