By: Brittany Ann Meister
Our VFR Family is very busy! In these posts, we're going to focus on some of the projects and accomplishments from our former and current family members.
Kira Renkas was with us from the very beginning, as Juliet in VFR's premiere of "Romeo and Juliet" and returned with us again this summer as King Phillip in "The Life and Death of King John."
Recently, Kira has finally gotten a passion project of hers off the ground. We caught up with her and asked her to share some of her project with us.
Okay, so let's start off with a bit of basics about your project. How did you get it off the ground? How did you decide to do it?
K:Well it took a LOT of persistence to be honest. I asked many local theater companies around town to see if they would be the umbrella theater company as I don’t have one of my own. A couple were kind and gently turned me down, the rest didn’t respond, and Outskirts was kind enough to say “yes”. I think I had reach out to at LEAST ten but I do believe there’s more, unfortunately I’ve lost track because I started in July right after ‘King John’ closed. I decided to do it because I really think ‘The Children’s Hour’ is a story that still needs to be told and I realized it wasn’t going to be told in this city unless I took it into my own hands and created my own opportunity.
So, what makes you so passionate about "The Children's Hour?" I'm not very familiar with it unfortunately.
K:To give you a very brief plot, ‘the Children’s Hour’ is about two women that worked very hard to follow their dreams of becoming headmistresses of an all girls’ boarding school. After eight long years of working and scrimping and saving things finally come together, however a troublesome student starts a rumor that sends their success shattering to pieces. That wasn’t taken off the back of the script I promise lol What makes me so passionate about it is how it still relates to us as a society even still despite the play being written in the 1930s. It looks at how precarious a woman’s success is: how she has to work twice as hard to make it happen and how it can be taken from her even twice as fast and in this case, from a mere rumor. We as women can absolutely STILL relate to that as even in 2018 we continue to fight for our place in the world. It also looks at other themes of femininity as well as homosexuality, and class distinction. Lillian Hellman, the playwright, sculpts brilliant female characters (and of all ages as is apparent in this play) and she has such sharp wit alongside such a brilliant display of observation. She really was ahead of her time as she was one of the few prevalent female playwrights in the 1930s.
Wow! Thanks for that. I had never really looked into it previously even though I had heard of it. So, why do you think this has been difficult to get picked up?
K: It’s difficult to say. Possibly because it’s a bit dated, but I hardly think that’s a good enough reason. It’s not that it never gets done— a version was done in 2011 with Elizabeth Banks and Keira Knightly and of course there’s he movie version from the ‘60s with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley McClain. People that do know of the play always speak of it with passion and enthusiasm....The story is so brilliant and beautiful, I find it hard to figure out why it’s not done as frequently as it should.
How has it been working with a theatre company to produce something you feel so passionate about? How is the process coming along?
K: It’s been amazing! Outskirts has essentially given me free reign with my production and it’s coming along famously. The artistic director and I make a great team, in my opinion.
That's amazing! What's your timeline for the production?
K: We’re still in the fundraising phase. In April we have a fundraising bingo night at This is It, auditions will be held in May and the show will go up in July at the Brumder Mansion.
That sounds really great! Is there anything else you'd like to mention about this project?
K: Absolutely! OnMilwaukee has expressed interest in covering our story so I encourage folks to be on the look out for that. The more people at This is It, the merrier, that date will be April 12th. The LGBT Center has made a presence in our planning and the purpose of all of this is that we really want to have community engagement because of the dense material present in the script. It can bring all sorts of people together and raise awareness and camaraderie in the way that theater does so well. Not to mention, it’s just a great story that still deserves to be told .
If you would like to find out more about "The Children's Hour" with Outskirts Theatre, feel free to check out their gofundme below, and even donate while you're there!
By Brittany Ann Meister
Hannah Tahtinen has been very involved in the creation of "Oedipus" from the very beginning. Aside from being very involved in the movement exercises used to develop a large portion of the show, Hannah has also been responsible for the masks, synonymous with Greek theatre. I asked Hannah to talk a little bit about these elements ahead of the show's opening this weekend.
Q:How has devised movement shaped this story?
A: So, for the first few weeks, the goal was to create a common physical language, to give the actors the opportunity to figure out how they move individually and as a unit. So, we would use a lot of movement exercises. We used a number of different exercises as a framwork to make ourselves make discoveries and stronger choices. Eventually we would know what would Achillian plus Nick's movement would look like. A lot of effort was put into moving with intention, and to say more.
I think the movement makes up for the part of the story that we do not necessarily see. Oedipus is King and his country is sick and dying. And so the story of Oedipus surrounds his own downfall. A big pieces of that is missing though. What are his people going through? What is a king without his subjects? The chorus steps in there and physically tells a lot of the story. I think it adds a lot of context.
One thing that Nick [the director] did that was really ingenious was, he looked at the Chorus lines and categorized them into five different speakers. Although the names of people speaking are generic, we found that many of the Chorus lines dealt with truth and justice. Many of the lines had to do with Oedipus' role as a leader and judgement and mercy. Each of these actors were given roles of Truth, Mercy, Country, Panic, and Gods. It works out really well. I think it gives autonomy, while keeping the unity of the Chorus. They are often the talking pieces of the Gods but they still have their individual voice.
Q: You also made the masks. Can you tell me a bit about those?
A: I made the masks out of a lot of household items and plaster strips. Each person was fitted for one or more masks and sculptural details were added on top, as well as details and paint. There were masks for each chorus member, Oedipus, Jocasta, and the government officials. The Gods have their own masks as well. It was a way to keep in touch with the roots of the storytelling and making it a little more obvious who was who and who was speaking. There's a lot of really charged emotions and the masks allow the audience to bear that empathize a little bit more. I think withou the masks, it might feel like too much. This the world you're entering in to, and there are a few times in the show were we break that, and the masks come off.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add about the show in general?
A: I think that one thing that goes hand in hand with devised theatre and VFR is why this company is taking this on. It ensures every ensemble member is an equal creative collaborator in ways that aren't often afforded to actors. Oftentimes, actors are responsible for their role and they'll see how other elements come together the week before opening. With the devising process, everyone's input is valid. We try a lot of things and throw a lot of things. I think it gives actors a feeling of autonomy and I think they're able to see. In the final act, there are a few moves in a few pieces where I remember the specific rehearsals that we found those moments. Anyone's work has the potential to make it into the final product. The stage manager was also involved in the devising. Ensemble focus was stronger, and for a company like VFR, I think it's right alongside the mission for those who are thirsty for those opportunities to get the chance to make the work their own. I think there's great reward in seeing the final product after creating something out of nothing together with the human capital of the ensemble.
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