The Bedlam Theatre Company has received a lot of praise for their innovative and immersive productions formed with big ideas and small budgets. The company’s niche is performing two productions in repertory; a difficult feat for a large ensemble, let alone a cast of few. They first simultaneously tackled George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” with critical acclaim in 2012 with just a cast of four. This Fall they successfully mounted an adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility” and an adaptation of Chekov’s “Seagull” in rep at the Sheen Center. Ensemble member Kate Hamill penned the incredible adaptation of S & S, full of the nuances and hilarity treasured by Austen fans and cleverly brought to life on stage. British playwright Anya Reiss’ rendition of Chekov’s Seagull is riddled with cellphones and laptops, transforming the world of Trigorin into an evocative setting of modernity. The sprightly company really focuses on storytelling, bringing an emphasis to themes and words with creative staging.
I sat down with the talented ensemble member Samantha Steinmetz to hear a bit about Bedlam’s rehearsal process and the experience she had playing a myriad of roles for the run.
Allison Considine: S & S and Seagull was performed by a cast of ten. There were gender-swaps, costume changes and creative casting choices to fill the shoes of over 30 roles. What was it like to play multiple characters?
Samantha Steinmetz: “Director Eric Tucker can pull out the essence of an actor and put it into a thousand characters. Before you paint, you draw an outline. He built the structure, cast the characters and we all played within that structure. For Medvedenko, I had to access some part of me that was deeply hidden. I found that I was uncomfortable with my own masculinity. Many people asked me if I experienced a power shift, but I found that the isolated character didn’t have much power. After the run began, I loved playing Medvedenko.”
AC: What was the rehearsal process?
SS: “We had done some readings for Kate Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility, and Eric Tucker knew he wanted to do a production of Anya Reiss’ adaptation of The Seagull. We rehearsed for one month before opening, starting with The Seagull. At times, it was difficult- we teched The Seagull, ran for 3 days, and then began overlapping tech rehearsals for Sense and Sensibility.”
AC: What was it like to have playwright Kate Hamill on hand as a cast member?
SS: “It was incredible to work with her. It’s amazing that this experience and this cast will be connected with the script in print. * Kate’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility will be published by Dramatists Play Service and is now available online as a photocopied manuscript.”
AC: Both of the shows opened with a dance sequence that slyly broke the fourth-wall, the tension in the space and introduced the world of play-making in a spirited way to the audience. Choreography continued to be a big part of the productions, particularly with S &S. What was it like to keep track of all the movement?
SS: “Sense and Sensibility was choreographed by the amazing Alexandra Beller. The blocking was specifically mapped out and we had to hit everything. With Seagull, there was a lot more freedom. The movement varied from night to night.”
AC: S &S and Seagull were lengthy shows with tons of movement. How did you sustain energy, especially for two show days?
SS: “I learned that all actors are so wildly different (in preparation). I was part of the six-month run of Bedlam’s Hamlet and Saint Joan, but I had to learn how to take care of myself differently for Sense & Sensibility and The Seagull. I needed a physical warm-up for Sense & Sensibility- 20 minutes on a yoga mat, vocal warm-ups and a personal steamer. For Seagull, it was more of a mindset preparation. The two-show days of Sense and Sensibility were truly the marathon days. In between shows, we would all pass out on equity cots and so forth.”
AC: S & S seemed to be the big ticket and received a lot of critical claim. How did the reviews affect the run?
SS: “S & S was a big hit. It sold out for the run, and there was always a line for rush tickets. Ben Brantley of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout had great reviews. This was the first professional production of Sense & Sensibility, and it was done in true “Bedlam-style.” We were all thrilled.”
“Ms. Steinmetz is terrific as Medvedenko, the whiny schoolteacher (and future husband of the depressive Masha.)”-Ben Brantley, NY Times
AC: What is next?
SS: “The next challenge that Bedlam is taking on will be Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night, or What You Will” in rep with “What You Will, or Twelfth Night.”
AC: The production will feature Shakespeare’s words, with an interpretation on characters done in the storytelling style of Bedlam. The eight week run is set to begin March 11th at the Dorothy Strelsin Theater. Get your seat soon, it is sure to be a hot ticket!