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Tales from the Tens

As the 2024 8 Tens @ 8 winds down for another year--just one weekend left!--we asked some of the actors, directors, designers and crew to share their thoughts about this year's festival. Here are some of the things they'll remember.

Bonding in the Bunker

This year--perhaps for the first time ever--we had a father/daughter combo on stage together. Ward and Zoe Willats played the soldiers at a solitary outpost in an apocalyptic future in Debunked by Mick Hilgers, directed by Davis Banta. Here's what they had to say about working together.

photo by Davis Banta

Ward: My daughter and I auditioned separately so it was a surprise when we were both called to read for this piece and even more of a surprise when we were cast together in it. I was pretty certain that as the (much) older, wiser (?), "theater veteran" I'd have a lot of clever tricks and techniques to pass to my naive offspring. What a shock it was to discover, right from the first rehearsal, that she was an incredible performer and her comic timing and intuitions were more or less identical to mine. (I guess that's something that just happens after several decades of family life.) On opening night, my daughter's performance was inspired and the audience was with her all the way. I could barely keep up. Somehow, she had become my equal, a theater artist in her own right, and one of the best acting partners I've ever had the privilege to work with. Much gratitude to the Actor's Theater for providing the space to make all these discoveries possible.

Zoe: My family has always been very arts focused, particularly in regard to theatre. We've done staged readings together and worked on monologues in the family living room, but getting to experience the full process of putting together a finished piece and watching it take shape has been especially rewarding. A lot of the things you spend early rehearsals building, like familiarity and trust, were there from the get go, so we got to have a lot of fun bouncing energy around on stage.

Finding Fabulous (and Talented) New Friends

Each year of the 8 Tens brings new faces and new talents to the stage, keeping things fresh, as co-artistic director Buff McKinley notes.

Buff: This year we have several new faces--adding to a deep bench of regular actors and directors and production team. This is wonderful as it infuses the company with fresh energy, experiences, and ideas--ensuring we continue on into the future. 

photo by Natasha Loudermilk

Veteran actor Steven Capasso who directed a piece for the first time this year (On the Road to Tikrit by Rosemany Parrillo) had this to say about actor John Denham Bennett, who was performing in his first 8 Tens.

Steve: I can't tell you how many people associated with 8 Tens came up to me--directors, fellow actors, and crew--and raved about how warm and friendly John D. Bennett is. Working with him was simply a joy. He took feedback well, was eager to learn and to do well, grew through rehearsals, and was always appreciative at the end of the night. Also, taking Bill Peter's directing class last May at Actors' Theatre was invaluable to me. I used what I learned from him and from previous directors I had worked with. 

Actor Isaac Ludington greatly enjoyed working on Talking to Myself by Sam Weller. As did director Helene Simkin Jara.

photo by Natasha Loudermilk

Isaac: 8 Tens has been a wonderful and profoundly rewarding experience for me. I loved working with my director Helene Simkin Jara, who cultivates a safe and comfortable environment while still pushing her actors to give the best performances possible, and with my costar Andy Waddell, who is an endless fountain of ideas and enthusiasm. It’s been a true joy to connect with and give support to my fellow actors as we all put on our respective plays.

Helene: I loved the play Talking To Myself. I loved that it had humor, pathos and depth. I had to find actors who could look like they could have been the same person, but 38 years apart. One day after luckily casting Isaac Ludington and Andy Waddell, Andy showed me a license photo of himself at around 20 years old.  He looked exactly like Isaac! 

photo by Davis Banta

Long-time 8 Tens director Gerry Gerringer also had an interestng casting quest this time around.

Gerry: Waitering for Godot has a cast that includes a character simply called "The Boy." With the help of Lindsey Chester from All About Theater, I was able to cast 9-year-old Aaron Artiaga, an extremely intelligent, talented young actor. Aaron and his mom, Amber, have helped make directing Godot a delight.

A Creative Crew

Acting and directing is only part of the equation for a successful 8 Tens @ 8. The festival simply couldn't happen without the backstage wizardry of our technicians and deck crew. Actor Shannon Marie McDonough, who acted in two shows this year, had this to say about our amazing crew.

Shannon: I am super impressed with the work created and performed by Siid, Toby, and Lyndsey.  Toby Lara (Board Operator) and Siid Bobisuthi (Deck Manager) are teens who assumed the responsibility of running the show from the booth, and striking and resetting eight plays per show onstage in the dark.  They are truly skilled and very kind as well.  They have been trained by Lyndsey Gould (Stage Manger) and Buff McKinley (Co-Artistic Coordinator) to be firm and direct, yet caring and concerned for solving problems. It is a pleasure working with them.  

Daring Designers

This year we worked with up-and-coming designer Holly Boyd. Holly was the master electrician on last year's show and returned this year to design the lights. Here are her thoughts on this year's festival of plays.

photo by Natasha Loudermilk

Holly: At the beginning of this project I battled with finding a way to utilize lighting to connect the 16 plays, which are all extremely varied in content, in addition to meeting the demands of each director's distinct vision. Reading the scripts I found that the plays were connected by a focus on change, so throughout each scene I tried to incorporate the theme of "growth" into the lights to create a coherent visual style, emotionally connecting the narratives for the audience. I felt that this focus on change also had the effect of making this year's 8 Tens a particularly empowering show. In theater we have a unique relationship with the audience where they allow us to sit them down, show them something, talk to them, and then send them out into the world again. The lighting is integral to this experience; the usage of stage lighting helps to transport the human mind into a theatrical realm where common sense becomes replaced with suspension of disbelief, and the audience's hearts open up to the content. My hope is that the themes and stories left the audience with a strong feeling that the future is theirs, however they want to spend it.

Power to the People

The best theater stories never seem to be about the performance where everything went perfectly. And this year is no exception. Winter storms knocked out the power just before the February 4th Sunday matinee show of Part 2. But performers and audience members rose to the occasion...

Linda S. Gunther: Performing our play The Stocking Exchange during a huge storm in the dark with so many fabulous supporters (a blend of audience, cast and crew holding up phone flashlights), was an exquisite experience for me on stage. Teamwork is what it’s all about! I felt honored and motivated to do the best performance I could.

Kevin Karplus: The play most affected by the loss of power was the one I was in, in which one of the characters had pre-recorded and digitally manipulated lines as sound cues. Camila had a full-face mask with no mouth hole. They had never attempted to memorize the lines (having only delivered them using the script in early rehearsals and in a recording studio), but had learned them just from having heard them often enough. We went on, and Camila did not miss any of the lines and was audible from the back row of the theater, despite the mask!  The mask was almost as good as the digital manipulation at distorting the voice into the uncanny valley.

Isaac Ludington: Instead of calling off the performance, every actor who wasn’t performing took up a post on the audience floor to shine their phone flashlights onto the stage. Lyndsey our stage manager even found things backstage that could act as foley when sound effects were needed. It was a beautiful, magical experience, and it seemed like the audience loved it just as much as they would have if the lights had been working properly. That, to me, is what live theatre is all about. Telling stories in the dark, no matter what the world throws at you, with the support and collaboration of all the cast and crew working together to make everyone shine.

Lyndsey Marks: When the power went out, the cast and crew didn’t let it stop the show… with cell phone flashlights and emergency spots, we held an intimate performance for the audience. In my humble opinion, I think it raised our game! Everyone brought their best, and it was the most perfect example of “the show must go on!”

Thanks to everyone--coordinators, directors, designers, cast and crew members--involved in putting on the show.

And special thanks to everyone in our audience.

We couldn't (and wouldn't) do it without you!


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