Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009

The Artistc Integrity of Community Theatre: Ruth Arnell pt. 3

By Russ Bickerstaff
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No Divas In Community Theatre: The Ruth Arnell Interview Pt.3

In this, the third part of the rough transcripts of an interview with local actress Ruth Arnell, Ruth talks about the work she’s done having returned from L.A. and speaks passionately about the artistic integrity of community theatre.

Me: How long were you in California?

Ruth: A year and a half. And in that time I learned to love Microsoft Outlook and sushi. And I still love both with every fiber of my being. But I decided to come back. It was a little hard, because unless people have been there they can’t understand how much there really is to NOT like about it . . . I was kind of afraid that I’d come back and people would be like, “oh, you didn’t make it, huh?” [gasps] But y’know you get out there and it’s like . . . people who make it either get discovered right away or they spend 9 years waitressing. I don’t want to spend 9 years waitressing and going to classes. I want to spend 9 years doing what I’m doing right now.

Me: Which is . . .

Ruth: Acting all the time and having a life. I need time for myself and my family and looking at ferrets at the pet store . . . buying books and doing plays. I need time for that stuff. Not time for commuting.

Me: When did you come back to Milwaukee?

Ruth:
It will be two years ago this December 21st. (Something like that.) I drove back with my mom. She flew out to meet me and be my driving buddy and she’s a WONDERFUL driving buddy. (Plus, then she pays for all the hotels.) So that was nice. [laughs]

Me:
Was Seven Year Itch [Ruth played the female lead in a Sunset Playhouse production of the comedy] before or after that?

Ruth: Seven Year Itch ended a couple of weeks before I moved to California.

Me: Okay. And your first show back?

Ruth: Before I moved back, actually, I got a call from [Sunset Playhouse Artistic Director] Mark Salentine. They had a supporting part in Jake’s Women that they hadn’t been able to cast. And he said, ”you’re moving back, right?” And I said, “yeah.” “When are you getting here?” “Well, right before Christmas.” “Do you want a part?” “Yeah, okay . . . “ You know, because if he recommends something, I’ll take it. I trust his judgment. And I ended up having a lot of fun. It’s not my favorite Neil Simon ever, I’ve got to admit, but . . .

Me: And what IS your favorite Neil Simon ever?

Ruth: Man . . . I don’t know. I think if you go back . . . when you watch original Neil Simon works done at the time they were written . . . I mean, if you try that new The Odd Couple re-write? All they did was add cell phones. It’s awful. But then if you watch it done at the time . . . you know . . . you see the TV show . . . that’s very funny I think. I’m a sucker for easy comedy. And he writes great easy comedy. But yeah, so I came back and did [Jake’s Women] and that was a lot of fun and while that was going, I went to the Milwaukee General [Auditions] and got a call to do a radio drama thing . . . it was a staged reading of an episode of The Shadow with Nevermore Theatre. [Nevermore Theatre was a short-lived company that operated out of the Off-Broadway Theatre, emphasizing acting over production value.] So it wasn’t big stuff. It was little stuff, but it was a lot of fun and I was working with people that I would never work with otherwise. Y’know except that now I see [Nevermore Artistic Director] Michael DiPadova at Half Priced Books . . . and that’s the only MAJOR change it’s made in my life, but it’s been a lot of fun. And I went from there to doing a couple of shows at [The Waukesha] Civic [Theatre,] which is great because I live right there in town and stuff with Spiral [Theatre.] I dunno . . . I guess I just kind of move around. I DO tend to keep out to the suburbs, though. There’s just something really appealing to me about . . . if you’re going to create something and the people creating it—their expertise is in creation, that gives you one type of creative process—one type of performance. When you are putting it together with people who—they’re expertise is in being a teacher or an engineer or . . . they’re welding all day and then they come to rehearsal . . . it’s a very different creative process. And having done both, I enjoy it more. I don’t know . . . it gives you a very different end-result. It’s incredible working with real people. Working with your neighbors. “Hi, I’m starring in a show with my grocer!” Y’know—that’s cool . . . it’s not somebody where—this is all they do and you become kind of short-sighted about what the word is like. It’s like [as actors] you have a lot in common with each other, but less and less and less as the years go by in common with the audience that you’re trying to share something with. And so your skill may be very finely honed and very beautiful and it glints in the sunlight, but . . . how much time do you spend in the sunlight, you look a little pasty, y’know? We just . . . we spend all our time in the theatre and I think we lose touch with the people that we’re doing the show for.

Me: So it’s the community in community theatre that attracts you.

Ruth: yeah! It’s great. I love doing theatre wherever it is, but . . . the only divas in community theatre are the ones onstage and if they’re a diva once, they’re probably not going to get an opportunity to be a diva again. Nobody’s going to put up with it. If you’re a diva in community theatre, you become a very lonely person. . . Everybody there has this huge life outside of you. They don’t need you.

TOMORROW: A passion for community theatre is all fine and good, but what happens when you want to get professional work? Ruth responds to this question and more as the interview continues . . .

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