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The Glory Of Ensemble Theater

Rising Sun Performance Company's ensemble format nurtures artists and fosters unique empathy during and outside of production.

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Coming from a small town to intern in New York City for the summer, I prepared for the worst. I hoped my skin would be thick enough to brave the sweltering heat and competitive atmosphere of the city. I needed thick skin to witness the Glory of Living because the first rehearsal I attended consisted of the repetition of the disturbing scene with Clint, Carol, and Lisa. But when it was time to strike, everyone, including the leads (John Hart and Sophie Gagnon), helped to carry the large, awkward rehearsal boxes, and I sensed that something was different about Rising Sun.

The scene Sophie Gagnon (Lisa), John Hart (Clint), and Nora Kaye (Carol) were rehearsing is all polished up now.
David Anthony Photography

The scene Sophie Gagnon (Lisa), John Hart (Clint), and Nora Kaye (Carol) were rehearsing is all polished up now.

I should have known it would be a different kind of theater the moment I met Akia, the Founding Artistic Director. She creates the atmosphere of support, deeply caring about her actors’ and crewmembers’ lives and wellbeing. She strives for perfection and precision in the final product, but her commitment to the process never wavers.

Akia Squitieri, Founding Artistic Director (left) and Anna Hogan, Assistant Director of Rising Sun
Akia Squitieri

Akia Squitieri, Founding Artistic Director (left) and Anna Hogan, Assistant Director of Rising Sun

Akia values her ensemble “because we all choose this family. No one is here out of obligation, we love the work we do and each other.” Each cast member, whether from Alabama or Rhode Island, echoes Akia in their appreciation for ensemble theater and the work they do. Monica Blaze Leavitt, the fight choreographer and dialect coach for Glory of Living, adds that “the rather sick sense of humor and beer nights don't hurt either.”

Glory of Living cast and crew members, interns, RSP members and supporters enjoy a night out during a fundraiser at Donnybrook bar.
Akia Squitieri

Glory of Living cast and crew members, interns, RSP members and supporters enjoy a night out during a fundraiser at Donnybrook bar.

Other members discuss their appreciation for the freedom and connection that comes from working with the same people on different projects: Anna Hogan, RSP and Glory of Living Assistant Director, says “in an ensemble, everyone has the opportunity to wear multiple hats. You have the opportunity to not only try new things, but the support of community while you explore.”

Rising Sun members and cast members of Glory of Living -- Michael Pichardo, Sophie Gagnon, and Elizabeth Burke -- act with Michael Pierce Torres in this heated interrogation scene. Michael Pierce Torres, Elizabeth Burke, and Michael Pichardo all play multiple roles and explore different characters in the play.
David Anthony Photography

Rising Sun members and cast members of Glory of Living -- Michael Pichardo, Sophie Gagnon, and Elizabeth Burke -- act with Michael Pierce Torres in this heated interrogation scene. Michael Pierce Torres, Elizabeth Burke, and Michael Pichardo all play multiple roles and explore different characters in the play.

Collaboration, trust, and investment are common reasons ensemble members value Rising Sun. According to Maggie Kissinger, Glory of Living’s Dramaturg and Rising Sun’s Literary Manager, “everyone has a voice in all decisions for each season.”

Maggie Kissinger, Dramaturg of Glory of Living and Literary Manager of Rising Sun

Maggie Kissinger, Dramaturg of Glory of Living and Literary Manager of Rising Sun

Michael Pichardo, Hugh in Glory of Living and a new member of Rising Sun, values the ability to “engage in new challenges of being a theater artist” with others.

Michael Pichardo as Hugh in Glory of Living

Michael Pichardo as Hugh in Glory of Living

Ronald Kitts, another company member and Assistant Producer of Glory of Living, acknowledges that what holds RSP together is “a lot of support... and a lot of love.”

Ronald Kitts

Ronald Kitts

Rising Sun Performance Company’s emphasis on the process nurtures the actors, and creates a heightened sense of compassion for the characters they play. In Glory of Living, an ensemble approach supports a layered window into Rebecca Gilman’s harsh exploration of morality, life, and death. This play is about processing; it is about working through a conflict of morality and exploring another’s reality. Compassion for Lisa (played by Sophie Gagnon), and even Clint (played by John Hart), could not be fostered without Maggie Kissinger’s deep research into dissociation, masculinity, and the effects of a mother’s prostitution on her child. It could not be done without the room Akia, Anna, and Monica provided for discussion, experimentation, and discomfort. It could not be done without the open communication between John Hart and Sophie Gagnon or any of the women portraying difficult characters (Hayden Field/Katie Esswein as Girl, Julia Geromin/Nora Kaye as Carol).

John Hart (Clint) and Girl (Hayden Field) in the Glory of Living
David Anthony Photography

John Hart (Clint) and Girl (Hayden Field) in the Glory of Living

Many RSP members refer to themselves as a family of artists. Another picks up a ball that was dropped, everyone’s role contributes to the final goal, and there is commitment to producing incredible theater together. This “family of artists” work is both inventive and compassionate, and they continue to pour emotional and physical energy into the Glory of Living.

Glory of Living cast members.
David Anthony Photography

Glory of Living cast members.

Sophie Gagnon, a company member who plays the complex and heartbreaking Lisa, explores the multi-faceted nature of the show: “The Glory of Living is a look into the depths of what an abuse victim will do to keep themselves safe, and what they are able to dissociate from in order to avoid dealing with the trauma. It also explores how the justice system treats these cases. It also might even make you laugh!”

John Hart (Clint) and Sophie Gagnon (Lisa) had a lot of fun with this tipsy scene in the rehearsal process.
Jane Bertelsen

John Hart (Clint) and Sophie Gagnon (Lisa) had a lot of fun with this tipsy scene in the rehearsal process.

Rising Sun will be collecting donations to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Anna Hogan says, “Come and see this show to experience a beautifully written, beautifully acted, beautifully envisioned story of a girl in the south who endures struggles that so many women and girls endure. Come and empower the women in your life who have endured sexual trauma as adults or in childhood.”

This is a difficult topic to analyze on the stage, but partnering with the National Network to End Domestic Violence gives the art meaning and impact.
National Network to End Domestic Violence

This is a difficult topic to analyze on the stage, but partnering with the National Network to End Domestic Violence gives the art meaning and impact.

Glory of Living's last performance is Sunday, July 9 at 3:00pm at The Clemente Soto Veléz Theater on 107 Suffolk St in the Lower East Side, NYC. Up next for Rising Sun is eight weeks worth of workshopping and devising on Governor’s Island, a place where the company will thrive as its members continue to support each other’s artistic processes.

--Eliza Wilkins, Arts Administration Intern and Second ASM

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