2015 Best Supporting Actress in a Musical Nominee: Katie Schiering as Beth Spencer in FUDGE Theatre Company's "Merrily We Roll Along"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Aware, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Ross Brown.

Photo Credit: Ross Brown.

Katie Schiering performed as the lovely and nuanced Beth Spencer, spanning over twenty years in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's final production, Merrily We Roll Along. Her Beth was vulnerable and sweet, and independent and hardened, a beautiful transformation by life's circumstances. In her Interview, Katie talks about her favorite Sondheim musicals, her proudest moments outside of the theatre, and the two famous women with whom she would have loved to have dinner!

Hi, Katie, and welcome to ArtsImpulse! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! Thank you for this opportunity. My name is Katie Schiering (formerly Katie Preisig; I got married this past summer 2015), and I am happy to be a performer in the Boston area, as well as a theater director and vocal coach for a children’s theater program in Wellesley, Massachusetts. I’ve been performing in Boston here and there for about 7 years. I’m originally from Groton, Massachusetts. I currently live outside the city with my husband and stepchildren.

Can you talk to us about your work in Merrily We Roll Along.  Who was Beth? 

Ahh, Merrily . . . such a dear show for me. It was the last FUDGE Theater Company show, and they’ve been a huge part of my life for the past 6 or 7 years. The show is ultimately about friendships . . . how they last and why they fail.

Beth is a lot of different things in the show, considering the show spans the length of twenty years. She starts off as a young woman, aspiring performer, a cheerfully naive southern girl. Her story ends with a very messy divorce. The show is told backwards though, so reverse that.

What were some of the challenges?  What were some of the highlights?

The biggest challenge was certainly the timeline of the show running backwards. I had to draw a map just to figure it all out. It wasn’t like we were in constant rewind . . . we were in a few consecutive scenes of one time period, then a few scenes of a few years before, then a couple scenes of a long time before, and so on . . . It’s genius, but complicated.

The challenge was also a highlight; I loved portraying 20 years of a character. People change so much so it was extremely dynamic.

Some of the cast in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's  Merrily We Roll Along  (Photo Credit:   Matt Phillipps Photography  ). 

Some of the cast in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography). 

Have you performed other Sondheim?  If so, what roles? 

The only other Sondheim show I’ve been in was Assassins. I was Squeaky Fromme. It’s a really whacky show but I loved it. I like playing crazy characters. Squeaky was a nut case.

I have a funny story about that show. Squeaky has a picture of Charles Manson that she carries with her and fawns over. After the show closed, I must have put the picture in my wallet but I don’t remember doing so. It fell out one day when I was at a family party, and I had to explain why I had a wallet size photo of Charles Manson on me. They didn’t see the show, so it was hard to explain!

Are there any Sondheim roles that you would love to play?

I constantly change my mind with this one . . . I have never done Into the Woods and it’s the only Sondheim show on my bucket list. I go back and forth between The Witch and The Baker’s Wife.

What have been some of your favorite roles?  What are some other roles on your bucket list?

My top four have been Beth in Merrily We Roll Along, Louise in Gypsy, Holly in The Wedding Singer, and Kate McGowan in Titanic. My ultimate dream role is Eva Peron in Evita. I’ve been rehearsing for that role since I was 7 years old.

I also dream of playing Francesca in Bridges of Madison County, Kate in The Wild Party, Lucille in Parade, and the list goes on.

What is the last song that you sang at an audition or performance?   Why that song?

It’s been a while since I’ve performed, actually the last song I sang on stage was the finale of our closing performance of Merrily We Roll Along. That was an emotional moment, being that it was also FUDGE’s last performance as a company.

How have you grown as a person and performer in the last few years?

I’ve had the opportunity to play some rather difficult characters the last few years, which has really broadened my horizons as an actor. Also, my experience teaching and directing children’s shows has given me a whole new understanding on backstage and technical work. I’ve been doing everything from costuming, to set design, to choreographing, so I’ve had to learn to follow a larger vision.

Franklin Shepard (Jared Walsh) and Beth Spencer (Katie Schiering) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's  Merrily We Roll Along  (Photo Credit:   Matt Phillipps Photography  ).

Franklin Shepard (Jared Walsh) and Beth Spencer (Katie Schiering) in The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along (Photo Credit: Matt Phillipps Photography).

What have been some of your proudest moments outside of the theatre?

I’m proud of my family. My husband, stepchildren and I are a close unit and we keep getting stronger. I’m also very happy with how I’ve managed to keep up with my incredible friends and form some really strong bonds, despite my work and family schedule.

You have a date night on a Saturday.  What do you plan to do? 

If it’s been a really busy week, then Netflix on the couch is what I crave the most. However, a better date would be going into the city to see a show, tapas for dinner, and strolling through the Public Gardens.

If you could have a meal with two famous people, who would they be?  What would you talk about?  Most importantly, what would you eat?

Elaine Paige and Patti Lupone. I’d love to hear about how they each approached the role of Eva Peron, and how their experiences differed. I would definitely pick their brains for when I (if I) ever get to play this dream part of mine!

I think we’d have to eat at some fancy seafood place . . . they strike me as classy ladies who lunch. I’d love to eat oysters with them!

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m currently directing Willy Wonka Jr. in Wellesley, and am itching to get on the stage myself when the next opportunity comes along, but nothing on the books just yet.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read about me! I’m honored to be nominated. I love the Boston theater community and hope to work with all of you lovely people in the future!

2014 Best New Work Nominee Interview: Kevin Cirone for "Creative License"

Photo by David Costa

Photo by David Costa

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Kevin, thank you so much for discussing your new musical, Creative License. Can you start by telling us a bit about your background? Who are you and what have you done on and off-stage?

Well, I've been performing in the Boston area for about 10 years now, and in that time I've pretty much covered the gamut – film, straight plays, sketch comedy, commercial, and of course musicals. Most recently people may have seen me in The Secret Garden at Stoneham Theater.

I've also written a lot of different things, including poetry, sketch comedy, and screenplays, but Creative License is my first fully-realized theatrical work thus far.

How do you spend your days?

Lately my days are spent frantically getting my ducks in a row for the New York International Fringe Festival, which selected Creative License to be produced in NYC in August, which is both hugely exciting and terrifying. Besides that, I've been writing and auditioning a lot when I'm not at my day job as a software engineer. In my (lately rare) downtime I'm home hanging out with my dog and watching Hulu.

Talk to us about the plot for Creative License. Who is the story about? What happens?

Essentially it's the story of two childhood friends, Casey and Bethany, who haven't spoken in a year, brought back together to save Denison's Pub, Casey's family business. Casey, a budding writer, employs the help of Dr. Hardy, Bethany's employer, who has a brilliant original work that Casey and Bethany try to produce. When the play is revealed to be not all it seems, the two have to work together to find a creative solution.

Why did you decide to write Creative License now?

The essence of the story is something that's been floating in my head for kind of a long time. It started as an unfinished screenplay and then evolved into the show it is today. I wanted to tell this story of some small-town dreamers and the struggle to be inspired and create something real, and it's morphed into this tale about lifelong friendships and the power of theater. I think it's pretty cool.

How would you describe the style of the book and the score? Did any other composers inspire or influence you? Did you borrow any motifs or ideas from other works?

I guess the short answer is, it's Sorkin meets Schwartz? Kind of? I write like I talk, so these characters have a very modern cadence and sense of humor, but there are also moments when the action stops and a character is given free reign to say how he feels, musically or not. There are certainly aspects of the music that have roots in rock as well as traditional musical theater (plus a handful of homages), but as it has evolved I think the finished product is pretty fresh and original. Or at least entertaining.

What is your songwriting and playwriting background? I’ll ask the age-old question: what comes first, the words or the music?

I'm pleased? I guess? To say that I have no formal background in songwriting, but I have always loved to write and have a lifelong obsession with coming up with alternate lyrics to existing songs. The thought definitely ran through my head at one point to just make a show with parody versions of existing songs, but then eventually there were tunes coming to my head that had no basis in existing music, so I started writing them down and eventually the whole thing was original. Besides, the Gold Dust Orphans kind of have the market cornered on parody and I doubt I could do it half so well.

The music and lyrics usually come around the same time, although those first few songs the tunes came first. Later on my process became more like writing poetry and thinking up a melody that went with the words and action of the scene.

Photo by Kevin Cirone

Photo by Kevin Cirone

What is the most challenging thing about writing a new musical? What is the most rewarding? What was the biggest surprise for you?

I think with any new work the challenge is that it's never finished. You keep iterating and workshopping and polishing and workshopping some more and you always find new things that could be clearer or funnier or just better. That is very rewarding on its own – getting audiences involved in the process of creation. The biggest surprise to me is that people actually seem to like it!

Why do you think that we don’t have more original musicals in Boston? What would encourage and inspire more original musicals?

There are more than you might think. I think creating anything is hard, to start with. I also think like with most theater there's a sense that New York is where the opportunities are and you have to be there to be inspired and get produced. There might be some truth to that, but I also firmly believe there are small-town dreamers and artists who have stories to tell and it shouldn't matter where you live or where you came from to tell it. I think the passion and resources are there in Boston, you just have to know where to look.

If you could erase one musical or play from ever existing, what would it be? Why?

Yikes. Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've never seen any play or musical that didn't have at least some redeeming qualities. I've seen PRODUCTIONS I'd like erased from my memory, but I have too much respect for people putting their work out there to say it should never have existed.

Are you re-writing any of Creative License since the last performance? What are you changing? Why or why not?

I changed a fair amount of the dialogue since the 2014 workshop for clarity or brevity or because certain jokes didn't work well or relationships weren't well-established. I think the show is much tighter, more cohesive and believable now and the stakes are the level they should have been all along. The opening was revamped to set up the energy of the show right away. Musically, not much has changed except a few lyric tweaks. And hopefully I won't decide to write any new songs during rehearsals like last time.

You’re also a very accomplished actor. How do you think that training and experience helps you as a writer?

It has certainly helped me think through the production aspect of playwrighting. When you have a fast-paced show like this you need to be cognizent of things like “How hard is this going to be to show? Is that set piece going to cause a ridiculously long transition?”. I think my love of improv and sketch comedy has also informed my sense of humor and that translates to the writing. I definitely have a lot of stage directions regarding the pace of the dialogue and even occasionally informing delivery. I love actors to be able to put their own spin on things but at the same time there are certain things the obsessive megalomaniac in me wants done juuuust so.

What is your “bad habit”? What is your biggest pet peeve?

Well, I do chew my nails when I'm nervous, which is always. My biggest pet peeve – I suppose people who are ignorant.

If you could change one thing about Greater Boston theatre, what would it be? Why?

I wish that instead of everyone starting their own theater company there could be more collaboration. Trust me, I fell into the same trap. But imagine instead of six fringe groups of three people you had one group with eighteen. Suddenly you're not fighting for resources or an audience with five other companies. I know everyone has their own ideas and I as much as anyone know how ego plays a part, but when you start to realize your way isn't any better than anyone else's, you start to see Boston theater as a community and not the competition.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Creative License at FringeNYC will be occupying my summer. I'll be producing it and also performing in it.

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

See as much theater as you possibly can. And if you fancy a trip to New York City in August, you can see the new and improved Creative License at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival, directed by Rachel Bertone and music directed by Dan Rodriguez. Shameless plug over.

2014 Best Director of a Play Nominee Interview: Lizette M. Morris for Happy Medium Theatre's "Baby With the Bathwater"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Omar Robinson

Photo by Omar Robinson

Lizette M. Morris is no stranger to the Boston fringe scene, and her work has rightfully won her accolades over the year, as she chooses challenging and thought-provoking plays to enliven the Greater Boston theatre community.  In her Interview, Lizette discusses some of the challenges of directing Christopher Durang plays, her rehearsal process, and some of her "bucket list" plays. We're so thankful to have you in Boston, Lizette!

Thank you so much for agreeing to an Interview with ArtsImpulse, Lizette. It was a pleasure to see your work again, especially as one of the final productions in Boston’s Factory Theatre.  Can you introduce yourself to our readers?  Who are you, with what theatre companies do you work, what is your theatre background, and how do you spend your days and non-theatre time?

Thank you for taking the time to interview the nominees! I’m Lizette M. Morris, a local director, stage manager, and performer.  I was formerly a Stage Manager for BMG Boston and an Advisory Board member for Happy Medium Theatre, Inc. but have taken a step back in 2015 to devote more thought and planning to the kind of work that I want to focus on in the future.  I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Fresh Ink Theatre and imaginary beasts in various capacities.  

When I’m not theater-ing, I’m the Minister of Fun for the Research and Development team of a tech company in Watertown.   

What made you choose to direct Baby With The Bathwater?  Are you a Durang fan?  Have you directed or performed in his other works?

Baby with the Bathwater was a script brought to HMT by another advisory board member.  After reading it, I was drawn to directing it because it’s the right combination of dark humor and morbid eccentricity for my taste and aesthetic. 

I am definitely a Durang fan!  In fact, my first foray in to directing was a scene from Beyond Therapy as a senior in high school (Humble brag: I won best director for Senior Scenes 2003!). I got the directing bug and it was all downhill from there. 

What are some of the challenges of directing Durang?  What is enjoyable about it?  How did you respond to these challenges and joys?

I think the challenges are the specificity of stage direction.   It’s clear that he has really strong feelings about exactly what kind of productions of his work that he wants to see and I wish that there was more room to play.  Once you put a piece out there, let people experiment with it; be open.  Sure, sometimes the final product might not look at all like your own imaginings and it’s hard, but sometimes it might surprise you and add to your original intention.

Photo by Karen Ladany

Photo by Karen Ladany

The enjoyable parts are the bizarre characters and completely absurd plot points.  Baby is full of the stuff that makes Durang the most fun to work on.

I responded to the challenges/joys by doing what I usually do in situations where I’m not sure how the playwright would feel about the choices that I’m making:  I assume that they’ll forgive me and stay true to the vision that I’m working with.  I trust my instincts and taste, and I firmly believe that even if the finished product is something that the playwright didn’t intend for, they will still be able to find value in it. 

Do you have a favorite Durang play?  Why? 

I don’t think I could say it with total certainty because I haven’t read the full catalogue of his work, but Baby is the front runner.  I could go on forever about each of the minor things that I love about it, but the major headline this:  the basic plot line and arc is solid and relatable.  “Well-intentioned parents have a child, screw up raising it, child spends years and a small fortune telling someone else about it only to suddenly find himself in the same position.” Layer characters like Nanny and The Young Woman on to that, and you’ve got comic gold. 

Do you have a particular kind of theatre that you like to direct?  Why 

I lean towards work that’s dark and meaty that leaves me asking questions.  The form and style is less important than the meat.  The “why” is more difficult.  I’m sure there are a few folks that might assume that I’m a ranking member of "The Damaged Hearts Club" and write my work off as an adolescent indulgence.  I’d like to think that I care to put out work that I’d like to see. 

The work that I like to see is multifaceted, and easy to slip in to, and full of characters that you can simultaneously hate and sympathize with, and sometimes makes total sense but other times feels odd, and, most of all, deals with subject matter that’s hard, challenging, and difficult to watch and process at times.  I’d rather spend 90 minutes watching that than a feel-good jaunt that I’ve already forgotten about by the time that I light my post-show smoke.  Nothing wrong with the jaunt, mind you, it’s just my preference. 

Photo by Karen Ladany

Photo by Karen Ladany

Talk to us about the rehearsal process.  How did you prepare your actors to handle Durang’s unique style?  What was the most fun?

I think the thing that we focused a lot of time on was not playing right into the joke every single time.  We tried to fine-tune the bits so that some were more nuanced, some read darker, some really hammed it up.  This is still one of my favorite rehearsal processes.  I really lucked out in that my cast was utterly phenomenal and (seemingly) really trusted me so there was time to experiment and push toward the outward limits of what should “stick to the wall.”  I remember laughing all the time and really looking forward to walking into the room to see what we’d come up with that night. 

How have you seen the Greater Boston theatre scene change in the last five years?  The last two years?  How do you see the scene changing in the next year? Five years?

The hard hitting questions. 

In the last five years, I think I’ve seen greater diversity of work and that makes me excited for the future of theatre here. 

In the last two years, I’ve seen companies that I know and love struggle because the city doesn’t make it easy to be successful.  And that’s great because “[i]f it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  It’s the hard that makes it great” (Jimmy Dugan for life). That being said, would be so much to ask that venues have a sliding scale of rates that are based on what a company can actually afford?  I think not.  Would it be too much to ask that fringe companies rally together in a way that they never really have to accomplish tasks rather than talk around the same issues we’ve always faced?  Nope. 

I’m really not sure what the next year brings since we’re still down a venue; the only venue that was affordable and perfectly positioned to be a home to the fringe, specifically.  I think we’re going to lose companies and that’s heartbreaking but the reality of doing this kind of work off the side of your 9-5 desk. 

I can’t really think five years ahead in a meaningful way, but I’m feeling reasonably optimistic so let’s say that I’d like to think that in 5 years, we’d have filled the void that the Factory [Theatre] left behind.     

If you had to eat one thing at least once a day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Rice and Beans.

Mountains or beaches?

Beaches.

Do you have any plays on your “bucket list” to direct and/or perform?

A Long Day’s Journey into Night – Eugene O’Neill

Stone Cold Dead Serious – Adam Rapp

What is the hardest thing about acting or directing for, or managing a fringe theatre company?

Reminding yourself in moments where making the time to do it feels like torture, for whatever reason, that this is what you love and it’s worth it. 

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Performing in Lifers with HMT and Argos Productions – we open on Friday (March 20)!  Come check us out!