An Internship with ERA: Painting with A Different Brush
The first time I encountered Three Sisters, I was a bumbling sophomore in college. I knew where the library and the rec center were, so clearly I was a knowledgable, independent, student. Our collegiate production was something special. It was like a scumbled painting, speckled with contrasts of Theatricalism and Realism and splattered with the essential unrequited love and regret seen in any Chekhovian play. As we “painters” carefully blended in hues of the agony and angst that define a life unfulfilled, a masterpiece was born.
To me, the production was as beautiful and unpredictable as the teetering image of a spinning top. And much like life, the careening toy begins spinning strongly. Yet it is no secret that the tipsy top eventually tumbles and falls, lifeless. I’ll never forget the mentoring of our director, Tom Martin, as he described many of the characters in Three Sisters. As I remember it, he told us that there is a unique point of view held by these characters. As college students, we had not yet fully realized that point of view. Some day we’d think, “I want another crack at that.” Needless to say, when a chance to work on Three Sisters presented itself to me again, I jumped at the chance with reckless abandon.
That chance came from Lucy Cashion, Artistic Director and founder of Equally Represented Arts (otherwise known as ERA). If I thought my first experience with Three Sisters was special, then my second experience, as an Intern and Assistant Stage Manager for ERA can be described as nothing short of a dream come true.
When Lucy first explained the concept of Moscow!, a drinking game version of Three Sisters, to me, I had to take considerable time to digest what was actually being proposed. Three Sisters? As in Chekhov’s Three Sisters? Reduced to under an hour? And the whole cast increasingly progresses towards a drunken stupor? Nonsense! Yet, from the get-go, Lucy made it apparent that the creative genius that consistently emerges from her musings is seriously dramaturgically grounded. Even though rehearsals were chalk full of nuance, discovery, and fun, it was also consistently evident that absolutely zero percent of our experimentation was nonsense. As Lucy
herself would say, ideas presented during Moscow! continue to, “cause my brain to explode.” We were working towards what some might have said to be impossible. Like photographs snapped in Harry Potter, we were painting an image that moved and breathed with its own unique life force and energy. This was nothing new, as all plays seek to move with their own life force. But ERA’s experimental version of Three Sisters had a life force filled me with awe.
Experimentation. As an artist who is also a scientist, the word “experimentation” excites me to an almost alarming and unnecessary degree. Thus, it should come as no surprise to those who know me that some of my greatest experiences as Moscow!’s Intern involved being a part of the
experimentation process. For example, gestures that would eventually hold intense and significant meaning for me as I would watch the finished product originally stemmed from movement that had little to no association with the show whatsoever. Drastic shifts in characterization that have probably plagued generations of actors (particularly when it comes to the shift in Natasha’s behavior), were made so vivid and with such clarity that I sometimes began to wonder if Stanislavksi used Realism to work against Chekhov’s plays instead of with them. We were free to think deeply, and we were free to explore. If there were limits to what was possible aside from time, I was never aware of them.
We. That was probably the most astonishing aspect of working with ERA; it was our show. Let me drive that point home. I, an unpaid intern, who appeared on stage for exactly zero minutes of the show, who did little to no design work, and who had never worked this intensely for a professional theatre company ever in his life, feel comfortable enough to use the words “we” and “our” about Moscow! It is one thing to say that each artist is equal - that the playwright is equal to the sound designer, and that the sound designer is equal to the smallest non-speaking role in the show. It is another thing entirely to foster that kind of environment, one that not only permits artists to thrive as artists should, but requires artists to work in an uninhibited manner in order to guarantee success.
As artists, we dream of focusing intensely on our ideas and nurturing those ideas in conjunction with the ideas of others. That’s why theatre is a collaborative art. ERA promotes that environment whole-heartedly, and Lucy Cashion and her associates relish in every single success of the ensemble, no matter how small. Moscow! isn’t memorable for me because it met standards, or painted a significant image in my mind. Moscow! is memorable for me because it defied my standards of theatre entirely. Like a matryoshka doll, Moscow! continuously delighted me by focusing on the small within the large, the stunning within the same. I will forever hold it dear to my heart.
Saint Louis Community Playwright, Actor, & Scientist
ERA Intern/ASM - June 2015