Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Theatre Unleashed’s production of Cake recently launched its run in North Hollywood, CA, with you at the helm. What initially intrigued you about the play and enticed you to direct the show?
Lisa K Wyatt: What compelled me to consider directing CAKE was the playwright, Wendy Gough Soroka. As a writer, director, and performer, she exhibits a level of detail, intelligence, and humanity in her work that I find irresistible. The characters and the setting of academia are what drew me in to the piece. There’s nothing crass or dismissive about these people who wield words as deftly as any warrior wields a sword. They are genuine, caring, awkward, playful humans trying to find their way through an ever-shifting landscape. What they find is the utter necessity of connection and relationships, whether through family, love, or friendship.
BD: How long have you been involved with Theatre Unleashed, and why do you feel that Cake was a great fit for TU’s 2015 season?
LKW: I was in the inaugural production for Theatre Unleashed in 2008 and in Patriotism Unleashed in 2010 and have been affiliated with them on an adjunct basis throughout the years. At present, I am on their Board of Directors. CAKE kicks off the 2015-16 season in a lighter tone than the lovely, but darker, pieces from the spring, Ligature Marks and Boy Gets Girl.
BD: You have quite a talented cast and crew involved with the production. What can you tell us about their creative process in bringing Cake to life?
LKW: Coming to directing from a background as an actor and acting coach, to me, character is everything. There are a lot of great lines in Cake, but the humor really comes from the characters, the relationships, the reactions, and the physicality. We started the rehearsal process focusing on character details, history, and relationships in small groups. One of the perks of working with a company of actors is that there is already an existing familiarity, trust, and respect between the cast. Once you find the characters, the internal blocking of a scene comes organically. You have to trust your actors and their impulses and that you cast them for a reason.
In turn, they trusted me when I put them through non-intuitive exercises and explored scenes in sometimes completely overblown and unexpected ways. Approaching the rehearsal process as a means of repeating and reinforcing appropriate performance-ready scene work will result in appropriate, but ultimately uninspired, performances. If you constantly try to get it right, you will never find the gold in a scene. I so appreciate that my cast was game when I’d have them do something batshit crazy that broke open a moment. A favorite example was when I told my two young lovers in a meet cute scene to be pirates. They started again and I stopped them with, “I don’t mean play it with the idea of pirates, I mean do the scene as if you are actually pirates, physically, vocally, everything.” The residue of that run brought a swagger, passion, and competition to the scene that wasn’t present before. The goodies come from testing the boundaries, trying something silly or odd, and then seeing what residue remains. In any creative endeavor, if you don’t feel like a jackass at some point, even for a moment, then I guarantee you left some really interesting choices on the table unexplored.
On the tech side, our sound designer Aaron Lyons is a dream to work with. We share a similar approach in that supporting a scene through environmental sound can be evocative and helpful in creating the locale. Sound is so much more than effects cues and scene change music. This really comes into play in creating the setting for the park scenes. With 21 scenes in 12 different settings, interior and exterior, in an intimate space there is no way to adequately serve those settings from a strictly visual standpoint.
Our scenic painter Ann Hurd created both the wainscoting and a beautifully weathered hardwood floor on concrete.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
LKW: I hope it will remind people of the necessity and joy of connection and that they’ll want to call a friend afterwards. I also hope they’ll feel not a moment was wasted. With the transitions between scenes, I sought to open up the world of the play and continue the narrative keeping everyone in character throughout the scene changes. Clunky transitions are a huge pet peeve of mine. In intimate theater, there’s no pretending you don’t see the set change; it may as well further the story and be entertaining.
BD: Cake will be running through November 21st at The Belfry Stage in North Hollywood. What is the best way for our readers to garner tickets for the show?
LKW: Tickets are available at www.TheatreUnleashed.org or there is a Pay What You Want option with a $5 donation to our Charity Partner, Camp del Corazon.
BD: Are there any other upcoming shows or projects that you would care to share with our readers?
LKW: The late-night show Feast of Snacks is running on Friday and Saturday nights after Cake through November 21st and is utterly delightful.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Cake and its appearance at Theatre Unleashed?
LKW: Follow Theatre Unleashed on Facebook or on its YouTube channel for the video series, Jan on the Job, an unrelenting expose series by the blogger that appears in the show.