Kingdom Come


Carmen M. Herlihy

Carmen M. Herlihy

Ted Sod: Where were you born?

Carmen M. Herlihy: I am from Maui, Hawaii.

TS: What made you decide to become an actor?

CMH: I don’t remember a specific moment I decided to be an actor, but my mother used to tell this story about how when I was a really, really young, like 3 or 4 years old, I would stand in front of the mirror and “act,” making myself cry, and then laugh and then cry again — as if I were already studying how to do that. So I think perhaps I wanted to be an actor even before I made the decision to try and be one. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do. When I got accepted into theatre school, I made a commitment to pursue acting as a profession.

TS: Where did you get your training?

CMH: I received my BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I also trained at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London, as well as the ETW Program in Amsterdam and the Public Theater’s Shakespeare Lab.

TS: Did you have any teachers who profoundly influenced you?

CHM: Geoff Bullen was a teacher I had when I studied at RADA who profoundly changed my approach to acting. He was able to do what no other teacher had been able to do up until that point, which was to get me out of my own way. He has this method called “The Red Mist” which is basically a little trick you do to “disappear into the role” or rather, “enter into the world of the play.” It’s basically letting go of all those actor neuroses to just listen to the play, the character you play, the other characters around you and to silence out the white noise of doubt and fear and those other bits that cling to actors when we work. It’s such a small, kind of silly little thing (if you aren’t an actor or can sympathize with actors), but I believe in it and I still do it before every performance.

TS: Why did you choose to do the role of Samantha in Jenny Rachel Weiner’s Kingdom Come?

CHM: It’s a character that you don’t often see on stage. Deeply flawed and struggling with physical as well as emotional limitations. I knew it would be a part that would require a great amount of physical as well as emotional work, and to have an opportunity to be challenged by that is something I couldn’t pass up. I believe an actor never stops learning, and if we are lucky, the role we play is an opportunity to learn. I knew it was going to be a tremendous amount of work, but instead of dreading that, I really hoped I would be given a chance to do that work. It’s also a play I would want to see, and that’s usually an indication that I feel it’s something special.

Stephanie Styles and Carmen M. Herlihy (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Stephanie Styles and Carmen M. Herlihy (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: What kind of preparation or research do you have to do before rehearsals begin in order to play Samantha?  

CHM: I actually spend a great deal of time gathering intel. I don’t work on the script before we start rehearsal. I don’t like setting in stone the character. I have a good solid idea of the play and the character, but I feel setting something in stone makes it difficult to work in notes and suggestions from the director and playwright, as well as the other actors. I like having a strong idea of my character but remaining open to whatever is discovered in the rehearsal room. I really appreciate notes and thoughts from the creative team as well as listening to what my fellow actors are doing in the room. So I make sure the prep I do before rehearsal equips me with as much information that could be helpful to the play, regardless of whether it ends up being used or not, but not so much work that it makes me feel like “I’ve got it.” That’s what rehearsal is for, To Find IT.

Before I start rehearsing for anything, I enjoy researching the thematic elements of the play. For me, Kingdom Come is a play about loneliness and the desire for connection, as well as the need to matter to someone. So I’ve been reading quite a bit about loneliness. Three books in particular have been incredibly helpful: Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick; Alone: Finding Connection in a Lonely World by Andy Braner; and re-reading one of the greatest books ever written, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

I also start compiling a playlist. Music has always been a huge part of my day to day relationship with the world. And I find it helps so much with setting the tone and mood of a play as well as relaxing or energizing me, depending on what I need for it to do at any given time.

I also start keeping a lookout for images, photos that correlate with the story of the play, or the mood of the character or a particular scene. Sometimes I come away with a binder of an image book and other times just a few, and once I came away with just one single photo.

TS: I realize the rehearsal process hasn’t begun yet, but can you share some of your initial thoughts about Samantha with us?

CMH: I like to think of Samantha as the sort of person who would not make a great first impression. She’s definitely someone you have to spend some time getting to know. She hides. She feels safest in isolation. Although she craves connection, she also fears it. The internet provides both isolation and connection. She can project whatever she wants to that world and retain complete control of how she is perceived. Face to face connection doesn’t have that guarantee. She’s bolder when she’s alone. The internet allows you to remain alone, even while interacting with someone.

TS: What do you find most challenging/exciting about this role?

CMH: Exploring the physical life of Samantha is something that excites me so much. At theatre school, you are trained to utilize your entire body in your work: physicality, vocal work, along with the emotional and intellectual life of the character. This role requires all those elements that I went to school for. It’s going to be fun to figure out how she maneuvers in that body, what she sounds like, how she breathes, as well as all the acting stuff; it’s really building this character from the outside in. The idea of transforming completely is exciting. And the challenge to keep this person grounded in truthfulness is going to be work. I love that kind of work.

Carmen M. Herlihy (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Carmen M. Herlihy
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: Can you talk about the relationship between Samantha and her caregiver, Delores, as you currently perceive it?

CMH: Right now, I think Samantha wishes Delores would take care of her even if she weren’t being paid to do it. I think she would like to be chosen by someone as opposed to being burdened to them. Delores is a paid caregiver, and I think Samantha at times has to make a conscious effort to remind herself that Delores isn’t a friend, and most definitely not her mother, and she feels she’s a job to Delores and nothing else. But that doesn’t stop her from wishing that weren’t the case.

TS: What do you look for from a director when working a new play?  

CMH: I really love it when a director loves the play. They approach rehearsals differently when they have a personal investment in the play. They care more when it isn’t just a job. I like directors who care about the details and never stop trying to figure it out. I like collaborators rather than dictators. Directors who are eager to work with an actor as opposed to just working the actor. I worked with a director very early on in my professional career that called actors “props that can move themselves.”  Needless to say that director didn’t have much respect for the actor’s process or contribution and in turn the cast had a difficult time trusting the director. If I feel safe with a director, I have no fear in rehearsal. If I feel supported and encouraged to fail, I put everything I have to give into that room. I like directors who are respectful and kind enough to tell me if something isn’t working. I really respond to directors who give clear, active notes. Who allow actors to work through a scene without manhandling us when we are still trying to stumble our way through. I am not the kind of actor who likes to over-talk through things; I prefer to just try and then let’s see. I really appreciate a director who allows us the time to explore early on and isn’t so preoccupied with the end product from the first day of rehearsal. And directors with a good sense of humor are always fun to work with.

TS: What do you look for from the playwright?

CMH: I love playwrights who write about the world and not just their world. I love funny writers who still manage to make us feel. I love being surprised by a play. I love meeting characters I have never met before. I also really love it when a playwright loves their characters and fights for them. I like knowing I have an ally. I have a deep respect for writers. Without them there would be nothing. I like hearing their suggestions, their ideas, and I find even small little bits of what inspired the play to be useful. And I am always grateful when they are ready to hand over the play to actors. I never take that trust for granted.

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

CMH: I listen to a lot of music. I read a lot of books. I watch a lot of movies. Late night walks through my neighborhood. Talking to other artists. Talking to people who aren’t artists. Looking at an endless number of tumblr sites and blogs.  COFFEE.  I still write letters. I watch every Mets and Warriors game I can (there are very few things more dramatic than a sports game). I try to keep up with current events and the world around me, from pop culture gossip to the political landscape. I people-watch. I binge-watch TV shows. I stay interested.

TS: Students reading this interview will want to know what it takes to be a successful actor what advice can you give young people who say they want to act?

CMH: Be kind. To yourself and the people you work with. Enjoy what you do and love it. The minute you stop loving it it’s time to move on. Also, be GRATEFUL for every opportunity you are given and know that because you got that opportunity someone else lost out. Have fun even when it seems impossible to have fun. Enjoy yourself. And remember TO PLAY.

Kingdom Come is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Kingdom Come, Roundabout Underground, Upstage

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Kingdom Come: Catfishing, From Indie Doc to MTV

Posted on: November 4th, 2016 by Roundabout


cat-fish [kat-fish] noun - a person who pretends to be someone they’re not, using social media to create a false identity, particularly to pursue deceitful online romances.—Nev Schulman’s website.

catfish [kat-fish] verb - to pretend to be someone you're not online by posting false information, such as someone else's pictures, on social media sites usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you. — MTV website

In 2010, a widely released documentary redefined the term “catfish” and cast it into the zeitgeist. Catfish features New York photographer Yaniv “Nev” Schulman, who gets involved in a long-distance romance with Megan, an 18-year-old girl he meets on Facebook. Nev becomes suspicious when Megan claims that a recording taken from YouTube is her own singing. Followed by his filmmaker brother Ariel and their friend Henry, Nev investigates Megan online, travels to Michigan to find Megan and her family,  and ultimately discovers that she doesn’t exist.

Catfish on MTV

Catfish on MTV

All this time, Nev has actually been talking to Angela, a depressed 40-year-old housewife who lives with her husband and takes care of two highly disabled stepsons. He learns that Angela has multiple Facebook personalities, and “Megan” is a completely fictional construct whose photos belong to a stranger. Although it’s not the romantic union he hoped for, Nev and Angela form a kind of friendship. Angela finds a happy ending in her painting career, which has been enhanced by her connection to Nev and the film’s success.

Meanwhile, Nev and friends emerged from the affair with a major film deal. Catfish made a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, and was released by Universal Studios in September 2010. It grossed over $30 million in its theatrical release and garnered many strong reviews. Some critics doubted the coincidence of the filmmakers capturing so much footage of Nev’s chatting with “Megan” and questioned the ethics of filming Angela and her family without their initial consent. Nevertheless, Catfish struck a collective nerve, probing the complicated ways we present ourselves and interact with others online. These questions are especially relevant for Millennials, 25% of whom admit to dating online.

In 2012, MTV premiered its “Catfish” show, featuring Nev and his filmmaking pal, Max Joseph. Following a formula close to the film, each episode consists of Nev and Max meeting a new hopeful romantic who has fallen for someone they’ve met online. Nev stages a face-to-face, where—surprise!—the mystery lover is not who they claimed to be. MTV’s marketing captures the show’s wide appeal: “When that fateful knock on the front door finally comes—only one thing is certain—that these incredible voyages will be filled with mystery, uncertainty, forgiveness, joy, and sometimes, even shocking revelations.” The sixth season began airing in August 2016.

Catfishing in the Headlines

In 2013, Notre Dame’s star quarterback Manti Te’o made news in a highly publicized catfishing scandal. After announcing that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua had died of leukemia, an online blog revealed that Kekua had not died—because she had never lived. Te’o admitted that he had lied to his family and had never met Kekua, but claimed to have been completely innocent about the hoax. Over a series of press stories and interviews, it emerged that Te’o had been “catfished” by a male acquaintance who invented Kekua. Te’o weathered the scandal, went on to play for the San Diego Chargers and, according to reports, has found an actual, in-the-flesh, girlfriend.

Why Call it “Catfishing?”

Towards the end of the documentary, Angela’s husband Vince relays a bit of folklore that inspired the film’s title:

“They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring, and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.”

The image of the catfish and the cod—though scientifically incorrect— has been around for over a century. In a 1913 essay called “The Catfish,” religious writer Henry W. Nevinson used the parable to argue that Christianity was a catfish that had kept Europe’s collective soul awake. Christian writers later in the 20th century used the catfish image to similar purpose. Whether the modern definitions of “catfishing” align with theological meanings of the past is up for debate. But the events of Kingdom Come do suggest that deceptive online behaviors can have the benefit of reawakening and sharpening our non-virtual lives.

Advertisement for Two Boys

Advertisement for Two Boys

Before Catfish, there was:

    • Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare: A group of tricksters write a fake love letter to gloomy Malvolio, pretending to be from the fair Olivia and instructing him how to dress and behave. It leads to much ridicule at Malvolio’s expense and, unlike Nev, he’s not a good sport.
    • Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand: Large-nosed Cyrano writes letters for handsome Christian and even lends his own voice to woo their beloved Roxanne. Just before his death, Cyrano reveals to Roxanne that it’s been his words she loved all along.
    • Closer by Patrick Marber: Dan and Larry “meet” in a dirty internet chatroom, where Dan pretends to be a woman named Anna. The online encounter sets up the intertwining of four people in a stinging look at modern love and betrayal.
    • Two Boys, an opera with music by Nico Muhly, libretto by Craig Lucas and 6969, a play by Jordan Seavey: Both are based on the same real-life crime, in which a young man in Manchester, England created a group of fake profiles, not only to lure the boy he loves, but to incite his own killing.

Kingdom Come is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. For tickets and more information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Kingdom Come, Roundabout Underground, Upstage

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Kingdom Come: Interview with Director Kip Fagan

Posted on: November 1st, 2016 by Ted Sod


Kip Fagan

Kip Fagan

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When and how did you realize you wanted to become a theatre director? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Kip Fagan: I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. Theatre was never something that interested me very much — actually, whenever I was forced as a kid to see a play I’d be like, “Why would anyone want to voluntarily do something this corny?” Then when I was a sophomore in high school, my actor friends dragged me to see a play in the mildewy attic space of an old downtown warehouse building. A theatre company called the Blue Barn had just been started by a group of recent SUNY Purchase grads who found free space in Omaha, and they were doing Sam Shepard’s Action. I sat in the front row (of three) with my mouth agape the entire time. Around the time the actor playing Jeep pulled the real fish out of an ice-water-filled bucket and gutted it with a bowie knife about six inches from my face, I was hooked. I swear that pun was not intended.

That’s when I started acting in school plays. Then after my senior year in high school, I somehow procured a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (then run by Lynne Cheney!) to study Brecht for the summer. With that dough I went to New York and bought a bunch of books and had a terrible time understanding the verfremdungseffekt or anything else Brecht was writing about, so I decided to direct his adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone with a group of high school and early college students in Omaha. No one had any ego involved, none of us knew what we were doing, and I’m sure it was consequently the best work I’ve ever done.

After dropping out of Oberlin College (couldn’t afford it), I moved to Seattle, where I started a small theatre company called Printer’s Devil. We produced new play after new play, experimented wildly, made lots of mistakes, and did some interesting and fulfilling work. That ended up being my higher education.

In high school I had a teacher named Alfred DiMauro who was enormously important to me. He took me seriously, asked hard questions, didn’t settle for lazy answers. My senior year I navigated my schedule so he taught six out of my nine classes. He snuck me the audio recording of Peter Brook’s production of Marat/Sade and let me stay after school to watch the laser disc of David Bowie doing Brecht’s Baal. He anticipated my interests before I had any idea what they were, and I’m in profound debt to him.

TS:  Why did you choose to direct Kingdom Come? How will you collaborate with  playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner on this world premiere?

KF: The first thing that attracted me to Jenny’s play was the crackling comedy of it. Sometimes buoyant and sparkly, sometimes biting and dark, the humor in the script keeps the play afloat amidst the pretty severe darkness and loneliness of the characters. It’s a humane kind of comedy. The second thing that really compelled me, both in content and in form, were the scenes that take place inside the Internet, the chat scenes between Sam and Layne. Content-wise, Jenny has done such a remarkable job developing the relationship between these two women as they communicate under the guise of their fake identities — we see the bond being created, deepening, and splintering in startlingly intimate fashion, without them being in the same room. And formally, how does one stage online messaging? I didn’t know, and it’s exciting to not know things. The third attraction was the ending of the play, which I find so smart and ambiguous. It’s open-ended and doesn’t let you leave the play settled. So, come for the comedy, stay for the intimacy, leave with some disturbing ambiguity — that’s a good recipe for a night at the theatre.

Jenny’s and my collaboration has so far been very harmonious. We did the Roundabout reading last year and a weeklong workshop early this year, and we’ve being seeing pretty eye to eye on changes that need to be made, the tone that needs to be struck, the way things should look, sound, and feel. As a big believer in the fortifying effects of disagreement and argument, I’m gonna have to inject some disharmony soon. I’m sure that will take care of itself once we start rehearsals.

Kip Fagan

Kip Fagan

TS: What do you think Kingdom Come is about? Does the play have personal resonance for you and, if so, how?  How do you understand the psyche of the character of Samantha?

KF: To me, Kingdom Come is about connection being forged through the murk of loneliness and despair. There are of course issues of fantasy and reality, artifice and actuality, that pervade the play. But at its core I think it’s a desperate attempt to make a bond with another person through intense obstacles, both internal and external. It’s kind of hard to be a human and not have personal resonance with that type of story.

I can’t readily put myself in the psychological position of a person who is 600 pounds. But I understand self-loathing, and I understand self-destructiveness. Most of us do. And really I’m not sure it’s my job to “understand the psyche” of a character, but rather to have empathy for and curiosity about that character, which will hopefully spur the kinds of questions in rehearsal that will help an actor toward such understanding.

TS: Can you share a bit about your process? How do you like to conduct rehearsals? What research did you do about the world of the play? How do you prepare to direct a play that uses a texting to drive the forward momentum of the plot?

KF: I like a fun room, a room where jokes come easily, tangential stories are permitted, where people feel excited to be there and have the permission to make fools of themselves, to take chances and be creative. Knock on wood I’ll be able to provide that.

There’s some obvious research to be done on this play, which I did. Episodes of “My 600-lb Life,” the Catfish documentary. As a football fan, I was very fascinated a few years ago about by the Manti Te’o situation, and I did a lot more reading about that in preparation for these rehearsals. I also did a little reading about psychological disorders like maladaptive daydreaming, though that kind of clinical analysis can sometimes freeze the imagination.

The online component of the play, as I said earlier, is a fun theatrical challenge. I’m interested in the moment when you become fully immersed in an online world, when it’s no longer about pixels on a screen but about your fantasy life. How does one inhabit that brain space onstage? We have some thoughts, and I’m looking forward to finding out.

TS: What did you look for in casting the actors? What traits did you need?

KF: We needed actors with great comic instincts and timing combined with an intense vulnerability and emotionality. That’s pretty much true for plays in general, but in a play like this that walks a tightrope line between comedy and darkness, it’s essential. We have an awesome group.

Kip Fagan, Alex Hernandez and Crystal Finn

Kip Fagan, Alex Hernandez and Crystal Finn

TS: How will the play manifest itself visually? How are you collaborating with your design team?

KF: The interplay between the mundanity of the suburban Nevada landscape and the richness of the fantasy-driven Internet world was our primary design concern. There are a few different locations and we wanted to transition from place to place instantaneously without moving set pieces on and off, so Samantha’s very stark beige living room is basically our blank canvas, and all the other locations use that backdrop. And the depressing sparseness of her apartment becomes an ideal floor-to-ceiling projection screen for the online sections.

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

KF: Being a director is terrific because you’re able to experience the world through so many different lenses — a different way of looking at the world through each new script you work on. So I find continual inspiration through each new collaborator. And exposure to new places and people is essential. A few months ago I worked on a new play at the Sundance Theatre Lab, which this year took place in Marrakech, Morocco. Four American projects were developed alongside four Middle Eastern / North African projects, and getting the chance to meet and hang out with artists from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and other places all over the European and African continents was incredibly invigorating and inspiring. And I’m continually inspired by my wife Heidi Schreck, an amazing actor, writer, and all-around brilliant creature.

TS: What other projects are you working on besides Kingdom Come?

KF: The next project I’m directing in New York is my friend Zayd Dohrn’s remarkable play The Profane at Playwrights Horizons. It’s about two Middle Eastern immigrant families, one aggressively secular and westernized, the other very observant and conservative. The son of the observant family and the daughter of the secular one have fallen in love, and the coming together of the two clans pushes their values of tolerance and understanding to the brink.

TS: Do you have any advice for young people who want to be stage directors?

KF: Be curious. Go see things: plays, art exhibits, rock shows, baseball games, street fairs, esoteric art-house films, blockbuster movies, competitive eating contests, whatever. Be small-c catholic in your tastes; always try to be expanding your range of interests. Become easily obsessed with people and things. Ask lots of questions. Cultivate your talent for listening. Always be working. It’s just as valuable to be picking apart a Chekhov play with a bunch of friends in your apartment as it is to be directing a production at a theatre. Be perfectly willing to say you don’t know the answer to a question.

Kingdom Come is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Kingdom Come, Roundabout Underground, Upstage

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