The Trip & The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon
North Central University College of Fine Arts recently took a trip into two different one-act performances directed by two different women. Despite what Hansel may say, this trip is not one caused by pixie dust. The stories, The Trip and The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon (TBGS) by Eddie Kennedy and Don Zolidis respectively, were not originally meant to be performed together. Wayne Matthews, the director of the NCU Theater program, approached directors Michaela Leist and Meg Breithaupt to fill in for him while he was taking his sabbatical. Breithaupt was the assistant director of The Wizard of Oz this past fall, and both are NCU Theater alumni. In honor of Women’s week recently, it should also be noted that the production team was made up of all women! (The list can be seen at the end of the article, after sections on the stories, the message, the cast, the directors, and bloopers.)
The performance begins with The Trip. Luke and his family are on their way to his mother’s funeral. His sister, Vicki, has been living in an in-patient psychiatric facility. The story takes place in the 1970s, when mental illness was not understood or treated in the way it is today. Luke and Vicki’s friend Tim comes along to the train station to help Vicki feel more comfortable with the situation, since she doesn’t understand yet that her mother is dead. Soon, Luke’s sister Alesia and cousin Henry show up at the station, and it is clear that they are both exhausted by the situation. Luke’s mother had spent so much time caring for Vicki that the mental and physical toll on her had killed her according to Alesia, and Luke was away at school so he did not notice any of it as she did. Henry tells Luke that Alesia will come to live with him and his family, but Vicki is not welcome. The act ends with Vicki being told about her mother’s death, Alesia yelling that she hates Vicki, and Luke trying to comfort Vicki in her confusion and grief.
The second act introduces the story of TBGS. Get ready for some whiplash because this script takes a comedic turn. This is a meta-play with narrators and actors (characters called Actor #1 and so on) put on by a traveling group like a circus. The traveling theater troupe presents classic fairy tales in the original way they were written, but put together in a messy collage of chaos. TBGS’s storyline begins when a girl made deals with Rumpelstiltskin, an enchantress, and the devil in order to get married to a prince, have a baby, and get rich. She doesn’t care that the cost of each of these deals is her firstborn child, and when the characters come to collect, there is a battle between the forces of evil for her daughter, Rapunzel. However, the script then goes back in time to the girl’s own mother, Gretel from Hansel and Gretel. It then goes back even further to why the witch became a witch, which takes us to the story of Snow White, which is told three different ways. Eventually, the Evil Queen becomes the witch. Then, to make things even more chaotic, the story of Cinderella is told with one actor playing five different characters. The story ends with the other actors coming onstage and saying that they could have helped, but they just wanted to see if one of the actors could do it. The script ended with one big summary within about one minute of the entire story while the actors are changing costumes and putting the scene back to The Trip.
The directors came together with these stories in mind and both had independently chosen to place their scripts in a train station before they even talked. After many discussions about the scripts and the collective vision for the show, Leist and Breithaupt decided to portray The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon (TBGS) as a mental escape for the characters from The Trip. At the beginning of the second act (or TBGS), you can see two characters from The Trip, Luke and Vicki, leave the stage before it is transformed into TBGS. At the end of the show, the set is transformed back into The Trip, and the characters Alesia and Henry come onstage, pick up their bags, and leave.
The directors said they wanted to set it up this way for the audience to make an interpretation of how the imaginary world of TBGS fits with the mental state of the characters in The Trip. Is it Vicki trying to find a sanctuary in the childhood stories she grew up with? Is it Alesia taking a moment to remember stories her mother read to her? That’s for us to decide. The actor for Alesia and Narrator #2 is the same person, Olivia Voerster. This could show us that it is Alesia’s imagination. Tim is played by Tony Carlson, who also plays Player #6, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White’s prince, both step-sisters, Step Mother, the birds (collective), Prince Charming, and Cinderella. Carlson reported that he saw the correlation between Tim and his other characters as showing that it is Vicki’s imagination. He said (about Tim), “he’s also the caregiver. He likes to help any way he can. [He] likes to see Vicki as someone who needs help and [he] wants to do anything [he] can to make her feel comfortable and happy.” Carlson said that he saw Tim as filling all of Vicki’s needs in her imagination.
The Cast: Interview with Tony Carlson
This was Carlson’s third play with NCU. He was also in Pride and Prejudice and Almost, Maine. On the topic of working with the new directors, Carlson said, “It’s always going to be different when you’re leaning off of one director’s past experience. Working with two directors is kind of challenging but once I understood their vision for the play I was able to better gravitate to what they wanted. Timing and communication are important to me, and they measured up to that.” He reported that conversations with the cast and directors were essential to character development and understanding who Tim really is. Before each show, he found a place to go off and be by himself for a bit to prepare. Sometimes he would go over a piece that he has been struggling with, and other times he would practice all the different voices he has to do. He would take time to breathe and pray. Physically? “I shower and get pretty.”
Now that the shows are done, he is glad that he has more free time. “These past two to three weeks have been a lot… I’m looking forward to connecting with those I couldn’t see afterwards but I’m going to miss acting with my people… I love doing theater. God’s given me a gift and I don’t want to waste that gift,” Carlson said.
The Directors: Interview with Meg Breithaupt and Michaela Leist
With Professor Matthews on sabbatical, Directors Breithaupt and Leist stepped up to the plate. Both women shared their insider’s information, explaining what directing the shows has been like.
Leist said, “Directing in a smaller organization without a hired production team, you need to take initiative and do more than a normal director would do, including helping to construct the set… You have to see the big picture but also have your hands in everything.”
Leist also reports that finding the right people for your production team can be difficult, especially with such a small team. The team struggled with the layout of the theater basement as it has a lot of items in storage and not many team members were accustomed to the organization. Breithaupt reports that a big struggle for TBGS was working with an unpredictable audience and comedic timing. She said it was “very difficult because every person who comes to see it has a different sense of humor. Something that I think is funny, no one else might think is funny.” On the first Saturday night, the second act timed seven minutes longer than usual because of pauses for laughter. With seven minutes of laughter, the humor obviously hit the audience pretty well!
Breithaupt said, “This is my first time directing college students and I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the direction just came through conversations and less of a ‘move here and do this.’ It was more conversational and figuring out what feels natural. People just think the director comes in shouting directions and making corrections to the action to fit the picture they have in their minds… I’ll approach directing from an actor’s standpoint. ‘If I was the actor playing this, what would feel best?’ Once I see the actors do that, sometimes I go ‘Oo, never mind, i don’t like that.’”
Congratulations for making it this far! Here is a funny collection of some things that went wrong!
On the first Saturday night, Carlson was doing his montage of flinging wigs through the air and accidentally hit one of the lampposts on stage. He reported hearing a “bum, bum, bum” of the plastic ball bulb hitting the floor before ignoring it and continuing on. Later, Andrew Marbut came onstage to fix it, but it fell off again and hit his head right as Player #2 (Sophie Frigerio) storms offstage saying “I quit!” Marbut looked at the narrator and said “Me too!” before fixing the lamp and stomping offstage after her.
Another night, Carlson reports throwing a wig all the way off stage and having to casually walk down to go get it while still in character.
During yet another show, the characters Dwarf #1 (Aaron English-Scrimshaw) and Dwarf #2 (Sophie Frigerio) are supposed to sing “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” and then “whistle while you work” (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) but English forgot the words. He ended up singing, “Heigh… Ho… Railroad?” by himself, and the cast onstage barely kept it together. The improvisation skills of live actors are continually impressive!
Meg Breithaupt, Michaela Leist, Sarah Johnson, Ketzie Leake, Corry Hammett, Noelle Preston, Lexi Hunter, and Bianca White.
Joseph Krube, Andrew Marbut, Julianna Crandall, Abi Ballard, Olivia Voerster, Noelle Preston, Nate Luckow, Aaron English-Scrimshaw, Tony Carlson, Bianca White, Kamdyn Burrough, Sophie Frigerio, Gabrielle Reiser, and Lexi Hunter.