BWW Interviews: Five-Minutes with ELEPHANT'S GRAVEYARD director and Theatre Pro Rata's Amber Bjork
Amber Bjork has been a part of Theatre Pro Rata for quite a while now and proven that not only is she a talented actress but also quite the director. BroadwayWorld.com took a minute to catch up with the talented creative to talk life, love, and her upcoming project ELEPHANT'S GRAVEYARD by George Brant. Read the whole thing and you may find yourself the lucky recipient of two tickets to this wonderful production.
BroadwayWorld.com: What is ELEPHANT'S GRAVEYARD about from your point of view?
Amber Bjork: ELEPHANT'S GRAVEYARD is a cautionary tale about some mistakes in America's history--mistakes we're still making. We strive for spectacle and high entertainment. But in seeking spectacle we sometimes forget about things like morals or empathy until it's too late, and then we have to deal with those consequences. We learn, but we don't.
BWW: What struck you about this particular story?
AB: Many things: it's based on a true event during a time in America that isn't too distant in our history. The play centers on circus culture and the common folk connection to the circus-an attractively nostalgic art form that was the heart of America's entertainment past. Mostly, I'm struck by the WAY the story is told. It's completely tragic and gutting, but somehow, it's done in the most beautiful, bittersweet way. The words are engaging. The emotions pull from every direction. And George Brant is able to make us feel for the main character--Mary the Elephant--without ever bringing her on stage. That's good playwriting.
BWW: Are there any roles that you have not performed yet that you would like to play?
AB: I don't have any large dream roles...I tend to look at plays at hand and ask myself what role is the most fun or the biggest challenge. Maybe I'd like to take a crack at some of Shakespeare's men, especially the feisty ones like Tybalt or Benedick. But those kinds of opportunities are so rare!
BWW: What about plays you'd like to direct?
AB: It's not often that I read a script and feel a pull to direct--I am an actor at heart. There are exceptions, obviously, but most of the directing I am pulled to these days are ensemble-created works or those I write myself. So I guess the plays I'd like to direct are ones that don't exist yet!
BWW: Why do you think audiences should take time to see this show on Valentine's Day?
AB: It's a very moving piece of theatre. When we sat and read this aloud at a table, people were extremely affected. I can imagine it's only going to be stronger when the actors actually get up and bring it to life. It's not a show about love, certainly, but it IS a show about sympathy and compassion and what is sacred--these too are chambers of the heart.
BWW: Do you think Live Theatre is a good idea for couples looking for something to do on Valentine's Day?
AB: I think that depends on an individual's take on Valentine's Day. If you're looking for a HallMark Holiday, then theatre is okay, if you can find a romantic tale. But if Valentines to you is about doing something special and fun together, finding something to connect over and talk about, theatre is a great choice! A good piece of theatre will either bring a rush to your brain or your heart or your gut...and really, blood rushing anywhere is a good thing on a day about celebrating, uh, human connection.
BWW: Do you have someone special this Valentine's Day?
AB: I do! My boyfriend Derek and I have been together for three years now with no sign of stopping. He's also a theatre maker in Minneapolis, and we have a lot of respect and support for each other's art.
BWW: How are you spending this holiday?
AB: Well, February 14 is our final dress for Elephant's Graveyard, so I'll be in a dark theatre taking notes and trying not to cry (it's always hard to hand the show over to the cast and stage management). And Derek has a performance of his own that night, so we'll be lucky to see each other at all. But I will be with my excellent cast and crew, and that's plenty of good people there to love!
BWW: What are three productions you recommend people to see before this summer?
AB: 1. Ash Land -Transatlantic Love Affair: If it's a love story you're looking for, there's one embedded in this dust bowl-era re-telling of the Cinderella story. TLA are masters of creating beautiful stories and making magic out of nothing, and when the rain finally falls on the dusty farm, you'll get tingles.
2. Fuddy Meers - Loudmouth Collective: Loudmouth is a newer company that specializes in more intimate shows with very intense characters. They're usually hilarious and horrifying at the same time; they don't shy away from absolute, basic humanity. This script is right in their wheelhouse.
3. Mrs. Charles - Freshwater Theatre: It's a play about two male lovers in 1878 Philadelphia who make a new start by moving to Minneapolis as a married couple...one of whom must pass as the wife. It's written by local playwright Ruth Virkus, whose scripts I like because they're quirky and hilarious, but also very, very genuine.
BWW: What's next for you after this?
AB: I'm in the acting and creation ensemble for Silkworms: A Nun Play with Theatre Unbound. It's centered on the true story of some nuns in Renaissance Italy who used the particularly dry conditions of silkworm cultivation to set fire to their convent in hopes of escape. The play will be created by the cast under the direction of Isabel Nelson, and ultimately written by TU company member, Anne Bertram.
After that, I'll be assisting Theatre Pro Rata with our June production of Twelfth Night, and then hopefully writing, directing, and performing for the Minnesota Fringe Festival this summer.
Looking give that special someone the gift of theatre for Valentine's Day? Follow and tweet @BWW_Minneapolis with a quick note explaining why you would love tickets to Theatre Pro Rata's upcoming production of ELEPHANT'S GRAVEYARD and #TPRvalentine. Winners will be announced via BWW Minneapolis Twitter and Theatre Pro Rata's Facebook page on February 10.