Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again!

The Road Theatre Company has begun streaming playwright Steve Yockey’s REYKJAVÍK, their second show of their 2021 virtual season

By: May. 18, 2021

Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again!

The Road Theatre Company has begun streaming playwright Steve Yockey's REYKJAVÍK, their second show of their 2021 virtual season. Set in Reykjavík, Iceland, Ann Hearn Tobolowsky directs the REYKJAVÍK cast of Stephen Tyler Howell, Alaska Jackson, Carlos Lacamara, Brian Ibsen, Danny Lee Gomez and Jacqueline Misaye. Ann managed to find some time between REYKJAVÍK rehearsals, and being half of a beloved Los Angeles theatre acting/directing couple, to answer a few of my enquiries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Ann!

Hi Gil, my pleasure! Thank you for asking!

You're a member of The Road Theatre's artistic board. Did you have a hand in picking REYKJAVÍK as The Road Theatre's second virtual production of 2021?

I got to offer an opinion, along with seven others on the artistic board. My pitch for REYKJAVÍK was, "I read this unusual play a year ago, and I still can't get it out of my head. Anyone else read it? If not - read it!" At the end of the meeting, most everyone had left. I said to Taylor Gilbert (Artistic Director and Founder of The Road), "I love this play so much - there might be something wrong with me." We did a Zoom reading of the play for the board, and it was subsequently selected for the Summer Playwrights Festival in 2020. Producing it was the next step, as can often happen with plays in our summer festival.

Would you give your three-line pitch for REYKJAVÍK?

Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again! REYKJAVÍK is where a comic nightmare meets poetry. Where the hero's journey meets hallucination. Funny. Horrible. Tragic. Transcendent.

Have you worked with any of the cast or creatives before?

Yes! Of the actors: Jacqueline Misaye, Stephen Tyler Howell, Carlos Lacamara and Danny Lee Gomez. Of the creative team: Derrick McDaniel (lighting designer), Meeghan Holaway (assistant director), Maurie Gonzales (stage manager), Danna Hyams (producer) and, of course, Taylor Gilbert (artistic director and founder). For the filming department, Robert Brinkmann and Andy Putschoegl are long-time friends of mine. We have worked together before, but not in this collaborative capacity.

Would you describe the pre-production process of filming REYKJAVÍK? Zoom auditions? Rehearsals? Safety measures?

We had Zoom and self-taped submitted auditions. Since we are a membership company, I was familiar with most of our actors' work, so it was about building an ensemble. Our early rehearsals were on Zoom. We talked about the characters, the play, and the story. The goal was to be comfortable with the story and the scenes, and each other, and hopefully to know the lines before we rehearsed in person. Before we met in the theatre, we rehearsed a couple of times in my backyard. We were masked and COVID tested. Even though we kept our distance we were finally able to move and look into the eyes of another human being. It was joyful! In the final stages, we met at the theatre. Again, we were masked and underwent regularly testing. All recommended COVID protocols were in place. The actors only removed their masks at the end of the process for camera rehearsals and filming.

Was this online streaming's pre-production schedule shorter than your usual live stage productions' cycle?

Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again! Not really. The original plan was to rehearse in December and shoot between Christmas and New Year's Day. That didn't happen. Then, the plan was to rehearse January and film the middle of February. We decided to film and present our first play of the season, THIS BITTER EARTH, first. REYKJAVÍK was pushed to the end of March. We adapted. We had weekly rehearsals January/February with intensive rehearsals in March - pretty standard per the rehearsals I like. (Not as many rehearsals, but have them over a longer period of time. That has seemed to be the best way to manage any work and other actor conflicts.)

Have you added Zooming to your list of expertise?

Only in the sense of understanding what doesn't work so well.

What advantages have you found prepping a production virtually that you'll add to your live productions in the future?

I found it easier to talk to designers and bounce ideas around. They are often extremely busy. and it can be challenging to get them all in the room together for a meeting. What worked particularly well were standing meetings every couple of weeks that the amazing Emily Jerez organized for us to meet goals - from production meetings to publicity planning. I think this should be standard going forward!

Which gives you more gratification: acting onstage receiving audience applause? Or being offstage watching as your actors act the way you directed or produced?

Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again! What I care most about is story-telling. I love being able to do that as an actor. If there is no part for me to play, directing lets me still tell the story in collaboration. That is what I love!

Besides The Road Theatre, you're also a member of Theatre 40. What's your Los Angeles theatre denizen's take on L.A. theatres reopening?

Every theatre group and every audience that supports them might be different in what works for them. I want us all - actors and audience - to feel at ease to enter the pretend world safely without needing to be conscious of the threats of life. Just to dip into the 'what if' and go there! I think both theaters have productions planned and are just waiting for health guidelines on how to proceed and the okay to do so.

What initially drew you to work with both these theatres?

I joined Theatre 40 not long after I arrived in Los Angeles. A college friend was working there and knew they were seeking young members. Theatre 40 was home for me for a long time, and was a creative haven to return to during the years our children were small. In the 80's, Theatre 40 was one of the few places then that produced classics, including Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Shaw! Fellow actors at The Road asked me to join about seven years ago, and I was drawn to their pursuit of new plays and their focus on presenting work that is fresh and challenging. The two together have been a great complement of interests and skills.

Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again! L.A. Theatre Works is world premiering your husband Stephen Tobolowsky's A GOOD DAY AT AUSCHWITZ. By freaky coincidence, I am also interviewing him for BroadwayWorld. When's the last time you two worked together? MORNING'S AT SEVEN at Theatre 40 in 2019, possibly?

I think the last full production we did together was IRON by Rona Munro in 2005 at Theatre 40; Stephen was the director. (We did MORNING'S AT SEVEN in 1999!) I also directed the alternate cast of THE SPANISH PRAYER BOOK by Angela J. Davis at The Road Theatre in 2019, and Stephen was wonderful in that. Otherwise, we've done lots of readings together. He has been wonderfully busy as an actor in recent years, which makes it harder for us to create together, but working with each other is one of our favorite things to do.

Do you like to attend Stephen's theatre openings? Or do you prefer to stay low-key and go to a mid-week showing?

Oh, I always go to openings! And we both like to regularly see the productions we are involved in, so sometimes we even go to EVERY show!

You two have been married since 1988. What's your secret to your combined longevity?

This is not original to us, but we know it is the truth for us: Neither of us was willing to give up on our relationship on the same day! If one of us ever reached the point where we'd had enough, we are lucky enough that the other refused, and would work unbelievably hard to make things better. I think it helps that I genuinely and deeply admire Stephen and all his talents and his heart and soul, and I think he feels the same about me. We started our relationship as just friends, and that has been the core of it and the thing that centers our love relationship still.

Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again! Would you describe the first time you two met? In 1985 when he directed you in THE DEBUTANTE BALL at South Coast Rep, maybe?

We think we unknowingly met three times before that, but we don't count them. First, briefly backstage, after Stephen came to see Hugh Leonard's A LIFE at Theatre 40, also at a memorial service for mutual friend actress Susan Kingsley, and finally when he yelled at me for being bad at running the box office at Ensemble Studio Theatre. But the first time we worked together was at South Coast Rep for THE DEBUTANTE BALL. Stephen tells the story of how my audition was one of the worst he'd ever seen, but the theatre advocated for me, plus he made the connection that he had seen me in the aforementioned production of A LIFE. He assures me that after the first rehearsal, all doubts vanished.

Any immediate plans to work together again?

I would love that, and we are always looking for opportunities and hoping for them. We are shooting an AFI project this weekend (both as actors).

What's in the near future for Ann Hearn Tobolowsky?

Interview: Ann Hearn Tobolowsky Excitedly Directing REYKJAVÍK Live & In-Person Again! I'll be participating in The Road Theatre's Summer Playwright's Festival coming up in July (directing a reading of a new play by Jami Brandli)! I still have hopes that the two projects I was working on last year that got delayed due to the pandemic will come back around - SCINTILLA for the Road Theatre, and INCIDENT AT OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP at Theatre 40. There are two or three new plays I want to mount as readings ASAP! Plus I'll be reading plays, like always. I try to read at least 200 every year!

Thank you again, Ann! I look forward to seeing your REYKJAVÍK.

Thank you!!

For tickets to view the recorded live stream of REYKJAVÍK through May 30, 2021; log onto Ticketholders will have 48-hours access from the commencement of the stream.