ONSTAGE : The ‘Sister’ experiment – Local director shapes actors and a play out of her life experience
By Ted Mills, News-Press Correspondent
November 30, 2007 12:00 AM
“This is not theater in Los Angeles, this is not working with professional actors, but this is really where you have to step up your game.”
Writer and director Trinity Amanda Kesselring feels she’s onto something completely different and challenging with her play “Four Sisters, Four Seasons,” set to debut Thursday at Center Stage Theater.
Her company, Acting Out, gathers together a group of non-actors and gives them an opportunity to shine in a venue very few of them would have considered.
Some in the cast are accountants, some are technicians and some are life coaches. Most, as well, are people Kesselring met on her journey through brain tumor treatment last year, which changed her life and her art. It was during that time she got to know a group of women in their 50s and began understanding their lives beyond the usual polite conversation.
Out of this experience, Kesselring, now 27, forged a play about four sisters, all in middle age, who have to re-evaluate their lives.
“I come from a family of five sisters, so I know what the dynamics are,” she says. “But there’s also that sense of when you hit 50, you start over. These were stories that needed to be told.”
“Four Sisters, Four Seasons” takes one year in the life of one Santa Barbara family, and shows how each of the four change over that time. Kesselring likens the play to “Steel Magnolias” or “Love, Actually,” with its ensemble cast and sweet humor.
Cast as the four sisters, the play lists Phoenix Djukic as Karen, Denise Dutra as Charlotte, Denise Ornelas as Diane, and Katherine Crick as Peggy. At the start of the play, all four make New Years resolutions and as comedy-drama would have it, nobody keeps them, at least not in the way that they thought.
Meanwhile, two of the sisters’ daughters have problems of their own, including Grace (Jennifer Brigham), who returns home once she learns she has breast cancer, and must learn to live again under her mother Phoenix’s wing. Jasmine Aurora (Chantal Peterson), Diane’s daughter, is also on hand to offer New Agey advice to all (and provide some comic relief).
Kesselring’s method for assembling the cast and producing the script resulted from workshops in which many of the cast discovered outlets for their strengths and realized that they could bring them to the play.
“Generally, you audition for a part that already exists,” Kesselring says. “But here I created the part out of what existed in the person herself. And so out of all the things I’ve worked on (both in writing and directing) this has pushed me to be incredibly creative within a set of limitations.”
Not that she’s avoided weaknesses — sometimes this has produced her favorite results.
“Many women in the cast couldn’t get angry,” she says. “It took them weeks to tell their partners to go to hell. But a month and a half later they have all gone above and beyond my expectations.”
For an experiment started almost from scratch, “Four Sisters, Four Seasons,” has two nights to show results. But even before opening night, Kesselring is satisfied.
“(My cast) walk out more empowered, and that’s a very good reason to try acting, at least once.”
‘FOUR SISTERS, FOUR SEASONS’
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Dec. 7
Where: Center Stage Theater,
Paseo Nuevo mall (upstairs)