Sunday, April 23, 2006

INTERVIEW: Brandon Walker & Rachael Van Wormer

Like star-crossed lovers our paths initially failed to cross. We missed one another at our first trysting place (The Living Room Coffee Shop in Hillcrest), but alas; we realigned our paths and by the early afternoon of February 12th we sat down in the quieter comfort of my North Park residence where I begged questions from two of San Diego’s brightest young actors, Brandon Walker and Rachael Van Wormer.

[The Warm Up]
Cuauhtémoc Q. Kish (CQK): Brandon; Rachel; where are you two from?

Brandon Walker (BW) & Rachel Van Wormer (RVW); [Almost simultaneously]:
We were both born and raised in San Diego.

CQK: You’re young enough that I can comfortably ask both of you how old you are and when you graduated from high school, right?

RVW: I’m 21 and graduated from Hilltop High in 2002.

BW: 23; graduated from Patrick Henry in 2000.

[Simmer]
CQK: What’s going on in your theatrical life currently?

RVW: We both have roles in New Village Arts production of Playboy of the Western World; Susan Brody and Shawn Keogh respectively.

BW: I’m also acting with the Old Globe Education@the San Diego Museum of Art project, Androcles and the Lion. It’s a touring show for students, visiting many schools in the San Diego area. We visit up to two schools per day.

CQK: It seems like everywhere we look we see Brandon and Rachael working on one or more of our San Diego theatre stages. Did it “just happen” or did you work hard to get on those stages.

BW & RVW: We worked very hard to get there.

CQK: What was your initial springboard into theatre?

RVW: I was produced by the Young Playwrights Project.

CQK: So, Rachael, you’re a writer?

RVW: No, but I wrote a play called Funny in High School. I don’t consider myself a writer now--at this point in my life--but maybe down the road.

CQK: What was that experience like, with the Playwrights Project?

RVW: I had no idea what the theatre community was like in San Diego. After they selected my play I worked with Deborah Salzer and Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg. I’ve never seen a show from that perspective before so it was quite enlightening. One of my three actors included Jason Connors. My script changed a lot as a result of the process.
It was highly educational.

BW: I started with Poor Players with Richard Baird and later, Nick Kennedy. The Company was initially called Upstart Crow and our effort was to produce Shakespeare that didn’t suck; initially with plays like Othello and Julius Caesar.

CQK: What’s the status of Poor Players at this point?

BW: I left in May but I understand that their next project will be to produce Hedda Gabler.

[Cooking]
CQK: Why did you leave that Company?

BW: I needed a break; I had been doing Shakespeare with Poor Players for years and was looking for a different challenge.

CQK: How would you describe your experiences working with the likes of Sean Murray and Francis Gerke and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg?

RVW: My experience working with Sean was compounded because I was working in Curse of the Starving Class at the same time. Sean seemed to focus in on the whole rather than the specific separate parts. Gerke works a script line by line, a kind of reverse process (for many actors) if you will.

BW: Then you do “improvisations” followed by blocking (about the third week). By that time you have already lived the situations and you don’t need to invest time and effort to discover them.

RVW: There is a strong focus on the physical action (i.e. slamming the refrigerator door, etc.). It’s very methodical; going thru a series of movements without the text. But it’s all somehow clarified down the road.

CQK: Brandon, your experience with Moxie Theatre Company; was it very different?

BW: It was quite different. Delicia has a totally different style. Even at the “read through” we had an audience as well as one at the first three rehearsals (friends of the cast as well as board members, etc.). We got Dog Act up in such a short time; performance at step one.

CQK: Any heroes and/or muses?

BW: Francis Gerke and Matt Scott. Being able to work with both of them was awesome.

CQK: Where do you see yourself in five years?

RVW: I’m pursuing a degree in Literature and I’d like to follow that with an MFA in Theatre. Theatre will be a prominent part of my life, as much as I can make it. I may go to Chicago or Seattle or New York. I think it’s important to work as an Equity actor if you’re in this for the long haul.

BW: I don’t see myself in five years; I don’t think in those terms. I’d like to study Sociology, not for any degree, just to educate myself. I don’t believe in going to school to study acting. I think it’s better just to act for a professional director rather than go to school to be directed.

CQK: Has Actor’s Alliance played any role in your development?

BW: Contacts such as Erin Cronican have been extremely helpful for me in determining how to market myself, finding out how far I need to go.

CQK: Will you two be together in five years?

BW & RVW: (Laughter).

CQK: Brendan, when did you get the acting bug?

BW: Fifth grade. I was in Seminar, similar to the GATE (gifted/talented) program.
You basically sit in a classroom and enjoy a seminar; talking, discussing, etc. They (teachers) are not into busy work as such. I participated in this program thru the 11th grade. In the 4th grade I found myself cast in a school play and ended up vomiting and urinating all over the stage; a real case of stage fright to say the very least. The following year—due to a case of pneumonia—I opted against the completion of a book report (for lack of time) for another opportunity in a play. I jumped into Shakespeare at this point.

CQK: Do you still get stage fright?

BW: I don’t get stage fright in that way; I feel it now due to the pressure I put on myself to carry a role.

CQK: Are you anxious to tackle any roles at this point?

RVW: Frankie in Member of the Wedding; another stab at Juliette; many roles from authors like Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams.

BW: Hamlet, Edgar in King Lear, Brutus...Dennis in This is Our Youth.

CQK: Do you think it’s easier to transition from playing Shakespeare to playing modern roles?

BW: Yes.

CQK: Would you like to work with a Shakespearean Company like the Old Globe or others of that ilk?

BW: I’d prefer to work with New Village Arts or Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

CQK: That sounds perfect to me.

Brandon and Rachael carry a lovely heart with them, both on and off stage. They drove away, anxious to enjoy a real treat; a full day off, heading to Balboa Park to unwind from their non-stop schedule. Young people can do that. Their days and nights are full, both holding down part time jobs at Arts Tix, while rehearsing and/or acting on a stage in the San Diego area. They are true poor players in the sense that they have no permanent place to call home; they have discovered that house sitting affords them temporary, affordable lodging when it’s offered to them (If you need a housesitter, feel free to contact them through my email address and I’ll patch you through). By the time you read this, their day in the park will be relegated to the past, and they will once again be busy on a theatre in or near San Diego. We wish them nothing less than to “break a leg.”

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