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Opening: "Baptized to the Bone"
The New Ensemble Theater Group has never been afraid to push the boundaries some. It's part of the mission to do forward-thinking thought-provoking plays. When it staged Hamlet in April, it turned the Danish prince into a woman (and a lesbian at that) and its latest, "Baptized to the Bone," is about a bisexual hustler who starts an affair with the local preacher’s wife and then, with the preacher himself. It opens Aug. 17 at the Broken Leg Theater.
Famous caught up with director J. Daniel Herring and actress Hayley Galbraith to talk about the play, working in a small venue and the importance of independent theater companies.
Famous: The synopsis of the play sounds a bit avant-garde and not at all typical of theater in Fresno. Is there any worry of how it will be received by friends/family/the community?
Hayley Galbraith (who plays the preacher's wife, Gladys): There may be some concerns in terms of getting "butts in seats" as they say, but the subject matter is approached in such a sensitive, honest and respectful way. Our hope as performers is [always] to tell a story based in truth and reflective of the human condition. While specific plot points may not be applicable to each and every audience member's own life experience, the themes tackled are ones any person could easily relate to: love, longing,sacrafice, self examination and discovery. Plus, there are guns and whiskey!
J. Daniel Herring (director): I'm not too worried about how audiences will receive the play if they come in with an open mind. The show, at its core, examines how our religious beliefs can play a role in our decision making and our human interactions sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
F: What is the importance of doing work like this, and where does it fit into the larger theater scene?
Galbraith: Over the last few years, Fresno has really grown theatrically. By bringing work of this nature to the forefront, it gives other sprouting companies and small artistic collectives permission to do the same, particularly if it is well received (and attended). I think there is a larger community of local theatregoers thirsting for more alternative material.They're ready, no need to tip-toe anymore. The more material that challenges convention is made available to the masses, the more it will be sought out. The difficulty becomes locating and informing potential audiences that this art does exist inthe Valley. And here is where you can see it.
F: Is the way you approached this play (in terms of acting/directing/etc.) different from the work you've done before? If so,how?
Herring: I have always believed that "directing is directing" no matter what type of play I'm directing, but my vision orconcept is informed by many other variables such as type of play, characters and even the actual physical theatre space.
Galbraith: With a play this intimate and "close to the bone," as it were, we all had to come into the very first rehearsal without any inhibitions or timidity. There was no space or time for it. Often, with a longer rehearsal process or larger cast, you have the luxury of easing into things and/or building relationships. We all seemed to make an unspoken agreement wewere diving in head first. I'm not sure we had a choice, the nature of our individual character's relationships to one anotherrequired it. I acutally found it made the process that much more relaxed. We were able to get the heart of the matter that much sooner.
F: Obviously, this is a "small" play (in terms of budget/venue/the audience knowledge of the work). What sort of challenges does that bring? What are the benefits of working in this kind of environment?
Herring: Working for The New Ensemble at the Broken Leg Stage brings with it a set of artistic challenges that I have truly enjoyed. This is intimate theatre where the focus in on the acitng and directing. It is about the text and the vocal and physical interpretation of that text. It is so intimate that the audience can experience almost every moment and thought with the characters in the play. It is as if you are watching a play, but at the same time attending an up-close and personal seminar on acting and directing.
Galbraith: I think that the intimacy of the venue and modesty of the budget serves to enhance a story about those verythings. So often spectacle receives top-billing in a production. Heather and the TNE team are very wise in selecting material.There are chests full of smaller-scale theatrical treasures perfect for Fresno and a space like the Broken Leg Stage. It's what Off-Broadway and Chicago storefronts are all about. Why not Fresno? We don't need "Spiderman: The Musical." We will leave that to New York. We just need a great story and wine at intermission.
F: What do you hope the audience will get from seeing this work?
Galbraith: My hope is that the audience takes away a sense of empowerment. Your life is in your hands. Seek love, seekan authentic self, seek happiness. And feel free to laugh along the way. Furthermore, I would like to know they left with afeeling of satisfaction and excitement with/for independent theatre in Fresno.
Herring: I hope the audience will leave with the sense that theatre is about the human condition and just when we thinkwe have figured out how human beings will respond in a given situation they always surprise us and take a new and intriguing turn.