This fall, the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program classes of 2012 and 2013 are facing an entirely new challenge: taking on roles in two plays that will be performed in repertory October 19–November 5 at Hastings Studio Theater. This means they have been simultaneously rehearsing roles for two very different productions: Aphra Behn’s rollicking 17th-century comedy The Rover; or The Banish’d Cavaliers and Arthur Miller’s haunting Depression-era saga The American Clock: A Vaudeville. You can find more information about the shows at www.act-sf.org/mfashows.
Conservatory Project Manager Sharon Rietkerk recently sat down with Christina Lorenn Elmore, member of the M.F.A. Program class of 2012, to chat about her experiences performing double duty.
Sharon: What was your initial reaction to doing two plays at once?
Christina: My initial reaction was, “Great! Let’s do it!” True repertory theater is not done at a lot of theaters anymore . . . except at some summer stock companies. I thought, if I am not going to have a lot of opportunity to do this in the professional world, why not try it now?!
S: Or you get thrown into it without any previous experience . . .
C: Exactly. Or I am in three shows at once and have no idea how to juggle all the balls.
S: How do you juggle the balls?
C: You know, I find that you need to be in the room that you are in at the time. I feel that when I am rehearsing The Rover, I am in The Rover, and whether things from The American Clock are informing that or not, you choose to be in the room that you are currently rehearsing. It’s the same thing if you’re rehearsing one show: on this night I am here, and it just so happens that on the next night I am in a completely different show. But if I decide to not let them bleed and leak into one another, it’s better.
S: Do you find that these two shows do inform each other? I mean, they are completely different styles, two totally different time periods. [The American Clock is set in the Great Depression; The Rover, in the 17th century.]
C: I think because they are so vastly different there isn’t anything that I am conscious of, except for maybe the way we use the space [in A.C.T.’s Hastings Studio Theater]. That’s the same, working with a very deep thrust.
S: It is a very particular space.
C: Yes! Being on an angle is the best . . . and being okay with having your back to someone. Even though that is a rule we never break, you have to say, “Okay, here it’s fine.” Otherwise, I am not sure that there are things from the shows that are deeply informing anything else.
S: How many characters are you creating/portraying at this moment?
C: Four and half.
S: And a half?!
C: I am a lounge singer at one point [in The American Clock], so I figure since I don’t say anything, that is a half. I have three [speaking] characters in The American Clock and one character in The Rover.
S: You’re pulling a pretty heavy load in The Rover, right?
C: Yeah, but it is very much an ensemble-based show. My character spins a lot of things on her head, but it’s not like I am onstage all the time. . . Everybody has a lot in that show. I feel like Matt [Bradley, another member of the class of 2012] is pulling a heavy load in both shows. I wonder how he is doing . . . [Laughter.] In Clock, I come in during the last three scenes. All of my characters enter back-to-back-to-back, so that is a strange and unique thing for me.
S: So, you wait and wait and wait and then go, go, go! until the end.
C: Yep, I sing my song, and then wait, and then never leave the stage at the end.
S: And you’re balancing it okay?
C: Yeah, it’s fine. It’s fun, I like both plays. They’re very different, and not just the show, but the style: the way they’re being directed is dramatically different. Manoel [Felciano, who directs The American Clock] and Nancy [Benjamin, who directs The Rover] are unique and both great, in their own ways.
S: What is the most interesting and/or unexpected thing you’ve learned thus far in the process? You still have, what, two more weeks until opening?
C: A week of rehearsal and then a week of tech. But that is deceptive, because you really only have one week per show. You think, “Oh, we have two weeks per show,” but no, you don’t! You take a night off from one of the pieces every other night!
I think the most interesting thing is . . . I just had no idea how they got down in the Restoration [when The Rover is set].
C: You think we live in a “sex, sex, sex” culture? The Rover is chock full of innuendo, and not just innuendo, but blatant innuendo. I mean, the show is about people trying to get laid. What I do like about my character, Hellena, is that she is a lot of talk—she does want it—but she has clear parameters about the way she wants it, which are surprisingly traditional.