As a theatre dedicated to cultivating the next generation of arts professionals and fortifying the region’s creative class, Ensemble Theatre provides a season long internship program in areas such as acting, producing, directing, and administration. These emerging artists and professionals serve as crew for all productions and are entrusted with key positions in the theatre. Each season, the intern company is given the opportunity to choose and perform a work entirely of their own for Cincinnati’s Fringe Festival. The Festival, celebrating its 11th anniversary this year, culminates opportunities for artist collaboration and experimentation with style and content. We spoke with directing intern Ben Raanan and acting interns Linnea Bond and Zak Schneider about their involvement in this year’s Fringe Festival.
Q: How did the intern company decide on the show for the Fringe Festival? What factors influenced your decision?
Linnea: We decided on the Fringe show by submitting plays and doing read-ins of the ones we liked. We all had elements we wanted in it, but what stood out to us was a show with character arcs, something relatively new, a piece with a good part for each of us, and a solid script.
Ben: We realized early on that finding an appropriate script that fit our numbers (5 girls, 2 guys) would be almost impossible. As the director, I wanted to make sure that we weren’t sacrificing the quality of the material based on technicalities. I asked the group if they would be interested in splitting in half and presenting two shorter shows that both had a connected theme. The group seemed really receptive to this, and it wasn’t long before we had our two shows selected. I am happy to say that we have two really interesting and meaty shows, and everyone has a role they can sink their teeth into.
Q: What attracted you to these particular shows?
Ben: I was really interested in exploring the loss of self-identity. Both plays deal with this issue in completely separate ways. In Crumble, we have a family that has lost their way that has lost after they suffer a calamity. My working tag line for the show is “What happens when a mother forgets how to be maternal? A child forgets how to be innocent? And a house forgets how to be a home?”
In Authorial Intent, we see this loss of identity in a much more practical way. It explores the relationship between actor and playwright. It talks about how as actors, we tend to inhabit the lives of so many characters, that sometimes we forget to craft our own life in the process. As an actor, we sometimes say “I can be whoever you want me to be…I just can’t be myself.”
Linnea: Both the shows we are doing have parts that suit each of us well, as well as an interesting premise. They are well-written and have strong characters. Personally, I love the part I am playing. She has fantastic poetic lines as well as a great character arc and some great scenes with others.
Zak: 5 words: Justin Timberlake and Harrison Ford. I get to play both of them.
Q: What do you want people to know about the Fringe Festival?
Zak: It’s like an all-you-can-eat-buffet of new theatre. And everything comes in smaller portions so you can binge without feeling too bad!
Linnea: The Fringe Festival is a great part of spring in Cincinnati. It is a chance for theatre to come to this city as well as for the city to celebrate local theatre and local actors. You’ll see pieces that will surprise you, but only in the best way.
Q: Why are Fringe Festivals important to the arts and theatre community?
Ben: Theatre is a business. While it is an artful business, it is still a business. Having a Fringe Festival gives us the ability, as artists, to do some more artistically dangerous work. The focus of a Fringe Festival should be about the art, rather than making money. Because of that, as an audience, you will see work that you never expected to see.
Linnea: Fringe Festivals are a chance for audiences and artists to stretch themselves. You won’t see any Oklahoma!, but you will see new works that try to connect with audiences in new and innovative ways. It’s a chance for stuff to get weird. In a great way.
Q: What is your favorite part about doing the intern show?
Ben: Getting the opportunity to work on our own project after spending the year observing and assisting on productions. It feels great to get back into the drivers seat and really create.
Linnea: I’m excited to have a really quality part in a show. There is such a great arc to this character and what drives her is really beautiful: her love for her child, her grief over her husband, her strength in trying to keep it together for her family. She is falling apart but she will never give up on her daughter.
Zak: 5 words-Justin Timberlake and Harrison Ford.
Q: Tell us about your experience at ETC this past season.
Linnea: Working at ETC this year has been exciting in many ways. I’ve learned a lot about the backstage elements of theatre and watching other professionals has allowed me to compare the ways that others work to find a method that works for me. Also, I have had the opportunity to work on several films this year, which was educational and thrilling.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to do challenging and new works at the Fringe Festival?
Zak: New works are what it’s all about. Sure, there are loads of incredible theatre already out there, but we have to plant the seeds now to make sure there is more incredible theatre tomorrow.
Ben: Our society is ever changing. Thus, theatre needs to be a malleable art form. Doing challenging new works allows theatre to comment on the issues that we face today, rather than the issues we overcame yesterday.
Linnea: The Fringe Festival provides a city where we value tradition and history with something new. Artists can take risks and challenge traditional mores, while doing work that gets them excited. It gives us license to enter into dialogues and questions that we may normally avoid, using styles that we normally eschew, while laughing at jokes that we might not normally allow ourselves to laugh at.
Q: What were the most memorable moments from this past season at ETC?
Linnea: I have tremendous memories for each of the actors that have come on to do shows. They have welcomed the interns into the rehearsal and performance process with open arms and their generosity has been humbling. I had the opportunity to teach one of the workshops we do on weekends, which was a really fun experience for me to share the knowledge I have of Theatre of the Oppressed with the group. Finally, the other interns have become like family to me and living and working everyday with them has been like building a family.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
Linnea: This summer, I am heading out to California to do an intensive at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I hope to do some shows in Cincinnati next year and teach Theatre of the Oppressed more, then move to Chicago sometime in 2015.
Ben: Still not sure…director’s life.
Zak: I plan to move to New York in the fall and slug it out for a few months and see if anything bites for me.
To find out more about Cincinnati’s Fringe Festival, click here.
To find out about Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s internship programs, click here.