BWW Interviews: Lost Nation's Kate Kenney, Eric Love, & Christopher Scheer
Kate Kenney, Eric Love, and Christopher Scheer have become well-known to Central Vermont audiences over the past few years through their work with Lost Nation Theater. Kenney, Love, and Scheer sat down with Broadway World to talk about their backgrounds, their recent run in Lost Nation's fall repertory productions of THE 39 STEPS (directed by Kathleen Keenan) and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (directed by Kim Allen Bent and Brett Gamboa), and the important role Lost Nation has played in the development of their careers.
EM: Can each of you tell our Broadway World readers a little bit about your backgrounds and how you first came to Lost Nation Theater?
EL: I did four years at the Hartt School of Music in musical theater. Then I moved to New York and my first job out of college was with Lost Nation, in THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED). It was in a way my first real professional job, because everything else I had done was summer stock, and this was in the fall, and it was at a regional theater, and there were other people building our props and sets. In summer stock theaters you're cleaning the patrons' toilets and doing all sorts of other duties, and here we just had to be actors. So we did COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, (ABRIDGED) Christopher Scheer, myself, and Aaron Aubrey, and it was a smash hit. And then from then on every year they've offered me a project that I can't resist.
EM: So "COMPLETE WORKS" was your first Lost Nation production as well, Christopher?
EM: And what about you, Kate?
KK: I grew up in Maine, went to conservatory at Rutgers, despite thinking that New York was the only place that could teach me how to act. I found out that was definitely not true. We've been talking about this a lot lately, training and where you do your real learning. I learned a ton in school, but I didn't learn how to actually put it into practice until I got on stage.
EL: They give you the tools.
KK: Yes. But it's not actually performing. ROMEO AND JULIET with Lost Nation was my first professional job that wasn't summer stock.
EL: I call Lost Nation my graduate school, because we get the chance to tackle enormous roles for great audiences. When you go to a school and try to learn how to act in a class, it's just not the same as working on a role under the pressure of "people are going to see this, reviewers are going to write about this, my friends are going to judge or love or hold me responsible for my work," so it's a real workout. The best.
KK: And they're really doing that for all of us, because they just keep offering us roles that are challenging and that we might not get to play other places, so we really get to grow here.
Scheer played Richard Hannay in Lost Nation's recent production of THE 39 STEPS (a play based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film), while Kenney and Love, along with Scott Renzoni, played all of the remaining characters. Kenney, Love, and Scheer spoke about the style of the show and the challenges and rewards associated with bringing a stage adaptation of a noir film to life:
CS: If I could describe the style of the show, I would say that it was theater doing what theater does best and operating at the highest level that the theater can. The kinds of heightened physicality we were using are most impressive in a live, intimate space like Lost Nation.
KK: Chris and I spent most of the second act handcuffed together. So we had a lot of "handcuff choreography" that took some getting used to, because all of a sudden you're attached to another human being and you can't move in ways that you would normally move and yet you have to make it dynamic and interesting for an audience.
EL: Physical theater is one way to describe it, but I think it looked like a bit of a dance sometimes. You know, we were all moving so dramatically at times, it looked choreographed even if it wasn't.
KK: And because THE 39 STEPS is based on a film, there are things that need to be created, like explosions, that a film can do really easily. When you still have to create that explosion but can't do it in a conventional way, it gives you the opportunity to explore more.
EL: And speaking of film versus theater: because THE 39 STEPS is based on film, we had the luxury of spoofing film moments, like closeups or different effects. So it was a great big spoof of genre, too.
KK: I noticed that some of the most simple things that we did were things that the audience just... we heard them react. And it was like, "Really? I just turned this door around." And all of a sudden they're like "Ha! You're inside now!" But it was really satisfying for them in a way that I would not have anticipated.
EL: And sometimes when you're working your butt off it's not as much fun for them. It's these little details that just tickle people.
Kenney, Love, Scheer, and Renzoni performed THE 39 STEPS in repertory with Shakespeare's THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. Love and Scheer had an unusual challenge:
EL: In THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, there are two masters and two servants, both are sets of identical twins, and they're normally played by four actors. But I played both servants, and Chris played both masters. So we each played two twins.
CS: We played our own twin.
EL: Yes. Which was great fun for us because in a way you wanted to distinguish them, but they're identical twins. So you wanted to make them clear, except not. Except similar enough that people would mistake them. So what was really exciting was thinking about their upbringing. It was basically nature versus nurture. What was their life experience and how would that shape them?
EM: And what was your role, Kate?
KK: I played Chris's wife.
CS: One of the twins' wives. The wife of one of my characters.
KK: Yes. But I barely ever interacted with my actual husband onstage, because I was almost always with his twin.
CS: Who she'd mistaken for her husband.
KK: Which was where the comedy came in, because if we were actually interacting with the right characters... [laughs]
EM: You do a lot of Shakespeare work - right, Kate?
KK: Yes. I do a lot of Shakespeare and I love it. I spent a year in London studying at Shakespeare's Globe when Mark Rylance was still the artistic director, who I think is the most brilliant actor on the planet. I learned more than I ever thought possible in that year there, and I've been lucky enough to get to continue doing that and getting to put it into practice at places like Lost Nation and all sorts of Shakespeare festivals.
I think you have to constantly do some sort of training, working, whatever it is that you do to keep your craft alive. So if I'm not doing a play sometimes I'll go train somewhere. But if I'm lucky enough to be doing a play, that's the training.
EM: And Chris, what about your background?
CS: I studied theater and philosophy at Muhlenburg college in Pennsylvania. Then I apprenticed at the Actor's theater of Louisville. So my training was in theater, but I diversified pretty shortly after getting out of school into the worlds of clown theater and puppetry. Also writing and acrobatics. Until this past year, I had Shakespeare experience and clown experience, but it felt like they were at odds with each other until I studied with Fiasco Theater this past year. Do know about them, Kate?
KK: Yes, Kim [Bent] and Kathleen [Keenan] actually came to New York and we saw a production of CYMBELINE with five actors, maybe six, but I think five.
CS: And that was influential in the casting of [Lost Nation's] COMEDY OF ERRORS - it was done with a small cast in a similar style to how Fiasco did CYMBELINE.
That training with Fiasco helped me take what I was doing as a clown and a Shakespeare actor and put them together. And to be clear, by clown I don't mean someone's grotesque image of a circus clown. I mean theater without a fourth wall where you physicalize all of your emotional impulses. I always thought of Shakespeare as something different than that and Fiasco said, "No, it's the same, just do that thing that you always do and speak in verse." And I was able to marry the two things, and this project [COMEDY OF ERRORS] has been a great way to further that work and exploration after that training. And I love the history that we have here at Lost Nation. The most palpable thing is the way that we're able to collaborate together as an ensemble and we know each other so well and we're able to trust each other in a way that actually allows us upon occasion to improvise onstage when we need to or want to and trust that the other people will take what we've done and respond to it, which is really great. Also, this year especially I'm just in love with all of the little things. Like I've killed Hamlet twice at Lost Nation; once in "COMPLETE WORKS" and once in HAMLET, and I got to use the same sword both times, and it's my Hamlet-killing sword that I get to use in this show, too.
EL: I heard a theme here that's really interesting. The Fiasco Theater company's CYMBELINE, which was five actors. One of my next projects is directing A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in Washington DC for a company called We Happy Few, and one of their big inspirations was that production of CYMBELINE. And so this one production has influenced Kim and Kathleen, it's influenced us, it's influenced my new employers... it's pretty wild.
KK: That's one of the really wonderful things about theater. We go and we see other shows, they have an impact on us and we bring that to our work.
EL: It's like a web, and ideas and art and impulses travel along these lines and sometimes you don't even know. Like Fiasco has done this production, and they might not understand the ripple effect that their production had. For example, I'm going to direct A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - and suddenly all the Midsummer Night's Dreams that I've ever seen are present in my mind and I'm taking what I loved from each one. Theater lives on that way.
KK: Which is a really wonderful way to think about it because I sometimes struggle with the ephemeral transmutability of theater. Unlike film and television, there's no proof that it existed, that you existed. And if someone wasn't there for it, it's literally gone and that experience doesn't come back. Which I also love about it.
EL: It's like an ocean, right? I mean, it's like the wave crests and we experience and it and then it reassimilates and it's sort of underneath...
KK: Back in the collective consciousness of all of us.
EL: Yeah. And I feel like we've been very successful in New York partly because we've had the opportunity to be stars up here. And then we take that energy and confidence and experience back into a city that's scared and in a scarcity mentality. We get this big boost to come back to New York and hold our own and pursue our dreams.
EM: How has it felt to do these two very demanding shows in repertory?
KK: I've never worked quite like this before. One of the really wonderful things is that because we're not doing the same thing every night, I get just a little bit of "do I really know this?" So it keeps me really on my toes, and I don't get lulled into any sort of complacency that shouldn't ever happen but does sometimes if you're doing a long run of something.
EL: In a way, rehearsing each show took the pressure off the other show. Rehearsal processes can be up and down and can be difficult at times. As things were getting hard in one show, often I'd have a breakthrough in the other show.
CS: I think it was fun for the audiences who saw both shows, too. It was kind of... what's the word? Conspiratorial? It was like the audience was in on it with us. They knew. And of course they always know that we're actors. But even more so. Like, "I saw you as a different character last night. And I'm still here, and I'm still suspending my disbelief."
KK: We had a talk back at the North Branch Café and someone brought up the idea of a company, which exists so few places in the American theater now, and I wish it existed more, because it starts you off at an immediate level of knowing the people in a different way than you do when you go to most regional theaters and you have a cast of people who you're meeting for the first time. The level of intimacy and the level of comfort and the level of knowing how to work with each other makes Lost Nation feel a little bit like a company with a capital C. Which is lovely.
CS: The three of us have worked together quite a lot, and that creates a chemistry between us that you can't buy or fake. We have just this real familiarity onstage. We're working with Scott Renzoni for the first time, but I think it carries over, because he's done more shows at Lost Nation than any of us, and was around before any of us. So he's familiar with the space and style in some ways more than we are. It's another one of the benefits of working as an ensemble or a repertory company - you can meet someone and work with them for the first time but you already share that language, because Scott's a part of that family, too. Even though it's our first time working with him.
What's next for Kenney, Love, and Scheer now that their time with Lost Nation has come to an end?
Kenney returns to New York to work with Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a program that uses the creative arts as a tool for social and cognitive transformation behind prison walls. She'll be working with inmates on a production of David Epstein's MIDNIGHT. Love begins work with Northern Stage, assistant directing A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Scheer returns to the process of booking a tour of GRUFF!, the musical he coauthored with Ora Fruchter and Toby Singer. (See the GRUFF! trailer below.) All three hope to return to Montpelier for another Lost Nation Theater show.
GRUFF! is an interactive, family-friendly and musical eco-fable that employs puppetry and physical theatre to explore themes of radical sustainability. In this continuation of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, audiences of all ages are inspired to love the world and are called to action to save it. Issues as serious and urgent as the threat of global warming and the dangers of fracking are dealt with through buoyant physical comedy and audience interaction, using satire and allegory to create a message that is clear to children and relevant to adults.