Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Interview with Script in Hand Playreading Series “Regulars”

photo by Dave Matlow
By Anne Keefe
Playhouse Artistic Advisor
Curator, Script in Hand Series

There are some special people one meets in the course of ‘a life in the theatre.’  When asked to do a blog post about the Script in Hand Series, I thought it would be fun to get up close and personal with two of my favorite Script in Hand actors.  Geneva Carr and Mark Shanahan have done more Script in Hand readings than any other of the fabulous actors I am fortunate enough to be able to call.  Both of these talented people seem to ‘get’ the medium in a special way.  They are versatile, able to do style and accents, comedy and drama, and they are generous with their time and talent.  With either of them, or better yet–both of them–in a room, it is a guaranteed good time!

I first met Mark in 2005 when we mounted our glorious production of Journey’s End, and then later in that year we did David Copperfield together.  He returned for roles in Sedition, Tryst and Around the World in 80 Days.  He acted in Harvey, And Then There Were None, Bedroom FarceArsenic and Old Lace, and Dial 'M' for Murder as part of the Script in Hand Series, and he directed readings of Butterflies Are Free and The Greatest Gift for the series.  Geneva made her Playhouse debut in Relatively Speaking in 2006 and returned as part of the one time resident company of Ayckbourn actors in Time of My Life  and How the Other Half Loves along with Script in Hand readings of Bedroom Farce, Chapter Two, and And Then There Were None, and most recently, Morning’s at Seven. 
And this is only the list of their Playhouse credits!  These constantly working actors have major careers away from the Playhouse as well. I wish I could get them together more often, but this is a nice opportunity to speak to them about our shared passion.

Anne Keefe: So – What is it about the reading format that appeals to you?

Geneva : Where to start with a question like this!? Doing readings at Westport has been absolutely thrilling!  Jumping in full throttle on a script, knowing that we are performing after only a four hour rehearsal ups the ante in a way that is so fun.  The energy in the rehearsal is kind of electric.  We read and dissect all afternoon and by dinner, we’ve made fast friends.  There is a level of trust and comradeship that is truly magical. And then by show time, it’s play time, game on!

Mark:  And the reading series really lets the play shine through.  Even without the benefits of a full production, when the scripts are as good as the ones we have done, people seem to respond to a great cast of actors delivering on excellent writing.  More than once, people have told me that they forgot that we were simply doing a reading.  It felt like they could see the entire play in their mind’s eye and they forgot the scripts were even there.


Geneva:  Yes, and I love being able to play dream parts in plays that have already been proven.  Plays that deserve another go.  And I’ve literally been able to work with some of my idols in the business.  I always feel like the lucky intern who got the big break. 

Mark:  It really is fun to stand up there and do a play we all admire, but might not ever get a chance to do in a full run. And it feels like everyone brings their A-game.  Sometimes when you are not ‘onstage’ but seated behind the music stands, you have to make sure you don’t get so sucked into watching the play like an audience member because you might forget you have a line coming up!

Geneva: I often peek at the audience during readings just to see their faces when something moves them or when they find something funny.  It’s so fun to see couples nudge each other and laugh at something either in the play or the performance of a line.

AK: Do you have a favorite Script in Hand reading?  Tell us why.

Joanne Woodward & Mark Shanahan

Mark: Without question, one of my all-time favorite nights on any stage was our reading of Arsenic and Old Lace.  We had you [Anne Keefe] and Joanne Woodward playing my crazy aunts, Christopher Walken as the villain, my wife Jen as Elaine, and a whole cast of actors perfect in every role.  I remember people hanging over the balcony, their arms dangling, packed in and they were laughing so loud you could hardly hear the last lines of the play.  When it was over, Joanne said “well that one works like gangbusters, doesn’t it?”  I also feel like our reading of Butterflies Are Free was very special.  I directed that one and we got a spectacular cast (Jonathan Groff, Betty Gilpin and Blythe Danner).  The fact that the play began its life at the Playhouse before its original Broadway run with Blythe Danner in Betty Gilpin’s role made it a very sentimental experience.  And they were all so good.  Not a dry eye in the house.  Geneva and I did an Ayckbourn script and an Agatha Christie together and it always feels like old home week when we get a chance to meet up, even for a short time.

Geneva:  That [Ayckbourn script] was maybe my favorite one.  That and And Then There Were None.  At one point I had to turn to Mark and say, in my very proper English accent “Happy?”  And for some reason, it struck us both as hysterical.  We never made it through that line in rehearsal without cracking each other up.  And getting through it on stage was like our little secret.  I still laugh when I think of that line!  But I also want to mention two more. Recently in Morning’s at Seven I worked with Stephen Wallem and fell in love during the first few minutes of rehearsal.  Our short scenes seemed like little plays within the play. We had a ball with that one.  I have to say that working with Reed Birney in Chapter Two was incredible. Neil Simon is so funny, but so damn heart breaking.  You can’t play for laughs, you’ve got to be real and honest. That was one of those nights when I realized how special the audiences at the Playhouse are.  They miss nothing.  They were with us the whole way.  It was one of those moments that you realize the audience is the last character to add.  They felt as invested as we were.  It was an amazing night.  Your audiences at the Playhouse are the absolute best!  Nothing gets past that crowd!


Mark Shanahan, Doug Stender, Geneva Carr,
Paxton Whitehead & Anne Keefe
photo by Dave Matlow

Mark:  Yeah.  I love acting at the Playhouse, but I also love going to SEE plays at Westport.  People really talk to each other on the porch.  They talk to each other at intermission and after the show in the parking lot.  And on the Metro-North platform.  I feel like the Playhouse is an important part of their lives, and you can feel that when you’re onstage.  The audience expects the performance to be good and you don’t want to let them down.  When that barn is filled, it is an incredibly warm, creative and magical place.

AK: Because I like hearing nice things about the Playhouse, tell us what it is that makes you get on a train over and over to come to Westport?

Mark: I’m sure Geneva will agree, we work at theatres all over the country and sometimes you feel like you’re just passing through.  At the Playhouse, you know you are in the midst of something special. You look at those posters on the walls in the lobby and in the green room and you know you are a little part of a larger history, which is very important.

Geneva: That’s true. Westport is honestly my favorite place to perform, maybe because of the history, but also because of the energy of the theatre.  With all its history, Westport is more vital than ever.  It’s the range of work and the quality of the productions that keeps me coming back to Westport.  And I love the casts you manage to assemble, and who doesn’t love Bruce (Playhouse Company Manager)?  Or maybe it’s the snacks…

Mark:  And I’m really looking forward to the 2012 Season Mark Lamos has put together. And the snacks…

AK: Since you have my ear…obviously – is there a script you are dying to read for our audience? 

Mark:   Oh, man.  Yeah, I have a list.  I’d love to do a George S. Kauffman play.  Maybe Stage Door or June Moon.  Those plays are always so funny but they have a darker side to them, too.  Kauffman & Hart’s words are so distinct and witty, they really seem like they would read well.  Hey, Geneva would be good in one of those!

Geneva: And I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a role or two for you, Mark…

 Mark: Well, maybe…. I’d also like to do something by William Inge.  And I enjoyed directing David Wiltse’s The Greatest Gift because it was a chance to bring a new work to the Playhouse, something which felt exciting and different.  There must be a few great plays out there just waiting to be spoken for the first time.

Geneva:  I recently read a script by Chris Goutman called Ocean Drive and I thought of Westport.  It’s an adult love story that has overtones of Alan Ayckbourn and Noel Coward.  Sexy and funny and smart.  Like little bear’s porridge, it seems just right for audiences at Westport!

AK: Lastly, what’s next for you both?  How can we see you and your work outside of Connecticut and the Playhouse stage?

Mark:  I’m directing The 39 Steps at George Street Playhouse and The Hound of the Baskervilles at NJ Rep, both of which open in April.  And then I’ll be directing at The Cape Playhouse and Weston Playhouse this summer.  Last year, I got a chance to perform an Off- Broadway run of Tryst, a play I acted in at Westport.  We are talking about doing it again in the area later this year.  So, I’m excited about all of these projects, and grateful to have had such incredible experiences.  Of course, I hope to get back to Westport one day, too!

Geneva: I’m reopening a show called Hand to God at Ensemble Studio Theatre.  It’s a dark comedy by a young writer named Robert Askins and directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel.  Hand to God is the story of a mother and son dealing with the death of the father of the family.  They turn to the church for support and Margery starts a Christian puppet ministry for teenage kids.  And her son, Jason’s puppet gets possessed by the devil.  Or does he?  It’s a hysterical play that is able to move people, too.  The cast is unbelievable.  Steven Boyer who plays my son AND his puppet are not to be missed.  We reopen February 29th for a 5 week run and then, who knows where we might go next:  For information and tickets, go to www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org.

AK:  I just adore you guys.  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us here at the Playhouse, and thanks as always for the gift of your talent.  I can’t wait to work with you both again really soon!

Don’t miss the next Script in Hand Series performance at the Playhouse:  Stage Struck by Simon Gray, March 12th at 7pm.  All tickets:  $15.00

February 29, 2012

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