BWW Interview: Director Jennifer Chambers Shares Her Winning Recipe For THE CAKE
Bekah Brunstetter's THE CAKE will once again be served on a Los Angeles stage. Helmed by its original world premiere director Jennifer Chambers, THE CAKE has already begun previews, with opening night September 20, 2018 at the Geffen Theatre. A topic still making headlines, a baker's refusal to bake a cake gets uncomfortably personal when the cake's for family. We had the chance to chat with Jennifer on the secret ingredients of Bekah's simply delicious concoction.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Jennifer!
You had been the associate artistic director of Echo Theatre Company. What cosmic forces led to Echo Theatre Co. world premiering and you directing Bekah Brunstetter's THE CAKE last summer?
I was the artistic director of The Writers Lab at The Echo and Bekah was working on THE CAKE in the lab. I felt connected to the play from the time she brought in the first ten pages. I directed the public reading of it for our Labfest, and then the script went out into the world for a bit. When Bekah decided that she wanted to premiere the play in Los Angeles at The Echo, it was just a natural fit for me to direct it since I had been with it from the very beginning. I was so excited.
I caught that production at the Atwater Village Theatre and was wowed by the combined talents. Especially striking, Bekah's take on the whole ideology of the term 'bigot' by putting an actual face, Della's face, to the label. What was your first impression on being introduced to Bekah's script?
From day one, I loved the intention behind the story. It is so easy to make someone who thinks or believes differently than you the "other." It is a completely different story when you attempt to understand why someone believes what they do. It becomes personal and much more complex. When I realized that was the direction the story was taking, I knew there would be a deep, wonderful well of material to dive into. That felt so fascinating and important to me.
Looking at the Geffen cast list, I see the same three actresses (Shannon Lucio, Carolyn Ratteray and Debra Jo Rupp) and the narrator (Morrison Keddie) reprising their roles. Do you find you've established a shorthand in communicating directions to them?
Absolutely. This will be the third time working with Debra Jo in the role of Della since we just did the production at Barrington Stage Company, so we are at the point where we don't even have to finish our sentences to each other. And reuniting with Morrison, Shannon and Carolyn has reminded me how much of this story they carry in their bodies. Because of that, we can go below the surface so much quicker and really just refine, heighten and go deeper with these characters.
Have you ever had the opportunity to reunite with a cast for a show before?
No, this is the first time, and it really allows us to get to the fun part much quicker.
With the months' passage of time since the world premiere, what growth or new depth have you witnessed that these actors have brought to this production?
I think when an actor is a part of developing the story and then that story lives within them for a year, their ability to find new subtleties and relax into the role increases immensely. Each actor really owns these roles in such an easy and effortless way.
What previously unused ideas of yours (or ideas that popped in your head after last year's run), have you incorporated into this winning recipe of THE CAKE?
There has been some more development of the script in the last year, so I have been able to pay particular attention to the character of Macy who has had a bit of a backstory added to her character. I am always adding and playing with ideas that bring out the humanity and complicated nature of each character so the audience never really knows whose side they are on.
You are also enlisting some of the same behind-the-scene designers from your world premiere to this Geffen production. How cool is that to share your creative juices in a new space with now an Equity house budget?
It is really the coolest thing ever. To go from having such a small budget and pulling pieces of the set out of our respective homes to having the incredible support of the Geffen to create the bakery of our dreams is amazing. The design team is so incredibly talented, and to see them light up and their creativity flow when they walk into that beautiful theater is amazing.
Your resumé includes the two degrees you've earned - a BS in Theatre from Northwestern University and an MA in Counseling Psychology/Drama Therapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Your studies in counseling psychology/drama therapy must be a great additional tool in your belt for character studies, whether you're acting or directing, would you agree?
It really is. I find it most useful though for being able to really hear and understand what an actor needs in a specific moment. So much of psychology and therapeutic work is listening from a deep level, and that skill has allowed me to understand and read a room or how someone is feeling in a very effective way.
On the flip side, when you work at hospitals and counseling centers, your acting chops must be a most effective supplementary means of communication, right?
Yes. It allows for spontaneous and creative communication when words and logic don't work. Spontaneity is everything in those situations.
As one who's been involved with various theatre companies in Los Angeles since 2008, what developments have you seen or experienced in the L.A. theatre community?
I think the best development has been the influx of incredible playwrights who now live in Los Angeles because they are writing for television. This has absolutely contributed to the strong development of new plays in Los Angeles Theater. Also the advent of The Kilroys has really highlighted great work by female playwrights. Because of that, I see more companies committed to producing plays written by women. Hearing and seeing more irreverent, unapologetic female voices in the theater here has been my favorite development, and I hope it continues to grow.
Was there any audience response at your Atwater Village Theatre production that really surprised you?
The sheer demand to come see it from the first preview, all the way to closing was surprising. It was surprising and heart-wrenching how many people came up to me that were so emotional, saying that they had a story like Jen's, or how many people had been ostracized from their families because of their sexuality.
How would you like the Geffen audience to leave after they've had your CAKE?
Touched, moved, delighted. Rearranged in some way. More open to look beyond the stereotypical and willing to see something personal. Hungry for dessert.
Thank you again, Jennifer! I look forward to savoring again your new slice of THE CAKE!
For ticket availability and show schedule through October 21,2018; log onto www.geffenplayhouse.org