Monday, July 5, 2010

Interview with Chrissie Addison, Quilters Director

by Karen Harnden

Chrissie Addison is a veteran actor, director, teacher and theatre aficionado who will bring the musical Quilters to Placerville next winter for Imagination Theater. The following interview took place on June 16th over lunch on the shaded porch of Chrissie’s vintage home.

K: The obvious first question is why Quilters, and why now?
C: First of all, doing Quilters before [in 1987] was a peak experience for me on stage playing the eldest daughter. There’s a heart those true stories pulled from the old diaries that’s very special to people. And . . . I had a very colorful and clear dream that I was directing Quilters.

K: What else about this title and its music hooked you?
C: The life that the settlers had in small towns seems a lot like here. This area is like a vortex of history and creative energy laminated together. I love old stories, and antiques, and old people who tell stories and the whole western way of life. I’m reading now diaries from the women and men who settled the West. And I am a real fan of folk and Celtic music.

K: What challenges do the actresses face telling real stories?
C: They have to take on the mantel . . . they will channel all these other characters and bring them from the page to the stage. Each will make real 10 to 15 different women. They face life in hard times and go through it together.

K: What led you to think of doing the show in the round?
C: I wanted to retread the show, in a new way, to revisit the show. So I wanted to reinvent Quilters in such a way that it would be fresh and current. Having never directed in the round, or seen a show done in this county that way, it just seemed like the right show at the right time. And Peter Wolf [of IT] said, “You want to do it in the round? I’ll show you how.” And I said, “Sold!”

K: It sounds like most of the visual experience will be very different than other productions.
C: I think the big difference is going to be that the cast is going to be very close to the audience, so it’s going to be less of a presentation and more of a group experience. We want the audience to be “inside” of the drama.

K: You’re right. When you’re in the first row or two of an in the round production, and the lights are spilling on you, you can’t help but feel like you’re in it.
C: The actors will be close to the surrounding audience. The exchange of energy will be interesting. In a typical theater building, only one wall is “active.”

K: Tell me about the script.
C: The show features 16 separate vignettes about different women in different situations – some comedic some dramatic. Sarah and her six daughters reappear throughout the story. The score features 16 songs all in the folk flavor. In rehearsal, I’d like the actresses to see the longer original diary entries from which the scenes/monologues were taken. This will deepen their understanding of the text.

K: How has the community responded to this idea?
C: The staff is very strong and pulls from current Imagination Theater regulars along with Theater El Dorado past regulars who thought they retired!! We have received commitments from strong, talented locals who will do everything from assemble the quilts to play the fiddle in the band.

K: Anyone in particular?
C: There are living history people in this area working on this show, like Ron Scofield, the master wagonmaker from Fiddletown, who’s making the wagon. Dr. Audrey Keebler is a docent who’s designing costumes; local quilting guilds are designing 16 quilts for us, and much more.

K: How do you keep track of all of this information? Oh, wait. I’ve seen your notebook.
C: I know. I keep everything. It’s just ridiculous. Look at this [her notebook is overflowing]. Ideas are still coming in weekly to me and I have to scramble to get them all down. It’s a very rich time for ideas.

K: What’s universal in Quilters that you want to be sure comes through in this production? Is there a theme or overall message or driving vision besides just telling this wonderful story?
C: What comes to mind just now is the community. Maybe I’m more aware of that now as a person who’s retired. The sense of community is really strong in this show. The production of this show, as well as the story being presented, and surely working with Imagination Theater is a joyful community experience for me.

K: That’s a lot of who you are, who Chrissie is. You maybe have more than one community, but your life is about the sense of community on a lot of different levels. Is that why you direct?
A: The process of doing a play brings out the “community.” For me, the process of directing is to experience release by being there in the moment. And to share it with willing souls who want to go on that journey together is to share those moments. And one of the strongest communities that I sense is among women, and the quilters are right in there. So it all filters down to a strong web or network of people with a lot of true grit, people who really have that sense of community and survival.

K: The stories really show how that sense of community helped those prairie women survive.
C: Yeah, it’s right in the script: “If I didn’t have the quiltin’ there are times I would have gone crazy.” And there’s the scene when a gal’s husband dies and she’s blind with grief, and her mom puts a piecin’ bag next to her and her hands reach out and start “piecin’ bits of scraps together” and it pulls her out of her depression.

K: And that is not any different today—it’s the same as it was back then. Our “community” surrounds us through the everyday stuff, and helps us get through difficulties.
C: The disease of being too busy surrounds our lives today. Doing a show is a big commitment of time to put on our lives, but I can’t imagine a better way to, once again, realize what is really important to us all – and that’s to connect to others. And that’s about as close to a universal truth as you’re going to find.