Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Menage á Trois: Love Letters From the Cast of LOVE LETTERS

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 8:52 AM

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Germantown Community Theater went big with their production of A.R. Gurney's two person play Love Letters. In most cases Gurney's epistolary script requires almost nothing to produce other than a pair of great actors. GCT chose to cast six actors divided into three casts, giving fans an opportunity to make repeat visits and never see the same show twice.

It's been a different kind of process for director Tony Isbell and his stable of performers — Greg Boller, Pamela Poletti, Chris Cotten, Lorraine Cotten, Sam Weakly, and Tamara Wright. To provide readers a bit of behind the scenes insight Intermission Impossible has collected a handful of loving letters between Isbell and actors from his three casts. 

Tony Isbell


Dear “Love Letters” Casts,

Well, the show is finally up and running!
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I’ve told you all how much I love the work you are doing. I couldn’t ask for more committed, talented folks to work with.

It has been a new experience for me to direct three casts simultaneously, especially in a show like this that is not quite a “normal” script.

It occurs to me that people might be interested to hear what the experience has been like for you, as actors. We talked about this some during rehearsals, but I wondered if you might share how this show has been different because of its structure? Was anything easier? Was it all more difficult? How did you approach your characters and your relationship with your partner, given that there is no blocking and no eye contact?

Would love to hear what you think!

Tony
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Greg Boller:
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Dear Tony,

Doing this show is like doing Suzuki method with your ears. You have to listen so very carefully to not only what your partner is saying but also how they are saying it. I focus very carefully on the sound (music) of Pamela's voice — like I might attend to the sound (music) of a woodwind instrument. I think this helps with the on-stage intimacy that these characters need to have if the audience is going to believe the 48 year trajectory of their friendship.

Pamela and I got together for our own rehearsal prior to opening, and we met at Republic Coffee to read the show. Because we had an audience (of coffee drinkers) overhearing us, it forced us to seek a slightly more hushed, intimate, private conversational tone in how we read. We both really liked the discoveries we made in the process and brought it on-stage for the first time for F&F and then again for opening.

How have I connected to Andy? Easy — from the standpoint of someone who has ever had a deep, abiding friendship with another who you could have been romantically intimate with but instead stayed emotionally intimate. Cross-sex friendships (like Melissa and Andy's) are very special, but exceeding difficult to maintain as the friends find romantic life partners — the emotional intimacy of the friendship puts a lot of stress on the romantic lives of those people. And we see that play out in the emotionally wrenching change in Melissa and Andy's relationship toward the end of the show. So yeah, if you've ever had a very close cross-sex friendship (that's different from your romantic relationships), it's very easy to connect with Andy's experiences in this play.

Greg
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Lorraine Cotten:

Dear Tony,

I love how the three of us women are so different, yet it is not surprising to me that we
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 are all three cast as Melissa. That is one of the loveliest things about the incredible writing in this piece to me. It has such universal truths that we can all find ways to connect with them- especially if we have "lived" a bit.

The most challenging thing about finding Melissa (for me) has been discovering when the cracks in her shell are invisible and when she is fully exposed. She is a dichotomy. She's extremely complicated and simple at the same time.

Another challenge has been acting while sitting in a chair and not being able to "play" with Chris (who is playing Andy) in the way I'm used to playing with actors onstage. We don't look at each other. We are reading the letters so I am responding to what he has written and the way I (as Melissa) hear his voice as he's reading it. It is freeing because I am not bound to movement and focused completely on his voice and what he is saying and what I am saying. It also requires a different kind of focus than I use in a typical fully-blocked play. I think of myself as a character actor who uses my body quite a lot when I become the character. This performance limits my ability to use my body and forces me to rely more on my voice.

Yet another challenge has been defining the quick transitions within the letters. You have been a great help with that. Each time I read it I find new ways to connect with Melissa and what she is feeling and I fall a little more in love with both Chris and Andy every performance - especially when he surprises me with a little caress on the back of my neck just before we begin the play. It's a memory I will always cherish.

Lorraine
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Tamara Wright:

Dear Tony,

My bestie was asking me if I was excited to open the show and I found it difficult to answer. Trepidation, dread, shame were probably much more appropriate responses, but mostly an overwhelming need to ‘get it out’ of me. I’d say the most difficult part of the process has been diving into places that are usually kept covered and on a back shelf. If it isn’t obvious, I’m a method actor.

I had an immediate visceral reaction to the script. I made the mistake of reading it at work and was a hot mess, crying my eyes out in my cubicle. Damn you, A.R. Gurney! It should have come with a warning! I

connected with Melissa on a deeply personal level; in fact, there are several lines that barring a name change, I have actually written to a past love….I knew I had to play her.

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It is rare that I get upset about not 
being cast, but with this one…well, thank God, you made the right choice! The opportunity to play Melissa couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in my life. And I’m not sure if I’d have been able to do the role justice any sooner in my career.

My favorite part of the show? That’s easy. It’s listening to my wonderful cast mate, Sam, speak declarations of love so beautiful and heartfelt you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved.

Tamara
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CHRIS COTTEN:


Dear Tony,

As to the first question, my acting process always starts at a place as close to myself as possible, so the question of how I connect with the character on a personal level is always the first one I ask.

For this character, it was his relationship with his father. Like Andy, I had a father who instilled in me a very specific set of ethics against which to measure my choices in almost any situation. I also lost my father at almost the exact age that Andy lost his. I think that there is an undercurrent of resentment in Andy's relationship with his father that I can't relate to personally, but overall, that relationship was a way into his story for me. 
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As to what makes this show a unique challenge, a couple of things stand out. A wise 
director once told me that acting starts at the end of your nose. So much of a performance is watching, listening, and reacting to your fellow actors in a scene. For this show, one of those tools is taken away. I can't look at Melissa and react to her physical cues, so that means I have to listen that much more closely. For that reason, you absolutely CANNOT check out mentally for even a moment with this show, and as a result, for a play where you're just sitting in one place reading for two hours, it consumes a surprising amount of energy.


Another challenge unique to the epistolary format of the play: Andy says that letters are a way of presenting your best self to another person. In that way — particularly in a lot of Andy's correspondence — the letters are unreliable narrators, and are loaded with subtext that is often quite different from the words that are actually being spoken.

Chris

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Tony Isbell:

Dear Casts:

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Here’s to a successful run! Enjoy!

Tony

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