This season is one full of farewells. This week we at the Commonweal we prepare to say goodbye to Megan Pence as she moves to Tallahassee, Florida to become a Seminole and begin work on her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Directing. Words cannot express what Megan has meant to this company nor how proud we are of her and happy we are for her. In this edition of Drama Unfolds, Megan reflects on what she will miss the most about life at the Commonweal—friendships.
A Friendship Built to Last
by Megan K. Pence
When I first came to the Commonweal as a Directing Apprentice back in 2011, I imagined that I was going to come to Lanesboro, do some stage managing and assistant-directing work, direct the apprentice capstone project and be on my merry way. Never have I ever been so glad to be so wrong.
The Commonweal—between its ensemble of incredibly talented artists and its beautiful community of patrons—have taught me so much over the past seven years. I have never experienced a professional theatre company where the artists would not only interact with their patrons but would create deep, lasting relationships with the people who see their shows. And now as I prepare to leave, that synergy of artist and audience, those relationships—friendships, really—are among the things I will miss the most.
And speaking of friendships, I cannot begin to say how much this ensemble has taught me, about my art and about myself. I am a very different artist and person than when I first arrived, and the gift of growth that the Commonweal has given me is immeasurable.
Since I am much better with other’s words than my own, I will leave you with these from Woody Guthrie from Woody Guthrie’s American Song (one of my favorite shows here!):
I have heard a storm of words in me. But I know these words are not my own private property. I
borrowed them from you, the people that I owe. I borrowed words from you same as I walk
through the high winds and borrowed enough air to keep me moving. I borrowed my life from the
works of your lives. Your works and my works hold hands, and our memories never will separate.”
With love and gratitude for being a part of my story.
Afar, but not apart,
Megan’s legacy lives on with the run of her directorial swansong, The Clean House, running in rep with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee through September 24th, and then with Dracula: Prince of Blood through October 22.
A Sabbatical from the Professional Theatre… Working Sabbatical, That Is
by Ben Gorman
This summer, Commonweal afforded me the luxury to take a working sabbatical to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: Shakespeare! Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival, one of Arizona’s youngest theatre companies, is in its fourth season producing the Bard’s plays in various gorgeous settings in the Grand Canyon State. In 2016, I met executive director Dawn Tucker (a former seasonal actor with Commonweal) and asked if there was any way I could get involved. After sending a taped audition this year, I was honored with two responsibilities in their company: three small roles in The Taming of the Shrew and the position of text and speech coach.
As a guest actor among their transnational cast, I have the privilege to bring Shakespeare’s text to life outdoors under a festival tent in a pine forest at 7,000 feet elevation! This young company has big ambitions and is impressing audiences with their work. Their offerings this year include Shrew and Titus Andronicus, in repertory during July, followed by The Tempest in October. How bracing to bellow the Bard’s beautiful, brilliant—and often bawdy—bounty to the mountain air! (Sorry, Shakespeare geek moment!)
Ben as Vincentio in “The Taming of the Shrew”
As text and speech coach, I’m engaged in the rewarding challenge of helping actors bring the text to vibrant life. As I put it in a blog entry for the Flag Shakes website:
My task is two-fold. The first part is to make sure the actors understand the text. What do the words mean? What is the sense of a phrase, a line, a speech? What is happening in the scene? The second part is to make sure the audience understands the same text, but this time as speech. The difference between text and speech, though it may appear largely mechanical, is fraught with challenges. As text and speech coach, I must examine each actor’s expressive output and evaluate its effectiveness, then help them to modulate or enhance that output when it is ineffective or its meaning unclear. That work requires an appreciation of the actor’s gifts and limitations, an ability to adapt to their style of learning, and a thorough knowledge of the tools available to assist them in this quest to convey meaning.
I’m having a blast here, but I’m ridiculously excited to return this fall and begin work on Commonweal’s fourth production of 2018, Dracula: Prince of Blood! I’ll see you back in the ’boro!
Ben is currently in the performance run of The Taming of the Shrew in Arizona through July 27. Then, I promise, he will return east where you will see him next as Dr. Seward in Dracula: Prince of Blood opening Sept. 8.
There are many facets to the life of an actor in the live theatre. One of those facets is taking on a role that you did not create in the official rehearsal process of a production. The theatre term for that is role sharing and it is the position that Lauren Schulke found herself in when accepting a spot in this year’s theatre apprenticeship class. She would be taking over the role of Marcy Park in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for outgoing ensemble member Abbie Cathcart. In this edition of Drama Unfolds, Lauren describes this tricky process for her and what it means for the entire production.
An Actor Challenge: Role Sharing
by Lauren Schulke
I am so honored and excited to have stepped into the role of Marcy Park—an overachiever with dreams of underachieving—in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch Abbie in the role of Marcy, and working alongside her to create my own version—or in theater terms, role sharing—has been a dream.
When I first got the call from Hal Cropp (Commonweal Executive Director) about my acceptance into the 2018-19 Commonweal Theatre apprentice class, I was offered the role of Marcy and a role in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. I’ll admit, I was ecstatic for the latter, but was slightly hesitant about the former. My early years of becoming an actor consist of a lot of musicals, but I really haven’t been in one for the last 5 years or so. So when I Googled the role and watched the YouTube videos, I was a little nervous and worried I may be in over my head. However, much like Marcy, I faced the challenge head-on, and unlike Marcy, I decided to go all-in. I called up a recommended voice coach to work on the music and I got a copy of the script and started memorizing.
Moving to Lanesboro was a big change! But I’m grateful I had some time to see Spelling Bee and really feel settled in before I jumped into rehearsals. I worked with Abbie to learn my blocking and the dances and I worked with Stela Burdt, our music director on getting the music in my head and in my body. I watched the show like 5 million times and had a wonderful cast holding me up on my first night.
The adjustment into a role that had already been crafted by Abbie was a balance. It was hard to not feel as if I was just copying someone else’s work and I found myself questioning some of the choices I was making. But after many conversations with Abbie, rehearsal with our stage manager, Bailey, and finally a few performances under my belt, I’m really starting to feel my own Marcy Park blossom. She’s a misunderstood kid who uses a spelling bee as a platform to finally start to understand herself. The exploration of her character has been a wonderful journey and I’m excited to see where it continues to grow over the next 3 months.
Seeing Lauren make the role of Marcy Park her own is just one of the many great things to do in Lanesboro. CWL ensemble member Brandt Roberts has another idea to add to that list, Silent Movies in the Park sponsored by Lanesboro Community Theatre.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is currently playing through September 24th alongside The Clean House.