• Oliver Boon

PROOF: All My Sons meets A Beautiful Mind

Updated: Apr 28

Written by David Auburn

Cast: Annalyssa Sassara, Michael James, Thomas Johnston, Christine Hysell

Directed by Anna Klein

The Theatre Arts Department at the University of Redlands

On March 16th I came across on Facebook a production of Proof by David Auburn live-streaming from University of Redlands in Southern California. In the wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, where theatres are now almost universally closed, I wanted to get in touch with the director Anna Klein to find out more.

CRITIC

First of all, I just wanted to say that I feel this is a really special story how you managed to do this.

ANNA

You know, we tried our best It was a Yeah, it was It was a weird process. And I there was a lot of stress and tears, but we made it through.

CRITC

How did you come about directing Proof?

ANNA

So, it was actually kind of a weird circumstance. My school was meant to be doing Pirates of Penzance this semester which is very dated, and they had a really hard time getting students to want to do it. Then the director ended up getting sick, so they ended up canceling that show. When I heard it was canceled, I went to our production manager’s office and was like, “Hi, not to be a vulture… but now that you have space and money would you maybe want to let me direct a show?” I pitched four shows that I thought I could be capable of directing and they decided they wanted me to direct one of the shows that I had picked. After casting was finished, we started rehearsals two days later. While many directors get to plan for many months or weeks, I had less than two days between my callbacks and the start of rehearsals. I didn't have much time to think or brief, we just went right into it.

CRITIC

How long did you rehearsal?

ANNA

We had 17 rehearsals by the time we had the live-stream show. We were less than two thirds of the way done with our process.

CRITIC

Less than two thirds? I bet there was a ton of adrenaline going around that day.

ANNA

It was a weird day. The school accidentally posted on our website and that they were going to kick everybody off campus. They posted on Wednesday. We hadn't gotten an email, but some student saw it and sent a screenshot to everybody on campus. We knew we were going to be kicked off, but it hadn't been announced yet. We had a production meeting probably about 15 minutes after we saw the screenshot and realized it meant our cast wasn't going to be on campus anymore. There was no way that this was going to happen. So, our production manager said, “if we're going to do the show, we're going to do it today”. The lighting designer who had just finished the plot that day went into the booth and designed for an hour and a half. As did our sound designer who hadn't started yet so that was just from scratch. Our set was like midway done, but they put up the rest of the house too. The archway in the corner, the set dressing, alterations to the costumes, all was being done in the hour and a half before the show. I gave notes from the run before and then we ran a couple scenes in which we had changed blocking. I didn't tell my cast until they arrived for rehearsal, which was about half an hour before the show. I didn't want to freak them out, so I didn't tell them until they got to rehearsal that they were doing a show in front of an audience that day. The decision to live-stream was mine. We had planned to originally to live-stream the performance with a film crew coming in so we could get multiple angles, but we had no warning or time to bring them in. Many of my cast member’s families and friends were going to travel to come see the show. So, we alerted people that we were planning to live-stream from my phone, and I had bunch of people adding me on Facebook before the show.


CRITIC

How did it go that day?


ANNA

It was a beautiful heartbreaking experience. I don't think I've ever cried in public so many times in the space of a few hours. This was my first properly produced directing debut. I've directed scenes and student written work, but I had never directed a show that had a budget and professional crew. It was my first show that felt real. My cast was working so hard. They were just kind of thrown into it as much as I was. I had killed their spring break and made them memorize their lines a week after we had gotten our scripts. They were just tortured. They weren't going to get the show that they worked for. It was my goal to make it as much of their show as possible. It was lovely to watch and also heartbreaking. I think my favorite part was after the show, we all just kind of sat in a circle (about six feet apart). Our production manager Trevor Norton who is a wonderful man. He was sitting there thanking everybody and he was starting to cry and I've never seen him cry ever. And I start crying and I thank them all. This is my commencement because they canceled graduation. Then the entire cast and crew decided we're having a graduation right now. Trevor went on stage and grabbed the props from the show and then the three seniors who are working on it ran backstage and then we walked on stage down our little runway and he handed us a prop, and we elbow bumped. It was the most beautiful moment. It was sad but there was some real theater magic happening.

CRITIC

That's where the magic comes from when things you know when things go wrong when things are unexpected.

ANNA

It was a journey for sure. We haven’t struck the set yet so if the stars align…

CRITIC

I was going to ask, are you planning to put the show up again after things calm down?

ANNA

It really depends on people’s availability and how long the Pandemic goes on for. Everything’s still ready to go! I'm sure my cast would love to go and put the show on for real.

CRITIC

I read your directors note. It was really interesting to me to learn about your past that you've like struggled with your own mental health. You seem to really identify with Catherine.

ANNA

Yeah, I do. It was weird to choose Proof because Catherine has been my dream role as an actor since middle school.

CRITIC

Are you an actor first?

ANNA

I started acting. As any child who is very shy, my parents tried to cure my shyness by putting me into theater classes. I did it, and it worked. I slowly made my way into stage management, then, during college, I worked on sound design. Eventually I started directing. I consider myself a storyteller rather than just an actor now, because I don't want to box myself in, I'll pretty much do any facet of theater I can get my hands on.

CRITIC

I read that Jonah Hill started out as a director and got into acting by taking an acting class to learn how to better direct actors. Now he’s got both careers, he just came back with mid-90s a year or two ago. I agree, you should never limit yourself. How would you describe your style exactly?

ANNA

I struggled at first thinking directing had to be a certain way. Which meant every time my directing style didn't fit into this perfect mold, I blamed myself. Midway through rehearsals I just decided it doesn't matter if I am like anyone else. As long as I'm getting my viewpoint to my actors, they're comfortable and safe and we can tell the story together. Most rehearsals, I decided what we were doing that day or the day before. I knew who was going to be called for certain things. We'd do weird exercises with scenes. Playing around is the most important thing in theater. If you feel safe to make discoveries, you're going to learn more, and you're going to figure out more. We did a hot seat workshop which meant I put them on stage where they had to stay in character whilst everybody else sat in the audience and they could ask them any question. If I saw even an inch of the real person like a chuckle, I restarted the timer. I was so mean but those were the moments in which they made incredible discoveries. Our actor who played Robert completely changed his character based on how he discovered himself during that hot-seat exercise. He came out of it a completely different version of his character that was “I am a professor, but I'm also a weirdo” and how he found the balance was really great. The age difference was a nice challenge for him. He had talked with a math professor who was also a theater guy. He's kind of obsessed with proof because obviously it's a play that entangles theater and math, which are his two loves. I connected them so Tom (who played Robert) could shadow him.

CRITIC

I think my favorite part of the play was probably the relationship between Katherine and Claire.

ANNA

Yeah, when I cast them to play sisters, I didn’t even know that they knew each other before this. they would run the lines an hour before rehearsals and it paid off.

CRITIC

I liked how you switched elbow-bumps for kissing! It was funny and sad at the same just because of how relatable it is with current events.

ANNA

I think you can never expect people to truly leave what is on the outside. As much as we would love to. It's why we can't do stage kissing right now. I had been begging for an intimacy director and there was some kissing in the production. It's not a huge deal, but I've had my own experiences with the messiness of stage intimacy. Obviously, in the actual live-streamed show, the intimacy didn't happen because of the current pandemic. We had hand sanitizer and a sink backstage so they could wash their hands. I mean, even if our actors were comfortable with it, our audience wouldn’t.

CRITIC

What are your plans after graduating?

ANNA

I’ve applied to three grad schools. I’ve already got into George Washington which is the Academy for Classical Acting.

CRITIC

Are you going more into acting then?

ANNA

If I’m going to grad school, I want to do exclusively practical training, no matter what I ended up doing, I thought that was going to be valuable and it wouldn't feel like I was being bogged down by papers because I'm an English and Theatre major. So, I'm currently writing a 50-page paper on Juliet being a badass. So that was kind of what I was looking into. I think as I distance myself and take maybe a year off, if I don't decide to go to grad school or if I decide to do something different, I'll be more inclined to go into something like, directing or even getting my master's in English or something. We’ll see!




All My Sons:

CRITIC

Your production felt like a very dramatic version to me. It reminded me of an Arthur Miller play. Maybe just because a lot of drama happened on the porch.

ANNA

You know, I my first show at Redlands was Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Conveniently, the door that we used on stage was the same door that we used for All my sons. It was kind of a whole full circle moment for me. We worked a lot on finding the comedy. I think what happened during the performance was that we realized the gravity of what was happening in our world and everything felt a lot heavier.

A Beautiful Mind:


CRITIC

A lot of Proof reminds me of A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crowe. Did that play into your direction at all?

ANNA

So based on my research, Proof and A Beautiful Mind were written at about the same time. David Auburn knew about the story of Jonathan Nash who resembles a lot of Robert. At the time, Auburn desired to write a play about two very different sisters dealing with grief and one of the girls being afraid of becoming like her parents. So he put those two ideas together along with wanting to address mental health. He looked into mathematicians and found that a lot of them suffered from mental health because it's such a solitary profession. Individually, they just don't interact with people. Whether you're an introvert and extrovert, people need people. So he wanted to explore that. If you read closely, the illnesses that Catherine and Robert are dealing with are never exactly diagnosed. I talked a great length with my actors about what we wanted to express and then we went into research of how those mental disorders manifest. We made it our goal though to never diagnose them for our audience. It was purely something that we had for ourselves, because we didn't need the audience to know. To answer your questions A Beautiful Mind and Proof are inspired by the same dilemma but not by the same circumstance.


https://www.annakleinofficial.com/

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Interviewed by Oliver Boon on Zoom

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