The Backyard Theater Ensemble was co-founded by Chet Ostroski and Kailee Donovan and since its inception this award winning company has performed engaging theater in Connecticut. Their production of Amy Herzog’s Belleville will be performed April 9, 10, 11 (8pm shows) and April 12th at 2pm at the Thomaston Opera House Arts Center Theater. Nutmeg Chatter previewed the show and took a few moments to talk with Ostroski and Donovan about their work.
Nutmeg Chatter: What interested you most about Amy Herzog’s play “Belleville”?
Kailee Donovan: Belleville was a show that struck me the first time I read it. I loved how the character of Abby would be a challenge for me as an actress and I loved her imperfections. She is so real-the type of real that we don’t want to admit we are. She’s harsh, she can be terribly mean, but all of that comes from a deep rooted insecurity. She lashes out at Zack to detract from lashing out at herself. It’s really terrifying to admit that that is such a human act and to tap into that in myself to make her more real.
Chet Ostroski: It has a dark side to it. Just reading the play you were gripped by the words on the page, wondering what was going to happen, what’s about to happen. As an actor it’s hard to ignore an opportunity to explore those moments of raw human emotion that were you truly living them in your own life, are deeply terrifying. Both Zack and Abby are deeply flawed and it’s been tremendous fun exploring those flaws.
NC: Who are some of the new people you’re working with for this show and how have they added to the BTE experience this time around?
Donovan: We are working with so many new people! We have Marydell and Liza-as director and stage manager and DaJavon and Ashley as two new actors. They’re all wonderful. They genuinely love theater and they bring that love with them to rehearsal every day.
Ostroski: This season we had an opportunity to not only work with four new people; Marydell, Liza, Ashley and DaJavon – who are wonderful, we also brought them back together to work with each other again. I think they have had so much fun reconnecting and their love for the stage is evident in every rehearsal.
NC: BTE excels at creating a “real environment” starting with the choice of scripts to the realistic sets to the acting. Is realism a fundamental element to BTE’s work?
Donovan: Realism is certainly something we strive for when it’s called for. So many of our shows live in the real world but transcend into surreal moments. We try to embrace what is real by creating the most realistic environment possible, while also living in those moments that may not seem real, mostly because we don’t want them to be or we go to an emotion place that feels “unreal” for the average person.
Ostroski: Challenging our actors and our audience to explore the human condition is fundamental to BTE’s work. The company’s Artistic Director, Donato J. D’Albis, always talks about that. We certainly want everyone to relate to our work and hopefully see themselves in the characters at one point or another. Creating a “real environment” is certainly an anchor for that.
NC: You’ve both worked with each other for a number of years. How does that inform your performance as a couple in Belleville?
Donovan: We’ve worked together on shows since high school actually so that’s about 11 years now, 4 of those with BTE. We’ve almost always been paired romantically in one way or another in those shows and we’ve always felt a chemistry with one another. This show is particularly special because it is the first show we’ve played a couple in while we’ve actually been dating in real life! It’s a really wonderful experience sharing something like this with a person you love, but it’s also challenging given the roles in this show-we said when we started this show that we would not “take these roles home with us” so to speak. The moments where we are romantic and loving are great-they’re easier in a way, but the more dramatic moments about the instability in a relationship are tough. It’s great to be able to tap into a real feeling or emotion in ourselves, but it’s also scary to channel that love into the fights and the resentment that come out in Belleville. But it’s also nice to be able to run lines while sitting on the couch at home or eating dinner!
Ostroski: Being a couple in real life has certainly helped this time around in Belleville, especially those moments of intimacy which are understandably awkward for two actors who just met. So that’s one less hurdle we had to worry about. What we did promise ourselves was not to take these roles home with us. Once you see the show you can understand why. I also found it was easier to let go with Kailee because I trust her completely and when you have that level of trust in your co-star you can really release into the characters. Having acted with each other for so long you also know what the other is capable of, you know what to expect and how hard to push if necessary. And you constantly run lines ALL THE TIME at home haha.
NC: Finally, is there any special way you prepare for this role ?
Donovan: This role certainly takes a level of mental preparation before walking onstage. In a lot of ways Abby is not like Kailee at the surface. I definitely have a lot to connect to inside and in certain moments, but outwardly she’s much more insecure and uneasy than I (hope) I am as a person. I definitely have to get in the zone of that kind of person before I walk on the stage. I’ve been finding the moments in my real life where I feel like Abby would and I think a lot harder about how I am feeling at that time and try to channel it into her. It’s not always fun to do that but it has helped me a lot with the character.
Ostroski: Zack is one of the most difficult characters I have had to play and finding “Zack” has been a challenge. For me I had to find those moments in my own life where I have felt all the emotions Zack feels though out the show and substitute them on stage. This can be a very scary experience as you’re drudging up memories and emotions that you may never want to visit again. However, in order to portray that sense of realism and do justice to the character the author has created, we as actors owe that to audience, the playwright and ourselves.
Once again, Belleville will be performed April 9, 10, 11 (8pm shows) and April 12th at 2pm at the Thomaston Opera House Arts Center Theater.