Henrik Ibsen, often referred to as “the father of realism,” was a Norwegian playwright and one of the founders of Modernism in theatre. He wrote one of his most famous texts, A Doll’s House, in 1879. That same year it premiered on December 21, 1879 at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark accompanied by much criticism and outrage: This due to the protagonist, Nora, who questions the gender roles and social norms of women in 19th century Norwegian marriages. The play was so controversial that the German actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe refused to perform the final scene as is exclaiming, “I would never leave my children!”
This outrage is a result of why A Doll’s House is considered a feminist text by many realms of academia. Ibsen’s exploration of women’s roles in society and the “duties of a wife” was something audiences had never been challenged with before.
In what is practically a special edition of Crocheting With Maggie, watch our Literary Manager Maggie Rogers and actor Brace Evans get totally ROASTED by Hersh Powers, the first kid EVER cast in a Washington Ensemble Theatre production.
Brace (Dr. Rank) and Hersh (Ivar), make their Ensemble debuts in Cherdonna’s Doll’s House (playing April 28 – May 15, 2017), our in-your-face collaboration with Stranger Genius Award winner Cherdonna Shinatra.
Have you been wondering what The Ensemble is cooking up with Cherdonna’s Doll’s House? Our Literary Manager Maggie Rogers had a chance to sit down with Jody Kueher, aka Cherdonna Shinatra, to talk about the crazy world she and Ali el-Gassier have created! Cherdonna’s Doll’s House plays April 28 – May 15, 2017.
Maggie Rogers: For people coming to the show who do not know Cherdonna, how would you describe her?
JK: To people who don’t know Cherdonna, I guess I would explain her as a drag queen, a performance artist… I don’t know, I don’t like to explain her as two things. I don’t like her to be a totally separate entity from me. And she IS a character, so it is separate. Cherdonna lives more in an abstract world, a non-linear world. I don’t really like to put Cherdonna in a place. People always ask me, “who’re her parents?” or “where was she born?” and I’m like, I don’t know, that’s not a part of the spectrum of Cherdonna. I don’t like to put her in a spot like that. I think it is in the vein of how do you develop character, and I don’t want to put her in a place because it boxes her in too much.
MR: Having a background in dance, it’s not a tool you implement often?
JK: Not really. It is used sometimes, but dance is more aesthetic, visceral, more a way into movement.
MR: How was Cherdonna created?
JK: Very organically, actually. She was created over the last eight years of starting to work with friends of mine: Ricki Mason, Lou Henry Hoover. We had danced together and got interested in doing some character work and playing with gender. It randomly started there and has grown over the years. It’s been a long process into it; it really has. It has never been, “I wanna make a character! And do this! And do this!” It’s been more of “I’m a dancer and I’m going to make a piece and I will do more feminine and you will do more masculine and we will see where that takes us. And what if we push this further?” It is very in process.
MR: How did Cherdonna’s Doll’s House come into existence?
JK: It really happened because I did WET’s reSET on The Tall Girls and had so much fun. It was one of the most fun things I have ever done, and honestly, the feedback from audiences is that it is one of the most successful things I have ever made. I have had people say “that is the best thing I have ever seen you do.” There was something about those parameters of seeing the play, getting to use a script, and getting to use the set that was really cool for me. Afterwards I wanted more of it. I talked to Ali el-Gasseir and said, “ I want Cherdonna to come in and just ruin a play.” Initially it was like, “Can you all just do a play and I can do whatever I want during it?” Like not set (laughs). We then decided we should work it out and have it be set.
MR: How did you decide on A Doll’s House?
JK: Ali was totally thinking about what the play would be and I don’t really know much about plays. I mean, I have seen very little theatre. He suggested the play and then we did a reading of it one-and-half to two years ago and I thought it was great and I was into it.
MR: What has the whole process looked like?
JK: It started with reSET, then the reading, and since then Ali and I have been meeting and he had to really tell me all the stuff about the play (laughs). We talked about idealism and realism; these are not in my wheelhouse. And then from here, talking with Ali about what would Cherdonna do and what is the point of doing it? That brought us into how we wanted Cherdonna and Nora to have a similar trajectory and how we tie them into the larger themes of the play. Ali did all the work on the script with editing, and we would get together and talk creatively. We also had one workshop with the cast in Fall 2016, which was funny for me because we did so much script reading, and even up until now, I was antsy to get bodies in space. Reading is not so much my process. I have been really jonesin’ to get to where we are now – in the thick of it, in the room doing it. It’s a different process for me with theatre where you rehearse up until show time and then you are in the space. There is no room between rehearsal and show time, like what if we need more time? That is nerve wracking to me. And I think it is going great and also, there is so much we can do. My main goal is to get as far as we can get. And of course projects are never done. No one puts on a show and ever thinks it’s perfectly done.
MR: How does this differ from your other performances?
JK: The theatre format is the most different. There are actors. a set, and starting from a story base. I never start from a story. My process is normally like: I saw this person on the street who seems incongruent to whatever was going on, and then I read this book, and I saw this thing on YouTube, and I gather all those things and then they always fit together.
MR: What are you most excited for?
JK: We are asking the audience to watch a theatre piece in a different way. I’m not gonna be quiet, I’m gonna be all in their area. To have me in the audience then onstage and backstage and in the front and back. They aren’t gonna be able to sit. We are going to be distracting them in different ways. We are going to set it up so people won’t feel like they missed something because Cherdonna is talking to them because that is something they should be experiencing. I hope that they let themselves go to wherever their attention is grabbing them. I don’t want them to think they need to be focused on me.
MR: Do you have any messages for Ibsen traditionalists?
JK: (laughs) No. (laughing) No, I do not. I mean, plays are weird to me because I am in a dancer way. Literally the first 15 minutes of any play I see I have to re-calibrate. Seriously. Because of all the words! I am not used to that many words where I have to follow along and remember people’s names. For me, since I see so much dance, when I sit down there is a certain way I take information in, and for theatre there is a real extreme re-calibration for how I watch and take it in. It is fun to mess with this and allow that to not be the case.
MR: WET does have a reputation for doing weird shit so I think people will be down, or hate it which can sometimes be more fun.
JK: Yeah! My biggest concern is that there is so much excitement that I’m not going to deliver what people are expecting out of Cherdonna. This is my worry for every piece I make. People get really excited and have really particular thoughts about me, what I do, and what they like to see. It’s hard to not feel like I’m going to disappoint or not go far enough. They expect me to be this crazy, bonkers experience and sometimes that happens, and sometimes that doesn’t. For all artists, how much you want to please your audience and how you stay integral to what your interest is is always a question for me.
MR: Anything else you want the people to know?
JK: Yeah, actually! I guess I just want the people to know that because I do these different forms as Cherdonna, I want people to come see her in these different ways and have a more holistic view of her.
MR: You’re multifaceted.
JK: Yeah! I can do Homo for the Holidays, I can do a Velocity crazy abstract thing, and I can do this thing at WET. People shouldn’t have expectations of me to produce in a certain way. I think that is on my mind because this is a new collaboration and it is a new thing to go into a play. I hope people come in with a real clean slate and open eyes.
MR: Absolutely. I’m excited to see our audiences meet.
JK: Right! Ali has been like “the theatre community is going to think this is bonkers” and I’m like the dance community is gonna be like “ehh.” (laughs) I don’t know if that will happen but that’s my wonder. It might be real mixed and that is cool.
Photo by Spider OQ, www.typenamehere.com
Cherdonna’s Doll’s House is a topsy-turvy, brightly colored exploration of what humans value, and what they sacrifice. In our retelling, Torvald is to Nora as the audience is to Cherdonna, making room to explore what constraints history has placed on contemporary feminism and theatre. Cherdonna, who is part bio-drag queen, part contemporary dancer, and part performance artist, will celebrate, dissect, and illuminate this text through her own unique feminist lens, scouring Ibsen, Nora, Torvald, and the whole gang for contemporary meaning. Learn more about Cherdonna and the rest of our fantastic cast that is making it all happen!
Jody Kuehner is a Seattle-based dance artist, director, and drag queen Cherdonna Shinatra. She is 2015 Stranger Genius Award winner, Velocity Dance Center’s 2014 Artist in Residence, and 2010 Spotlight Award winner. Jody is in residence at the Henry Art Gallery with a project called Clock That Construct which supports a two-year, three-part project, one great, bright, brittle alltogetherness. Realized through a unique partnership between the Henry Art Gallery, Velocity Dance Center and On the Boards with generous support from the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project. Part II Clock that Mug or Dusted premiered at Velocity in 2016 and is currently touring. Part III Kissing Like Babies premieres at On the Boards this October. Jody was Dayna Hanson’s Production Coordinator and Assistant Director 2010-2015 for various projects. She danced with Pat Graney company from 2007 – 2016 also assisting Graney’s KTF Prison Project. As Cherdonna, she performs regularly with award-winning international sensations Kitten N’ Lou and BenDeLaCreme (RuPaul’s Drag Race).
(from left to right, top to bottom in above photo)
Leah Salcido Pfenning* is WET’s Art and Casting Director, and returns to The Ensemble stage to star as Nora. She holds a BFA in Theatre & Original Works from Cornish College of the Arts. Leah has appeared in WET productions since 2012, where she was most recently Leda in 99 Ways to Fuck a Swan, Jean in The Tall Girls and Mikayla in Dirty. Other Ensemble credits include The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo, The Hunchback Of Seville, and Sprawl.
Jason Sharp makes his Ensemble debut as Torvald. He is a local actor, writer and voice talent with well over a decade of thrills performing in Seattle. His work has been seen at Theatre Battery, Theatre22, Theater Schmeater, Annex Theatre, Live Girls!, Macha Monkey, Our American Theater Co, EXITheatre, Bad Actor Productions and Open Circle Theater. Jason is also a veteran actor of 14/48: The World’s Quickest Theater Festival and Ian Bell’s Brown Derby Series. His TV credits include NBC’s GRIMM.
Brace Evans makes his Ensemble debut as Dr. Rank. A Seattle local, he has studied Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and completed the ETI program at Freehold Theatre. Recent performances include House of Dinah at On the Boards (OtB), and A Raisin In The Sun at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Other stage credits include Parade and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi with Sound Theatre; The Kentucky Cycle, Hair, and Twelfth Night at Bainbridge Performing Arts; Moby Dick with Book-It Repertory Theatre; Homo for the Holidays; VERNAE with Ethan Folk; and This Land is Your Land with Mark Haim at OTB.
Samie Spring Detzer* returns to The Ensemble stage as Mrs. Linde. A graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, and Artistic Director of WET, Samie was most recently seen in WET’s Revolt. She said. Revolt again., The Things Are Against Us, The Hunchback of Seville (Footlight Award), and The Edge of Our Bodies, in Rikki Tikki Tavi at Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Wayne Rawley’s award-winning Live! From the Last Night of My Life. She has worked as an actor at Seattle Shakespeare Company, Book-It Rep, Taproot, The Solo Performance Festival, The Chicago Improv Festival, and 14/48. Samie is the co-creator of Six Pack Series, and is the Literary and Executive Manager at ACT Theatre.
Jeffrey Azevedo* returns to the Ensemble stage as Krogstad. He is a Seattle-based theatre artist and WET’s Managing Director. He performed last year in WET’s production of The Things Are Against Us. Other recent work includes co-creating and performing in Awaiting Oblivion—Temporary Solutions for Surviving the Dystopian Future We Find Ourselves Within At Present which recently received its world premiere at On The Boards. Jeffrey holds degrees in Make Believe and Electricity from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and since moving to Seattle he’s spent most of his time using his electrical/science skills to manifest public presentations of his friend Tim Smith-Stewart’s existential crisis.
Sally Brady makes her Ensemble debut as The Maid. She was last seen in Seattle Opera’s production of La Traviata, and as the Queen in last summer’s Greenstage production of Cymbeline. Other Seattle credits include Mrs. Mortar in The Children’s Hour at Ballard Underground, Meg in A Lie of the Mind at ACT, Lady Boyle in Superior Donuts at Seattle Public, and Mrs. Prentice in What the Butler Saw at Centerstage.
Hersh Powers makes his Ensemble debut as Ivar. He was in Seattle Public Theater’s Best Christmas Pageant Ever for three years in a row, most recently as Ollie Herdman. Hersh has been in many local children’s productions, including The Lion King Jr. (ensemble, Seattle Children’s Theatre); Mozart Effect (Mozart/Pete, Seattle Public Theatre Youth Program); and Cinderella (King, Taproot Theatre Camp). Hersh is eleven and currently a 5th grader at Meridian School.
Marlo Olson makes her Ensemble debut as Emmy. She has been acting since she signed herself up at age eight. Marlo has performed in local theater, on the TV show Hatched, modeling gigs, and several commercials including Red Wind Casino, Sleep Train and Puyallup Fair. Marlo is a vibrant and outgoing 7th grader who stays busy in her spare time playing the drums, serving on her school ASB council, cosplay, drawing and writing. Marlo’s favorite role is sister to her brother and best friend AJ, who is affected by autism.
*member of Washington Ensemble Theatre