We recently sat down with The Treasurer director Rebecca Bradshaw to discuss her experience with the production. Find out what various aspects of the show mean to her and how she approached the rehearsal process!
Rebecca Bradshaw on…
Seeing The Treasurer for the first time
I saw it at Playwrights’ Horizons about two years ago. Wow, it was great. I found the story eerily similar to my own dad’s struggle with my grandmother going through dementia — him working overtime then spending evenings visiting with her. Some nights she couldn’t place him exactly – son, husband, neighbor? Meanwhile, it was the recession and my parents were taking on the extra burden of financially putting my grandmother in (and out) of Lutheran homes when she would forget about the kettle being on. He would lean into humor when he could and quietly keep “the bad” to himself and my mom — something that I respect much more now as an adult. So, yes. This play hit a VERY real place for me when I saw it in New York. It haunted me for weeks after. It’s the type of play that makes you want to change how you operate in the world with your loved ones.
Directing this production
I wanted to make sure we saw heart in these people. There are a lot of scars in this family – some remember them vividly, others do not. Hate and spite is a very easy outlet to run to in this play (and in life). The Son has moved (or run) away from what has hurt him and created a life of his own. He has surrounded himself with a new family of kindness and respect. Now, he has to face an estranged relationship which caused him to run in the first place. And his mother is acting as if nothing has changed. Does she not remember the hurt? That struggle is palpable in this play and I wanted to make sure we exposed both masks.
The cast of The Treasurer
Ken Cheeseman was a professor of mine at Emerson. He’s now a dear friend and is such a shape-shifter on stage. He is somebody that I’ve been wanting to work with for years, and I never thought I’d be fortunate enough to work with him in this capacity. Cheryl McMahon is a delight. She has a great sense of humor and lightness, but don’t be fooled, she has a frankness and boldness to her that feels “so Ida”. I wanted these two characters to be equal contenders onstage and I couldn’t be happier. Rob Najarian, who has been in our community for a while, and I had yet to find a project to work with each other on! I directed Shanaé Burch in her first production post-college before she went off to get a Master’s AND a PhD! Rob and Shanaé have a juggling act between surreal comedians and hyper-naturalism. It’s a lot to embody, but they are handling it wonderfully.
What she hopes audiences will take away from The Treasurer
My goal is that in a week from seeing the production, audiences are still thinking about it. That’s success for me. And I mean, the uber-success is that people reach out to family, connect with an elder in line at the grocery store, or talk to their peers about the logistics of end of life. It’s a reality Americans do not talk about outside of the walls of their own homes. We don’t have to be so siloed in this world. Ultimately, it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to help our elders in their late stages. Why does society forget about that? Why do new parents get a societal “pass”, but a son taking care of his dying mother, does not? And why do we handle it alone?
The “restaurant scene”
This is the first scene the Son sees his mom. Before this they have been communicating thousands of miles away on the phone or secondhand, through his brothers, on the phone. Ida is post-stroke and at her most fragile. He has so much to say but also cannot say anything. He does not play along with her fantasies of her riding a bike in the morning. He responds frankly and coldly. Does being “The Treasurer” even matter any more? Why can he not forgive her? Is it too late? Every conversation may be his last with her, and he just cannot get out of his way and open up. This feels the most real to me. Reality is mundane, scary, and awkward. This scene is the most uncomfortable to watch because it is the most uncomfortable to live.
The script of The Treasurer
The script is written like a poem. One of Max Posner’s influences was Allen Ginsberg. I read a lot of Ginsberg in my prep for this project. Posner, like Ginsberg, is able to thread thoughts together that don’t really land until you finish the poem. I also love his use of humor. I love seeing young people connect with octogenarians on stage. I am part of a generation of people who dismiss anyone who cannot use an iPhone – why?! It baffles me.
Telling the story of The Treasurer
I felt very alone during my prep for this project. I did not want to have to bring my own family’s baggage to the table. However, this process has been a gift. Our rehearsal room was a three-week long “storytime” about life, family, and loss. I am extremely grateful for this experience and I hope the public can walk away with a new perspective as well.
The Cake is the first production at the Lyric Stage to enlist an intimacy director. Intimacy directing is a new role to the entertainment industry and has become more prominent as productions seek to create a safe and comfortable environment for actors during vulnerable moments. We sat down with Ted Hewlett to discuss this emerging role and the significance of an intimacy director in the artistic process.
Can you describe the role of an intimacy director and its importance in theatrical productions?
Intimacy direction is a three-pronged approach and job description. First, we are advocates for actors in what is shown or revealed about their body, or how their body is interacting with other bodies. We want them to be able to approach their work with enthusiastic consent so that they can feel confident about what they’re doing. If there is not enthusiastic consent, we find another way to tell the story. There are dozens or hundreds of different ways to tell that story. The second part of our job is to set up protocols for a particular production, the theatre company itself, or an academic department with student actors, so that the performers are in an inclusive consent-based workspace and that other actors, directors, and producers use language that is not demeaning or othering. The third part is that we help to craft the moments of what the actual choreography is in order to tell the story as authentically and as deeply as we can. Just like a fight scene, intimate scenes that involve sexual touch need to be choreographed so that the performers know what to expect and not be surprised by changes from performance to performance.
What interested you in becoming an intimacy director?
It’s kind of amazing to me that in my lifetime of professional work, this position is such a recent idea to everybody, including me. As a professional fight director, I’ve long been called in to stage scenes of sexual assault because of the combative nature of the narrative. And sometimes I’d be asked to help with a moment of physical safety, such as when two actors who are kissing need to safely fall off the sofa and not bang into the coffee table, for example. But for far too long it has mostly been assumed that if the action between the characters is consensual, it must also be consensual between the actors simply because that’s what actors are expected to do— it’s in their job description. But those clearly aren’t the same things. And sometimes liberties can be taken or steps missed due to a lack of communication and a culture that thought it is in an actor’s lot to simply endure, to suffer for their art. A few folks (like Tonia Sina, Alicia Rodis, and Siobhan Richardson, who are the co-founders of Intimacy Directors International, the leading industry group) had been advocating for change, but weren’t getting much traction. Then in 2017 with the worldwide recognition of the #MeToo movement following Harvey Weinstein, the theatre and film industries suddenly started to pay attention. The national and international conversation about sexual harassment and consent in the workplace has put intimacy direction more at the forefront.
It seems like such a necessary role, why do you think it took so long for it to be at the forefront of theatre-making?
Traditionally, actors are at the low end of the scale as far as power dynamics. I think in many cases, it’s just simply not brought up, not through malice or ill-will, but through a lack of education or an understandable awkwardness that can arise during discussions of simulated sex and nudity. Sometimes actors are damaged in that process or are exacerbating trauma that they’ve already experienced. Intimacy directing is expanding our ideas of what is acceptable, what is healthy, what is required for the profession—we can treat people like people and not just like props.
It’s great that as a society, we are moving in a direction where that’s becoming more of a concern now.
In the past, we trained actors from the beginning that they’re not allowed to say “no,” that the only acceptable answer is “yes.” But if you look at the changes in society and education, even in preschools now, there is more talk about the fact that not everywhere on someone’s body is okay to touch—that you actually have to ask. Or that it’s not a healthy idea to force kids to kiss a seldom-seen relative, for example—it’s a confusing message to send that we only have agency over our own bodies sometimes, but that at other times it’s perfectly normal to be forced to do something that falls into the large spectrum of what could be considered intimate touch. The more that happens in young people’s lives, I think, the more that that will happen by the time people in middle school or high school are being introduced to the theatre.
What is your intimacy directing process like?
Ideally, I would have a script so that I can read it, and have conversations with whomever the creators are—whether that’d be the director or if there’s a living playwright that we are in collaboration with—so we can come up with at least some of what we’re thinking ahead of time. That way we can include known moments in the casting process, being upfront and clear with the actors so that they can make informed decisions about whether to accept the role. Of course, theatre and film are two of the most collaborative disciplines there are, so there will definitely be changes and discoveries throughout the process; but even then it’s not a one-sided conversation, and the actor’s voice needs to be included and considered. Since I’m sometimes brought on after casting has already happened, I usually want to be at the first rehearsal to be able to introduce myself and to have conversations with actors, hearing any questions or concerns they have from reading the material, and taking that back to the director, the costume designer, the stage manager, and whatever other personnel needs to know that information. I usually lead exercises early in the process, introducing some of the new protocols that largely haven’t been articulated in rehearsal rooms, whether that’s in an actor-training program or a professional production. But someday this won’t be so necessary as more directors, stage managers, and actors will have worked with an intimacy director before, and there is a widespread understanding and acceptance of working with consent. For example, I don’t need to do any of that as a Fight Director, because people are used to a specialist being brought in to choreograph fisticuffs or swordplay in order to keep people safe. Right now, we’re still introducing this shift regarding Intimacy Direction, but it’s encouraging because it’s changing so rapidly, and I hope it won’t be long before there’s less of a need to start from ground zero, and that more personnel already know what to expect.
Currently playing at the Lyric Stage until February 9, The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter centers around Della, a Southern baker who values her traditional roots, as she is faced with the task of baking a wedding cake for her deceased best friend’s daughter and her soon-to-be wife. What is The Cake without the obvious? Our own Karen MacDonald, who plays Della, is also a talented baker and shared her special carrot cake recipe with us!
For the cake-
2 ½ cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of dark or light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
1 cup of vegetable oil
1 stick of melted butter
1 tablespoon of vanilla
2 cups of grated carrots (4 large carrots)
For the cream cheese frosting-
1 stick of unsalted butter
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 teaspoon of vanilla
¼ teaspoon of salt
4 cups of powdered sugar
TO MAKE THE CAKE:
Preheat your oven to 350°. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring all ingredients together by hand.
Add your vegetable oil and melted butter to the bowl, using a hand mixer to combine all of the ingredients together.
Add one egg at a time to the mixture. Pour in one tablespoon of vanilla, and mix well.
Take your grated carrots and add them to the mixture, using a spatula to mix all of the ingredients.
Grease two 8-inch pans and flour the sides. Line the pans with parchment paper on the bottom, then fill the two pans with the mixture. Bake for 40 minutes. After removing both pans from the oven, let the cakes cool for 15 minutes.
TO MAKE THE FROSTING:
In a stand mixer, beat the unsalted butter and cream cheese, making sure both ingredients are at room temperature.
Add vanilla and salt to the mixture. Afterwards, add the powdered sugar gradually.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE:
Level the tops of each cake with a knife or cake leveler. Top one of the cakes with frosting and smooth it down into an even layer. Place the other cake on top and frost the top and sides of the cake.
For an extra sprinkle of pizzazz, do crumb coating on the frosted cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Do a final frost and decorate the cake as you wish. Slice up and enjoy!
Catch more scrumptious-looking pastries and see Karen MacDonald as Della in Lyric Stage’s production of The Cake, running through February 9.
The Cake, a fresh and delicious play by Bekah Brunstetter, is now playing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through February 9th. Traditional Southern baker Della must confront her own strongly-held beliefs when asked to bake a wedding cake for her deceased best friend’s daughter Jen and her future wife, Macy. Humor and empathy are the icing on top of this heartfelt comedy.
What would The Cake be without the titular treat? Props Artisan Lauren Corcuera designed and created the scrumptious-looking cakes for the play’s run, as well as other pastries that appear onstage. “I made twelve fake cakes including the one Della decorates at the top of the show, the red velvet she builds, and the ‘lumpy’ gluten/dairy/sugar-free monstrosity. I also made about 30 cupcakes, 15 chocolate drizzled buns, and about 25 madeleine cookies. That’s not even counting the real baked goods!” says Lauren.
These prop cakes took much longer to create than the edible kind—a lot of them were made over the course of multiple weeks. Lauren used a mixture of lightweight spackle, white glue, and acrylic paint to frost and create piping details on the cakes.
One of Lauren’s favorite cakes to make was the Noah’s Ark cake. With extraordinary detail placed on the hand-crafted giraffes, elephants, and other animals, the cake is a centerpiece on Della’s pastry display. Lauren told us that “the Noah’s Ark cake definitely took the longest to make. I could estimate around 6-8 hours between frosting (and re-frosting) the cake parts and sculpting, painting, and placing the animals. It went through a few iterations, but it was a very fun project.”
When reflecting on the cake creation process, Lauren says “people have been asking if I’ve decorated cakes before or if I watched a lot of tutorials, but I really just picked up some piping tips and went for it. Looking at a few style reference images director Courtney O’Connor provided, then running from there and experimenting was incredibly freeing, fun, and a little nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure how they’d be received before bringing them in to rehearsal, but they’ve been a big hit and all of the work on them has truly paid off!”
See these extravagant cakes and beautiful pastries in Lyric Stage’s production of The Cake, running through February 9.
Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”, presented by Lyric Stage. Bravo to the Lyric for taking on Lillian Hellman, who doesn’t get produced enough anymore. And what a taking on it was. From Janie E. Howland’s set design to Gail Astrid Buckley’s costumes to the first-rate ensemble acting of this excellent cast, “The Little Foxes” was one of the more engrossing shows of 2019. High stakes and hidden motives were well played by all, but I have to give a special shoutout to Anne Gottlieb, who somehow managed to make me empathize a bit with her, despite some heinous behavior.
Lyric Stages’ “Little Shop of Horrors” – This one may not have the emotional weight of the other musical favorites on the list, but it was easily the most fun musical of the year on a mid-size stage (“Six” was a blast over at the A.R.T. too). Rachel Bertone and her creative team worked their magic again in the intimate setting of the Lyric, accentuating thecomic ingenuity of this underrated musical and making the most of its rockin’ score, much of which is delivered/augmented by the dynamite “Greek chorus” girl group featuring Crystal (Lovely Hoffman), Ronnette (Carla Martinez), and Chiffon (Pier Lamia Porter).Katrina Z Pavao killed in the role of Audrey, both comically and vocally, in what one hopes is a breakthrough role.
Lyric Stage’s“TheLittle Foxes” – Most years, there is at least one production of a play or musical that feels more like a theatrical achievement than simple entertainment, and in 2019 it was the Lyric Stage’s masterful staging of the Lillian Hellman classic. Superbly directed by Scott Edmiston, with a beautifully detailed set by Jane E. Howland in the intimate space of the Lyric, this portrait of a wealthy but soulless Southern family was a stunning reminder of the effect that the pursuit of money and power has on ethics and morals. The entire cast was exceptional, and nine months later I can still see and feel the horrifying demoralization experienced by Birdie, the alcoholic sister-in-law played so despairingly well by Amelia Broome. It may well have been the year’s best supporting performance – on any stage.
In September, just a few months after Katrina Z Pavao received her MFA from Boston Conservatory at Berklee, she stole the show as flower-shop clerk Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors’’ at Lyric Stage Company of Boston. The poignantly yearning quality Pavao, 25, brought to the character culminated in her heart-piercing, you-could-hear-a-pin-drop rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green.’’
This 2016 play, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, marked an impressive dramaturgical debut by writer Sarah DeLappe, who used her youthful experience on a girls’ soccer team to create a microcosm of female adolescence. In the playwright’s words, the work is “a portrait of teenage girls as human beings” that, in the Lyric staging, proved a stretching, kicking, jumping-jacking whole and the sum of its idiosyncratic parts. Taking the form of a series of chatty warm-ups by the titular team, neatly packed into the 90 minutes allotted a soccer match, the play features random, overlapping dialogue that pings around faster than even the most deftly propelled ball. But what is most striking about it, even if you don’t catch every word amid the shifting alliances and butt kicks, is that it takes its nine strong, budding personalities seriously even as it lays out the near-comic cacophony in their heads — fed by parents, politics, schoolwork, social media and a lifetime of shared pop-cultural references. A. Nora Long was at the helm of the fast-moving, high-prancing production set on an AstroTurf slope surrounded by protective netting. And the nine Wolves, most portrayed by recent graduates of respected actor-training programs, were convincing in both their ferocity as a huddled, howling pack and their vulnerabilities as individuals bravely groping toward adulthood.
Director Scott Edmiston assembled a superb cast – including Anne Gottlieb as manipulative Southern matron Regina, Remo Airaldi as her morally bankrupt brother Ben, and Amelia Broome as her kindhearted, heartbreaking sister-in-law Birdie – for a perfectly wrought production of the 1939 Lillian Hellman classic that is destined to be talked about for years to come.
The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, staged by Lyric Stage Company, Boston. Scott Edmiston directed this blemish-free production starring the sublime Anne Gottlieb as Regina Giddens, who, circa 1900, engages in psychological warfare to reclaim her share of the American dream. Hellman planned to write a trilogy about this pernicious Southern family, but completed only two entries. Her prequel, Another Part of the Forest, hasn’t been performed in Boston in years (read: decades). The Lyric Stage production of Foxes was a critical and financial success. Will someone conscript Edmiston (and cast) to stage the Hellman prequel in 2020?