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Apologia

Interview with Megalyn Echikunwoke

Posted on: December 4th, 2018 by Ted Sod

 

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with actor Megalyn Echikunwoke about her work on Apologia.

Megalyn Echikunwoke. Photo by Stephanie Diani

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When and why did you decide you wanted to become an actor? Did you have any teachers who had a profound impact on you?
Megalyn Echikunwoke: I was born in Spokane, Washington. I left there when I was very young and was raised on the Navajo Native American reservation in northeastern Arizona, where I attended public high school until I was 14. Then I moved to Los Angeles. I got my first acting job when I was still young and continued schooling at Santa Monica High School. The Navajo reservation didn’t provide for many arts education opportunities at the time, but I did all I could. In primary school, I was in choir with Mr. Aguirre, and he took an interest in my talent by giving me the lead parts to sing. He insisted that I learn piano so that I could accompany myself, but my mom couldn't afford the lessons. I was in band, and I played the alto saxophone and went around the region competing. I also I did a lot of athletics, excelling in track and cross country. I think I did athletics because I was good at it, and I enjoyed it, and there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. Somehow, I always knew I was meant to entertain and perform, and I had a whole fantasy world built around it. Obviously, I was driven by music and I always took any opportunity to perform. I won my elementary school talent show singing a Mariah Carey song a capella. I had an English teacher in 6th grade who understood the need for arts education and particularly my passions, and she encouraged me and my friends to get together on weekends to produce radio shows. I think we tried to put on a play once, but there were a lot of challenges and not much support. It wasn’t until junior high school in band class that I found a poster on a wall advertising a fine arts academy’s summer programs. I applied for a scholarship and got it, and through that program I really got introduced to the type of arts education that I so craved. I participated in a three-week theatre arts program, and I was one of a few students selected to be featured doing a monologue as part of the cumulative performance. I performed a piece from the Tennessee Williams play Summer and Smoke. After that performance, I was approached by a man who would become my manager for the next 13 years and who helped me launch my career.

TS: Why did you choose to play the role of Claire in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia? How is this character relevant to you? What do you think the play is about?
ME: When I read Apologia, I was taken with the way Alexi was exploring the different sides of feminism and the eternal existential struggle for women between work and home, passion and duty. I was also struck by how Alexi was able to comment on the charged ideological, political, and cultural issues surrounding the topic and somehow manage to make it so darkly hysterical and relatable. That is a sign of great talent, I think. This is the type of writing that gets me excited as an actor. Claire is relevant to me because I am obviously an actress as is she, and I have had to endure the type of criticism she gets from Kristin. I’ve also had to make tough decisions regarding the economics of being an artist. Alexi poses the question of how an artist can make a living and keep their integrity, and still remain competitive and relevant in a brutally unfair business. Claire’s story and point of view are very important parts of the whole story of being an artist, as well as being a very funny commentary on the absurdity of it all. Claire is a very dynamic character in this story about complex people in a complex world. And what I love most about the writing is that it doesn't shy away from saying that two things can be true at once, and things aren’t so black and white in life. It also seems to be saying that choosing to follow your passion can be a terribly dark and isolated place.

TS: This play tackles the idea that some women are vilified if they prioritize their career over being a mother. It also suggests that Claire has a very tenuous and competitive relationship with Kristin, the central character in the play, portrayed by Stockard Channing. Any preliminary thoughts on or insights into either subject as you are about to begin rehearsals?
ME: Apologia is a play that is taking on many iterations of feminism. I am particularly interested in exploring why the fundamentally competitive spirit that women have towards each other never really seems to fall away in even the most righteous and enlightened women. “Sisterhood” always seems to have its caveats. Alexi has masterfully dissected these ideas, and I am hoping it will be very comical to watch.

TS: Can you talk about the relationship between Claire and Simon, Kristin’s son? Do you see Claire as Simon’s surrogate mother? What thoughts are you willing to share at this point in your process about Claire and Simon?
ME: Rehearsal hasn’t started yet, but I can say that I do think a dynamic exists in this case where both of Kristin’s sons, Simon and Peter, are in state of arrested development and probably searching for a mother in their partners. I don’t think it is an uncommon theme in relationships particularly of a certain generation. And it goes the other way as well when some women are looking for fathers. I’m excited to explore both sides.

Megalyn Echikunwoke. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

TS: How will you collaborate with Alexi Kaye Campbell on his play, which is new to NYC audiences? What type of questions do you suspect you’ll ask him about Claire?
ME: I think each time you work on a new project the collaboration is specific to that. I’m hoping that Alexi will be able to give me insight into his inspiration for the character of Claire and fill in any blanks that I may have missed in the preparation process. That information will be vitally important to the performance.

TS: What do you look for from a director when collaborating on a play?
ME: I am always grateful when a director challenges and encourages me to stretch. One who can understand where I am strong and can encourage me to go further—one who intuitively knows where I am weak and need support and guidance. I want to know where my blind spots are, so that I can address them and grow as an artist. It’s always nice when a supportive, objective voice can help you understand your own talent better.

TS: Are there any roles other than Claire that you are eager to play on stage?
ME: Oh gosh, yes, too many to name. I do have a dream to do an original musical about the life of Josephine Baker. I also always thought a musical about Cleopatra would be fun. I’d love to play Maria in West Side Story and Roxie Hart in Chicago. I’d be interested in a modern adaptation of My Fair Lady in which I’d play Eliza. I could go on and on! I love formidable female characters who do a lot of dancing and singing to get their points across.

TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist?
ME: Music, travel, dance, literature. I never stop moving and reading and subjecting myself to scrutiny and being uncomfortable and ultimately keeping myself in a perpetual state of being a student. I have never been bored in my life!

TS: Many students will read this interview and will want to know what it takes to be a successful actress—what advice can you give young people who want to act?
ME: First, don’t let people project their ignorance about your abilities onto you. If you are going to do it, make absolutely sure that it is something you cannot live without and that it is authentic to who you are and not about personal vanity. And then knife fight your way through the bullshit and never give up.


Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia


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Statements from Designers of “Apologia”

Posted on: November 29th, 2018 by Roundabout

 

Megalyn Echikunwoke, John Tillinger, Talene Monahon, Hugh Dancy, and Stockard Channing. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Dane Laffrey, Set Design
The process of designing Apologia began with and continues to be driven by a lot of research. I did a series of digital models which Daniel, Alexi, and Stockard responded to until we honed in on the right space for the show. All along the way, new research continued to inform the space we were making. Apologia is a play in which the set – Kristin’s house – is inextricably tied to character. It’s her domicile, one that she created and curated. Our research was focused on trying to see her character reflected in a wide variety of homes. In some cases, it was about architecture and in others just about the way a painting was hung on a wall, or the kind of bowls in a kitchen. Ultimately, the set was distilled from hundreds of images into something that hopefully feels very specifically hers. One of the big challenges in design and fabrication has been to effectively present the age of the house. We want it to feel like a structure that was built in the 19th century. As structures age, they shift and settle and their appearance becomes softer. Right-angled corners and walls and ceilings aren’t so straight and plumb anymore. We’re very focused on getting a freshly constructed set to feel visibly antique, which adds an interesting level of complication to the process.

Anita Yavich, Costume Design
Apologia is a very intimate play about extremes. Tension is high at a family reunion where everyone questions the notion of success and failure, and in between all the doubts and arguments, out pour years of resentment and long-suppressed emotions. Throughout the play, the audience will witness their sympathy sway in unpredictable directions. When I design costumes for a play, it is important to collaborate with the actors and create the look of their character together. Especially with a play like Apologia, where expectations are constantly being turned around, we need to make sure the designs are subtle, that the characters’ looks can facilitate the suspension of disbelief. In other words, we need to come up with something that looks familiar and specific, but also has a mystery to it at the same time. After all, the play is about discovering or rediscovering all these people in your life and hopefully be able to find the answers to the truth behind past behaviors and decide what really matters in these relationships. On a practical note, we also have to solve a heightened moment in the play when wine is spilled all over an expensive light-colored dress! How can we make this happen eight times a week and still make sure the dress looks fantastic? It would be easier if this liquid were not edible, because we would be able to have more options for the solution. However, since it is wine, it will need to be edible and come out in the wash out every night. We might need to consult people at NASA about this!

Stockard Channing. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Bradley King, Lighting Design
Few things would seem to instill as much fear in a lighting designer as walking into a theatre and seeing that the set has a ceiling. Everyone wonders how on earth are you supposed to light a sealed-off box?!? But, on the contrary, I find ceilings an indispensable design element when attempting to design a highly naturalistic environment such as the one in Apologia. Think about it: How many rooms have you been in where the ceiling is a black void that disappears into eternity? A ceiling cements the idea of a real room, a real place, and contrary to conventional wisdom, provides infinite opportunities for a creative lighting designer. Windows become extra important. Blasts of sunlight or moonlight can be the principal motivating source of light for a scene. Lamps, chandeliers, and bulbs (what we refer to as "practicals") also become critical, lending a source of light for both day and night that can be reinforced with traditional equipment. Ceilings also bounce light around the stage, adding softness to shadows and a glow to surfaces and reflections. So despite what conventional wisdom might lead you to believe, any lighting designer who relishes a challenge loves nothing more than to see that ceiling in the model. Bring it on!

Ryan Rumery, Sound Design and Original Music
My process is different for each project that I score. Each play that I work on, including Apologia, I try to approach it as though I were an audience member, seeing and hearing the play for the first time, and I try to really focus on what makes sense to someone who is only seeing the play once. I do believe in certain nuances that might not be perceived by the audience, but that doesn’t always work for every show. As a starting place, the script is informative, but it's only when I hear the actors read the play that I know where there might be scoring or outdoor noises, whether the sound and the score are realistic or abstract. Do we hear the cars arriving at the house, and what do they sound like? What's the tonality for the mobile phone text and ringtones? I'm always asking a lot of questions to myself, and I try not to worry about finding all the solutions until we get into the space. Another aspect that is important to my process is finding time to sit in silence in the theatre because each theatre is different, and I want to hear how I might add to the aural world of the existing space. By the time you're reading this, I'm sure I will have come up with something different from where I started by just being in rehearsals and responding to how the actors and director interpret the play!


Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia


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Art History in Apologia

Posted on: November 14th, 2018 by Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz

 

Art historian Kellie Jones believes that “objects are our greatest evidence of history.” She says, “In the presence of objects, I see the narration of people’s lives, and cultures, and histories. I think art, art history, and culture narrate who we are as people on this planet.” Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

WHAT IS ART HISTORY?

Art historians articulate the relationship between an art object and the historical and cultural context in which it was created. In doing so, they can help shape how contemporary viewers experience an object. Often, the biographical details of an artist also become the subject of an art historian’s work. Debate continues as to whether a viewer should or even can separate the artist from the art.

Someone with an art history degree might be employed as a professor, museum curator, art buyer, antiques dealer, appraiser for an auction house, or consultant for an art collector. What unites all of these professions is the desire and ability to research and discuss works of art. Art historians are concerned with who made a work, when and where it was made, and why it is significant.

WOMEN IN ART HISTORY

In patriarchal societies, male voices are generally held up as expert opinions, while female voices are considered less than -- if they are even considered at all. Art history, like many subjects, has long been dominated by the male point of view. It is now clear, however, that art history, like all history, benefits from a variety of perspectives.

In Apologia, the character of Kristin is a revolutionary. Her work as an art historian, and the personal sacrifices made in service of her professional efforts, helped shift the gender balance in the field. Many real-life women, like Linda Nochlin, Hayden Hererra, Kellie Jones, and Julia Bryan-Wilson, have similarly shifted the public’s perception of the artistic landscape. Through their work they have asked us to reexamine the canon, recenter artists who had been overlooked, and reshape our contemporary understanding of art and artists.

THE MASK

The complex history of British colonization and outright theft of objects from Africa make the mask in Apologia much more complicated than a simple gift. That Trudi, an American, is naive or willfully ignorant to this history while Kristin, a renowned art historian, is most certainly not, makes the moment even more fraught. Whatever the reason, Kristin’s initial reaction to the mask invites the audience to consider how they might react when presented with an artifact of dubious provenance and from a culture other than their own.

With heads raised and furrowed brows, these apostles shield their eyes from the bright glow of the angels and the golden halo around Jesus as they watch him ascend. Giotto’s paintings show people behaving as real people would. This is why many associate him with Humanism. Credit: Web Gallery of Art

GIOTTO di BONDONE

In Apologia, Kristin is a scholar of Giotto di Bondone. Of him she says, “He was a revolutionary. He took religious iconography and completely transformed it.” Giotto lived in Italy in the 14th century. He has come to be known as one of the most important painters of his time. His nuanced style broke with the traditional art of the Byzantine-Gothic period. No longer were the people in paintings depicted as flat and expressionless. Giotto painted Jesus not as an icon, but as a man capable of feeling emotion. When Jesus offers to wash his disciples’ feet, they display a range of emotion -- confusion, trepidation, shame, enthusiasm. All of Giotto’s figures, even those at the bottom of the hierarchy, were painted with realistic details to show their full humanity. This shift helped usher in what is known as the Renaissance, a period in which artists moved away from religious dogma, rediscovered classical art, and focused their work on the dignity and worth of the individual.

WHAT IS HUMANISM?

Renaissance Humanism is the name given to the prevailing philosophy from the early 1400s through mid 1600s. At this point in history, Europeans were moving from a belief in medieval supernaturalism to the modern scientific process. Scholars were returning to ideas initiated in Ancient Greece and Rome. They valued public dialogue and critical thinking. In art and literature, more emphasis was placed on aesthetics. Artists revealed and celebrated human emotion and individual experience.

Humanism is still a popular philosophy today. According to the American Humanist Association, “Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.”


Apologia is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through December 16, 2018. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2018-2019 Season, Apologia


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