BWW Interview: Bert Emmett Assumes First LA Directorial Assignment for Group Rep's BREADCRUMBS
A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Bert Emmett has taught, acted in, produced, written, and directed plays for over 35 years. Bert's favorite acting roles in L.A. include Col. Armadillo in The Armadillo Necktie (Last Straw Award), Karl Lindner is A Raisin in the Sun (A Noise Within), Kanute in Don't Hug Me I'm Pregnant (Eddon Award). Other LA shows include Sherlock Through the Looking Glass, Lombardi, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, Sherlock's Last Case (Scenies Award), and Cobb. Film: "The Forsaken," "Alien Hunter," "Outside Ozona," and "Our Next Caller" (with Eric Roberts). Member of SAG/AFTRA and AEA. This is Bert's directorial debut at The Group Rep.
Interview by Steve Peterson
When did you get interested in directing?
When I was in 7th grade, I found that I could boss my friends around as long as we were making a movie. We had my dad's old 8mm camera and shot stories that were about as stupid as they could be, but we all enjoyed the collaboration. I couldn't stop thinking of what to do next - orchestrating anything that told a story. I was interested in every facet of putting on some kind of show and still am.
Although I haven't formally directed in Los Angeles, I directed plays and scenes in Flagstaff Arizona as a teacher of drama at Sinagua High School in the 1990's. I have predominately spent my time in Los Angeles performing, but, as a director, mining for the gold in a well written script is one of the most rewarding experiences a theatre person can have.
The Group Rep is special in that it provides its members the chance to create and develop projects. We were blessed that Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield thought our "project" (presented to members on only one night after weeks of rehearsal) should be given the chance to be a full-fledged production in our own little theatre upstairs. The studio is a perfect venue for us at 32 seats, as the play is such an intimate experience.
How did this play find its way to you? What intrigued you about this particular play?
It wasn't a bad idea for Hansel and Gretel to try to leave a trail in the woods so they could find their way home. The trouble is - breadcrumbs disappear! Jennifer Haley's play came to me through a friend who has an ear for the eloquent and a heart for art that is redolent with the tender needs of fear, loneliness and loss. Breadcrumbs is an exceptional work, full of longing, metaphor, beauty, and humor. Told through the lens of Alzheimer's (although the disease is not mentioned in the play), Breadcrumbs displays not only the painful tussles someone with a form of dementia might have, but also the effort that must be made by anyone who is braving the path towards personal truth. Many of us may have a loved one who is struggling to remember even the simplest of things, but I think we can all relate to the feeling of being lost in the woods, striving to pick up the fragile trail that can lead us back home.
What was your greatest challenge directing BREADCRUMBS?
There are 25 separate scenes in the play suggesting 11 different environments. We have a small stage! But, as Viola Spolin said, "constraints make it happen." So, the very limitations of our modest but very serviceable space didn't hinder us - it functioned as a crucible. Since much of the play is in Alida's mind, we blend now with yesterday in the space with lights, sound, and most important, our talented actors' performances.
What do you want the audience take away to be?
Although the play sets up what could possibly be the most terrifying thought one could have - what if I couldn't find my words anymore? - I believe it has a message of hopefulness. I hope audiences feel encouraged to be honest with themselves and ultimately know that each of us is more than his or her own story.
Audiences will be touched by the creative power of Jennifer Haley's minimalist exploration of what it means to struggle to find the "points of reference" that lead to personal truth. Dementia, longing, painful reality, and mother/daughter relationships are explored through scenes that are mystical, lyrical, funny, and tender.
Do you have an acting or directing project coming up, and if so - what?
What I am actually most excited about is an upcoming wedding for friends at which I will me officiating. Now THAT makes me nervous!
Is there anything you wished we had asked about you or BREADCRUMBS?
There are very few theaters that actually have the kinds of budgets that can present quality plays with the care they deserve, but I believe the Group Rep does more with the few dollars it has than many other higher end theaters do with more. Packed with passion for our craft, my team has truly put their blood, sweat, tears, and heart into making this happen. It takes patience, flexibility, hard work, and love for a special play such as Jennifer Haley's Breadcrumbs to truly make moments audiences will be happy to experience.
BREADCRUMBS written by Jennifer Haley, directed by Bert Emmett, produced by Helen O'Brien for the Group Rep. September 8 - October 14. Saturday matinees at 2:00 pm, Sunday evenings at 7:00 pm. After matinee talk-backs Sept. 15 and Sept. 29. General Admission: $20. Seniors and Students with ID: $15. Buy tickets: www.thegrouprep.com