Laura Sturm celebrated having a new acting student unaware he would be one of her greatest challenges. The man had a goal. He had a desire. He had a cane. A student needed eyesight to make observations and perform movements. Laura had many questions, but all resulted in the same answer. It is impossible to teach these techniques to a blind person. Laura was determined to make possible the impossible. As he who benefited from Laura’s determination, I wrote about it.
Laura Sturm Movement
The beautiful and talented, Laura Sturm continues to bring the best out of talented artists. I asked her some questions about the play she is currently directing. Phantom Pain by Barbara Lhota. This world premiere production, which runs March 15-April 2 at The Greenhouse Theater, stars Lisa Herceg, Pamela White-Raines, Stephanie Sullivan, and Kristen Williams.
Q: Barbara Lhota has written 200 plays and has had 60 productions.
Is this the first time you’ve been involved with a production of one of her pieces?
LAURA: No, I have been an actor in a couple of staged readings of her play GIRL FOUND, also set in Detroit. I have also been an actor in her short play, 85 Billion Neurons to Forever, produced with Women's Theatre Alliance and Other World Theater's Paragon Fest. I know she's working on developing that into a full-length, and I hope to be involved in working on the development of that with her.
Q: What drew you to Phantom Pain?
LAURA: A number of things really - it's a play focused on a group of vibrant, interesting women who aren't just wives, mothers or sexual objects; the idea of looking back at the past and how it shapes you, both in your life and historically; reminiscing about the 70's and 80's; the exploration of different perspectives from different characters (liberal vs. conservative); and of course, the racial issues that spring up in the show and how each character reacts to them. These conversations need to be had, and I'm not sure they are. I don't think this show preaches, and yet watching it, you learn something and really have to think about some things. No character is 100% good or bad - all have their strengths and flaws - Each character is very multi-dimensional, and I love that. Plus Barb's writing feels real to me - it's how I talk, in my world, so I am drawn to that as well. She adds a lot of humor to the tough stuff, which makes it all that much more poignant, from my perspective.
Q: Is there extra excitement or anxiety because it’s the world premiere production of Phantom Pain?
LAURA: Both, really. We've been working since long before rehearsals started to get the best version of the script, and then each week, Barb would watch rehearsals and send changes. We cut a lot of excess away and pared it down quite a bit. So, it takes a little more time than just rehearsing a play that won't change at all, and you're always asking - should we have cut that? Should we have left that in? And yet, it's so exciting to be the first folks to really fully actualize the piece - the final script that remains will have pieces of all of us in it, and that's kind of a legacy, isn't it? Even if no one remembers that but Barb. :) With a new play, there's the excitement and anxiety over how people will respond to it - you just never know, which is a little scary, but it's also really exciting when they do respond positively.
Q: How much did you lean on Chicago based Barbara Lhota during the rehearsal process?
LAURA: She was at the majority of the rehearsals. If I had a question about what something meant, instead of hypothesizing what the playwright meant, or researching it and making a choice, I just asked her. Sometimes she would answer specifically and other times she'd tell me to make the choice that made sense to me. Barb is an incredibly giving playwright. Plus she's incredibly knowledgeable and a lot of fun!!!
5. What excites you about the performances Lisa, Kristen, Pamela, and Stephanie will give?
I feel so fortunate to have been able to assemble such a strong cast. All of these actors are really dedicated to the truth of the moment in their acting, which is enormously important for me. They get uncomfortable when they miss the honesty in the moment, and are constantly working to achieve that, so it really doesn't happen that often. I feel that I'm just helping shape that honesty for the audience, so it is clear and interesting. They have also developed into quite a lovely team - you see them each supporting each other and going out of their way to help each other out onstage and off. I think this team of women, with their wonderful truthfulness and the intimacy and vulnerability they allow themselves to achieve, will allow the audience to fully immerse into and enjoy this very intimate piece, almost as if they were sitting in the living room themselves!
Playwright: Barbara Lhota
Director: Laura Sturm
March 15, 2017 - April 2, 2017, Wednesday to Sunday