QTC Finishes Its 2016-107 Season With Horton Foote’s NIGHT SEASONS

The play is framed by the occasion of Josie’s 93rd birthday, on which the elderly woman, who has outlived her husband and daughter, begins to realize that her longevity may be her punishment.

“Night Seasons is an examination of the quietly destructive effects of a life defined by bank balances.  (Daughter) Laura Lee is shown as an unwilling but passive prisoner of this sensibility, who watched as her mother, father and ambitious brother sabotaged her chances for independence. Suitors were dismissed as financially undesirable and, in her 30s, she was still living with her parents in rented hotel rooms and, later, an apartment, while pining for a home of her own.” Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Directed by Jack Sbarbori. Jane Squier Bruns and Carolyn Kashner lead a cast comprising  Quotidian Theatre Company (QTC) favorites–John Decker, David Dubov, and Laura Russell–as well as a number of talented newcomers.

Josie Weems, matriarch of the family
Jane Squier Bruns

Lewis Weems, Josie’s husband
John Decker

Thurman Weems, Josie’s oldest son
David Dubov

Laura Lee Weems, Josie’s daughter
Carolyn Kashner

Skeeter Weems, Josie’s youngest son
Bill Brekke

Dolly, Josie’s niece, Rosas first cousin, Mercer’s wife
Elizabeth Darby

Delia, Thurman’s wife
Laura Russell

Rosa, Josie’s niece, Dolly’s first cousin
Jennifer Osborn

Doris, a practical nurse for Josie
Debbie Minter Jackson

Mercer Hadley, Dolly’s husband
Grant Cloyd

Mr. Barsoty, Laura Lee’s beau
Sean Coe

Chelsea Mayo Reflects on Taking on the Habit in QTC’s Production of DOUBT: A PARABLE

Chelsea ALONE

“I am working within constraints,” says Sister Aloysius early in Doubt: A Parable. She’s referring to a shortage of experienced nuns at St. Nicholas School, but the line also reminds me of the physical constraints Stephanie Mumford (Sister Aloysius) and I are working within. Shanley specifies the nuns are of The Sisters of Charity, an order that wears black bonnets with their habits, as Elizabeth Seton did when she founded the order in 1809. This order taught Shanley when he attended Catholic school.

Our director, Stevie Zimmerman, brought up the bonnets early in the rehearsal process as an obstacle in staging the show because they make it so hard for the audience to see the actors’ faces. Hats are always a challenge for lighting designers too. Stevie is smart to keep that in mind, I thought, but the bonnets won’t be an issue for me. All I have to do is wear it.

Just one rehearsal proved how wrong I was. If it was too far forward or too far back on my head, the entire scene became about adjusting or trying not to adjust, my bonnet. If I tied the strings too tight, the brim created an echo chamber, making my words sound louder in my ears than anyone else’s. Then there was the matter of cheating out (a theatre term that refers to angling one’s body slightly toward the audience while looking at a scene partner, rather than facing them directly), which was trickier than usual with a brim framing my face. To top it off, I had to forget about all those things and, you know, act.

I found the confines of the bonnet frustrating until I realized they’re a wonderful physicalization of the obstacles in the play. My character, Sister James, so badly wants to do the right thing – to please Sister Aloysius, to trust Father Flynn, to nurture and protect the students – but she can never see the full picture. She’s pulled from one side of the conflict to the other as she gets new information about the play’s central incident. Sometimes, she makes the choice to turn away from the truth, and in those moments, it’s useful to have a bonnet to hide behind. The best costumes help the actors, as well as the audience, to believe in the reality of the play, so maybe working within constraints isn’t too bad after all.



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Don Slater Shines a Light on QTC’s DOUBT: A PARABLE

When you are part of a theater company for a long time, many aspects of the work become much easier because everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Not to mention why they are doing it and how they are doing it. This very true of my role as QTC’s resident lighting designer. For a typical Quotidian show, Jack Sbarbori (QTC’s co-founder and Artistic Director) is both the director and the set designer. He sends me the script of the show and his set design. I read the script several times and I review the set design. I may have a question or two and those are usually resolved by email. Working within the constraints of the space and the facilities, I build a lighting design for the show. I also do all of the electrical work. Set construction, set painting, sound, costumes, and everything else is covered by others, usually Jack and Stephanie Mumford (the other co-founder). We tend to know exactly what each wants and/or needs and we get everything pulled together, often a couple days ahead of the opening.

Occasionally, we ask someone outside of the company to direct one of our productions. It provides our audiences with a different look from what they see under Jack’s direction. We have had several very successful productions directed by outside directors. Doubt is one of those productions. It is directed by Stevie Zimmerman, an acclaimed local director, working with us for the first time. Many directors have a strong preference for the designers they wish to work with. Stevie expressed such a preference for the set designer and brought Colin Dieck to the production and he has created a wonderful set for us. I was asked to do the lighting and Stephanie designed the costumes.

For Doubt, QTC has a new sound designer and board op in Matthew Datcher. Matthew has extensive experience in the local community theater world and comes to us highly recommended. As one might expect, with several new people involved in the process, there were some surprises. Because I am the de facto technical director of QTC, it meant drawing on some technical theater skills I have not used for 40 years.

Our regular scene carpenter had a New York gig causing a conflict with work on Doubt, so we had to improvise a bit on the set construction. Stevie connected us with Bruce Wiljanen, an excellent carpenter, and builder. Colin found us a scenic artist to do the paintwork. However, part of the set design consisted of 19 24” wide panels of black scrim creating the walls of the set. While Bruce was building the platform, door unit, and stairs that would define the office, it fell to me to handle the scrim. I have done some work with softgoods (anything in a theater made of fabric) and with rigging since leaving college, but not a lot and not recently. Working with Jack, we ordered a piece of black scrim 16’ high and 13 yards wide. When it arrived, I set up a work area at the theater where I could cut it into 24” wide panels. At the local hardware store, I acquired several screw eyes, 65 feet of 1/8” aircraft cable, and clamps. And 30 feet of 2” wide heavy duty adhesive backed Velcro. As I cut each scrim panel, I applied Velcro strips to the top in such fashion that I could fold the scrim over the cable suspending it and have the Velcro fasten it in place. Next, I attached two steel rings to the gridwork above the upstage center of the set. Then I placed two screw eyes into the beam above the downstage edge of the stage at the far ends. The aircraft cable is stretched from the downstage left corner up to the center rear and then back down to the downstage right corner. I did consult a couple of my old rigging manuals on the proper use of the clamps, though it is a pretty simple load. I hung the 19 panels on the wire and attached them to either the set or the floor at the bottom. Part of the set is a large wood cross suspended from the ceiling downstage center. Because Colin wanted the cross hung at an angle (looming over the audience) I had to attach it to the ceiling at three points. Six more screw eyes, three in the ceiling and three in the cross. By attaching the cross at the top of each arm and then at the base, it was easy to adjust the angle at which it hung and it did not spin. Finally, on the stage left side, opposite the door to the office, the design called for a window. We used a frame with no glass hung just outside of the scrim panels to create a window. Another couple of screw eyes and more tie line from the grid and the window was up.

Now I could go ahead to focus and color my lighting instruments. I chose to light the scrim panels with fresnels on the floor pointing up. It is a very good effect. The front lighting is broken into the lights in the office and the lights in the garden as well as those used for the sermons. I also have two small ellipsoidals (spotlights) lighting the cross. This is a pretty severe play and my color choices tend to reflect that feeling. There is very little warmth in the interior lighting. For the garden, I have provided a set of warm toning lights and a cool set as well. As we brought the production together over the days prior to opening, we ran into a couple of problems. The audio system was producing a lot of hum, probably from a grounding issue. And when we all saw the completed set with lights, it was obvious that the color of the window frame was too light (sort of an off white). It would need some paint. Stevie asked that it be painted roughly the same shades of brown as the door.

The morning of our opening, I arrived at the theater about 9 am. I had a lengthy list of items to resolve. Unfortunately, most of them involved multiple trips up and down the 14’ trestle ladder. I got a lot of exercise that day. I had to isolate the power circuit for the speakers, run the 2 100’ signal cables Matthew (the sound guy) had dropped off to replace the aging speaker cabling, make adjustments to several of the scrim panels, work off several lighting notes, and paint the window. On the plus side, I had all day to do this. I had put some thought into how I would paint the window and I started by completely painting it flat black. Now the brown paint that would go over it would not be competing with the white paint below it. I left that to dry and went to work on the sound system. First I had to identify a power circuit that was not being used by any part of the lighting system. Having accomplished that, I ran new power cables to both speaker units. Over the next three hours, I ran the new signal cables from the speakers to the booth at the rear of the theater, moving the ladder about three feet at a time. When the cabling was finished, I completed the fastening of six scrim panels to the floor and then made the necessary adjustments to remove the sag from a couple of the panels. Then I returned to painting the window. There were two shades of brown paint in the collection, but one of them was almost gone. I used the lighter colored brown paint thinly over the black, allowing some of the black to show through. While that was drying, I worked off the lighting notes. I returned to the window with the dark brown paint and lightly brushed that over the previous coat. Now I could add scene painting to the list of theater skills revived after 40 years. I had finished my list. I cleaned up and packed up my gear. Our opening went very well and the speaker noise is greatly reduced.

It was all a bit too last minute for my taste, but it was successful. In addition to working with some very talented new people, I found that I still knew how to rig the softgoods and create a specific look in paint.

DoubtLightMost of QTC’s shows are done in some type of box set, using painted flats as walls. This set design is a significant departure from that form. The walls are formed by the scrim panels, which are both ethereal and menacing at the same time. They help to convey the ambiguity that is central to the theme of the play. The cross floating above the stage continuously reminds us of the importance of the Church in neighborhoods such as The Bronx in 1964. One of the new lighting elements is the use of instruments on the floor. This is something I have done in many other venues, but never for a QTC show. I was also very careful to separate the lighting of the office from the lighting of the garden/pulpit downstage. This helps with the flow of the scenes as it allows actors to clear the previous scene while the new scene is starting.

QTC Exclusive Interview with John Patrick Shanley, Author of DOUBT: A PARABLE

DUBOV: I’m joined today by John Patrick Shanley, the author – playwright – of DOUBT: A PARABLE, and we’re going to speak to him about his thoughts on the play and our production of it coming up in April, in Bethesda, Maryland.

You call it DOUBT: A PARABLE. How does the metaphorical structure of parable, which you used – how do that work in the play itself?

SHANLEY: I guess, when I was a kid, I grew up in the Bronx, and I was a little Irish Catholic. On Sunday we would go to church; a priest would give a sermon, which was based around stories from the Bible, and then what the priest made of that story. And I always loved the stories, and then when the priest said what it meant, I wanted to get up and go down front and say, “I don’t think that’s what it means.” And that very basic objection, or desire to put my two cents’ in – is kind of the drive that led me to become a playwright in the first place. And so what interests me is to tell a story and leave it to the audience to say, “Well, this is what it means to me.”

DUBOV: Was there any particular parable that you were thinking of as you were writing?

SHANLEY: Actually, there’re a lot of parables that hold particular validity for me, but I wouldn’t moor the play to any one of them, because I do like the idea of the audience getting to say what they think it’s about, for themselves.

DUBOV: And along those lines, when you were writing, you – I think, in another interview [by Michael Riedel for] Theater Talk with the original Broadway cast – you talked about your thoughts when you were writing, about how deeply alienating the culture of debate was at the time and how people tended to either embrace or fight change, based on kind of a change going on in the Catholic Church, and Vatican II, and those kinds of issues surrounding the Church in the 1960’s. Does that hold any relevance today?

SHANLEY: Well, sure. You know, on the political landscape, or on any other landscape in which people talk about anything, discuss any idea, there is a tremendous amount of the “will to power,” and people aren’t just trying to win. There’s a kind of conversation that we’ve all been in, where we’re arguing with somebody, and we want to prevail in the argument, and the person that we’re talking to wants to prevail in the argument, and in our perhaps excessive desire to win the argument, we go further than we feel true conviction about, and we find ourself on increasingly thin ice, or maybe even standing on air, like [Wiley] Coyote and the Road Runner. At that point, all we’re trying to do is win, and we’ve lost the ability to listen to the other person, to be affected by them, to be swayed, or just informed. And that lack of humanity in conversation, in debate – in politics, in religion, in anything – leads to airlessness, and loneliness, and I’m against it.

DUBOV: And when you say “airlessness,” what do you mean by that?

SHANLEY: There’s nothing going on, truly, between you and the other person; You’re just pushing and pulling.

DUBOV: So it becomes kind of a power struggle.

SHANLEY: It’s about power. It’s not about ideas. It’s certainly not about the best idea in the room, and it’s a lesser thing than what we as human beings are capable of.

DUBOV: And do you see the characters of Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn… how do they move into that?

SHANLEY: Certainly, in the play, there is vigorous debate, toward theater at various points in the play, of different people with points of view, trying to sway or overrun other people with their point of view. And one of the things that I was able to do in this play, which perhaps I haven’t done that often, and I should do more, is … I’m not in the play. You know, I’ve written a lot of plays where I’m one of the characters, and in this play certainly I’m all of the characters; I’m also just none of them, which gives it a kind of freedom for me as an artist and for the audience as participants, to go wherever in the play they want to go. If I exist in the play, I exist in that space between all of the characters, and the play itself is my description of what it’s like for me to experience being alive.

DUBOV: So you say you are not any of the characters. How did you then relate to … well, I guess, you’re all of the characters, or none of the characters …?

SHANLEY: You know, I’m kind of like the mob – you know, like, in Shakespeare, there’s the mob, and they start off, you know, they kill the king, and the guy makes a great speech, and they’re like, “Become king!” And – I don’t know how many people are willing to admit this, but I’m basically that way. If I’m listening to a bunch of compelling people talk about what they believe, and they hold different points of view, the longer they talk, the more I come around to their point of view. And then, when the next person talks, and expresses well another point of view, I start to find myself agreeing with them. And, you know, the question comes, “How can you agree with oppositional forces with ideas?” And actually, I can. And that’s one of the reasons I’m a playwright.

DUBOV: That makes a lot of sense. In one of the other questions one of our cast members talked about was, I believe, it was in another interview you did, with the American Theater, with Conor McPherson, and we did his The Night Alive, just this last fall …

SHANLEY: …terrific play…

DUBOV: It was a wonderful play. I was able to play Doc, which wa… it was a great honor to do that. And you talked about that a play was very much a product of the time in which it was written, and couldn’t be rewritten the same in another time …

SHANLEY: …that’s true…

DUBOV: …do you still feel that way?

SHANLEY: I certainly do. Any of the plays I’ve written, any other time but the time when I wrote them … and, in the case of Doubt, I wrote it in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, where they said there were weapons of mass destruction, and then we went in and there weren’t any; and during all of the ….I was listening very carefully to the news, and reading all of the newspapers, and I was looking for that piece of information that would confirm for me that there were weapons of mass destruction, and I couldn’t find it. And so I realized, when I was watching all of these talk shows, with people arguing really confidently about why we had to invade, I’m like, oh, this is just an act of faith. These people are actually offering …. just saying, “Believe me. Just believe me.” As we know now, there were no weapons of mass destruction. And Saddam Hussein was, in fact, writing a novel.

DUBOV: And we have someone in the White House today who says, “Believe me” a lot.

SHANLEY: An awful lot. But there’s a sort of hollow conviction that can feel very solid coming out of the mouths of many politicians, and it’s up to sagacious and mature people to be able to see through that, and not embrace humbug. You want to have the nuts and bolts of reason holding together the arguments and ideas of the people that we vote for.

DUBOV: And do you see – and this may be a bit of a stretch – but Father Flynn having that same kind of … “Just believe me, trust me, I’m a priest. I hold the power in the Church in this setup.”

SHANLEY: All of the characters are basically asking you to believe them, each in their own way. What if Mrs. Muller is actually lying about what’s going on at home? We don’t know. That certainly would change everything, wouldn’t it? And that’s true of all four characters. All four of them have a secret. There’s no question about that in my mind.

Tickets for DOUBT: A PARABLE, which opens April 7, 2017, are available at http://qtcdoubt.bpt.me.

Thoughts on Sister Aloysius and DOUBT: A PARABLE

Giannarelli Aloysius

Laura Giannarelli recently talked to QTC about playing the role of Sister Aloysius in DOUBT: A PARABLE. She previously worked with QTC as the director of A LESSON FROM ALOES, and FAITH HEALER.

I played this wonderful role in 2008 under the direction of the terrific Vinny Lancisi at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore – with Clinton Brandhagen as my Father Flynn, Dawn Ursula as Mrs. Muller and Katy Carkuff as Sister James.

I have lovely memories of that experience, of playing with such wonderful actors on such a delicately balanced script.  But I think what has stayed with me over time is the reactions of audience members to the show.  Almost like a Rorschach inkblot, people interpreted the play based on their own experiences.

Baltimore is still a city with a large Catholic population, so many audience members came to the show with memories of direct experiences they’d had as children in Catholic schools, being taught by nuns.

I never take long to change back into my ‘civvies’ after a performance, so I often emerged from backstage while people were still milling about the lobby; often people would stop me to share their thoughts.  Some said right up front – “You were awful.  Just like those mean nuns I had as a kid.”  “I hated nuns like that.”  Others empathized with Sister Aloysius and felt sure the priest had been abusing that child and she had done her utmost to protect him; they felt Sister was heroic and valiant.  There was very little middle ground — they either loved her or loathed her.  And yet all of them had seen the same performance.  I didn’t do anything different.  They just saw it differently, through the lens of their own experiences.

We also did several school shows during the run, always with talk-backs afterward.  Once, we had an audience of middle schoolers.  I thought they would hate Sister Aloysius and jeer audibly at me.  Instead, they were quiet as mice, listening in that opening scene between Sister Aloysius and Sister James about working in the classroom with the children and keeping control.  It was like they were being let in on the secrets teachers talk about in the mysterious teachers’ lounge!

And after the show, they had the most questions, not for me but for Dawn Ursula, who played the child’s mother.  They wanted to know why on earth she didn’t remove the child from the school; they clearly identified with the child and felt his mom wasn’t protecting him.  (And unlike many adults, most of them were pretty certain that Father Flynn had abused him.)  Dawn explained with great empathy that Mrs. Muller was making the choice – to further her son’s education at all costs – that she thought was best.

Ultimately, DOUBT means to an audience whatever they choose to decide it means.  That is my favorite thing about the script.  The playwright doesn’t tell us what happened, nor what we should think.  It’s up to each audience member to interpret the play in his/her own way.  Beautiful!

 “Laura Giannarelli really gets into the habit as Sister Aloysius, making it easy to believe that everybody trembles in her presence.” Mike Giuliano , Baltimore Messenger 

“…Laura Giannarelli brings her own intellectually solid interpretation of the role to life”Brad Hathaway, Potomac Stages

“Laura Giannarelli was the perfect stern nun as Sister Aloysius. One half-expected her to storm out into the audience and admonish someone for not sitting up straight… Perhaps it is not difficult to portray a cold, almost emotionless figure who is wrapped up in a habit. But Giannarelli did an excellent job nonetheless.”John Kernan, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter

NIGHT SEASONS by Horton Foote – July 14 – August 13, 2017

Night Seasons

The play is framed by the occasion of Josie’s 93rd birthday, on which the old woman, who has outlived her husband and daughter, begins to realize that her longevity may be her punishment…

Night Seasons is an examination of the quietly destructive effects of a life defined by bank balances.  (Daughter) Laura Lee is shown as an unwilling but passive prisoner of this sensibility, who watched as her mother, father and ambitious brother sabotaged her chances for independence. Suitors were dismissed as financially undesirable and, in her 30’s, she was still living with her parents in rented hotel rooms and, later, an apartment, while pining for a home of her own.

–Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Featuring many Quotidian favorites and directed by Jack Sbarbori. Stay tuned for more details! [NOTE: Night Seasons replaces our previously advertised Foote show, The Habitation of Dragons.]

Night Seasons is made possible in part due to a generous donation from The Phase Foundation and Joan Hekimian.

Acting Backwards by Elliott Kashner

elliott-kashner-headshotQuotidian Theatre welcomes Elliott Kashner, who will be playing the charismatic Father Flynn in QTC’s upcoming production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable. Even though rehearsals have not yet begun, Elliott was asked to provide a few thoughts on his approach to taking on the enigmatic character.

“Brian O’Byrne and Cherry Jones used to joke about competing for the audience’s allegiances during their run in Doubt: A Parable. O’Byrne and Jones played Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, the two characters whose conflict is the central focus of the play. The two ultimately compromised, estimating that they each probably had convinced roughly half of those who saw the show, with a handful in the middle who were uncertain. The good-natured ribbing between these two titans of theater revealed the delicate balancing act that is at the heart of performing Doubt. The title isn’t just a less-than-subtle hint at what the play’s theme might be; it is a directive for the actors.

“Flynn advocates for his own innocence throughout the play against Aloysius’ dogged pursuit of proving his guilt. The resulting effect of playing Flynn – and playing against him – must land somewhere between guilt and innocence. That means that the actor playing Flynn must start from viewing the character from the audience’s perspective, anticipate how that audience may perceive Flynn, and then work backward to make choices toward that effect. This is a bit different from how actors may approach acting in the world of realism. Acting realism tends to be a process of analyzing the text, making decisions about the character, playing those choices truthfully, and allowing audiences to draw their own conclusions. For Doubt, making Flynn appear neither wholly guilty or innocent places specific requirements on the character choices. Fortunately, the script gives the actor both a great deal of information about Flynn’s history and a variety of tools to obfuscate that history.

“Author John Patrick Shanley is rumored to have revealed the true backstory of Flynn to only two people: Brian O ‘Byrne and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who played Flynn in the film adaptation. (Note: I do not recommend watching the film prior to seeing the play. Although the script was adapted for the screen by Shanley himself, the film makes several choices that may unduly bias your viewing of the play.) Knowing Shanley’s version of Flynn’s backstory may be more of a hindrance than a help. Rather than communicating that backstory, the actor’s job in this play is to hide it.

“But what about the second half of the title: A Parable. Why? Well, as Father Flynn says, “You make up little stories to illustrate. In the tradition of the parable… What actually happens in life is beyond interpretation.””