Actor Chronicles: Pt 2 of Voices from Inside Alumnae’s Latest Production, “The Heidi Chronicles”

WRITTEN BY SUZANNE BOWNESS

Following up on our first post about The Heidi Chronicles, here is a second Q&A with our other leading man, Eitan Shalmon , https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/bios-the-heidi-chronicles.html  who plays Heidi’s close friend Peter Patrone. Read on for his thoughts on his character, the play’s message, and the rewards of working with Alumnae Theatre Company. Thanks to everyone who attended our live Q&A at the post-show Talkback this past weekend!

Cast of “The Heidi Chronicles” (Nadine Charleson, Rebecca MacDonald, Noah Sisson, Eitan Shalmon, Joyce Chan-Baretta,
Daniel Jones, Brianna Diodati, Breanna Dillon)
with moderator (Producer) Kim Croscup at post-matinee Talkback on Sept 29, 2019.  Photo: Alison Smith

 WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE PLAY AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

I love that we get to see the growth of the play’s four main characters throughout the span of almost 25 years: how their aspirations have changed, what becomes more and less important to them as they get older, and how the changing social and political climate has affected their lives. At the end of the day, all Heidi and the rest of the characters want is to be happy, and I think everyone can relate to that. I also think it’s a really funny, sensitive and insightful play with a complex and intelligent character like Heidi steering the ship.

Heidi (Breanna Dillon) dances with her friend Peter (Eitan Shalmon) in Wendy Wasserstein’s
“The Heidi Chronicles”.
Set Design: Teodoro Dragonieri. Photo: Bruce Peters

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO PLAY THESE DIFFERENT DECADES FROM TODAY’S VANTAGE?

It puts into perspective how far we’ve come when it comes to the rights of women and the LGBT community. However, there are still those resonant moments in every scene that feel too familiar to the present time, and you realize that women are still fighting for equality and respect. It’s a look into how far we’ve come, but how these problems are still present today.

 

THE SHOW COVERS A LOT OF DECADES. IF YOU COULD BEAM YOURSELF BACK TO ONE, WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?

Heidi (Breanna Dillon) and her friend Peter (Eitan Shalmon), a pediatrician, in Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles”.
Set Design: Teodoro Dragonieri. Photo: Bruce Peters

To be honest, I’d probably stick to the present day! The 60s, 70s and 80s all had great music, fashion and movies, but with all the advances we’ve made in technology, medicine and the rights of marginalized people, I don’t think I’d want to go back in time! Maybe I’d go back to the 80s for a cool track suit.

 

WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE THEMES IN THE PLAY AND WHY?

Probably the pursuit of happiness, and how identity and career play into that. Once you have your dream job, are you happy? Does your job make you who you are? Heidi articulates it in the play better than I can: “Do you ever think what makes you a person is also what keeps you from being a person?” It took me a while to understand that, but in essence I think we’re all just looking for happiness and a sense of identity.

 

THERE ARE LOTS OF COSTUME CHANGES IN THIS PLAY, WHAT’S THIS LIKE AS AN ACTOR?

Fortunately, I’ve only got one intense quick change that I’ve rehearsed down to a science! It’s pretty exhilarating, actually. I have about 20 seconds to completely change, head to toe, from one outfit to another, and enter the next scene cool as a cucumber.

I have 2 cast members help me into my suit and cram my feet in a new pair of shoes while I wildly fling off my old costume. It’s pretty wild, but not nearly as insane as what Breanna [Dillon, who plays Heidi] has to go through for almost every scene! I don’t know how she does it.

 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ASPECT OF THIS PRODUCTION?

There have been so many rewarding and incredible moments throughout this production. Working with Ilana has been such a great learning experience, and the entire cast and crew have been so dedicated and passionate. I’ve learned a lot from my fellow cast members, and we’ve become quite close!

Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles runs to October 5. Click here for tickets:

https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=atc13

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Review of “The Heidi Chronicles” from Hye’s Musiings

From the website Hye’s Musings, a review by Heidy M. :

The AluToronto Arts & Culturemnae Theatre Company opened its 102nd season with Wendy Wasserstein‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles. Over a span of 20 years, the titular character Heidi and her friends seek to achieve political, professional and personal fulfillment in a rapidly-changing world.

The Heidi Chronicles captures the experiences and anxieties of the baby boom generation, spanning through the 1960s to the 1980s. During this time, Heidi’s life plays out as pictures help depict historical and political events, from Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign to John Lennon’s assassination to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As we see Heidi’s (Breanna Dillon) life evolve through high school dances, political awakenings, and finally becoming an Art History Professor, advocating for women in the arts. Alongside her, we get to know her high school besties, Susan (Joyce Chan-Baretta) and Peter (Eitan Shalmon). They are Heidi’s constants, for better or worse as she tries to figure out how to navigate a world in which people are often telling her what to think, how to act, or worse yet, not letting her speak her mind.

Toronto Arts & Culture
Eitan Shalmon, Brenna Dillon

Some of the interactions between Heidi and Peter are some of my favourite moments of the play. Peter is the one person who can relate to Heidi’s inner struggles, as being a gay man during those times was very difficult. This is one of the most honest parts of the play.

There are other scenes which also stand out, like when Heidi is out with Susan and some of her friends from a feminist group. A good reminder of how women are stronger together.

Also worth mentioning here is ​​Joan Jamieson‘s costume design and Elaine Freedman’s projection Design work. We see photographs of pivotal moments in time projected onto the stage. Through the cast’s wardrobe, we see Heidi and friends grow up over the decades. These may be overlooked by some, yet these are also essential to enhance a play.

For the record, there are aspects of the play that can be irritating to watch as it seems like not much has changed for women and LGBTQ+ people in our society. Nonetheless, there are redeeming reasons for remounting this play. It reminds us of the fact times have changed, but also reminds us of the work we have yet to do to reach equality and rid ourselves from sexism, homophobia, racism and so much more.

The Heidi Chronicles continues at Alumnae Theatre until October 5, 2019. There is a Talk Back with cast members after this Sunday’s Matinee performance. For more information and to get your advance tickets, visit alumnaetheatre.com.

Toronto Arts & Culture

Photos: Bruce Peters

Poster Design: Suzanne Courtney, Ticking Time Bomb Productions

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Actor Chronicles: Voices from Inside Alumnae’s Latest Production: “The Heidi Chronicles”

by Suzanne Bowness

The Heidi Chronicles debuts this week at Alumnae! ​Directed by Ilana Linden and produced by Alison Smith; co-produced by Kim Croscup and Chenyi Guo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is opener to our 102nd season. Written in 1988 by Wendy Wasserstein, the play covers 20 years of a woman’s life and relationships as she and her friends seek political, professional and personal fulfillment in a rapidly-changing world. There is also lots of room for nostalgia with many costumes from the 1970s and 80s (peasant blouses, anyone? Shoulder pads?)

“The Heidi Chronicles”: Hello New York.  Daniel Jones (Scoop), Breanna Dillon (Heidi), Eitan Shalmon (Peter), Brianna Diodati (April).
Photo by Bruce Peters

 

And while audience members usually have to wait for our post-show Talkback (coming up on Sunday, September 29) to hear from the actors, we’ve already managed to pin down Daniel Jones https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/bios-the-heidi-chronicles.html (who plays leading man Scoop Rosenbaum) for a Q&A right here on this blog! Here’s what he had to say on everything from the play’s appeal to its characters and even those multiple costume changes.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE PLAY AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT? 

I love that it is a coming of age story—for Heidi, of course, but also for the other characters in her life—over decades of significant cultural change and upheaval. I love that we get to see who these people become, their hopes and dreams and disappointments. What happens when you stick to your beliefs and what happens when you settle?

I love that it’s really funny and tender and gives profound insight into the road women walked. And, without question, Wendy Wasserstein’s writing is brilliant with characters that feel real and relatable.

WHAT DID YOU DO TO PREPARE FOR THE ROLE OF SCOOP ROSENBAUM, ONE OF TWO LEADING MEN IN THIS PLAY?

Along with the rest of the cast, I did a good bit of research on the time period the play spans. For Scoop, I spent time focusing on what it would be like for a Jewish-American man to make his way in the WASP-y American northeast when anti-Semitism was prevalent—particularly at boarding schools and universities.

How would he face it? How does that inform the choices he makes? And what expectations would he have faced from his parents, peers, and of course, from navigating white male dominant culture. What does Scoop need to do to succeed—who does he need to become?

And then, of course, I focused on relationships, particularly his relationship with Heidi.

“The Heidi Chronicles” –
Heidi (Breanna Dillon) and Scoop (Daniel Jones).
Photo by Bruce Peters

Ilana walked Breanna [Dillon, who plays Heidi] and me through multiple exercises to explore, including having us write letters to each other’s character. This was significantly helpful and profoundly moving.

Lastly, Breanna and I had a good deal of conversation about these two characters—what attracts them and draws them together, even though they may not be so good for each other. Why they act on the impulses they act on and why they end up where they end up. Always a gift to collaborate with other actors and explore this world together.

 

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO PLAY THESE PAST ERAS FROM TODAY’S VANTAGE? 

The play feels resonant today and gives tremendous insight into the road women walked, the road my mother and her generation walked during their coming of age. It’s fascinating to step into their shoes—but for a brief moment—and imagine the complexity of choices and costs made to fight for justice and what is good and right or to perhaps succumb to expectations, fall in line and settle.

I appreciate the profound difficulty and possibility of that experience and appreciate the glimpse into this time through the voice of Wendy Wasserstein.

THE SHOW COVERS A LOT OF DECADES. IF YOU COULD BEAM YOURSELF BACK TO ONE WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?

Tough one. I feel pretty nostalgic for the eighties—big fan of eighties pop culture and there may or, may not have been a few movies in there that inspired me to become an actor—E.T., Indiana Jones, The Goonies.

If I had to choose, I find the 60s intriguing and exciting. It’s when my parents grew up and a time when everything was being upended, both for good and sometimes for not so good. But a fascinating, energetic era.

WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE THEMES IN THE PLAY AND WHY?

All people can fulfill their potential. Love it. Love the possibility and hopefulness in that.

THERE ARE LOTS OF COSTUME CHANGES IN THIS PLAY—WHAT’S THAT LIKE AS AN ACTOR?

Fortunately, my changes are not quite quick and crazy like some others in the play (ahem…Breanna).

But I love how the period and changes in costume help define change and growth and helped me understand who Scoop is becoming—going from the casualness of youth to a suited, successful entrepreneur and businessman. It’s fun to imagine the persona your character is trying to project and why, through the clothes they’re wearing.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ASPECT OF THIS PRODUCTION?

Hard to pick a favourite.  Love the era and the music and the truths that are presented. Love getting to speak brilliant words. Love collaborating with this cast and crew.

 

The Heidi Chronicles runs from September 20 to October 5, 2019. Click here for tickets:  https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=atc13

Photos: Bruce Peters

 

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Remembering Nonnie Griffin

Remembering the remarkable actress* and writer, Nonnie Griffin, who died unexpectedly on June 7, 2019.

*she insisted on the feminine version – hated being referred to as an “actor”!

life with more cowbell

Photo from Bluffs Monitor.

Nonnie Griffin and I became mutual fans, from opposite sides of the stage, while working on two different productions at Alumnae Theatre in 2008: she as the formidable Irish matriarch in Lucy Brennan’s Daughter of the House and I as the compassionate, no-nonsense oncology nurse in Margaret Edson’s Wit.

I had the pleasure of seeing and reviewing Nonnie’s work in the years that followed; and particularly enjoyed her own one-woman shows Sister Annunciata’s Secret and Marilyn—After, both brave, resonant portraits of older women navigating life’s joys and heartbreaks. And she came out with two friends to see me perform in The Sad Blisters this past April (on Easter Sunday); she enjoyed the show very much and sent me a lovely email, along with a big virtual hug.

Nonnie was to launch her new one-woman show, Before Scarlett—about the creation of Gone with the…

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A family confronted with its own #MeToo secret in the complex, honest Lies and Consequences

Alumnae Theatre Company member Carol Libman‘s play “Lies and Consequences” is staged at RED Sandcastle Theatre, April 30-May 5, 2019. Directed by fellow company member Jeanette Dagger.

life with more cowbell

You can’t change the past, but you can share it.

Rare Day Projects presents Carol Libman’s Lies and Consequences, directed by Jeanette Dagger and running this week only at Red Sandcastle Theatre. With the genesis of the play occurring well before the emergence of the #MeToo movement, playwright Libman was inspired to return to it and complete the script—and tell this story.

Lauded popular author Martha (Tara Baxendale) is under pressure to complete her next novel, inspired by Catherine the Great, as she juggles the scheduling nightmare that is her professional and personal life. Struggling with writer’s block, but looking forward to catching up with her sister Cathy (Martha Breen) at an upcoming weekend of celebration around her cousin/BFF Peter’s (Ryan Bannon) science award ceremony, she’s suddenly thrown back into the past when a drunken make-out session with her journalist boyfriend Andre (Derek Perks) goes from clumsily enthusiastic…

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Impressionism: “The Girls in the Gang” – Part 3

The last of Alumnae Theatre Company member Diane Forrest’s series of blog posts on some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period.  Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism (which is set in an art gallery) runs to April 27. Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.

 

Eva Gonzalès

“Woman Awakening” (1876) by Eva Gonzalès

Gonzalès was a protege of Édouard Manet, his only official student (and also a handy pawn in his on-again, off-again relationship with Berthe Morisot), and her work showed his influence. The daughter of a well-known writer, Gonzalès actually studied with several artists. While she exhibited at the Salon, and her technique and approach were admired, she never quite distinguished herself from the influence of her mentors – perhaps because she didn’t live long enough. She died at 34 from complications from childbirth, just five days after Manet expired.

 

Victorine Meurent

Born into a family of working-class artisans, Meurent became infamous as the model for Manet’s most scandalous paintings, “Luncheon on the Grass” and “Olympia,” along with a few other more sedate works. Until recently she’s been popularly dismissed as a loose woman who turned to alcohol and died young.

“Palm Sunday” (1880s ) by Victorine Meurent – her only surviving painting.

 

Perhaps that’s because the real woman was confused with the role she played on canvas. Because the shocking truth is that she was an accomplished artist and musician who died a respectable home owner at 83.

 It seems she fell out with Manet when she decided to pursue a more traditional style of painting. Soon after, she began exhibiting at the Salon and was later inducted into the Société des Artistes Français, with the support of the organization’s founder.

 Those who bothered to discover Meurent’s true story thought that her work had been lost. But in the early 2000s her painting “Palm Sunday” was discovered and now hangs in a local museum.

 

Suzanne Valadon

While Valadon started out as a model, she became a famous and controversial artist in her own right and was the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. While Valadon was, uhm, casual about her personal life, she was extremely serious about her art. The many men in her life stood in her way at their peril. In fact, most recognized her talent and helped advance her career.

“Self-portrait” (1898) by Suzanne Valadon

Born poor and illegitimate, Valadon started work at 11 and would have continued with her first love, the circus, but for a trapeze accident. Working as a model for a wide variety of artists, including Renoir, Steinlen, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne learned her art from observation. She also became close friends with Degas, who helped her develop her technique and range. Breaking the current taboo – you will find no naked women in Morisot or Cassatt’s work – she became famous for her female nudes, including self-portraits.

As if to cap off her career, Valadon also gave birth to the hero of postcard and hotel room art, Maurice Utrillo (whose father may have been Renoir – or any one of half a dozen others in Suzanne’s circle). Strictly speaking, her style was probably more post-Impressionist than Impressionist, and she would outlive most of the group. But it was the support of male artists from those circles that helped her break through as a heroic female artist.

 

 

For more information on the artists:

https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/women-artists-in-paris-1850-1900-clark-1329851

 https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/19wa/hd_19wa.htm

 

This is the final week of Impressionism at Alumnae Theatre – the play close on Saturday April 27, with performances Wed – Sat at 8pm.  Tickets on Wed are 2-for-1; $25 for rest of week.  See website or Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/2535468519867588/  for details.

 

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Impressionism: “The Girls in the Gang” – Part 2

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism, which takes place in an art gallery, opened April 12.  Audience members are invited onstage before the show begins, to walk around Teodoro Dragonieri’s set and Suzanne Courtney’s replicas of Impressionist artworks.  Alumnae member Diane Forrest, a writer and editor, has researched some lesser-known women artists of the Impressionist period – here’s the second of her blog posts.  Impressionism runs to April 27.

Mary Cassatt

Cassatt was the only U.S. painter to exhibit with the Impressionist group. As with Morisot, she came from a wealthy family who stood behind her work – sort of. Her father supported her personally, but not her art career, and Cassatt was determined to make a living as an artist. After several false starts, she decided to move permanently to Paris.

“The Child’s Bath” (1893) by Mary Cassatt

She achieved some success, exhibiting at the Salon for seven straight years. But as a dedicated feminist, she was appalled by the expectation that women artists would cater to the egos of the male jurists. In 1877 the Salon rejected her work – had Cassatt been a little too outspoken? — and her friend Edgar Degas invited her to join an Impressionist exhibition. Cassatt delightedly threw herself into this new alliance: “We are carrying on a despairing fight & need all our forces,”  she declared.

 

Cassatt and Degas became allies, combining to tackle technical challenges and marketing issues —  until Degas proved capricious. But Cassatt had already acquired considerable skill in pastels and printmaking from her friend. In later years, Cassatt opened up to other influences, including Japanese art, and focused on intimate portraits of women, particularly mothers and children. But she remained close to Degas and the other Impressionists throughout her life. She was also instrumental in helping to develop large Impressionist collections in the U.S.

Marie Bracquemond

With Cassatt and Morisot, Bracquemond was named one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism. Unlike the other two, however, her family was neither well-to-do nor artistically connected.

“On the Terrace at Sèvres” (1880) by Marie Bracquemond

Nevertheless, she managed to have a painting accepted at the studio when she was only 17, attracting the attention of the great master, Ingres. She did not remain long with him, however: “…he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting… He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lives, portraits and genre scenes.” She left his studio and kept getting commissions — including the Empress Eugénie – and appearing at the Salon. She came under the influence of the Impressionists – Monet and Degas in particular, and later Gauguin – adopting many of their approaches, but retaining her tendency to plan her paintings carefully. Her artist husband, an engraver and ceramicist, was part of the Impressionist circle, but disapproved of his wife taking up the style. Worn down by ill-health and her husband’s carping,  Bracquemond stopped painting for public viewing.

Impressionism (and its on-stage art gallery!) runs to Saturday April 27 at Alumnae Theatre.  See website or Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/2535468519867588/ for details.

 

 

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