Nick Payne’s Constellations goes up in the Stage this week, so I sat down with director Al Gillespie and actors Kate Kitchens (Marianne) and Jared Liebmiller (Roland) to chat about the show.
Has Constellations always been on your directing bucket list?
Al: It has been on my bucket list for a long time, I’ve been talking about it for way too long.
This is your fourth year of making theatre in St Andrews. Do you feel like you’ve developed a directorial style in that time or are you still playing around?
Al: I feel, especially with this play, that I have a style I’m happier with. I feel like I did a lot of ‘stunt plays’… It’s typically a lot of big casts, a lot of ball-juggling, a lot of architecting. It’s like: I have these blue-prints, I’m going make sure this house is built. And that’s good for making a good show, but not necessarily for making good actors. You get a great performance, the outward projection is there, but you aren’t thinking enough about the internals, and you aren’t thinking about getting the actors to build the house. So instead of saying ‘Play this sad’, I’m trying to say more ‘Let’s think about some actions to build this on’; I still have some old architect instincts but I’m trying to be more of an actor-director.
Do you guys feel like Al is letting you build a house?
Jared: Yeah. This is my third show with Al, and he’s right – the previous shows I’ve done with him have been very much about the spectacle of thing, about incorporating the acting into this larger blueprint of choreography and tech and artistic vision. I think because the show is a lot simpler it’s a lot more about working with us to build something from the ground up.
Kate: Especially in the round it feels a little vulnerable. It’s just the two of us surrounded by people, and I think it’s very exciting and wonderful.
Why have you decided to stage it in the round? What challenges are you guys facing in acting for an audience that’ll be all around you?
AL: I like the idea of highly individualised personal experiences – the idea that I go to theatre and I see one story, and someone sees another. So, in certain scenes I see Kate’s response to stuff, but not Jared’s, which forces me to empathise more with Kate… I’ve also seen bits of lots of versions of the show and it’s almost always straight-on, and it forces the play to become very two-dimensional.
Jared: This is the first show I’ve done with the audience sitting in the round, so I’ve had to get more used to giving my attention to how people can see me. So I’m shifting my body, turning my head in a way that doesn’t feel natural, but from the audience it’ll look natural.
Kate: The cool thing is that normally neither one of us would move in certain instances in the scene, but once we do it feels right. There are certain parts that are like a clock and we rotate around the circle and they’re some of my favourite parts of the show.
How difficult is it for you as actors to keep playing so many different iterations of a character, and to keep them all believable?
Jared: That’s the hardest part of the show. Al and I have established a ‘backbone’ Roland, a core Roland, and in most scenes there’s a small deviation from that, in a few there’s a big deviation from that, and then in one or two it’s just that core personality.
Kate: It’s tricky. We have all these different names for them, like this scene is Bitchy Marianne or EDM Marianne.
Which version of Marianne and Roland are we meant to root for in the end? Is that the point of the play?
Kate: Not EDM Marianne…
Jared: I think that by the end of the play I’d hope people will feel invested in their relationship. But there are definitely versions of both characters that aren’t sympathetic.
Kate: I think for me it’s less about rooting for specific versions of them, and rather rooting for the possibility that there is a version out there that’s perfect. There are versions of them where you’re definitely thinking, ‘You’re such a bitch, I hate you’, but that makes me love the ones that work out even more. And you understand them all a bit more, because there’s a reason why those ones didn’t work out.
It’s a play that some would argue shouldn’t work – it’s based on this complex physics theory that no one understands. Why do you think it resonates so much?
Al: It’s the fifth most put-on amateur show in the States, I think… It has the benefit of being cheap – there’s no set, only two actors. I think more than that though, it feels like a challenge. Nick Payne wants you to go ‘Yeah, I can take this on’.
Jared: I think something that’s appealing is how well the script captures wonderful, beautiful, happy moments, and how quickly and naturally that descends into some really upsetting and harrowing moments.
Al: I think it captures very well the idea that life can be beautiful, and life can be incredibly painful, but that doesn’t mean that life, or love as well, is not worth living.
Kate: The script itself is so beautifully written. There have been rehearsals where it literally feels like Jared and I are just sat having a conversation together. I think that ends up hitting home… There are things like Shakespeare where it takes a while to get into it, whereas with this one you start off and it’s like ‘Oh here’s two weird people at a barbeque, and I love them, because they could be me’.
What do you want the audience to leave with?
Al: I think the play gets you to bear witness, it forces you to just pause and consider stuff, to think about love. If at the end you go and hug someone you love, or text your mum, or say ‘Fuck it, I love myself’, I’ll be happy.
Tickets can be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The profit from the show is going to Cornhill Centre at Perth Royal Infirmary.