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The great thing about artists is that we are multi-faceted; adaptability is such an integral part of our lives, on and off stage. Many of our actors have other talents including music, business, and design. We saved posting our last Actor in Anton blog by Maggie Antonijevic because not only is she a fabulous actress, but has had her previous writing published in the Foreign Service Journal! Maggie takes us on her journey from rehearsals to post opening night.

Countdown to opening night. Reporting live from behind the scenes, deep in the actor work.

1.

I am playing various characters inside this piece, which is fun because my recent training with Second City got me into a free flowing imaginative head space for work like this. Each of my more “talking” roles represents something different for me. 

Important to root myself inside the dream of each of these people so I have creative legs to stand on. So I am finding the character Andwyneth, a female theater director that is inspired by black power culture. This role makes me think about how our industry relates to skin color particularly. As an actor, this detail becomes more important in my line of work then my friend who is a nurse for example. 

Our “look” informs casting choices, in a way that doesn’t occur in other professions, in such an open and obvious way.  For actors it’s the norm to be judged or hired based on the way we look. This can be weird for folks, and it’s a truth I have made peace with over time, as a working artist. My prep time is spent on maintaining and expressing my emotions, my intellect, and bringing all these invisible things to the work. That’s my job as an actor. Obviously I do things to maintain my appearance- but it’s not something I allow myself to get too obsessed with, because that’s not where my performance is coming from. These days I walk around with more peace on this subject- and I think it’ s because I do see more high quality roles popping up and groups of people making work that requires someone who looks like me and it’s awesome. It feels good to be needed and accepted for who I am, and where I come from. I think every actor enjoys this feeling. 

This interest in stories from people of all ethnicities and gender identities is super motivating for me in the present moment. I am so inspired by and grateful for  the content creators that are pushing this message forward. 

 Limiting the portrait of people of color to basic stereotypes is just so dangerous, and harmful to our human consciousness and collective spirit. I am grateful to be an emerging artist in this climate today; because I do I see efforts to promote diversity and a landscape in the arts that is a more accurate and full representation of our human global family. It’s also just so much more interesting, isn’t it?

 

2.

So the snow is falling, and my drive from Chicago to Waukegan is a sweet little adventure. Truth is- I don’t use the highway very much at all. I’m a true city mouse. Catching up on my meditation vlogs, and Paul Simon greatest hits, I make my way to rehearsal fully inspired that Caroline Beadle is waiting for us, to make something super special for the community. This is what I love about what we do- it’s a tribe feeling, we belong to each other for a few months, we are making something together, and it’s a fabulous family feeling. In college I didn’t belong to a sorority, but I do feel like I was part of the unofficial Greek system of theater people, and our hive was the creative arts center.

I think about college days right now, because I was in this very same show on the WVU main stage. Can you believe it? I love the whimsical serendipitous nature of this artist life so much. The universe is talking ya’ll, and I’m gonna listen.
When reading The Three Sisters as part of my research for this play, I found myself with a highlighter absorbing various quotes that made my little heart fly. Here is one line spoken by Masha from The Three Sisters, by Anton Chekov: “ I think a person has to believe in something, or has to look for something to believe in, otherwise his life is empty…either you know the reason why you’re alive, or nothing makes any difference.”When I was studying acting in college, I didn’t know what I believed in, particularly when it came to my place in acting as a profession, like a real job. Our culture has so much noise and utter nonsense stereotypes around what the work of an actor actually is. It took some time to sift through the garbage, and discover what “show business” means to me, and if it is something genuinely worth the trouble.

I could not have gotten to this clarity and love of craft without my amazing acting coaches and teachers that share so much wisdom, so much respect and intelligence about this work. Sending my love and gratitude to Acting Studio Chicago and Second City Training Center. My eyes have been opened, and I can’t ever look away or deny that for me, this work just feels like pure joy. I feel so complete in this work- like going home and finding so much love waiting for me there, that’s how it feels.

3.

So I am playing a man in this show also. I actually really LOVE playing Don Blount. He has some issues, and he is very complicated- the audience doesn’t need to know what his issues are, but as the actor- this becomes very important in terms of grounding myself in his story.

I don’t know if the playwright Jane Martin saw it the same way- but for me,The Three Sisters by Anton Chekov, is very much about working, and our play Anton in Show Business is very much about actors doing their job, doing the work, building careers.

I am curious about my character Don Blount and his work as a businessman. like so many adults who work, and provide for their families- the responsibility we have to keep the lights on, feed our kids and send them to college…when this becomes a challenge due to low wages or loss of income- it can make a person feel crazy, and exhausted.

In observing humans, (favorite part of preparing for a role, I’m like an archeologist digging for clues) I ponder why folks can become so mean in adulthood or ruthless over time, and I wonder about the wear and tear of life, that can change a person. I am reminded that sometimes adults pay a high price, emotionally and spiritually doing work they despise to be able to provide for their loved ones.

Vershinin says this from The Three Sisters by Anton Chekov: “Our task is only to work and work; happiness is reserved for our descendants. It’s not for me.”

My hope for everyone is that we all make it, and never give up searching for that feeling of joy in our life; that we all find work in this world that we truly love, while providing for our family at the same time. I’m getting sappy and corny, but it’s true. This is my wish for all of us.

4.

So the first character we see in our play is T-Anne. She starts the show, and in preparing for this role, I get the sense that T-Anne feels for her beloved New York City, the way I do about Chicago. Folks can get really intense and touchy about their address, have you noticed?

I found this quote on my research from the play, The Three Sisters, by Anton Chekov: “ In Moscow you can sit in a restaurant full of people, and nobody knows you and you don’t know anybody, but still you don’t feel like a stranger. In this town you know everybody and everybody knows you, but you’re always a stranger…A stranger and alone.”

This is said by a character that lives in the countryside of Russia, and the characters do analyze the difference between city life and suburban life. My mind thinks about the strong opinions folks have especially about Chicago being safe, or a place they want to spend time, or even live. I agree with Anton Chekov, in that a big city like Moscow, or Chicago, one feels easily connected to people, because we literally live right on top of each other, the human energy is undeniable.

Driving into Waukegan for rehearsal makes me ponder this notion of city versus suburbs. My character T-Anne definitely has a strong opinion about her city, and it’s superiority, which makes her as a character very funny to me. I love my Chicago, I love being in bustling cities, like New York, or Paris-but I can also see myself living in California one day with lots of land around me- which is the very thing my character T- Anne talks about in her opening monologue. #spoiler.alert.

Since I brought up a classic American debate: which is more dignified, a life in the city or the country? Here is what I think on the matter:
We should all own where we are, try to make our community better, feel the ground beneath our feet and be proud of where we stand. I can tell the Three Brothers Theatre is trying to do this here with the arts in Waukegan, and I think it’s super fantastic.

Tech Week Diary: Actress in Process

The count down begins…four more days until our show opens. The process for me is never over, and I’m learning to be comfortable with that. There is always more to give, more to work on- much like life really. I love acting for this reason- it’s finding the art in the everyday comings and goings of a person – and for a short moment the story lives out loud for all to see, for all to hear- especially the parts we like to keep hidden.

Sound cues, light cues, costumes, makeup, the fairy dust that lifts what we do as actors into a more special dimension. This is what I love about tech week- all of our disciplines converge and create something much more grand than I ever anticipated.Like a creative village, we bring our unique talents to center stage, we feast on each other’s gifts, and it’s lovely.

I’m watching my fellow actresses transform into their characters as each legging is pulled on, each swipe of mascara, every boot that clicks across the stage we slip into the imaginary world we share each night. An epic game of pretend.

We have each found our little space off stage to get prepared- some with head phones, make up boxes placed in the same spot, coats hung, cell phones tucked away, lucky perfumes set up by a mirror. An intimate thing; this getting ready to be seen in public- and I’m comforted by how kind this cast is to each other, how gentle we are with each other, and I’m grateful to be working into the wee hours of the night with kind hearts.

We enter the theater each night for tech week rehearsal, and we shed the day and get to work- no matter how tired, no matter how cold outside, no matter how little gas we might have in our cars, we arrive and we give eagerly.Give to who, give for what? That has yet to be seen, but mostly for ourselves and each other probably.

Right now the seats in front of us are empty- except for the body of our director Caroline, peering over her notebook and cozy sweater, watching with intention.

We have come as far as we can go without an audience. Audience is a powerful player in theater- an essential part of the journey to me. The work is not really complete or finished, until the audience comes into the space. That’s when the real magic happens, that’s when we begin to know what we have made.

Post Opening Reflection: Then We Had Cake 

We did it. Crossed the line into an open show- open for business, open to be seen. Tickets have been bought, and seats have been filled, cake has been eaten, and congratulations have been served. So what happens next?

Trying not to worry about how the audience is reacting to this or that.  The game of mental focus is mine to win. 

Staying focused, holding for laughs, moving through the energy of new people sitting in the room with us, as we tell this story. This is our work now. Keep it fresh. 

At this point in the process, I try to keep things new, and spontaneous even though I have lived the same moments with my cast mates over and over. The new audience deserves to see it for the first time, and so the next phase of my work as an actor has begun. Keep it new. This audience deserves it, and so do I as an artist. The fun is just beginning. 

As I slip into my now familiar wig, my familiar moustache, or swing into my improvisational tap dancing routine, I give myself permission to play, and discover something new each night. Putting on this show feels like being at a party that I have been to before, but I keep coming back.  This play has much more serious themes inside of it then one might expect from a show with ladies running around in cowboy hats and faux moustaches. Weaving in between the humor and sadness is what I enjoy about performing this piece. 

I will admit that I my own current perspective of being an actress in America is more optimistic than my characters (thank goodness)- but I do understand where they are coming from. Our characters are dragged through the mud in this show, and the audience gets to laugh out loud about some difficult social commentary for two hours. Laughing about pain helps me sometimes, when the crying is over- for me, laughter is what is left. 

Like a cruise ship that is out to sea, our cast is letting go- and enjoying being out to sea together. The trust we have with each other builds, and as plot moments are coming and going, lines being said in different ways, we are listening to each other, and making a new version of our play each time.

As new audiences lay eyes on us each night, I look around me and I see our little “Anton Family Cast and Crew” familiar faces, familiar voices, which for me, makes the whole process feel much more possible- because I know I’m not out there alone. Life stories are being shared, pictures of families shown, meeting of each other’s loved ones after the show and long drives between Chicago and Waukegan, oh yes- we are out to sea together, and I’m having a ball.