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Take a Ride on the Streetcar
by Sheryl Flatow

Whenever actors step into a role, they’re looking to fulfill the vision of the playwright and the director while making the part their own. When the play is as celebrated as Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, the challenge could seem a bit more daunting. Not only is Streetcar considered one of the greatest American plays – if not the greatest – but the performances of three of the four stars of the original 1947 production are preserved in the acclaimed film directed by Elia Kazan, who also directed the Broadway premiere. Marlon Brando, of course, repeated his iconic turn as Stanley Kowalski. Joining him were Kim Hunter as his wife, Stella, and Karl Malden as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell. The stage’s original and much-admired Blanche DuBois, Jessica Tandy, was replaced by Vivien Leigh, whose performance was equally lauded.
What is it like to take on these legendary characters, and what is the process that actors go through in order to inhabit their roles? We spoke to the leads of PBD’s production, directed by J. Barry Lewis, to find out: Danny Gavigan, who plays Stanley; Kathy McCafferty, previously seen here in Outside Mullingar and The Little Foxes, who plays Blanche; Annie Grier, who plays Stella; and Brad Makarowski, who plays Mitch. The interviews took place during the second week of rehearsal, and have been condensed and edited.  
DANNY GAVIGAN (Stanley Kowalski)
You previously played Stanley in Everyman Theatre’s 2016 production of A Streetcar Named Desire . When you were cast in the role, was Marlon Brando your first thought?
“Of course. It’s impossible not to think of Brando. Growing up, Brando was a hero of mine, not only for that movie, but On the Waterfront and everything he brought to cinema. So, of course, my mind went there. And my number one priority was to get him out of my head.”

How did you do that?
“One of the big things I latched onto at first was a scholarly article I came across by a PhD candidate, who had written about PTSD and how Tennessee Williams was dealing with it in this play. Back then, PTSD wasn’t even a term. But after World War II, you had all these men who basically fought through hell on earth, and when they came home, they brought with them a tremendous amount of trauma. How did that manifest itself? Well, you see it in the character of Stanley. He was part of the Army Corps of Engineers and he was building tanks while he was out there. I envisioned his apartment as a little tank that he has to constantly keep piecing together, and Blanche represents a threat to it. So, it gave me a specific take on the play, as opposed to just hearing and seeing it through the voice and the lens of Brando’s performance.” 

Why did you want to play the role again?
“Many reasons. This is one of the greatest plays ever written, and with that comes a very layered role. By the time Brando did the movie, he had performed the role hundreds of times; he was with the play from the very beginning. It’s like the text had sunk into him, and he was able to find deeper layers. There’s a perfectionist inside most actors, and for me to be able do a role like this again is an opportunity that rarely comes along. In the short time we’ve been rehearsing, I can see for myself that I’m growing, that my understanding is deepening. Good writing does that. 

“I also love this area of Florida and wanted to work in Palm Beach. I didn’t know Barry beforehand, and when I audition for a part, I’m also auditioning the director. I immediately hit it off with Barry. We had a great rapport, and when we discussed the character, we saw eye to eye on a lot of things. I was excited about that. And now that we’re into rehearsals, my expectations have been confirmed.”

I can see the advantages of having played the role before. Are there drawbacks as well, like having to get that first production out of your head?  
“Any stage actor will tell you that every night you go out there, it's going to be different. So much of this work is about being present and listening as if you're hearing the words for the first time, and responding. The process actually forces you to be even more present with your new castmates. You can plug one other person into a cast and it's going to change the whole ecosystem. I've seen that happen. So, with a fresh, new cast, it's a totally different experience. I'm hearing things in a new way. And working on this a second time, I’m doing even more research. Barry introduced me to a book about Elia Kazan, and it has all of his notes from when he directed the Broadway premiere. There’s a ton of great insights that have opened up some things for me. And just sitting at the table with Barry and the cast during the first week of rehearsal, and discussing the world of the play and these characters, new things presented themselves. The text was already at my disposal; even after three years, it somehow hadn’t left me. That’s been really exciting, because there’s more freedom to explore. So, I don’t see any drawbacks.” 

You said you’re hearing things in a new way. Are there any specific discoveries that you can point to? 
“Yes. It’s provided a new attack in certain places. I’ll give you one example. I’ve found moments in his relationship with Stella where I feel she is truly an equal, and I mean that physically as well as mentally. What’s important is that there is a balance, where he doesn’t come in as this abusive husband that's battering his wife. There are times when Annie will grab me or toss me around or give it back to me. Striking that balance between them as a couple has really worked for telling the story in a way that I didn't quite have the last time.”

But, of course, he does abuse Stella. And he rapes Blanche.
“Barry and Annie and I have agreed that when Stanley hits Stella, it’s the first time he’s ever done that. It leads to his blood curdling scream, crying like a baby desperate for her not to leave him. Who knows if it happens again? But, yes, the abuse does come out in that scene. I like to think that he is capable of bottling the rage that comes from his PTSD, even though it presents itself in ways he’s ill-equipped to handle.

“There's a great letter that Williams wrote to Kazan before they started on the original production. He basically boiled down the story to: ‘There are no good or bad people. There are worse people and there are better people. In the end, it’s more about misunderstanding than malice.’ He’s saying that our desires, wants, and needs all color our ego, and we actually view each other through our own ego. Stanley and Blanche totally misunderstand each other. He doesn't know the depths to which Blanche is trying to survive what she went through. He just thinks she's a loose woman who puts on airs, is basically lying to everybody, and poses a real threat to stealing the love of his life. His world is Stella. I think of it from that angle, and I also recognize that in 1947, it was, unfortunately, not uncommon for a man to hit his wife. There’s a couple upstairs, Steve and Eunice, and you hear her get hit. And then they make up in the same scene not five minutes later.

“That being said, I agree that Stanley is an abusive rapist. We know full well today what abuse looks like. I'd like to think we've come a long way, but we have a long way to go in terms of recognizing gender roles and power structures. That’s something this play examines. Tennessee Williams was in an abusive relationship; his ex-lover was the inspiration for the role of Stanley. So, he really understood those dynamics.

“But you can’t come at Stanley as a villain. He doesn’t see Blanche and think, ‘I’m going to force myself on her and rape her.’ One of the things Williams said is that the play is a tragedy, there has to be pity for Blanche, and the audience has to understand her. So, in the end, it's their misconception of each other that leads to tragedy. It's a world that ultimately destroys her, not a person. You’re seeing people that are very much a product of their time. Blanche is a product of the ante-bellum South and erudition, and Stanley is a product of post-war rage. They called it shell shock, and he didn't have any means of psychological help to come back home to. There was so much stigma around even talking about it back then. There still is. So, you have to put all that in context.”

Obviously, everyone in this play desires something. What does Stanley desire?
“He desires all the pleasures of life, and he believes he deserves and is entitled to them. He’s been through hell, and one of his main desires is to rule, to have his own plot of land, and have his own kingdom. He thinks with his genitalia and his muscles, and he’s going to take whatever he wants. Deep down, he desires to have as many children as possible with Stella. He’s found the love of his life, and he wants to live long and prosper with her.”

You’ve said several times that Stella is the love of his life. Have you given any thought to what becomes of them?  
“I think they stay together and they speak no more of what happened. They live together and they grow old together and they never speak of this to their children. They may mention Blanche and say that she lost her mind and had to be admitted to a ward. But there was so much stigma around that, so they keep it quiet in mixed company. But I think underneath all that is a true foundation of love and connection, and that’s so important in the telling of this story. There is something intangible and indescribable that connects them, and I think it keeps them together.” 
Blanche is an iconic role. Is it a part you always wanted to play?
“I love Williams’ work. I auditioned for Blanche twice before, but didn’t get the part. The second time I auditioned, about a year and a half ago, I had a lot of time to prepare and luxuriated in reading the play. I felt it was something I had to do. But I didn’t get it, so I had to let go. When I saw that PBD was doing the play this season, I didn’t let myself hope for it because you just don’t know what the theatre’s needs are going to be. But when I auditioned, I couldn’t help my heart racing, especially because I have such confidence and trust in J. Barry and Bill [Hayes]. I feel very comfortable here, and this felt like a dream scenario for me.”

You worked with J. Barry twice before. I would imagine that working on a play like this and a role like this, it helps to have a director with whom you have a history. 
“Absolutely. First of all, it's an enormous amount of work. It's a massive, three-act script, and I know this theatre tackles big, challenging plays very well. I saw Bill’s production of Long Day’s Journey into Night, and I was in J. Barry’s production of The Little Foxes. I know that J. Barry has incredible insights into literature and character and story. And because of our relationship, I knew that if I were to get lost, he’d help get me back to where I have to be. Also, he knows me, and understands that I'm going to need both a certain amount of freedom and a certain amount of guidance, and he allows for that. He lets me try things or follow my instincts, even if they turn out to be wrong. You need that freedom to own a role, especially a role that everyone has an opinion about.”

Did you do any particular preparation prior to coming here?
“Yes, I did. I did not want to be struggling to learn lines in the amount of rehearsal time that we have, so I got to work immediately. It’s not just the volume of the part, it's Blanche’s syntax. Her language is poetic and active at the same time, which is the brilliance and uniqueness of Williams. I did not realize how difficult that was going to be to learn. I’d read interviews with other actresses who’d played the role just to see what I could pick up, and all of them said it's commonly known as the female Hamlet. I did some other research, but learning the language properly was the most vital part of the preparation because I did not want that added pressure once I got here. We’re in the second week, and I’m not saying I have it down, but I have it enough that I can move through the scenes in rehearsal. I kept wanting to do more and more, but I realized I wasn’t going to know who Blanche is until I was in the room playing opposite these other people. Everything is about these relationships. So, I did not want to get too attached to anything because I didn't know what J. Barry had in mind.”
On the first day of rehearsal, J. Barry speaks to the cast about the play and about his vision. Did he say anything that day that immediately resonated with you, or helped clarify anything for you, or gave you any ideas?
“He said so many things that resonated, but one thing sticks out. Shortly after Blanche arrives, she’s talking to Stella and commenting on the apartment and then on the chaos of New Orleans. She says, ‘Out there I suppose is the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir,’ referring to a poem by Poe. That’s one of the things that I’d read, because I was checking all of my literary references in the early days, but I wasn’t inside the script enough to understand its resonance. J. Barry talked about that poem, which is about a woman's journey that leads back to this inescapable experience with a lost love. And I started to think of the whole play as a journey, of her being guided; in the poem, the woman is guided by a star. And J. Barry said ‘Well, yes – [quoting from the play], “Stella! Stella for star!”’ And I thought about the idea of a navigation and trying to come to this place to hopefully escape her past and start anew, at least at the top of the play. The idea of looking at this as a journey for her was exciting, and an interesting way to frame it."

Was that a way into the play for you?
“It helped. I had to find my own way in when I was prepping, and for me it was the very real circumstances of her situation. You can think whatever you want about Blanche DuBois, but I challenge anyone not to be driven to extreme stress by the loss, in very quick succession, of your mother, your father, your aunt, and your cousin, all dying within five years; losing your family home, losing your job, losing your money, losing your husband, and not having anywhere to go – in the middle of your life. She's not 20. Williams wrote her a little bit older on purpose. She’s out of options. Her fear is something that I think everyone can relate to. She loses her home because of loans she's taken against the place to pay for the hospital care, and nurse care, and funerals of her family. Healthcare – it has not changed. So that was my way in.

“I don't think of her as a crazy person. I think about these circumstances that would drive me to great stress, that would drive me – and I venture to say anyone sitting in the audience – to desperation. Loss of family, not knowing how you're going to pay your bills, going into debt trying to take care of family members or children, losing your job, losing your home because of a loan. These are all things that we are still dealing with now. It's part of our American culture that when you are out of luck, there are not a lot of places to go to unless you have family money. And not everybody does.

“I know that Blanche has a lot of less than attractive qualities, but my great hope is that at some point in the evening, she is understood. That’s always my hope with the work that I do: that audience members can at least understand someone who behaves so differently from people that we know in contemporary society, that they can understand these timeless truths that are part of human nature.”
Is Blanche genuinely attracted to Mitch, or does she look at him as something of a problem solver for her?
“That's an interesting question, and I think it’s open to interpretation for the audience. But I do think that he opens something in her heart. There is a scene in the play in which Blanche tells Mitch something she's never told anyone. And it’s real, it’s not her manipulating him. To my mind, it is a genuine connection. What we’re discovering as we work is that Williams has put all these little clues in there, and they lead me to believe that there is a deep, deep connection there. The audience can disagree, and that’s okay. But I think that Williams wrote it in little subtle ways, and that’s where I’m going with it.”

Williams didn’t judge his characters. That’s why you’re probably right. I think he finds something redeeming in each of them.
“That’s exactly it. You know, this thing that she tells Mitch about herself is embarrassing and shameful and has haunted her for so long. But there is redemption in the telling of it, and redemption in the accepting of it. He accepts her. He accepts what he knows of her at that point. That’s an incredibly loving, generous thing to do – and does she need love at that moment.” 

In some ways, are Blanche and Stanley kindred spirits? They’re obviously very different, but they’re both wounded, and Blanche seems to be both repulsed by and attracted to him.
“The answer is, I don’t know yet. But they certainly make the same mistakes. They cannot find a way to communicate with each other. They don’t step back and make a real effort to get to know each other. They make quick judgments about each other, and that is their great downfall. It’s one of the essential problems in their relationship, as well as their inability to accept each other on some level. They’re certainly both very strong personalities who believe the world should be a certain way. And they also have very strong visions for what they believe their life should be and who they think they’re supposed to be in the world. That’s also part of what brings them both down. They have an idea of who they think they’re supposed to be, and they hold so tightly to it that there are great consequences.”

What does Blanche most desire?
ANNIE GRIER (Stella Kowalski)
What kind of preparation did you do for this role?
“A few years ago, I had worked on the role of Blanche in a scene study class, so I was really familiar with that track. But I had also seen the woman who was playing Stella, so I had some of that in my bones. We went deep into our history and what Belle Reve [their plantation] meant to us, and what it means to lose that. That helped me, and I’d also seen the production that Danny was in. Once I was cast here, I read the play a few times. My process starts in a really personal way. Who is this woman? What are her relationships? I have an older sister, so that was a good start: what does that mean to me? And, of course, I looked at Stella’s relationship with Stanley. I think they love each other deeply. So, I examined the play from that lens. I try to get a clear sense of the circumstances of the whole play, each individual scene. That was pretty much where I was at when I came down here. If I were playing Blanche, I would have gotten pretty far into memorization so I could really hit the ground running. But Stella is the quiet one. She doesn’t drive a lot of the action in the play. She’s the listener, and she’s the person getting pulled between Stanley and Blanche. 

“I should also say, although this wasn’t research, I thought a lot about Big Little Lies, the HBO series. There is a very sexual, very violent relationship in it. They go into it with such specificity. It’s so human and real the way they examine it. I thought about that, I put that in my back pocket: it is possible to have sex and violence in the same relationship. But, believe me, I’m not giving it an endorsement.” 

When Brando did the role, both in the theatre and on film, he was looked at as a romantic hero. But he abuses his wife and rapes his sister-in-law. It’s very clear that Stella loves him, and you said that’s something that’s really important to you. But how does she get past what he’s done? Do you have to try to put yourself in a 1947 mindset? How does she get past the violence, and how do you, as an actress, get there?
“This is my answer now, in the second week of rehearsals. For our production, we've decided that when he hits her, it’s the first time. That’s helpful for me. We’re rough, he’s violent. He is Stanley Kowalski. But he hasn't hit me until that point in the play. So, I've got a good chunk of the play where he's not yet an abuser. How does she reconcile that? Honestly, Tennessee Williams just gives it to me. I go upstairs after I’m slapped, I hear my husband screaming my name in the most pain I have ever heard him in. And I think with the mindset of an abuse victim: ‘I feel so bad for him, that he's desecrated our marriage in this way.’ The compassion starts flowing. I slowly walk down the stairs, he scoops me up, and the longing . . . The slap is the furthest away from him I've ever felt, and I’m longing to feel as close as possible to him. And then we make love all night, and I’m on to the next scene. And the way I'm approaching the next scene right now is Stella is ultimately so practical, always moving forward. I think she takes that incident, which seems small to her, and she buries it. And then you have that scene in the morning, where Blanche is really trying to dig it out of her. She’s almost ready to admit she’s scared, and Stanley walks in. In her heart, Stella is trying to believe he’s never going to hit her again. That’s got to be my lifeline. And that’s the cycle.”

As you’ve explored the play in rehearsal, has anything surprised you?
“I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I could not believe what a work of utter genius this is. Anytime I'm trying to figure out how to do something, all I have to do is look at the text and Tennessee Williams has done it for me. Stella is 10 years away from plantation life. She’s married this guy who’s working class, and she’s conscious of not wanting to make him feel that there’s a class difference between them. So, she keeps Belle Reve in her history. But the moments when she gets angry, or really needs to point at him, she becomes more articulate, her sentences get more compound, you can hear her education. I don’t have to do anything other than say the lines clearly. It’s all there. It’s amazing. I'm actually surprised at how little I have to do. If I just let myself tap in, the text is there to carry me. And, honestly, I think this is the best cast I’ve ever worked with. It’s kind of easy to do this play with these people.”

Piggybacking on what you said about how she speaks when she’s angry at Stanley, how did you find her accent? I would imagine it has to be different than Blanche’s because Blanche has remained on the plantation all these years, and different from Stanley’s because Stella is not originally from New Orleans.     
“I came in doing a dialect that sounded too close to Blanche’s, and Barry brought it to my attention quickly. Aside from the fact that Stella’s been in New Orleans for 10 years, she also doesn’t want to sound like she has airs. Blanche is so luxurious in her language. It’s a southern drawl, like a rich dessert. So, I’ve moved away from Blanche’s southerness. Stella’s speech is much more practical and moves faster, and she doesn’t drop certain sounds as much. Barry’s also given us examples of New Orleans dialect, and my next step is to sprinkle in those sounds, so that she sounds like a woman that’s lived there for 10 years.”

You said earlier that Stella is the quiet one, and I think for that reason audiences perhaps minimize her role at times. But she’s basically the center between Blanche and Stella. In general, what is your approach to her?    
“I think there are great traps with playing Stella. One is to play her shut down and abused. I think Stella has a deep, rich emotional life. She has this wonderful history with her sister, and a complicated but amazing love and marriage to this incredibly charismatic guy, and she’s pregnant. What’s helped me the most in approaching Stella is how she keeps all this close to her chest. Her husband and her sister throw themselves all over the place. But Stella’s not like that. I think she’s very complicated. And at the end of the play, she makes a horrible decision about her sister. She’s two weeks into being a new mother, she hasn't slept, she hasn't recovered physically. She has a new life to take care of. All these things show me how to paint this woman, who’s by no means perfect, but very understandable in how she acts throughout the play. I love playing a listener. I love playing a character that is going to express herself more in her behavior, how she touches things, how she moves, and how she reacts to other people, rather than just on the text. It's a really freeing exploration for an actor.”  
Given all the thought you’ve put into this, even before you got here, have you thought at all about what becomes of Stella and Stanley?
“I have. I don't want to put that too much into my head, because I think it’s sad. I don't think they ever get back to where they were. I think Stella is forever changed. She has that line, ‘I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.’ But there's got to be a little part of her that has doubt. I could torture myself thinking, ‘How much does the violence progress?’ I can almost imagine that if you met Stella at 60, you wouldn’t see a trace of Belle Reve or that lightness or that sexuality in this woman. I don't have high hopes for her. You can see it starting at the end of the play thanks to another gift to this production, Brian O’Keefe. His costumes are unbelievable. At the end, we see Stella wearing clothes that make her look like a plain, regular guy’s wife.”
What does Stella most desire?
“Stanley. But let me go beyond that. I think Stella want to become fully herself. Belle Reve, while joyful in many ways to her, didn’t fit her properly. It fit Blanche, it didn’t fit her. It’s part of the reason why she was able to leave and not go back. I think Stella is fighting to feel she’s in her own skin and really knows herself. Ultimately, I think that's why Blanche loses her and loses in the end. It’s in the line, ‘There are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark to sort of make everything else seem unimportant.’ Stella has found herself through her relationship with Stanley, and the full expression of it is having his baby. But she wants to bloom. She needs to identify herself separately from her family and her history. She desires to have full, free expression of herself. And, of course, Stanley.”
BRAD MAKAROWSKI (Harold “Mitch” Mitchell)
What kind of preparation did you do before you arrived for rehearsals?
“One of the first things that I wanted to try to do was get a sense of the flavor of his accent, as that helps inform where he is and who he is. I had seen a version of the play in which John Goodman played Mitch, and I heard some musicality in his accent that interested me. When we began the rehearsal process, J. Barry said, ‘If you think about the New Orleans accent, the musicality is actually a little more Brooklynese. It’s like you’re smashing Brooklyn and Southern together to get the New Orleans accent.’ That was a big help because it grounded Mitch a bit more. It makes him a little more earthy. It was interesting to come in with an idea of what I might want to do, and then be given new information that made me see a different way to attack the character, another way that’s just as truthful.”

To be clear, you’re saying that the accent Goodman was doing was a different kind of sound than J. Barry was talking about.
“Yes. But both are correct. They’re just different ways of looking at the character.”

Did you do any research?
“I read through the script a bunch of times, I looked for clues, I looked for specific turns of phrase that stand out and inform the type of character that he is. But I didn't want to come in with too many preconceived ideas. I hadn't met everybody yet, so I didn’t know what they were going to want to do, or how they were going to look to attack the play. I wanted to be more open, more of a sponge, to be able to play with these people in their sandbox.”

Was there anything in particular that J. Barry said during the first days of rehearsal that gave you some ideas of where you wanted to go with the character? 
“The earliest discussion was really more about the world and Tennessee Williams and some of the metaphors in the play. As we dove deeper, reading the play together and breaking down the scenes that the four main characters are a part of, one of the things we discussed is that to some degree, Mitch is Stanley light. If only he were a little bit more forward, if only he had a little bit more courage, if only he had a little bit more gumption, he could be Stanley. But it’s those things that are not a part of him that make him the stand-up guy that he is. And he’s no slouch: He went into the military, he served in World War II, he has a good job, he takes care of his mother – he’s got all of these really solid, salt-of-the-earth type qualities.” 
But in the end, the way he rejects Blanche is really brutal.
“I think he’s a very honest and straightforward guy. He has a line where he says, ‘You lied to me, Blanche.’ He doesn't care that she lied about her age. If that all she’d lied about, it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s everything else. What he essentially says is, ‘You lied to me, this really honest, good guy who would have been there for you, who potentially could have overlooked everything. But you broke the golden Mitch rule, which is just don’t lie to me. And I can't bring you home to my mother because of your past.’ When people get deep into a relationship, some things can be glossed over, particularly as people start to age. But because she had lied prior to them working out those other issues, their relationship didn’t have a chance to flourish.”

I haven’t seen the film in years, so I could be very wrong about this. But I have this memory of Karl Malden being kind of nebbishy. My guess is that is not where you intend to take Mitch. 
“I think your memory is correct. I only saw the movie once, and from what I’d remembered about what Karl Malden had done, I wanted to do something different. His way of playing Mitch certainly worked for him, but I think there are other qualities that can be enhanced. In the date scene with Blanche, Mitch says, ‘I'm going to the gym, I weigh 207 pounds.’ That’s not a small guy. He could be a nerd or a milquetoast but I don’t think that’s the case, because I don’t think that Blanche would ever go for him, even as a last-ditch alternative, if he didn’t have some quality that could keep her attention.

“His growth has been a bit stunted as a result of taking care of and living with his mother for all these years. We don’t know his dating history leading up to this particular moment. His dad is never talked about in the in the play. When did the dad go? How long ago was it? Does that make Stanley more of a brother/father figure than a friend, to a degree? Why is he so willing to believe Stanley and his stories? I think that not having the father around allows Mitch to trust Stanley more and to dive into those terrible stories where he ends up learning about Blanche.”

What does Mitch desire?
“He desires a life out from under the thumb of his mother and from Stanley. He also desires the normalcy he sees around him: a family, a wife, someone to take care of him.”
Do you like Mitch?
“I like him a lot. He’s flawed – we’re all flawed – but I like the fact that he ends up being a bit of a moral backbone to the play. And as I see him, he’s a stand-up guy who gets wrapped up in a situation that could have gone any number of ways. It’s unfortunate that it goes this particular way. We talked a lot about how the original name of the play was The Poker Night. That rang a lot of bells for me. When you play poker and you have a whole lot of chips, and you get some really good cards dealt to you and you want to try to make good money, you will shove all in and let the chips fall where they may. And it seems like that happens to Stanley, Mitch, Stella, and Blanche. That’s a long way of saying I do like him. You never know what can happen when you take a gamble. And the gamble for them is life."
This past summer, nine budding actors appeared onstage at PBD in three performances of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s song cycle Edges . It marked the culmination of three weeks of training at theAcademy@pbd, an annual program for teenagers that provides them with the opportunity to appear in a musical or play and also offers rigorous training in acting and stage management in a safe, positive environment. The students, who had to audition for the production, were asked to reflect on their experience. Following are their thoughts, edited and condensed.

           (Note: The professionals referred to by the students are director Gary Cadwallader, assistant director Elizabeth “Beth” Dimon, music director Joshua Lubben, stage managers Katie Pyne and Pierre Tannous, and costume designer Brian O’Keefe. Most of them also speak about “table work,” which is the first step in the rehearsal process, when the cast, directors, and stage managers gather to do a very careful reading and examination of the script.)
Catherine Boynton
"The rehearsal process at PBD was probably the best I've ever been a part of. Everything was perfectly organized. I greatly appreciated the lessons that came with rehearsing. Multiple times throughout the experience, Gary would take a moment to teach us about the fundamentals of acting. We also went in-depth with table work; in my previous experiences, we'd never gone past the surface of a character or show. But Beth and Gary helped us dig deeper into our characters and understand not only what they were going through but how each number fit into the rest of the show. I loved the direction and staging process. Not only would Beth and Gary tell us to perform certain movements, but they would elaborate on the thinking behind the specific movements. Every action, cross, and gesture was deliberate and had a purpose. And our music director, Josh, is so talented. Honestly, just watching him play the piano was a gift. Working on my solo with him, I feel that my voice improved so much.

"I also really liked that the faculty treated us as professionals. At a lot of theatres, it is common to find adults belittling younger actors or treating them differently. But at PBD, it was clear that everyone saw each other as equals. That was one of the most memorable things about the process. I could not have had better teachers and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. What I learned at PBD, I will take with me for the rest of my life. I also had the time of my life."
Jaime Brustein
"Being involved in Edges was so rewarding. I grew so much – in performance, in my outlook, and in my morals. I found the topic of Edges and how young adults respond to change very eye-opening. There were so many moments in table work where I would get emotional in self-reflection. Each individual piece connected to pivotal moments that I’ve gone through or am going through, so it was really interesting to evaluate and discuss. It also was endearing to see how everyone else is having the same life experiences as I am.
"The process itself was absolutely incredible. The score is very advanced and the harmonies were far from easy, so I had trouble grasping my part for a long time. Josh was brilliant on piano and a good-hearted man. As for staging, I was so pleased with the blocking I was given in both my numbers. Not only was it very physical, it always had intention and made motivating the actions very easy. Another thing I really appreciated was the table work, and how we spent the time breaking down each piece. It added so much depth and gave everyone a new understanding of the arc through each song. Working with Beth was really rewarding. She has such an in-depth understanding as to how one line affects the next and how to keep the acting truthful. Gary helped me so much with analyzing the changes in the song, which gave me a new outlook on playing tactics. I loved how we continued to get notes after we opened; it felt like the intention was to take us to the next level. It was so cool to work with the same staff that the PBD professional shows use. We were always treated with the utmost respect, and we were all equals. I am so grateful for my entire PBD experience."
Braden Chavers
"This was a truly inspiring experience. Even though I had only been in three high school shows, I already knew that theatre was what I wanted to do with my life. I hadn’t done a proper audition yet, so it was a little intimidating. But the audition went great, and I walked away feeling pretty good about myself. I got the email that I’d been cast after the opening night of a show that I was doing at my high school, and I don’t remember ever being happier in my life.
"The music was difficult, and Josh was incredibly patient with us. I was floored by the talent of my castmates. One of the best things was that the staff treated us like professionals. Perhaps the table work was my favorite part of the experience. It was wonderful to learn from Gary and Beth the steps that it takes to immerse yourself in a song or a piece. I had never before thought about my objectives or my obstacles on my actions. Previously I had done all of it through instinct. Learning proper method made me feel like I had reached a new level. It was also very interesting to hear everybody’s take on what a song meant to them or how it should be portrayed. The table work brought a lot of life to the show, and it’s something I’ve brought back to my high school. The staging process also gave me so much new knowledge. Having directors able to hyperfocus on each of us allowed me to discover all the minute details of moving around the stage. I was learning something new every minute, and it was wonderful. At the first performance, I had the same giddy excitement that I had the first time I went onstage." 
Lily Counihan
"My experience was incredible! That includes the auditions, the instructors, and most important, the environment. I was made to feel very comfortable at my audition. Whenever we walked into the rehearsal space or the theatre, everyone was always so welcoming. I loved every second I was at PBD, and I’m so sad it’s over. I really want to do this again next year and continue training in the arts. Thank you for an amazing summer."
Kai Alivia Koren 
"TheAcademy@pbd was the most educational and best overall experience with a summer theatre program I have ever had. I didn’t know auditioning could be such fun, and I walked out feeling great. When the program actually started, we were given enough time to work through and learn our music so that we felt confident. I couldn’t have asked for a better music director than Josh. In addition to learning the music, we got to have a sort of Socratic seminar with each song, sitting down and having a deep conversation about the meaning of the lyrics. This was so important in understanding the material so that we could portray it the best way possible. The table work was so interesting: I have never been able to analyze a script like that. Bringing the words to life through staging and working with Gary and Beth was incredible. They are so creative, and they brought elements to the songs that I would never have thought of. They were specific and insightful, and I knew that I had become a better actor after the show because I learned so much from them. Beth even showed me physically how she wanted my solo to look, and put ideas into my head to make my song more truthful. They both really cared about us as actors and were open to what we had to say. That respect and professionalism, especially, is what makes this summer program different than others.

"Having fittings with Brian was fun, and I loved seeing his vision. Once we moved into the theatre, we got to watch the magic happen with sound and lights. It was exactly as if we were actors in a professional show. The feeling I got stepping out on that stage was surreal. I knew that all our hard work had paid off and I knew that the audience was affected emotionally. Everyone in the cast had their time to shine, and the individual attention that each actor got from the directors throughout the program made us confident in showcasing ourselves to a large audience. Our time in the dressing rooms really helped us bond as a cast and a family, as we laughed at inside jokes and supported each other with whatever we needed. The friendships that I developed with my castmates will be long-lasting. The lessons I learned from the cast, crew, and directors will stay with me for the rest of my life. To everyone that was part of this experience: I could never thank you enough for making it such a meaningful and impactful journey."
Chloe Laine-Lobsinger
"My experience was nothing but spectacular. From my first audition to the last curtain call, the environment that Gary created for us young actors was so warm, inviting, and professional, and allowed us to grow as actors and human beings. Working with the talent and kindness of Gary, Beth, Josh, Katie, and Pierre was an opportunity I won’t soon – more like ever – forget.
Thank you so much!"
Christian Ogunmekan
"The rehearsal process was probably my favorite aspect of theAcademy@pbd. Getting close to my castmates and watching the show grow was such an amazing experience and gave me new insights as a performer. Transitioning to and going through tech felt extremely natural, and I was engaged throughout the process. Every person I worked with was a joy; you could really feel everyone’s passion about the art form. Pierre and Katie kept us under control while also bonding with us, and made us feel like peers. And to see Beth and Gary work and turn this into an amazing production was astounding. Their talent and professionalism were inspiring! I would love to work with everyone again. This was a truly magical experience."
Coco Pollard
"I want to thank PBD for the opportunity to perform in Edges. The rehearsal process was so educational. I think my favorite part was the table work. I learned so much. Usually we are told to go home and figure out what the heck our song means. Instead, we were able to discuss the songs with the entire cast. It gave us a better understanding of what we were tackling. Our ideas were welcomed and nurtured. The tech rehearsals were awesome. I loved stepping onstage for the first time and feeling how intimate the space was. I loved seeing how the lighting enhanced the show and how the percussionist added a whole new layer to each song. Performing the show was probably the most rewarding part of this process. I was surprised by how much I related to Edges, and I loved being able to share it with everyone. I was so proud to be a part of a show that meant so much to me. Edges really helped me grow in my craft and as an individual. I am so grateful to Gary, Beth, Josh, Pierre, and Katie. Everyone treated us as professionals, which is so refreshing. Edges was truly one of the best experiences of my life. "
Alexa Rubinstein
"My favorite part of the process was doing table work for each song, because I love analyzing plays and text and characters. After finding the meaning of each song, we put it on its feet and blocked the entire show. The blocking was split between Beth and Gary; I worked only with Gary, who was incredibly supportive at all times and gave the actors concepts to think about in order to connect with each piece. He also helped teach the meaning of playing objectives instead of emotion. Although Gary directed all the numbers I was in, Beth was incredibly sweet and made sure to tell each cast member something positive about his or her performance. This constant support allowed the rehearsal process to be a safe place for everyone, and an enjoyable, professional process.

"The performances always gave me lots of adrenaline because I was so proud of our show. Each audience was wonderful and had nothing but kind words. This ensured that I would forever remember this process as a positive one. I enjoyed working with the entire staff. I felt that they all enjoyed what they were doing and always had the show’s best interest in mind. I want to thank everyone who was involved in the process; I truly learned so much from each of you. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my summer any other way."
Tickets On Sale Now!
This commissioned play, based on events in the lives of Gertrude Berg and Philip Loeb, the pioneering stars of television’s groundbreaking sitcom,  The Goldbergs , reveals the double-edged sword between speaking out and staying silent.
Louise and Barry Snyder
Set Sponsor
Miriam and Alec Flamm
Charitable Fund
Opening Night Reception Sponsor
Forest Creatures Entertainment,
Leonard Kurz
PBD’s social event of the season will celebrate young, rising, local artists by showcasing their immense gifts, and highlighting the many outreach and education initiatives that are having such a significant impact on our community and our schools. 
Marilyn Meyerhoff and Sam Feldman
Honorary Chairs
Marsha and Stephen Rabb
For more information about our gala, contact Leslie Mandell
561-514-4042 x106 or