BWW Interview: The Actors' Gang's Cynthia Ettinger's Reflections on Her Latest Directorial Project and Social Responsibility

BWW Interview: The Actors' Gang's Cynthia Ettinger's Reflections on Her Latest Directorial Project and Social Responsibility

Cynthia Ettinger has been a member The Actors' Gang for over 30 years and currently serves as the company's Co-Artistic Director and Master Teacher. Cynthia managed to squeeze some spare moments amidst her directing duties of THE EXONERATED to speak to us.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview with BroadwayWorld.

The play you're currently directing THE EXONERATED opened March 10. Would you give the BWW readers a short synopsis of THE EXONERATED?

Culled from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and the public record, THE EXONERATED tells the true stories of six wrongfully convicted survivors of death row in their own words. Moving between first-person monologues and scenes set in courtrooms and prisons, the six interwoven stories paint a picture of an American criminal justice system gone horribly wrong - and of six brave souls who persevered to survive it. We were very fortunate to just have a talk-back with one of the actual wrongfully convicted survivors THE EXONERATED explores. Kerry Max Cook shared with the audience some of his reactions to being portrayed on stage and his responses to everyday stimuli outside of prison bars. An incredibly illuminating opportunity.

BWW Interview: The Actors' Gang's Cynthia Ettinger's Reflections on Her Latest Directorial Project and Social ResponsibilityWhat attracted you to this piece?

Actually, The Lied Center in Nebraska called The Actors' Gang and asked us to bring it to their "Season of Justice" in Spring 2016. They expressed that this play could empower the University of Nebraska and the surrounding community to engage in social justice activities.

The Actors' Gang produced and presented the World Premiere of THE EXONERATED in 2002 in collaboration with The Culture Project in New York. I had always wanted to bring the play back here because it aligns so closely with our mission. This new production has allowed the company to return to the text with new direction, new design, and an almost new cast (three of the actors in this production were in also the 2002 production).

What's your involvement with the Education & Outreach Program and the Prison Project?

I am the Master Teacher of the company, and have taught in both the Education & Outreach Program and the Prison Project for many years. Tim (Robbins, Founder and Artistic Director) and I worked closely with Sabra Williams (Director of the Prison Project) to set up this program and we continue to collaborate on the development of the Prison Project, constantly considering how The Actors' Gang style of theatre can have a profound impact on the lives of inmates during their sentences and life beyond bars.

BWW Interview: The Actors' Gang's Cynthia Ettinger's Reflections on Her Latest Directorial Project and Social ResponsibilityWhat message do you hope the audience will leave with after seeing THE EXONERATED?

I hope we can begin to see less separation. Less "us" vs. "them." I hope to create a space where people can hear some harsh truths about our reality in America and not feel guilt or shame, but rather feel empowered to live and love fully.

One of the reasons I believe in this play is the undying spirit of responsibility for change. THE EXONERATED expresses that as long as we blame and talk about the system being evil, then we are adding to that system's dysfunction through neglect.

These characters, these people, thrive for some reason. It is through love that we thrive, creating a sense of belonging, believing that we not only deserve to live but must contribute through our uniqueness for the good of society -- and -- humanity.

My hope is that people will walk away from this play not blaming the system but wanting to be involved in the system so we can heal it. I also hope the audience will really consider the horrible feeling of "that could be me." Sandra Bland could be me. Tamir Rice is my child too and I want to change things. We are the system. We all contribute to it.

BWW Interview: The Actors' Gang's Cynthia Ettinger's Reflections on Her Latest Directorial Project and Social ResponsibilityIn 2008, you also wrote and directed "I'M NOT A RACIST, BUT..." Could people who know you safely say you're an advocate for justice?

I think so. I am fascinated by how our differences, our uniqueness as individuals is what creates such an amazing world. When uniqueness is celebrated and connected, then life is extraordinary. I enjoy truth, even if it is not my truth. I feel safe in the world when people can be who they are without fear. It helps me do the same.

What's your take on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, by the way?

I am glad people are finally noticing and talking about it. I don't want to just see my story. I want to see myself in every story.

BWW Interview: The Actors' Gang's Cynthia Ettinger's Reflections on Her Latest Directorial Project and Social ResponsibilityYou've been with The Actors' Gang since 1985? '86? '87?

Hahaha! It's hard to say. I saw the first play and did my first play in '83, I think.

What brought you to The Actors' Gang?

There was a lot of fire, a kind of militaristic hunger for discovery. It was impossible and it still is, which is why I am still here.

As a Master Teacher in The Actors' Gang training program, what knowledge do you want to impart on your students?

I wonder what they would say. I tell them if we want to be better actors, we have to face ourselves first. I teach a lot about compassion for ourselves and each other and really being there for each other and the audience. A lot of actors do plays so people can see them. We do plays so the audience feels like we see them.

Thank you again, Cynthia!

Check out THE EXONERATED (through March 26) and the rest of their "Season of Justice" at The Ivy Substation. For more info, log onto their site www.theactorsgang.com.

And for a full evening of DINNER & SHOW, check out The Culver Hotel less than ten minutes away for some very tasty food and drinks, pre- or post-show.

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