Brenna Geffers, an innovative director based out of Philadelphia, has directed a wide-range of plays from classical works to contemporary productions, in addition to creating her own theatrical pieces. She has served as Associate Artistic Director for Theatre Exile, a Literary Director for EgoPo Classic Theater, and an Artistic Associate for Flashpoint Theatre. Recently, as part of EgoPo’s all-women’s drama series, Geffers directed a shockingly beautiful production of Treadwell’s Machinal.
“When these kinds of artists get into a room together, it can be a wild ride.”
Brenna: The cast for this show is incredible; their imaginations and instincts are gold mines for any director. As EgoPo has three weeks to put up a play, this is invaluable. We all have to work hard and work fast. The cast and I met with Peter Andrew Danzig’s Philadelphia Theatrical Trainer for a few hours of workshopping before the rehearsal process started. Through different exercises and improvisations, we created many gestures and movement patterns, some of which were used in the production. For example, Mary [Tuomanen]’s first moment was derived from a series she made at the workshop that resonated with me and which I recorded.
Lee Minora, one of the funniest ladies in town, made so many strong proposals for the First Scene and really was the engine of that work. She set the bar early and high. Carlo Campbell made one of my favorite gestural proposals for a wicked moment in the Speakeasy Scene. Carlo’s natural athleticism also makes him a “Breath Captain” in the ensemble, as well as “Defense” to keep group movement strong and safe.
The first time Colleen Corcoran dropped to her knees with “morning sickness” in Scene 5, her fellow actors almost stopped the run. Colleen is one of my favorite collaborators in town; her choices come straight from the heart and have the added sugar-coating of her unflappable charisma.
Shamus McCarty is newer to me for this kind of work, so when his “ADA Jonathan Paramour” set the courtroom on fire with re-cap montage of a million gestures, I could barely take it.
Chris Anthony is truly blessed with natural scene chops as well as a physical grace and control that would make a dancer nod her head in approval. When I showed Chris my inspiration for the movement of Male Objectification, he nodded silently, thought about it, and came back with guns a-blazing.
When these kinds of artists get into a room together, it can be a wild ride. The hope is that we work together to make the rules of the language that then anyone can pull from to make a moment.
This is the first time I had the pleasure of working with Mary. I had seen her work many times and was always struck by it. Her work in the Arden’s Three Sisters was impeccable. Even if I see her in a script that is not my cup of tea, her dazzlingly specific work always makes me glad I came to the theater. Not only is she a brilliant performer, but I also admire her as an activist. Her work with Applied Mechanics (one of my favorite companies), Bearded Ladies, and her own solo work uses art to challenge society in a way that I find hard to even quantify. Her activism is present, but is delivered by the smart yet oh-so-delicious aesthetic, if that makes sense. I find it really inspiring as a human being. So I was really happy when she came on board for this show specifically.
Mary Tuomanen is smart, intuitive and a perfectionist. She is careful and knowledgeable about the work, but then is able to live freely and boldly in the moment in front of any audience. Her work is always her own. It is fully unique. It is a gift.
Your opera singer served as an important presence, standing on a platform, her voice flying through the theater, hovering over the cast.
One of the unique aspects of our production was the embodiment of the Guardian Angel, as played by Kirsten Kunkle. Her voice embodied the human longing within the Young Woman. Within all of the metal and harshness of the world, there was the voice calling out to the Young Woman, daring her to keep going. Kirsten is like a Siren from a dark sea, seducing the Young Woman to jump off the ship.
Wilma training spreading through the theater community
Ross Beschler and Ed Swidey are members of the Hothouse group at the Wilma Theater, with its intensive sessions by Blanka Zizka, who is committed to a wide range of voices, viewpoints, and styles, providing rigorous vocal and physical training. How did the Hothouse work influence your production?
I am a huge admirer of the Wilma, particularly of their dedication to the craft of theater via new viewpoints and acting methods. Blanka’s invention of the Hothouse ensemble is inspiring, but the master classes and the training she has been able to bring into the city go beyond the members of Hothouse.
Many actors and directors have participated in Wilma master classes, workshops, and training sessions. I know my work has benefited from it, personally, but also through the actors I work with who have gone through some Wilma training. I am sure many directors also have had cast members who trained there. It makes the work all around the city stronger, deeper, and better.
Next up is the SoLow Fest, which I am rehearsing for now. I am working with KO DelMarcelle on one piece, as well as Colleen Hughs and Rachel Gluck on another. I have a few projects to take me through the summer in Cape Cod, Scranton Shax, and in the Pittsburgh area. I will be back in Philly in August to start rehearsals for the Fringe. At this festival, I am making an immersive opera at the Powel House. There are a bunch of different timelines for audiences to follow throughout the historic mansion, so I am very excited to craft that. It’s called Shadow House, and I hope you will see it.
Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.
Machinal played through May 8, 2016 at EgoPo Classic Theater performing at The Latvian Society – 531 North 7th Street, in Philadelphia, PA.
Lover, Wife, and Murderess—EgoPo’s Stunning ‘Machinal’: Interview with Director Brenna Geffers: Part 1 on DCMetroTheaterArts by Henrik Eger
‘Machinal’ at Ego Po Classic Theater in Philadelphia reviewed on DCMetroTheaterArts by Neal Newman.
Brenna Geffer’s website.
Originally published by DCMetroTheaterArts.