This is the first in a series of interviews with cast and crew of Wilsonville Theater Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Kate Laney, the director of this Fall 2014 play sat down with me this past week to offer some info on her background, as well as insight into her directorial style. Here is the interview (modesty edited for publication.)
DeHart: Would you provide us some background. Where were you born?
Laney: I was born in Georgia. I'm a Georgia Peach. To a family of five; I'm the youngest of three girls.
DeHart: What was your first introduction to theater?
Laney: In the sixth grade. I was in "Little Bo Peep," cast as a boy. I should have known better as I was cast as a boy all the way through high school. In Little Bo Peep, I played a Count. The teacher picked me because she thought I was responsible enough and had enough talent to remember all the lines. I wore a 17th century wig and wore knee pants. The whole thing.
DeHart: You were a Little Lord Fauntleroy?
Laney: Yes. I also wore an itchy hat. I was twelve. My first play, Little Bo Peep. It was terrible.
DeHart: Did you get rave reviews?
Laney: (Laughing) It was just for family and friends. But, I really enjoyed it. Getting up on stage in front of everyone playing a Count or Duke, whatever. It was like pretend on steroids.
DeHart: What was the most memorable thing that happened in your first performance?
Laney: I remember. I had to dance a minuet with the mother of "Bo Peep". I was awful.
DeHart: Of all the plays in which you acted, what was your favorite role?
Laney: The role of the witch in Macbeth.
DeHart: Why was this your favorite?
Laney: Because I got to play the part of an iconic witch with her memorable lines. You could really interpret the role however you wanted. I was in a body stocking and a feed sack. Boy did that thing itch.
DeHart: I take it they didn't have a big budget for costumes?
Laney: (Laughing) It was performed while I was a theater major at Catawba College in North Carolina. We did 16 productions a year. Each year you were in so many productions before auditioning to be in a play directed by a teacher.
DeHart: How many plays have you been in, as an actress?
Laney: Wow! 15 to 20.
DeHart: Directing. What was the first play you directed?
Laney: The Birdwatchers.
DeHart: My play?
Laney: Yes! Your play.
DeHart: So how many plays have you directed?
Laney: Three. Birdwatchers, Miracle on South Division Street and now, Earnest.
DeHart: What are some of the challenges of producing a play at the Frog Pond Grange Hall?
Laney: Having to deal with the actual physical space. The small size of the stage itself; not being a classical fifty-foot space with wings or doors, where you can move scenery off and on. You have to be very creative or produce plays like Birdwatchers and Miracle, where all scenes take place on one set. Basically a 'black box' stage. With Earnest, that has scenes in three different settings, I have to be creative in how those scenes come off. Scenes in London, then in Worthy Manor and in the garden; how to make changes to those sets. I'll have to think outside the box.
DeHart: Why The Importance of Being Earnest. Why did you chose this play to direct?
Laney: I studied the play in high school. Particularly Oscar Wilde. His writing is very clever. I think of him as a Jane Austen style writer. I'm a huge Jane Austen fan. The day that Jane Austen doesn't make me laugh, you can put me in my pine box. It is that way with Wilde, his writing is charming, smart, witty. I've read Earnest, seen it on stage and in movies. I've always thought I'd really like a crack at that. Those great characters, great lines, and just the lightness of it.
DeHart: Who's your favorite character in the play?
Laney: Oh! Lady Brackett! You know, the name of the play, Earnest, means being true. No one is really truthful in this play. The characters: There's Jack who invents Earnest for when he goes to London to goof off. At least Algie is honest and up front, yet knows he can pull the wool over Aunt Augusta's (Lady Bracknell) eyes in doing whatever he wants. At least he knows what he's doing. Lady Bracknell likes passing judgment on things. In her interview of Jack as a possible suitor to Gwendolen, she comments on the surface of things. Like living in the right part of the city, and 'Oh, you make this much money?' She has great lines. She's what Oscar Wilde sees as the 'Upper Class', people with their phony pretenses. And, Oscar Wilde, a closet gay man who married and had children, could never be true to himself. And neither could any of these characters. The women, Gwendolen and Cecily are conniving and so shallow, can only fall in love with a man named Earnest.
DeHart: To wrap this up, what do you want to tell the public why they should see this play?
Laney: The words themselves. The words are so much fun. It was first labeled a 'Trivial comedy for serious people.' This play is a sheer, unadulterated frolic. Come and enjoy what Oscar Wilde could do with play-on-words.
DeHart: Thank you Kate. I'm looking forward to seeing how this production is cast after this coming weekend's auditions.
I will feature interviews of each member of the cast in future blogs, leading up to opening night on October 16, Oscar Wilde's birthday.
AUDITIONS to take place this coming Friday July 25, from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM, and on Saturday July 26, 11:00AM to 3:00PM at the Frog Pond Grange, located at 27350 Stafford Road, Wilsonville, Oregon. Looking for five males, two being 25 to 35, three being 45-75. Four female roles, two at 18-25, and two 40 to 75. This will be a cold reading of selected portions of the script. For further information you may email WTC at: OnStageAtWilsonville@gmail.com.
Wilsonville Theater Company