Brigitte Viellieu-Davis plays Veronica in God of Carnage.
As the last blogger from Reza in Rep, it was suggested that I write about the run, specifically doing one show as opposed to two—what was that like? Well, I’ll start off by saying that I’m writing this from my family’s beach home, which is in Redington Beach, just about two and a half hours north from beautiful Naples. I have a three-day break from my show schedule, so I decided to take a road trip. This is a first for me. For those of you who are not “in the know” about this: most regional theatre gigs are 4-8 weeks long, with 2-3 weeks of intensive rehearsals then 8-10 shows per week and one day off, usually Monday. But Kristen Coury and Cody Nickell, Producing Artistic Director and Artistic Associate at Gulfshore, wanted to try something different, something new–two shows by the same playwright in repertory. Five actors total. And two of those actors are in both shows, which mean they have 8 shows per week. The other actors have 3-4 shows per week.
So what’s it like? I don’t really have anything to compare it to, except other regional theatre experiences, but that doesn’t quite elucidate it. I can say that I’ve had considerable free time: learned to paddle board, shopped…a lot, spent hours on the beach, beheld many breathtaking sunsets (which we don’t get on the East Coast), and explored Naples, really explored Naples.
But what about the show? Since I only have one perspective on this, I thought it would be illuminating (and fun) to interview my cast mate Brit Whittle, who is in both shows. Here’s that interview:
ME: So Brit, I’ve been asked what it’s like to be in one show as opposed to two. From your perspective, what do you think it’s been like for Laura Faye and me?
BRIT: I think you’ve both re-defined for yourselves the term “working vacation.”
ME: Definitely! What’s it been like for you doing two different shows back and forth?
BRIT: Exhausting and exhilarating.
ME: Do you envy our time off?
BRIT: I plead the fifth.J
ME: Do you wish it were the other way around? Would you like to be performing in one show, while we do two?
BRIT: I don’t know. I think it might be harder to perform only doing 3 shows or less a week for an extended period of time. It would be harder to get into a groove with the show. Having said that, any time Kristen wants to help me live out that theory, I am more than ready to try doing a show on yours and Laura’s schedule. Especially down here in Naples.
ME: I agree. I think Kristen and Cody should bring us all back, so we can really give them both perspectives.
What was the best part of this experience for you?
BRIT: It’s a tie between getting to know an incredibly cool group of people and getting to perform these plays.
ME: What was the most surprising thing about this experience for you? Did you have any expectations before you got here?
BRIT: I think I underestimated how hard it would be to get off book for both shows. They are short plays and I felt I could do it quickly. For me, the quicker I am off book, the more exploratory work I can do in rehearsals and that was a challenge with both of these plays.
ME: Would you do something like this again, and what, if anything, would you do differently?
BRIT: I would LOVE to do something like this again and I would exercise more during the process to help with my energy levels. Lying by a pool isn’t really considered exercise and that came as a huge shock.J Also I would have gotten off book for both shows before I got here. I had some big voice-over audio book gigs that needed a lot of preparation right before I left. If I had to do it again, I would make sure to carve out the time to do that script work and take the pressure off.
ME: What’s one great memory/story you are going to bring back about Naples? About this show?
BRIT: Sharing stories with my cast mates and canvassing the restaurants of Naples with Scott Greer on our time off, and coordinating with Cody Nickell the funniest stage fight I have ever been a part of in Art. I’ll never forget these nine weeks.
ME: You mentioned in rehearsal that ever since “Art” came on your radar you had wanted to do the play.
BRIT: Ever since I read the play fourteen years ago when I was an intern in Georgia, I was drawn to “Art,” not only the play, but I wanted to learn the world of the play. Growing up in rural Georgia, the arts and the culture that surrounded the arts weren’t really part of my experience. There were sports, church, food, and storytelling and a kind of Southern culture I was privy to, but the kind of world where people had debates about art, discourse about “what is culture?”; I had a longing for that. But I had to build esteem as an actor to dare to tackle this play. It seemed out of my reach, it felt too lofty, not only for my talents, but my background—that I could bring enough to it. In New York we get so focused on just getting the job, getting a job. Having choice in that rarely comes into it. So when I got the offer from Gulfshore, it just sort of swept in, and it was wonderfully serendipitous. This play sort of met me on my ascent in my pursuit to become not only an actor, but also an artist. Life gives you punctuation in very sneaky ways.
ME: You mentioned discourse about culture. Those seem to be the questions Yasmina Reza asks so well: “What is culture? What does it mean to be civilized? What are we suppressing in our natures and, by doing so, what are we giving free reign to?”
BRIT: Yes. I would say that is what Art and God of Carnage have in common. Having worked on both plays simultaneously, I see the similarities, for example Alan’s line in Carnage: “Our society. Explain our society.” There’s no benchmark or threshold we reach before we are officially cultured. Like when Veronica says in Carnage about her children: “We try to fill the gaps in the education system. We try to make them read, to take them to concerts and exhibits, we’re eccentric enough to believe in the soothing powers of culture.” But even if you get a certain amount of culture, you’re still a child, there’s still a savage in all of us.
ME: That’s so interesting because you started on this by talking about where you’re from and the lack of artistic culture and your own longing for something more refined.
BRIT: It is very interesting. Because when I went to study in London in 2005, I thought I had reached this pinnacle; that I had really arrived as an artist and as a cultured individual. We were working with Mark Wheatley from Theatre du Complicite, and we were asked to write and develop one person shows using their etudes. What came out of me was this raw, Southern gothic story about a taxidermist and an itinerate preacher—the most uncouth character possible just poured out of me in the Starbucks across from the British Museum.
ME: What are the biggest differences between the shows for you?
BRIT: Art is more about discourse. And Carnage is this roller coaster ride—like one big event that spirals out of control. It’s a true ensemble piece—all four characters, complete strangers, interact to reveal these bigger truths, even if they’re unaware of them in the moment. Like in Shakespeare, take the first line and last line of any of his plays and you have the essence. And what is it in Carnage?
First line: “So, this is our statement.”
Last line: “What do we know?”
ME: And I think that’s a great way to end this interview. So, Brit…this is our interview.
BRIT: Yeah, what do we know?
What an interesting way to approach her task to blog! I admire Brigitte’s ability to be present, as the interviewer and blogger, while she is shining light on her colleague. The collegiality and sharing casts a warm and lovely light on her. The idea to focus on one playwright in rep is brave and exciting.
“What do we know?” You answered, “Let’s try it and see!”
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