The Underpants producer Jennifer McKinley interviewed the cast, and contributes this fascinating post – including rehearsal photos! – about a play she describes as “funny, fast-paced, bawdy and sophisticated”. I mean, cone on: doesn’t everybody think of sophistication when they think of Steve Martin? Come see it, opening Sept 20 and running to Oct. 5. www.alumnaetheatre.com
With Opening Night of The Underpants just days away, the chips are falling into place. After what feels like an agonizing period of construction, the stage is just about ready and the cast is poised to move into the auditorium for rehearsal and Tech Week. [Bloggergal note: they’ve been rehearsing on a partial mock set built in Alumnae Theatre’s smaller Studio space while a reno is happening on Main Stage/auditorium]
I am consistently impressed with the fantastic work from both cast and crew and it’s all I can do to keep away from rehearsals. Every day is a new adventure and laugh therapy gets me high.
I asked the cast to share their experiences of the process and journey thus far. Here’s what they had to say:
1. What role were you gunning for at the audition?
Andrew Anthony: I played both Versati and Theo (the latter unexpectedly), but took most pleasure out of Theo!
Carolyn Hall: Louise.
Chantale Groulx: I wanted the role of Gertrude. Versati was second.
Scott Farley: When I auditioned for The Underpants I was actually more interested in the role of Cohen and it wasn’t until in the audition room when Ginette [director Ginette Mohr] asked that I read for Versati that I even considered him. Now, I wouldn’t give him up!
Michael Gordin Shore: As soon as I read the play, the role of Ben Cohen jumped out at me.
Jacqueline Costa: My audition was a complete accident, in fact–already “hired” as the set & lighting designer, I came to auditions and callbacks in a supportive capacity. When our reader had to leave, I was volunteered to read opposite the auditioners. During the final callback I acted my heart out as the elderly Klinglehoff–just the worst thing I could have done as a reader–and accidentally stole the scene from the auditioner. Afterwards, the director asked if I would play the role for the show!
Aaron Corbett: I didn’t really audition. Ginette wanted a musical component to the play, so Gabby D’Angelo, one of the Assistant Stage Managers and a good friend of mine, put us in touch. I sort of just showed up and started playing piano and no one seemed to object.
2. What is the most surprising thing that’s happened at rehearsal?
Andrew: It’s really something when rehearsal serves the work and becomes pure creation. There is a very physical, honest, specific scene that came to be simply from an initial question of “Why am I in this character’s bedroom off the top?” Then we had a scene with dynamics and layers; all sourced by materials in the script, nothing contrived. By the end of the rehearsal, you would have thought all the action were scripted when really it was our earliest take on its feet. I was pleased with how rewarding and effective that rehearsal was.
Carolyn: There’s a lot more intellectualizing of this play than I anticipated.
Chantale: That we’ve been able to translate the play back into German! (just kidding)
Scott: I always find it surprising (delightfully so) when we run scenes from the show that I am not in and I get to see the words on the page played out by my fellow actors. It’s so exciting to see choices that I would never think of.
Michael: I’ve learned as much about myself through the process as I have about Ben and that the breakthroughs I’ve experienced as Ben have been applicable in my own life. I’m a better Michael than I was before and that’s been a direct result of the directing team, who constantly throw questions, ideas, and possibilities at me that hadn’t occurred to me as either Ben Cohen or as Mike Shore.
Jacqueline: Some of the best surprises were the moments of physical comedy we found during rehearsal purely out of improv that had me on the floor in stitches more than once! The play is obviously very funny but I think we’ve found some real gems in the physical comedy that go beyond what’s written in the script.
Aaron: What’s been the most surprising to me is how often I’m laughing. I figured after the nth run-through of a scene the jokes would grow stale but the cast is phenomenal and I’m constantly finding myself holding back giggles.
3. Can you speak about the journey you’ve been on through the process?
Andrew: From beginning to end, I worked to find/experiment/discover the size and dynamics of the character and his relation to the story–how he should be played. And the struggle/welcomed challenges came along the way, trying to fill and satisfy that size by being honest rather than simply demonstrating an imitation of melodrama and stock character.
Carolyn: The process for me involves breaking through my assumptions of the character and going beyond her surface motivations. We’ve been mining our personal experiences in order to feed the performance and Ginette has been great at teasing this out of us.
Chantale: Working on the minutiae has been challenging and rewarding. Ginette has been an essential, imaginative guide and captain.
Scott: Starting work on a new play is always such a journey. Before the first rehearsal we were asked to answer a bunch of questions about the character (who they are, what types of lives they live, etc.). I had such a hard time with this because for me, I need to live in the body of the character I am playing for a while so I can discover those answers in the rehearsal hall.
Mike: To get through this process I’ve had to learn a lot about myself and my own relationships and patterns. Although much of the subject material from Ben’s perspective is painful, humiliating, and filled with rejection, at the end I realize that I (Ben) am loveable. And here I thought it was going to be easy because it’s a comedy…
Jacqueline: This is a loaded question for me, as my journey has been threefold: first as set designer, then actor, then lighting designer (with plenty of overlap)! Ginette showed great confidence and trust in me as a designer and a complete stranger, leaving the design almost entirely open for me to explore. I knew that Ginette’s background in physical theatre would play heavily into the show, and so I set about designing as I like to do best by creating an environment, almost a jungle-gym, for the actors to explore. It’s a truly unique opportunity being part of the production team as well as the cast, as I have been able to work with all kinds of lovely and talented people across the board. In the final stretch of the process now, I find myself wearing all three hats at once, my mind constantly working hard to keep them all separate. This is definitely the hardest part of the process, and I can’t wait until the show opens!
Aaron: It’s been a huge departure from how I normally write music. Most of it I wrote during rehearsals, as it was the only way I could account for the dialogue pacing, mood, etc. I spent the first few weeks with headphones on, silently playing along with the actors. When I finally started playing openly I realized the actors would be playing off me as much as I was off them, which changed my approach yet again. It’s definitely been a challenge, but a very rewarding one.
4. In what ways do you identify with your character?
Andrew: Theo is a number of compartmentalised personalities/states of being (not strange in a farcical character). He is sometimes the petulant child who will pout and ignore reason; he is sometimes in tune/taken by his sense of masculinity and patriotism; and other times, he’s a hot headed bully. Real people aren’t always so bold or compartmentalised, so organised and polar; we would be Jekylls and Hydes all around. Real people are exciting blends and combinations of these traits and states. I think I recognise a hit of myself in all of his traits as much as I am blessed to have more flattering/positive ingredients to complement such.
Carolyn: Louise makes excuses for men’s bad behaviour and she desires to please. However, she’s feisty and quick to let her feelings be known. Her dreaminess and ultimate groundedness resonate with me.
Chantale: You mean I don’t??!!
Scott: When Versati loves someone he falls head over heels for them, no shred of doubt; he is completely in love. He and I are similar in that we throw ourselves entirely into what we are passionate about.
Mike: Aside from the fact that I’m not a hypochondriac, (at least I don’t think I am but I’ll ask my doctor when I see him tomorrow for my daily visit), Ben and Michael are pretty much the same person. We have the same heart, the same impulses, the same hopes, and we’re both on the same quest for love.
Jacqueline: Those who know me know I’m actually an 86 year old at heart and I adore grumpy old men. It has been a great role to embody, in which I can let my grumpy shine and order people around who are bigger than me.
Aaron: My character is a broke musician who spends all his free time noodling on a piano while eavesdropping on his neighbours. Suffice it to say, I identify pretty strongly with that.
5. Describe the underpants you’re currently wearing.
Andrew: Black boxer briefs. Around my ankles. I like to get work done on bathroom breaks.
Carolyn: They’re purple with pink and black leopard spots.
Chantale: Black. That’s all I’m saying.
Scott: Blue Denver Hayes boxer-briefs with a green, grey, and black elastic band. The underpants are made of 68% rayon made from bamboo (for the environment), 28% cotton (for comfort), and 4% spandex (to create a hugging fit).
Mike: Black boxer briefs.
Jacqueline: Clean, cotton, and neatly ironed. Well, almost. Nobody irons their underpants these days, and I’m not sure they’re cotton either. But they’re comfy, and that’s the most important thing.
Aaron: No-nonsense, black, boxer briefs. The sort worn by successful businessmen and politicians.
It’s been a fantastic and inspiring process for me watching such a tremendous cast under the tremendous direction of Ginette Mohr and assistant direction of Caitlin English. Can’t wait to see you opening weekend!