Backstage Blog

Playing a ‘pretty crazy guy’

Geno

Geno Carr as Charles Guiteau.
Photo by Rich Soublet II.

We recently sat down with Geno Carr, who is appearing in ASSASSINS at Cygnet Theatre, to get his impressions of the musical, his character and Stephen Sondheim…

Who are you playing and what is your character like?

I’m playing Charles Guiteau who assassinated President James Garfield.  In this piece Sondhiem wanted to explore who are these people, these “Assassins” and why they did what they did.  What drove them to this magnitude?  What motivates a person to assassinate one of the most powerful people in the world?  It’s been a great challenge to find empathy for this character, and try to make people feel something for this horrible person.

Charles had a very interesting life; he was a pretty crazy guy.  He believed that after he delivered a speech he had written in favor of Garfield during Garfield’s campaign for presidency, that he was responsible for Garfield’s victory. This wasn’t true; however Charles believed that he was entitled to things, like becoming the Ambassador of France, but obviously this didn’t happen.  And then Charles went crazy.  However, I can’t play him crazy- that’s not something an actor should do. It’s our responsibility to understand the mentality of our characters. I’ve been working on his eccentricities and finding out what makes him tick, which is a lot of fun as an actor.

What do you enjoy about Sondhiem what’s special about Assassins to you?

I was fortunate to perform in Cygnet’s production of Sweeney Todd two years ago, but also when I was in college, I directed Into the Woods - which was incredibly cool and really fueled my deep appreciation for him.  Somehow Sondheim is able to take subject matter that no one would ever imagine being a musical, and allow audiences to become invested.

His music is brilliantly difficult- it’s not something you might hum walking out of the theatre, but it’s so smart.  He writes his music to inspire the characters and the story.  Assassins is a musical about America- and so much ‘American’ music pops up throughout it.  John Phillip Souza, a 70’s pop ballad- he draws from American music throughout history, and turns it into a Sondhiem masterpiece.  Like the song ‘Another National Anthem’.  It’s indeed this rousing anthem, but with a twist.   There is this group of people in this country that have a different idea of what it means to be American.  Sondhiem takes something familiar, like a ballad or an anthem, and twists the knife- adding layers and all these intricate elements that tell a story.

It’s fun to sing, and fun to act- it’s music that’s ‘performable’.  His characters have thematic melodies that track throughout his productions. Sondheim does this throughout his work- he provides layers to a character, and that gives an actor and an audience a clear definition to the voice of these people.

Why do you think people shouldn’t miss this production?

I love working at Cygnet. Sean and his team take the work very seriously.  Sean approaches musicals as though they are plays with music. I think in some crowds, musicals get a bad rap that it’s not as fulfilling as say, a Checkov play- but Sean picks musical that are for actors.  Coming to a Cygnet musical means you’re not going to something fluffy.  You’re going to leave wanting to talk about it, you’re going to think of something differently- it will have an effect on you.

Sometimes theatre should be passive, but Assassins will make you think.

I think it will be a huge conversation starter.  This is a fascinating, interesting, fun night of theatre.  You will laugh, you’ll be shocked, and you may cry.  Assassins is one quality evening of theatre.

The Drama-WHAT?

My name is Taylor, and I am a theatre junkie.  The only thing I find more enjoyable than writing an analysis of some theatre history topic or performance theory concept, is doing the countless hours of research beforehand.  I plan on being a student for the rest of my life while constantly searching for jobs that will pay me to sit and compile massive heaps of research related to absurdly specific topics.  You can only imagine my enthusiasm when I was finally enlightened to the fact that there is actually a specific role in a theatre’s production team responsible for these very duties: the dramaturg.

A drama-what?  (Don’t worry, I had the same reaction the first time I heard the word as well, and it took some serious focus to teach my brain to consistently pronounce it properly.)  If you look up dramaturgy on Wikipedia or the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) website, you will learn that a dramaturg is a sort of historian/researcher who helps all those involved with a production, from the creative ensemble to the audience, understand the greater context in which a performance occurs.  Therefore, you might say one of my jobs as dramaturg for Cygnet’s production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean is to figure out how best to explain why we’re producing it in the first place.

When I asked Cygnet Theatre’s Artistic Director Sean Murray this very question, he responded with, “Gem is about owning one’s destiny, accepting responsibility for the world in which they find themselves, facing one’s self on a deep level to forgive in order to move on, and connecting with one’s past as a means of building the present towards the future that provides.”  My knee-jerk-reaction to this sounded something like, “Great, thanks!” as I silently wondered how this abstract idea was an answer to WHY we’re producing it.

Then I came across this great article inspired by remarks from Howard Shalwitz, the Artistic Director at Wolly Mammoth Theatre Company.  The article shares Shalwitz’s reasons as to why exactly theatre makes us better, and upon reaching reason number seven, something clicked in my head.  As he puts it, theatre “influences the way we think and feel about our own lives and encourages us to take a hard look at ourselves, our values, and our behavior.”  In retrospect, as I sit here typing this I can’t help but think, “well DUH, Taylor.  Sean couldn’t have been clearer.”

Despite the specificity of the play- its setting in Philadelphia, 1904 and the circumstances of the characters just after the emancipation proclamation- it maintains a universal theme that everyone can relate to.  Like Citizen Barlow and Solly Two Kings and countless other African Americans who changed their names to reflect their ownership of their new-found freedom, we are in charge of our own destiny.  By listening to different sides of the story, we empathize with the struggles of our fellow human beings (whatever their views may be), and are forced to reflect on our own behaviors and beliefs.  Thus, it’s not just the characters in Gem who are owning their own destinies; it’s the audience members, too. And that, my friends, is why I’m a theatre junkie/dramaturg.

Taylor Wycoff
Dramaturg, Gem of the Ocean

Behind the scenes with Mrs. Cratchit

Maggie Carney in A Christmas Carol

Now that performances have begun for our brand new, radio-play A Christmas Carol, we took the opportunity to sit down with one of the cast members, the delightful Maggie Carney, for a behind-the-scenes chat on her work in the production.  Maggie gives voice to a plethora of characters, including Mrs. Cratchit, Mrs Dilbur and the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Check out what she has to say!

Q: What is your personal relationship or history with “A Christmas Carol”? 

A: I grew up in southeastern Wisconsin, near Milwaukee.  Every Christmas Eve, without fail, my family gathered around the tv to watch the 1951 film “Scrooge” with Alistair Sim.  It is my mom’s favorite.  I just figured out she was 9 years old when it was released, so it left a big impression on her.  I love the black and white film and the scene at the end when Scrooge experiences his great spiritual change.  We all cried into our mugs of hot cider at that point.

Q: What about Cygnet’s Radio-Play production do you find special? 

A: I adore radio theatre…I think I was born too late.  Cygnet knows how to do radio theatre! As a newcomer to the Cygnet family, I really love the ensemble that we created.  As we tell this beautiful story together, I am struck by the level of trust, compassion and love that all of us pour into the show.  It is wonderful when a group of artists gathers and really commits to the concept that the director visualizes.  And I loooooove the Foley and sound effects for the show… the arrival and departure of the ghosts is super-scary and eerie – just right.

Q: Are there any special moments in the production you’d like to share with the audience? 

A: At a recent rehearsal the women of the cast got their wigs and the whole ensemble had many of their costume pieces…oh my goodness!  As I walked on the stage and looked around, I really felt like it was 1944. We all held ourselves differently; walked differently, sat differently…it was great. It definitely informed the characters.

Q: Are there any additional tidbits you’d like to share with the audience about the show before they come to see it?

A: The audience has a wonderful opportunity to watch the show (it is quite beautifully lit and staged and designed) and to close their eyes and immerse themselves in listening to the show.  It’s fun to be able to do both.

Thanks for your time and wonderful insight Maggie!