The “Hey Dani” Dialogues: When Is a Popsicle Not a Popsicle?

Mari Vial-Golden and Kate Goehring in "W;t."

Mari Vial-Golden and Kate Goehring in “W;t.”

When is a popsicle not a popsicle?

When it’s onstage with two characters just waiting to connect.

Dani and Kate discuss theatricality vs. realism in finding the soul of W;t.

 

On the Secret Life of Props.

Kate: Hey, Dani, how has the design concept talked back to you during this first week of rehearsal?

Dani: In the initial staging I felt a real tug between the theatricalism versus the realism of the piece.  We needed a trash can and then also added a sharps container and a biohazard disposal.  And I was asking myself – “Is this too real?” and “Is it enough to tell the story?”  We also needed to look at the very real stage direction of two characters eating food that melts.

Kate: So when a popsicle is not just a popsicle, right?

Dani: Yes.  That scene where your character and the nurse share a popsicle – using the actual popsicles in rehearsal – this is essential to the process, because the more real the props are, the more they become a gift to an actor.  The actor is working on the real activity of putting on gloves, using a syringe, or eating this melting treat, and yet the emotional component of the scene is freed instead of forced, because of those very technical things.  

 

On Creativity and Editing.

Kate: Tell us why messy is best in the first work-through.

Dani: I use to be a lot like your character Vivian; I like details, and I can be uncompromising, expecting perfection from myself.  But I have found this does not serve the early part of the rehearsal process. A huge part of the director’s job is facilitating the creativity of the other artists.  When we work messy, everyone is invited to be creative, freewheeling and even silly.  

Kate: Like how we’ve now started to name the props.  The IV drip is named “Mags” after our very brilliant pulitzer prize-winning playwright – Margaret Edson.

Dani:  Exactly! That silliness shuts down the critical part of ourselves so we’re freer to share ideas. If we explore tons of possibilities, we’ll have more and better material to edit later. We can’t underestimate the importance of laughter in the rehearsal hall. If we only stuck with the hard emotions, it wouldn’t encompass the whole truth.

Kate: Well, then we’re in luck! It’s joyful to work on a text that is stunning in complexity and depth of connection.  At the same time, that same material seems to have so much room for all of us, as actors. Kinda like you, Dani. (Just sayin’….)

The Hey Dani Dialogues: W;t Rehearsals Start

Actor/Director explorations of Pulitzers, eyebrows, a staff disrobed (gotcha!) and rehearsals that shine both ways

Chemo Clinic

*“Hey, Dani, what are your three take-away words from table work for “W;t?”

*“Hey, Kate, we have to think about eyebrows.” 

Actor, Kate Goehring and Director, Dani Keil, still begin conversations like this, as the deeper dive into the Pulitzer Prize-winning “W;t” starts up rehearsals.

 

On the first rehearsal….

Dani: At first rehearsal the design team presented our concept.  Did any ideas or images inform you and your process?

Kate:  Oh, all of it:  our set designer’s ability to create distance (as illness can); the intuitive awareness of silence’s part in a soundscape by our sound designer; and our costume designer’s use of color and white to underscore the thin line between which is more ‘real’ – past or present.

On table work…

Kate:  What is the biggest surprise from the beginning of the process?

Dani: The laughter and joy during table work. The discussion has such passion, and each of you bring an openness.  You are all building off of each others’ ideas and reaching deeper understanding together. I see a chemistry among the cast already.

Kate: What are your three take-away words from table work?

Dani: The word Research is still resonating for me throughout the play. That word was a jumping off point during the design process, and the cast discussion has illuminated the art and wonder that a research process can hold.  The new words I’m thinking about are Time and Vulnerability and especially a relationship between those two ideas.

On poetry….

Dani: Your “100 Poems in 100 Days” Facebook challenge has come to a conclusion. What’s one that surprised you?

Kate:

MY HEART

I’m not going to cry all the time

nor shall I laugh all the time,

I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.

I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,

not just a sleeper, but also the big,

overproduced first-run kind. I want to be

at least as alive as the vulgar. And if

some aficionado of my mess says “That’s

not like Frank!”, all to the good! I

don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,

do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,

often. I want my feet to be bare,

I want my face to be shaven, and my heart–

you can’t plan on the heart, but

the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

 

– Frank O’Hara

 

The “Hey Dani” Dialogues

An Actor/Director Exploration of Pulitzers, Hair, a Staff Disrobed (gotcha!), and Rehearsals that Shine Both Ways

 

  • “Hey, Dani, I spent the day with a colleague getting chemotherapy last week.  Here’s a picture in front of the building; it’s all about hope.”
  • “Hey, Kate, I talked with my mother-in-law – a cancer, hospice nurse – and her stories resonate with the heart of the play.  Want to Skype tomorrow?” 

 

 

 

Actor, Kate Goehring and Director, Dani Keil, begin conversations like this frequently, in what they call their deeper dive into the world of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, W;t.

On Triad Stage….

Dani: (Channeling Terry Gross.)  So you’re returning to Triad Stage for your fifth show, and I know you’re excited to come back to Winston-Salem.  What do you like about the area so much?

Kate: Triad audiences own their theater –  so open and eager and present.  This is the third Triad show in which my characters talk to the audience. How many actors get that privilege?  It’s like picking up where you left off in the conversation.

Dani: Yes! I talk to the audience members next to me when I attend the shows.  I like to ask what their favorites shows have been and how long they’ve been coming.  There’s a pride; many say, “We’ve been here since the beginning!”

 

On Grace (Everybody’s Got Some)…

Dani: Edson says W;t is about grace.  Where do you see grace in the world?

Kate: Oh the list….! I love that grace can’t be earned; saints and thieves have equal access (not that I’m encouraging anything other than saint-like behavior – but there wouldn’t be any plays, if only saints existed).  Plays feel grace-filled to me, because characters arrive with agendas about how life should go – as do we – but that is not the way the play goes. The audience catches the transformation and seals the deal. As they say, “There is no present like time”.  Audiences bring that particular gift to the mix.  What about you?  Where do you see grace?

Dani: The image of an adult talking to a child comes to mind, when an adult is honest and respectful and honors the core of a child. It’s like that with actors too; they relate from their core to everyone’s core with real motivations and actions.

 

On Poetry…

Dani: You’re doing the 100 Days of Poetry on your Facebook.  Can you talk a little bit about the response to that?

Kate: It was 30 in 30, based on Bikram Yoga’s infamous 30 Day Challenge.  I wanted to do a deeper dive into where the character and I meet and started putting it on Facebook, and there were just these thumbs-up from the most unexpected places.  People I rarely see, Chicago cops, high school classmates – people you wouldn’t expect – started tracking it with comments: “Oh, you’re killing me with that one;” “That’s my favorite,” “sending that one to my Dad,” etc.  So it became 100 poems in 100 days, because people were so into it.  It’s a lot like theatre;  “you will not find the daily news in poetry but many men have died from the lack of what is found there.”

Having loved poetry anyway, it is amazing to see how deeply people love poetry.  I’m on day 94 – dreading not posting daily after 100.  Guess we’ll have to do a play, right Dani?

Dani: Absolutely!  Rehearsals start on Friday!