“Directing” Chrysalis

Julia Heitner shares her experience as one of three directors for Chrysalis, A Solo Tragicomedy.

I arrived in New York this week after a very sad farewell to San Francisco and Theater Pub in October. Theater Pub has become like a second home to me and I am very much going to miss the friendships and fantastic artistic colleagues I have gained through my last three years with the company.

In my stead, I am so pleased to introduce the San Francisco Theater Pub community to Evangeline Crittenden. Evangeline and I met will studying Theater Arts at UC Santa Cruz and coincidentally are also both Marin-Country raised gals. During college Evangeline directed me in an original musical that she adapted from Ace of Base songs, The Sign: The Ace of Base Lip-Synclical (in which I played the male lead…but that is a whole other story!) The show played a few nights at the Barn Theatre on campus and was a huge success; sold out houses and got the whole audience singing along. I would have to say it was one of my most treasured theatre experiences.

Evangeline moved back to the Bay Area from Brooklyn in 2011 and left me a message sometime in the fall that said, “Hey, do you want to help direct my show?” I returned the call, said, “Yes!” and she came by a few minutes later to drive me out to Marin for our first rehearsal together.

Evangeline Crittenden and The Grief Monster. Photo by Jonathan Talaveras.

The best part about “directing” Evangeline is that she is a true writer/performer, a skilled actor, comedienne, improviser and very open to feedback. In rehearsing the show, Evangeline and I would sit and talk about what she wanted the show to be, what characters she wanted to add, then she would go off to write a section, and then perform it fully-realized at the next rehearsal. This allowed me to act more as a mirror to the performance and feedback on the content and context. Although there are three directors listed for this production, this is still Evangeline’s show, it is her story and it is what she wants to showcase to her audience.

We had a bi-coastal phone meeting on Sunday night to talk about Tuesday’s performance and how to translate the show into the Cafe Royale space. We bounced around some ideas about where different elements should be staged,  playing with the unique environment and making dynamic choices that will include the audience as much as possible.

I have been honored to work on this very personal, hilarious and emotional play and I truly hope you enjoy the performance!

Chrysalis, A Solo Tragicomedy performs this Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at Cafe Royale, 8 PM, Free! Seating is first come, first served so get there early to ensure a seat.

Cowan Palace: Survival’s Chrysalis

When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote her book On Death and Dying over forty years ago the subject of grief wasn’t something that had been formally investigated with the general public. Sure, death wasn’t a surprise to those living in the seventies, but after working with the terminally ill, Kübler-Ross saw a need to address the subject to the medical community and ultimately opened up her findings to the world.

 She created a model that has come to be known as The Five Stages of Grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the leading actors in this play and each wait in the wings for their shining moment when someone experiences a life changing devastation. Kübler-Ross believed that death was a distinctive experience to anyone living through it and therefor the stages could be unpredictable and in various orders. Through her research mapping emotional responses, our culture shifted their perceptions surrounding death and the dying process.

This month Theater Pub explores the subject in a new and unique fashion. CHRYSALIS, written and performed by Evangeline Crittenden, balances ideals of hope and loss; the piece originates from Crittenden’s life experiences and uses artistic medians including: puppetry, storytelling, movement, and music to travel the path of grief into understanding. I had the opportunity to learn a bit more about the work by asking Evangeline a few questions regarding her process.

Q: Kübler-Ross outlined what she believed were the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. After experiencing your own understanding of grief, would you say that her stages are accurate and/or relatable to what you felt?

A: One thing I’ve actually worked to avoid in this show is making it too much about my own grieving process. Obviously it is rooted in my own experience, and of course that experience is extremely personal and specific. But the show is not meant to invite audiences into my world of grief as much as it is to open doors to theirs. So, while I used my own experience as a starting point in developing this piece, it is not meant to really be about my story but grief as a whole. 

Q: How do you think the stages were used in developing your piece? Did any particular moments in the grieving process lend them selves easier to the artistic process? 

A: Julia Heitner, who helped me to develop the piece, said it’s almost mask work in its avoidance of direct self-exposure. I use puppetry, song, hyperbole, clowning and comedy as ways to consider different elements of grief, so in the show it’s almost never just me, speaking directly to the audience as myself. That’s my way of addressing the paradox of using a public medium to explore something private. I will say, though, the structure of the piece uses the idea of grieving phases, and each segment of the piece relates to them in some way. The astute audience member may be able to connect the segments of the show with the stages of grief.

Q: Have you adapted the piece since its initial performance?

A: The show has changed a lot since its initial performance. Every performance reveals more nuances or improvements to be made. Sometimes I’ve added or removed entire characters or scenes, sometimes I’ve discovered something in a live performance I decide to repeat and keep. There are several sections that are only loosely scripted, and those I improvise based on the energy of the audience, so they’re a little different each time.

Q: And lastly, what words of wisdom would you give to someone experiencing a loss in their grieving? 

A: If I had words of wisdom about grief, I wouldn’t need to do this show. 

Evolutionary speaking, grief may not be an emotion linked to our immediate survival but rather the result of strengthening our definition of what it is to be human. When our bodies experience loss, stress hormones are released as they resort to primal instincts, reinforcing the importance of relationships and their role in survival. When we are divided from those we trust and love, stress hormones are freed in an attempt to reunite us and return to that sense of protection and safety. And as the separation continues, so do the stress hormones, which overtime, are transformed into something else. The reality is, one must be willing to accept grief as the cost of partaking in a relationship. 

Ashley Cowan is a writer, director, actress, and general theater maker in the Bay Area. She’s got lots of stuff to say, most of it pretty entertaining, so follow her here at https://twitter.com/AshCows.

What’s Inside The Chrysalis: An Interview With Evangeline Reilly

Evangeline Reilly, the creator of this month’s Theater Pub show, tells us all about who she is, what she’s doing and why you can’t miss the show!

Okay, who are you?

No one is ever surprised to discover I am a performer. I use my whole face when I talk. But I value other voices too; listening is just as important as speaking. I have been a barista, camp counselor, artist’s model and, now, I am a professional fairy.

So, what’s this show you’re bringing to theater pub and how did you get hooked up with our November slot?

Chrysalis is a solo tragicomedy at the crossroads of grief and growing up. It’s essentially a one-person variety show that uses puppetry, music, and some other fun performance bits to talk about loss. Julia Heitner, who has been working with Theater Pub for awhile now, helped to develop and direct the show. We know each other from UC Santa Cruz. (Banana slugs haaaaay!)

Tell us more about the show- how did you first come up with it and where has it been before coming to us?

The show is based on my experience of losing my brother when I was a freshman in college. I wanted to explore the complexities of losing someone at that age; college is such an expansive time and grieving is not an expansive experience. It’s just the opposite, in fact. It curls you inward. I wanted to offer my audience the opportunity to experience their own grief from a different perspective, to hold it in a new way.

How has it evolved as you’ve taken it around the country?

When I first performed the show a year ago, it was very sad. I have since realized that the element of sadness is already so intrinsic in the idea of loss that I don’t need to push that angle, and that humor is actually a much more effective way to explore pain. I’ve performed the show in big and small venues, and I’ve even performed excerpts of it on the street. Every time I perform it, I learn something new and refine it just a little bit. Also, the puppet (his official title is The Grief Monster) was such a hit after his first appearance that he is now a very central part of the show.

What do you see as the challenge of bringing it to Theater Pub?

Ooh. Good question. Well, I designed the show to be extremely portable, so every prop I use (aside from the guitar and the chocolate cake) fits in this dainty periwinkle suitcase I found on a sidewalk in Berkeley. So, technically, I’m not too worried. The show definitely has a raucous quality at times, which is no problem in a pub, but there are a few sacred and delicate moments that I hope will carry over to this setting.

What do you see as the potential awesomeness of performing at Theater Pub?

I wanna create a whole world that surprises people. I think the benefit of a venue like Theater Pub is that people don’t expect to be totally transported, they don’t expect to necessarily go on an emotional journey. But if you can do that, it’s even more magical than when that happens in a formal theater setting, because in that case, they’re expecting it. Also, he show begins with a party scene that involves the audience, which will be really fun at Theater Pub.

What’s next for you and Chrysallis?

What’s next for you and Chrysallis? You tell me! After the new York Fringe Festival this summer, I was kind of ready to give it a break for awhile. I may have an opportunity to perform it for some grief counseling professionals in Philadelphia (one of my tour stops this year) and it may travel to some other festivals…we shall see!

What’s got you excited that’s coming up in the San Francisco theater scene?

What’s got you excited that’s coming up in the San Francisco theater scene? Does dance count? My boyfriend is performing in the Jewish Nutcracker at ODC this holiday season and he’s going to be the lead! I have no idea what the Jewish Nutcracker even means, but I love the music from the Nutcracker and it promises to be pretty entertaining.

What’s your favorite beer?

What’s your favorite beer? When I lived in Ireland, I became a fan of the Shandy, which is a mixed drink that’s half beer, half lemonade. Irish people consider it an old people drink, and no bartender I’ve met here has heard of it. But it’s fuggin’ delicious. Don’t judge.

We won’t judge and you shouldn’t miss Chrysallis, a one night only event playing Tuesday, November 13 at the San Francisco Theater Pub, at Cafe Royale! The show starts at 8 PM, and is free with a five dollar suggested donation!