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BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ART

International City Theatre's 36th season opener - Yasmina Reza’s ART - begins streaming on February 18, 2021.

BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ART

International City Theatre's 36th season opener - the virtual presentation of Yasmina Reza's ART - begins streaming on February 18, 2021. Directed by caryn desai, this story of how a purchase of a modern art piece affects friendships stars Brent Schindele, Brian Stanton and Michael Uribes.

Brent took some time to answer my queries amidst newborn caring and producing his and his wife Erica's entertaining and informative regular YouTube segments for Laguna Playhouse.

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

My pleasure, Gil! Thanks for asking such carefully researched questions!

So what cosmic forces brought you to this production of ART?

I guess it's the same providential hand that brings me to any production! There's always an element of "right place at the right time" to being cast. ICT's resident casting director, Michael Donovan, has cast me in productions at so many Southern California theaters over the years and has become a good and trusted artistic friend. For this drastically-truncated production schedule, I think he and producer/director caryn desai wanted to turn to actors they knew and trusted to work very hard very fast.

Had you seen any previous productions of ART?

No, I never have! I really wish I had seen the original Broadway and Los Angeles cast - Victor Garber, Alan Alda and Alfred Molina - both because everyone raves about them and because I'm now so curious to see what choices they made with this deceptively-complex play. I'm not one of those actors who doesn't want to see anybody else's renditions - I think we should all stand on each other's shoulders and borrow from each other's good ideas wherever possible.

BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ARTHave you worked with any of ART's cast or creatives before?

I've worked with caryn and her ace production team on my previous productions at ICT, though this is the first time I've done a play under caryn's direction. Kim DeShazo, the costume designer, and Patty Briles, the propmaster, proved their professionalism all over again with this new way of working, which presented new challenges in addition to the normal ones.

Will this virtual production be taped with the cast and crew on stage? Or zoomed socially distanced?

This production was frankly more like shooting a film than performing a play. Some months ago I was discussing doing another theater's production of another Yasmina Reza play (GOD OF CARNAGE) where our cast would "bubble" together in order to stream ourselves performing live together on an actual stage. At this moment, however, the pandemic numbers are still dire enough that such production has been forbidden by our unions, in conjunction with health directives. So we had to do this show completely remotely. We met and rehearsed entirely by Zoom - our props, costumes and certain tech hardware were delivered to our homes - and we each acted as our own film crew. In addition to communicating and recording via Zoom, we each needed to operate a separate device filming each shot, usually three-four pages of the script at a time, to prevent video files from becoming too large to transfer. Once the entire play had been broken up into filmable "shots," we submitted each good "take" to our videographer, who will do all the post-production editing and assembly work, as one would do for any film.

How long did you have to rehearse?

BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ARTThere's never enough time, but this one felt record-breaking in its shortness. To give the videographer maximal time to do his editing before the "opening night," we literally began filming on the eighth day of rehearsal, and wrapped shooting the very next day! To put that in perspective, in a typical production, the actors are generally not even memorized "off-book" by the eighth day of rehearsal, and are still exploring their characters and their relationships - but we needed not only to have memorized the entire three-man play, but to have arrived at our full understanding of our characters and relationships and be ready to commit them all to film in that time.

This is your third production for ICT. You did SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD in 2009 and END OF THE RAINBOW in 2015. You doubled in the role of Anthony and as the musical director in RAINBOW. A very heavy play. Did you play any hijinks on each other to keep each other from descending into deep depression?

You know, I've never been one for hijinks, backstage or certainly onstage. I take what we do too seriously and respect my fellow actors too much. And that goes for a "heavy play" as much as the lightest farce. I never want us actors to take ourselves too seriously, but if I've committed to a project I want to treat it with the dignity it deserves, every performance. With END OF THE RAINBOW, I had wonderful, warm relationships with my cohorts. Michael Rubenstone and I hit it off immediately, and we wanted to find all the grudging humor and simpatico in our characters' rivalry. And Gigi Bermingham, who was carrying the weight of portraying Judy Garland in her tragic decline, brought out all my tenderness and caretaking instincts both onstage and off. She and I shared many a tearful smile during all the hard work it took to mount that wonderful production, and - like Judy herself, I suspect - we always found joy and solace in the gorgeous music.

You've done national tours of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. What touring tips can you pass on to newbie 'tour-ers'?

BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ARTTouring life is like the life of a professional athlete, except that you almost never get a "home game" - you're almost always on the road. My biggest tip is "Pack light!," mostly because that's the one thing I'm good at when living out of a suitcase. I've always loved travel, and I advise newbies to motivate to get the most out of the cities you visit in the limited time you often have there. I have warm affection for so many places around our country - from Philadelphia to Seattle to New Orleans to Albuquerque to Columbus to Omaha - often from only spending a few short weeks there at a time. One of the difficulties of touring life is that, just when you're settling into a sort of routine in a place - getting to know the theater, the hotel, and the commute between them, not to mention the gym, the grocery store, the laundromat, the post office, etc. - you have to uproot, clean the slate and start building that reassuring structure all over again. You don't realize how much comfort we humans draw from our familiarity with our everyday surroundings until you get them ripped out from under you every week or two. The biggest difference between my first two tours - WEST SIDE STORY and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR - and my third - THE SOUND OF MUSIC - was that I was a married man for the latter, which changed my feelings for it drastically. It was much harder to tour apart from my wife.

Were you a jock in high school? Or a theatre geek?

I guess I was a jock - you might say "aqua-jock," since I played water polo and swam, though I also loved soccer and baseball. But I've done theater all my life, and loved my high school classmates in the school plays with me just as much. I remember some of my sports teammates coming to see me in the school play and realizing that they actually kind of enjoyed it, and maybe had never seen anything like it before.

When did you start learning piano?

BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ARTMy mom's a pianist and music director too, and became quite well known around Fullerton and north Orange County for her work with kids from kindergarten to high school. I grew up with the piano and started playing it as a youngster. I probably only took lessons for about four years - had to stop when high school sports started taking up all my extracurricular time - but I taught myself to play the whole Billy Joel canon to amuse my classmates in college, and I just kept expanding my repertoire from there.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A pianist? A singer? An actor? A writer? Did you want to do it all?

I often joke that I just wanted to be an action movie star, but somehow got sidetracked into all this theater and music stuff... but the truth is, I love all this theater and music stuff too. I love making music at the piano. My high school English teacher taught me to be a good writer and to savor good writing. Above all, I think I've always wanted to be a storyteller - in whatever medium, with words and music as needed - that weaves a spell to transport an audience. I have instincts for writing and for directing, but still mostly crave the immediacy the actor enjoys in the storytelling process.

What motivated you to get your Master of Science in foreign service from Georgetown University, after majoring in government and theology at Dartmouth?

That's a long story! In retrospect, my calling was always to be an actor, but when I was accepted to Dartmouth, I felt a responsibility to pursue a more explicitly "public service" profession. As a teen, I'd been an exchange student to the former Yugoslavia, and found myself on a career path in diplomacy, foreign policy and international security that took me to Georgetown, the U.S. State Department and United Nations in Geneva. (My theology major played into the peculiar ways that American government is steeped in religious and ethical considerations, as well as, my own personal faith.) I still am very engaged with current affairs and policy considerations, though I often am grateful I'm not spending sleepless nights in the CIA working to combat thorny international problems. I'd rather tell illuminating stories about them, at a more personal level.

BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ARTWhat inspired you and your wife Erica to record YouTube videos as part of the Laguna Playhouse Play-at-Home series?

It's more a question of who inspired us - our friend Annie Wareham, the Laguna Playhouse's artistic director, and Dee Dee Irwin, who's on staff there. They asked us to contribute some content for the Playhouse, so I came up with some musical arrangements we could sing, record and post on their website. It's an odd reversed arrangement today, where actors are in the position of trying to do whatever they can to shore up their employers, to help them retain their presence for their patrons while we all wait for the day we can actually ply our trade again. Like ICT, the Laguna Playhouse has been a wonderful artistic home for me over the years.

Is there an original musical, composed and written by Brent Schindele, and maybe starring Brent Schindele, opening on the boards sometime soon in the near future?

Ha, ha! Well, it won't be in the near future, I'm afraid. The production I work on daily is my 20-month-old son, Jack. And it kills me that virtually nothing is "opening on the boards" anytime soon in the near future. I know I speak for all my fellow actors who love the theater when I say that it's an exquisite torture to be kept from our art form for so long like this. We all feel for the restauranteurs, salon owners and small businesses that have struggled mightily to remain in operation - but we have no way whatsoever to operate. And I feel lucky even to work virtually to film this production of ART - but it's a new medium, not really what theater is. That said, I'm constantly searching my brain for how to write my Good Will Hunting or In the Heights or other personal passion play. I don't know how much to expect the muse to whisper in my ear one day - I just want an ember of an idea I can blow into flame.

Would Erica be a prime choice for your leading lady?

She's certainly my leading lady in life. I guess it would depend on what the story was. A few years ago, I got to play Stanley Kowalski in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and for the first time got to act with her as my wife onstage, which was a very special experience.

BWW Interview: Brent Schindele's Very Thoughtful & Serious About His ARTThank you again, Brent! I look forward to viewing your ART and your latest YouTube videos with Erica.

Thank you, Gil! I look forward to viewing ART as well! It's the double-edged sword of working in film, which is the domain of the director and editor - the actor doesn't really know how he's going to come across till they're finished and the film is screened. Theater is the actor's medium, and you're there in real time with the audience and generally have much more storytelling control - and have a better feel in real time for how it's coming across. I appreciate your thoughtful questions. Hope to see you again in the days ahead when we can safely gather! All the best.

For ART viewing tickets February 18 through March 7, 2021; log onto www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

To view Brent and Erica's YouTube segments for Laguna Playhouse, log onto www.lagunaplayhouse.com/play-at-home-laguna/familiar-faces


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