Chekhov Farces: Senior Cast Members Discuss the Upcoming Show

Opening next is a silly and satirical evening that takes a contemporary look at four of Chekhov’s most popular farces: The Wedding Reception, The Bear, The Proposal, and The Festivities which follow a rowdy family, a desperate creditor, a hypochondriac, and an overworked bank clerk. These vaudevilles are at once wildly theatrical and bitingly comic or, as Chekhov says, “an explosion of pain in comic form.” They mock our attempts at love, and also reveal just how fickle our hearts can be. 

Rose Heising (Class of 2020), Ashlyn Quintus (Class of 2020), and Ruby Daniel (Class of 2020) give insight into the production stage as well as the process of completing a theatre thesis. The three seniors also reflect on their involvement in Whitman’s acting department as they approach the end of their time here.

Melina Waldman: Can you describe the process of using this show for your senior thesis?

Rose Heising: Ashlyn, Ruby and I are all using this show as our senior project, which basically includes doing research surrounding the play, the rehearsal process itself, and then a culminating paper. My personal research is focusing on female-to-male crossdressing and representation of women in Chekhov’s work and in theatre more generally.

Ashlyn Quintus: Last year, Rose, Ruby, and I applied and said we’re doing the performance track for our theatre thesis and Chris [Petit] reached out to us and said he had the idea of doing a farce, and I thought that sounded fun because it’s a style of show I haven’t really done here. So, that process looks a little different because I read the plays over the summer and then we talked about who us three would be last semester before we cast the rest of the show. Then, we got to sit in on the auditions, and help audition people, and see the cast members through… And then we perform it, which is a big part of the thesis, and then we have a paper that’s 10-15 pages long due a week after we close the show, and then we have orals to defend our process, our research, our whole project really.

Ruby Daniel: Chris Petit, our director, approached Rose Heising, Ashlyn Quintus, and myself about a year ago and offered us the opportunity to work on the Farces as our senior project. We read the plays and signed on, and then last semester we finalized which parts we would be playing, sat in on casting, did research and memorization work over winter break, and began rehearsals. 

MW: If applicable, how is your role in the show different from the other cast members?

RH: I play four drastically different parts in this production, so keeping track of everything and being able to switch back and forth has been a huge challenge. I play an old deaf sailor man, a flirty young fashionista, a hypochondriac trying to propose marriage, and a musician. They all have different lines, costumes, goals, physicalities, and vocal quirks, so keeping them all specific has been my biggest challenge.

AQ: I play two men and one woman… I would say I have some of the angriest characters in the show and I’m trying to differentiate how these different people would manifest their anger because it’s not the same and that’s the work one has to do when you play more than one person. You have to find the foundations of who they are and from there, see how they would emote and react to external stimuli.

RD: I am called to every rehearsal along with Ashlyn and Rose, and we are all in every single farce in some capacity. We were expected to be very familiar with our text much earlier on than the rest of the cast members, and since the Chekhov text is so complex, it required doing a lot of character analysis on our own and bringing our findings and ideas to Chris each rehearsal and working on each farce on our own as well as in a group. Ashlyn and Rose also have crafted many of the musical moments of the show (I am unfortunately not musically talented), which has added another element of challenge in rehearsal. 

MW: What has been your biggest challenge in the production process?

AQ: An aspect that has been challenging is the fact that it’s not just one play. It’s different than being multiple characters in one play because you’re not just entering for a scene, and you’re this one character and then another in the same world—it’s four plays with established worlds. We’re also curating a whole event so the audience will see the actors the whole time and that company is the people moving the furniture… and there’s something cabaret-esque about that. There’s no fourth wall so it’s this idea of hosting the audience for a funny and entertaining ride.

RD: I spent a lot of time considering these characters as discrete, truly just shutting myself up in my room and trying to figure out what made them all tick. But the theatrical process is collaborative, and so sometimes my prep work wouldn’t end up being what I used to develop the characters after all–sometimes it would be a physical relationship with another actor, a note from our director, or something in the music we used on that particular day that would become a grounding point for me. It was an immense challenge to prepare these characters and to also feel like they could change on the fly.

MW: What has been your favorite part of the production process?

RH: One of my favorite parts has been incorporating my violin-playing into my acting. I get to basically underscore the one play that I’m not acting in, and it’s been a super fun challenge to use all my acting impulses but transmit them through music. And I’m a huge folk music nerd, and very into gypsy/Klezmer styles, so getting to bring in tunes and hone my improvisational skills has been very fun.

AQ: [The show is] so funny and I love to be goofy, so when the jokes land they land hard and the payoff is great… Humor’s just a great bipartisan equalizer and incites solidarity because if everyone thinks something is funny and laughs about it together, they then share an inside joke… I’m just really passionate about the comedy aspect of it. I’m really excited about my Smirnoff character, he reminds me of Ron Burgundy from Anchorman plus Tim Robinson from I Think You Should Leave, he’s a really gritty, super angry kind of guy and I have an affinity for him. I think it’s because I get to play him and as a female actress you never really think you could, there’s not really that place for a lady because it’s this hyper-masculinized funny, male role that I’ve always admired and laughed at and the fact that I get to try and embody it is really exciting.

RD: I have been so fortunate to be an acting partner and improvisor with Ashlyn Quintus for our entire time at Whitman together. We play husband and wife, lovers, and father and daughter in three different farces. Getting to explore such different and sometimes volatile relationships with such an excellent collaborator has been my absolute joy, and has made my job truly so easy.

MW: Looking back at your Whitman acting career what are some skills you have gained/developed? How do you see these skills applied to your work on Chekhov Farces?

RH: I feel like I’ve reached a point technically where I can mostly just relax and play in the moment. I don’t like settling into habits on-stage, so I try to make things fresh for myself by picking a different focus each night. Also, having worked so closely with many of the other actors and with Chris of course also brings a sense of comfort and ease so I feel like I can make bold choices, choices that work and choices that don’t work, but the point is to keep playing.

AQ:Something that I’ve learned, and I’m still learning, is collaborating; when to speak up, when to not speak up. Just having trust with your collaborators is something I’ve learned again and again on each project… Also time management, you never can learn enough of that. I feel like I did more shows in a shorter amount of time before college but you’re also taking care of yourself and there are more things to manage and school is harder… Time management has been huge [for Chekhov’s Farces] because of my thesis and English exams… every day [the show] comes up in my mind, especially as we approach the opening.

RD: In acting classes and in shows, I have used the vocabulary of Anne Bogart’s viewpoints in order to position myself and everything I do onstage. The Viewpoint has been very helpful in orienting myself in the farces, because remembering the vocabulary of movement, especially when I am stuck, has allowed for me and my fellow actors to create new solutions to our theatrical positions together. I also think my biggest skill has been learning how to work with, communicate with, and listen to lots of different types of fellow actors. We have an amazing cast in the Farces, and everyone has their own strengths. Because I have spent a lot of time learning and working on different types of pieces and with different collaborators, taking the time to listen to what’s really going on for each actor has been so crucial. For example, we open Farces with a play called The Wedding Reception. All ten of us are in it, and we all have vastly different parts to play. Every time we work on it, if just the tiniest thing goes off, our text will stop resonating. There are a few characters who have just a couple of lines, but each one is crucial and moves the play forward. If we don’t listen to each other, it doesn’t work. So that’s probably the most important skill. 

MW: What is your favorite memory from your involvement in the acting department?

RH: The more community-engaged and political plays I’ve been in–The Trial of the Catonsville Nine and Ripe Frenzy–were super impactful emotionally. I felt as though the thing I’ve always done purely for my own fun could actually have a profound effect on a much broader community. But my all-time favorite stage moment here was getting fake blood splattered on me by a super-soaker from off-stage as I pretended to bludgeon my friend to death with my high-heel.

AQ: It’s so hard because I’ve worked with so many wonderful people who have graduated and people who are in my grade who have migrated to different departments. I was in Big Love which was a phenomenal cast and such a fun show. But I have such an affinity for when I was a sophomore, we did The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. We incorporated a lot of people from different departments of the college and they came and lectured about the years 1967 to 1970 and it was a really important project. And that cast was so wonderful, everybody—110%— bought into what we were doing, and I think that really showed. That’s a project that I feel really happy about and a lot of closure with.

RD: Too many to choose, honestly!! I have had such a wonderful four years here. Two really special ones have to be my first show here, A King Lear, which exposed me to some really amazingly talented people and gave me a real itch to pursue classical acting. Secondly, last year I got to work on an incredible ensemble piece called Circle Mirror Transformation, which was a very unique cast experience and opened me up to all the ways I can share my performances with the Whitman community.

Come see Chekhov Farces on March 5-7 @ 8PM and March 7-8 @ 2PM! Tickets are available here!