Jeff Mosser catches up with our only 4th of July production at Theatre Pro Rata. Carin Bratlie and Grant Henderson lend their mid-run insight.
Jeff Mosser: You’re into your first weekend so things are getting ironed out. What’s the response like?
Grant Henderson: Overall we’ve gotten really good response. From the last show we had a company member in the audience and he said that Kennedy really got a buzz going.
Carin Bratlie: I’m surprised that I see audiences get misty eyed. Also, the emotional response is much stronger with modern Presidents, because people have their own opinions of those Presidents… they either love or hate them.
JM: That’s interesting knowing how non-partisan the show is.
CB: We have a very proactive and politically minded audience.
CB: One of the things that struck me after we had an audience in the room was how much the audience was an additional character. They’re really much more vocal than an ordinary show. We set it in this rinky-dink church basement, like a caucus location, a place where we hash out our civic duty, and that has pulled things out in the audience.
GH: Yea, I think we also lead the audience with that right away as we’re milling about in the beginning, because we’re just there with them right from the top. Everyone is in their own clothes– there’s no artifice of “now I’m a character.” There’s no backstage, so it’s a declaration of having no fourth wall. We’re all in the show together and then it just starts.
JM: Are there any moments that you wish would last forever?
GH: The ending is what gives it [each scene] its power. For example, I play Obama and during the double dutch at the end and we’re all sweaty and tired, Obama is that last gasp of “I gotta get through this” — which I mean is a credit to the writing — it’s exactly what it should be.
CB: I love that part. I think that it’s a kinesthetic moment that so encapsulates the insurmountable task. When they see the second jump rope come out, everyone leans forward on his or her seats. When you read it on the page and say “oh yeah, I understand that…. ” But to see it happen is amazing.
CB: Buchanan! I came into rehearsals intending to have a very collaborative approach, let’s figure this out together, which the script demands. We usually do text work and analyze the pay and then get it on its feet, and this is one where it had to be on its feet first to figure it out. We completely changed the blocking on it and we ran it before the show on opening and were like, “Yup! That was it!” I think the key was that it wasn’t like we were under rehearsed. It was polished, and we were used to the experimentation mode. We just hadn’t figured it out.
GH: What we had before that point would have worked, but it wasn’t quite right. And that was a benchmark for every President. By opening there were no buts for any Presidents.
JM: You did your own Hall of Presidential Portraits. How did that work out?
CB: It was amazing to me. We put out an ask and people we don’t even know sent usthings! We got them from Seattle, Pennsylvania… all over the country. All 44 are represented, all different artists, and they are beautiful. People put time and care into it.
GH: There was an expectation that we’ll get half, but it was just a tidal wave of people coming out, grabbing a president left and right, we were all blown away. It’s been a great companion piece.
JM: Any words to future productions?
CB: I think that the show itself is much bigger than we expected. They really they are 44 separate plays and they each have their own demand. It’s a show that has a great spirit behind it all.
GH: Bring a change of clothes at intermission! I was talking to someone the other day: you have to be willing, especially with this show, to surrender yourself to the show. It gives you no choice. I found that once you start with Washington it demands a pace and it won’t let you slow down.
CB: That’s true artistically too, in the creation of it. The right choice is so clear in the script and if you let the script speak, and just get out of the way it answers your questions for you.
Carin Bratlie is the Artistic Director of Theatre Pro Rata, a freelance director, teaching artist, and fight choreographer living in Minneapolis, MN. She has directed over 50 productions throughout the region, received a BA from Concordia College, Moorhead, MN in 1998, and is a member of SAFD.
Grant Henderson is a freelance actor in the Twin Cities. He has been a company member of Theatre Pro Rata since 2010. For this show, he learned how to play the spoons and double-dutch, both somewhat successfully.