Elizabeth Munz is back with another blog, just in time for the opening night of East of Berlin. She sat down with each member of the cast to discuss the role of intimacy in the show.
I’m back to talk to you about the third show of the KWLT 2019-2020 season, East of Berlin by Hannaha Moscovitch, directed by Ryan Bassett. Today I‘m going to focus on intimacy on stage and how the actors in this show handled it.
In this three hander, the main character, Rudi, tells the audience a story about him and the things he did to punish his father. Through the telling of his story, the audience meets Rudi’s friend Hermann and girlfriend Sarah. East of Berlin touches on a myriad of themes and issues. One of the things that occurs throughout the play, is the level of intimacy between the characters.
Greg Allen, Matt Mustin and Christine Di Rosa knew going into the auditions that there would be some intimacy involved if they were cast. Lucky for them, all three actors were able to attend the intimacy workshop Ryan Bassett (East of Berlin Director) and Nicole Lemieux (KWLT Workshop Coordinator) hosted run by Canadian Intimacy for Stage and Screen. The workshop ran this past December and I’ll talk more about it in a future blog.
I got a chance to sit down with all three members of the cast to discuss the intimacy involved in their performances and how they were able to handle it thanks to the workshop.
All three actors have different acting backgrounds and experiences.
Greg Allen started acting at the age of 10. He attended the School for the Performing and Visual Arts (SPAVA) every summer he could, and then tried out for every play in high school. His KWLT career started in 2002, performing in the October One-Acts, in a show called "Places, Please" directed by Nick Walsh.He has performed in other community theatres in the surrounding area as well, but prefers to stay local. When it comes to the intimacy side of acting, before working on East of Berlin, Greg was more familiar with on-stage kissing. But last year, at the unHinged festival, he had to act out a simulated rape attempt. However, simulating sex on stage was something that was new for him. Even though his work in unHinged went well, Greg admits that it might have been easier to handle the scene in that play if he had taken the intimacy workshop earlier:
“During the workshop [I mentioned] that it would have been helpful to have had this class before doing all that stuff. [Siobhan] was great! She had us [figure out] ‘this is what I’m okay with, this is what I have issues with’. She laid it out on the line before we even started. It would have been nice to have the bones of this workshop [beforehand].”
(Greg Allen as Rudi)
Matt Mustin has always loved acting. He realized how much he loved being on stage in high school when he took a drama class. That class inspired him to pursue acting further. He attended Fanshawe College where he studied Theatre Arts and Performance, and it changed everything for him: “This is what I need to be doing! This is really great and it lets me do something that I know I can do. I got something I know I can do; something I can grasp on to as opposed to not knowing what I want to do with my time.” Matt’s career with KWLT began in the 2017 production of Once Upon a Mattress and since then, he’s helped out in other aspects of theatre, having recently been ASM in this year's production of Suburban Motel. East of Berlin is a completely different show from what Matt has ever done before. The level of intimacy Matt is used to is basic forms, like hugging and hand holding. The levels of intimacy that this show requires, like on-stage kissing and simulated fellatio, is a completely new experience for Matt. This is also the first time his intimacy scenes have been choreographed, which Matt says “makes it easier for everyone involved.”
Christine Di Rosa has been acting on and off since her high school days, starting with a non-speaking role in Fiddler on the Roof. She got accepted into theatre school, but decided that wasn’t the path she wanted, and didn’t do any acting until she was cast in KWLT’s production of She Kills Monsters in 2018. Like her co-stars, Christine has never a show quite like this one:
“I have never done anything like this production before. I have never kissed anyone on-stage, I never even been touched on-stage before. So, this was a 360 [from] what I’m used to.”
During rehearsals, the actors worked around all the intimacy parts, adding in ‘place holders’ (a term used by intimacy choreographer, Siobhan Richardson), as substitutes for more intimate content until after the workshop. Director Ryan Bassett used the tools that he learned from the workshop, such as tagging in and out, to plan out the scenes in rehearsals, and the actors took their own experiences with the workshop to get through the scenes with each other.
(Matt Mustin as Hermann)
Every rehearsal, the actors did a warm up. And this wasn’t just a regular warm up, no, this was an intimacy warm up. Ryan had them start with an eye contact routine, where the actors had to hold eye contact with each other for 5 minutes. Simple enough right? Well, you’d be surprised; it’s not as easy as it seems. Whenever they would go into a scene, the actors would ‘tag in’ with each other to let each other know that they were good to continue with the task at hand. ‘Tagging in’ means exactly that - tag in. The actors would have a comfortable gesture between them, like double high fives, finger guns, fist pumps etc, and then they would start the scene. Once the scene was done, they would then tag out using the same gesture. As rehearsals went into full run mode, the procedure changed to tagging in at the beginning of rehearsal and then tagging out at the end of the full run.
With any good show, there is always the possibility of something happening to change the show's dynamic. Greg was actually a late addition to the East of Berlin cast, but by then he had already taken the workshop with the rest of the community. By the time Greg joined the show, the scenes had already been choreographed, so Greg had to not only learn the lines, but also figure out the blocking that had already been created. WIth only one month until show time, Greg was put on the fast track to getting ready. At his first rehearsal they had him run the whole show telling him where to go and when; the bones of the blocking as it were. The next rehearsal was a run with the rest of the cast, where they stopped every once in a while to fill him in on what was happening.
“I found it refreshing, because there was a lot of panic going into it. [Just] one month to build a character and [learn] a ton of lines, is not a lot of time, so I was totally okay with going ‘What did the last guy do? What’s happening? Just fill my head up with knowledge because I have very little time to find these discoveries myself’. And I am still finding things, but it was helpful for them to tell me everything that happened up to [the] point [I started at].”
Matt and Christine had been working on the show since the beginning, and now they had a new Rudi to work with. As far as the intimate moments were concerned, they hadn’t worked on that much with the previous Rudi, so that wasn’t much of an issue. In terms of their scenes with Greg, both Matt and Christine found that it was challenging having to re-react to a new actor’s take on their scenes.
Matt: “It was tough, because I kind of had to change some stuff because I knew that Greg would react a different way… There’s just a different dynamic… It was an adjustment, definitely… I was pretty comfortable [with my choices] and Greg had just jumped right in and had to learn his lines [and] memorize the whole thing in a short amount of time… But it didn’t take too long; it was a pretty quick adjustment. We got comfortable with each other very quickly, ‘cause I’ve known Greg for a while so we lock in together very quickly.”
(Christine Di Rosa as Sarah)
Christine: “There was [a difference] definitely. I kind of got used to a certain [way]... a certain delivery, a certain tolerance of working with one actor, and where they are taking the scene and how that elevates the way you react to things. And when a new actor comes in, when you’ve already learned your lines and learned how you’re going to deliver them, it was really cool because I got to [realize], ‘if he is saying it this way, maybe I should say it this way’, and then it opened up a new can of worms and I could really see the truth of the scene… I got to see it from a whole different perspective. Both [actors] are fantastic, but they both play the character very differently, so that did change how I was in each scene... It forced me to take a deeper look at certain things.”
Despite the change, all the actors worked well together and trusted each other. Ryan and the rest of the crew created a safe space for the actors, helped them navigate through a challenging and new experience, and in so doing, created a beautiful show that they are all proud of.
Acting in a very intimate show is no easy task, but that doesn't mean it can’t be done. I asked the actors what their advice would be if someone wanted to get into acting or even try a workshop like the Intimacy Workshop
Greg: “I try to go out of my comfort zone whenever possible; to embrace the character. I would say, if you are serious about acting, don’t be scared of workshops, especially to take this one. There’s no pressure. Try every workshop you can get your hands on, because if you are serious about it, I’m sure you will find something useful.”
Matt: “Audition for stuff! Community theatre is great, because you don’t need any prior experience. And treat the audition like a performance. You may not get in, but you can do what you want to do, just in this smaller room.”
Christine: “Do the workshop, or if there isn’t one running, do the research on what it means to be intimate in a play. I didn’t realize how important the work was until I was doing it. We all bring our own experiences into a role, in to situations. If you’re not careful, these types of scenes and this type of work will trigger someone, it can cause trauma. So be an advocate for yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, say no! You don’t have to do anything that you don’t feel comfortable with it.”
(Left to Right: Matt Mustin, Greg Allen and Christine Di Rosa)
East of Berlin opens tonight and runs for three weekends. Get your tickets at the door or on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/kwlt-presents-east-of-berlin-tickets-86277214471?aff=efbeventtix&fbclid=IwAR1w6AJAXyHgo3zD8jv18tgSezaT0PBGEE8grqn3sUehbhwGDTQ0XuFLBEo
And now, a few last words from our actors:
Greg: “Do the scary thing!”
Matt (One of East of Berlin’s central themes is hate): “All this hate and evil that we talk about in the play, is still very much around right now. And we need to stop being blind to that; face it head on and acknowledge that it’s there, and we need to stop pretending that it isn’t.”
Christine: “A moto I like to live by is - ‘Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things!”
Coming soon: I talk to director Ryan Bassett about what it's like doing a WODL entry show, not once, but now three times!