2014 Best Ensemble in a Play Nominee Interview: Boston University College of Fine Art's "columbinus"

Photo by Danny Kim

Photo by Danny Kim

Hi, Ivy, Ian, and Isabel.  Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed as part of our Nominee Interview Series.  We are delighted to hear from so many of our Nominees, especially those who make a strong ensemble in a production.  Can you start by introducing yourselves to our readers?

Photo by Tara Lynn Sen

Photo by Tara Lynn Sen

Ivy Ryan (IR): My name is Ivy Ryan I am a rising senior Acting major at BU and I’m from Mill Valley, California, just outside of San Francisco. I’m currently in the basement of a Café Nero, yelling into a phone, finishing my semester abroad in London.

Ian Geers (IG): My name is Ian Geers. I graduated from BU School of Theatre in 2014. I come from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and am currently on tour with The National Players.

Isabel Schnall (IS): And I’m Isabel Schnall, I’m from Manhattan, and I’m am also a rising senior Acting major at BU. I’ve just finished my semester studying Classical Acting at LAMDA in London!

How would you sum up columbinus in 50 words or less?  Who were your characters in columbinus?

IR: I played Faith. Faith is a stock character that stands for the naïve, goody-two-shoes, all-American girl. My favorite character to play, though, was Ruth, one of the mothers of a Columbine student, who appeared in Act Three.

columbinus as a play dissects the isolation and lack of communication felt by many high schoolers all across America. The playwrights explore how this isolation has repercussions in the community of Littleton, Colorado.

Photo by Peter Schnall

Photo by Peter Schnall

IG: I played Jock, who stands for all the sports kids at Columbine High School and then minor characters in Acts Two and Three.

[The play is] a community’s attempt to try and figure to what happened surrounding the events of April 20, 1999.

IS: I played Perfect, who stood for the “popular” girl stereotype in high school, and then in [Act Three], I played Kate Battan who was the lead detective on the Columbine case, as well as other minor characters.

colombinus is an artistic representation of real people trying to navigate life before, after, and during a traumatic event. It’s about communication, and lack thereof, and how people hate, love, fight, and deal with one another.

What was the biggest challenge about doing this play?

IR: the most difficult thing about this show was prioritizing the impact on the audience versus our own catharsis as actors.

IG: Putting your own actor ego aside and trying to do justice to these people. Because these are not just characters that you’re playing. Trying to tell all these stories accurately and honestly and not adding “actor polish” to anything.

IS: I agree. The biggest challenge was trying to really honor the words and thoughts that these people have had, in a way that doesn’t turn them into stage-characters or “types”. Also to not judge the people who I’m playing or who others are playing, and just listen to the stories being told.

What was the biggest reward?

IR: The biggest reward was the spark of interest that anyone who worked on or saw our show walked away with.

IG: The biggest reward was when audience members wanted to continue the conversation after the show, and when they were open, and willing to talk about how to prevent these things from happening and how to move on when tragedy strikes. When audiences want to have conversations like that instead of just praising the show.

IS: The biggest reward was the feeling that our show was important. Not that all theater isn’t important and without a voice, but that these stories deserved to be told and that people who came to see it really came to listen and ask questions.

What is your training at BU CFA?  How did it prepare you for these roles?  For other theatre projects or productions?

We all were (or still are) Acting Majors at BU SOT, and our major, as well as the entire school, is incredibly ensemble- and group-oriented. We learn very early that the best work is not done alone or with your own script, but on your feet and with other people.

Every class at BU talks about this, and how to come at the work in this way, and, because of that, we were all able to enter the room with the same vocabulary. We could trust the things that we had learned and really focus on each other. It was always about the other person. That’s a huge lesson that we learn in our training.

What kind of theatre do you love to perform?  To see?

IR: I like theater that makes me think or question. About the story first and foremost. And always with an element of surprise. Theater that’s not overshadowed by a concept or star-power, but about bodies in the space working together to get a message across.

IG: I like theater that has a social impulse behind it, and will hopefully charge its audience to action. And Shakespeare.

IS: I love seeing new plays and hearing brand new playwright voices. I also like theater that has a specific message in mind and really wants to speak to its audience. Theater that I’m still talking about after the train ride home.

What are some of your favorite things to do in Boston?

IR: My favorite things to do in Boston include sunbathing on the benches outside of 855 Commonwealth Ave, going to a Red Sox game, and spending the afternoon with friends in The Boston Common.

IG: Walking around the city and just taking in all the history, every neighborhood feels like you’ve entered into a different city. And Codzilla.

IS: Finding parts of the city I’ve never seen before. And being continuously on the search for a bagel that meets NY standards.

Why do you think that columbinus earned a Best Ensemble nomination?

Photo by Amanda Rowan

Photo by Amanda Rowan

IR: Never before colombinus had I truly existed in such an ensemble-based environment. Every voice was heard. Every person on that artistic team fully supported each other. We put our own goals aside for the greater goal. I miss that ensemble all the time so it doesn’t surprise me that that energy was palpable to others. It was the strongest and most generous group of actors with whom I have ever worked.

IG: I think the show is about ensemble. Our director talked very early on about how the play was not about the two boys, Dylan and Eric, but was about the community response to what happened. And so knowing the show was about the whole community, including the boys, we always went on as an ensemble. All eight of us were integral to the play, we couldn’t go on without one of us there. And that was inherent in everything about the show.

IS: Ensemble was the word on everyone’s tongue throughout the entire process. The whole message of the show is about learning to listen and communicate, and so I think we all began to practice what we preached and really listen to each other. We became like one body moving on stage, and a lot of the directing and design elements highlighted that as well. It was also always, despite the heavy nature of the play, a constant joy to be with everyone. The room was always filled with love.

If we all went on a road trip, where would we go?  What would you want to do?  What snacks are we packing?

IR: The original flavor goldfish and gummy worms. My goal before I die is to go to all 50 states and I’ve been to 25 already. Top states are Maine, Georgia, and Florida. I’ll pack the sunscreen . . . 

IG: Plantain chips and wasabi peas. I would want to go somewhere all three of us have never been. Maybe the south-west?

IS: Chocolate. And Ian will do all the driving because I’m a true New Yorker through and through and I don’t have my license. I’ll follow them around happily in the passenger seat, preferably to somewhere warm. I want to see the larger and most beautiful parts of the country, like Colorado.

What is one moment in columbinus that stood out to you?  What is one memory from the production process?

IR: The moment that pulled on my heart strings every single night was the moment when I got to reunite with my “daughter” (AKA Isabel) because I think that’s the truest moment where I’ve ever felt a sliver of what its like to love like a parent. To feel for a moment that those kids weren’t just children, that they were high schoolers and someone I could have known. Also, Ian gives great hugs too.

The first rehearsal during our read through, sitting at that table with such an incredible group of designers and collaborators. Seeing all our names labeled on our cups, and thinking, this is it. The lightness in the room despite how deeply passionate we were about such a serious and tragic story.

IG: I always loved when the audiences didn’t know what to do at the end of the second act. And then in the show, I think the entire third act was really beautiful.

The day in rehearsal when Clay asked us what we, as an ensemble, are championing as the message of our production. He talked about how the play asks several questions and gives several answers, so it was important for us as an ensemble to agree on what our cause was and what we all wanted to tackle as a production. And we agreed all together that communication was what we wanted to take on. It got everyone on the same page to tell the same story. 

IS: There was something always spellbinding about walking into the theater together from the back of the audience at the top of the third act, after a (usually) completely silent intermission, and seeing the “explosion” at the back of the set revealed. I got goose-bumps every night.

I would also say the first rehearsal we all had together. That first moment of sitting at a table with actors, designers, and collaborators whom I fiercely admired and respected and knowing that we were going to create something beautiful together. Also every rehearsal that our amazing stage-managing team brought in sweets to make hard moments a little easier.

Photo by Danny Kim

Photo by Danny Kim

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

IR: Stay tuned! I will be in four shows in the upcoming school year at BU, including my culminating senior thesis in the winter.

IG: I’ll be doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged], and Shrek: The Musical at Oklahoma Shakespearian Festival this summer.

IS: I’ll be spending the next five weeks in London and hopefully working with a theatre company there, and then a full BU season next year, including my thesis as well!

Do you have anything else that you wish to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

IR: Read the play. It’s worth your time.

IG: Thank you for recognizing the work that we did! Thank you.

IS: Thank you for seeing the same strength in our ensemble that we felt! And to surround yourself with people you love often and always.