Sixteen Actors in a Room

 

Page 73 is excited to be partnering with Ensemble Studio Theatre for the world premiere of Leah Nanako Winkler’s Kentucky, directed by Morgan Gould. A major reason our collaboration with EST is helping bring Leah’s play to the stage is that Kentucky features an unusually large cast — sixteen actors!

Page 73’s Producing Artistic Director Michael Walkup talked with Leah and Morgan about the audacity of presenting a large-cast play off-Broadway.

Michael Walkup: Kentucky features a cast of 16, which I think we can all agree is not a typical choice an early-career playwright makes in drafting a new play. Leah, when you started writing this play, did you always imagine it requiring a large cast?

Leah Nanako Winkler: I started this play during a summer when I was in three huge, seminal weddings back-to-back (my two best high school friends’ and my little sister’s). That meant I was interacting with a lot of people from my past, so it was obvious to me that these types of figures – a mom, a dad, a sister, her groom, his parents, best friends, a grandma, and a wedding party – would all shape the protagonist, Hiro’s, journey, too.

And then after I wrote the damn thing everyone told me it was crazy to have such a large cast.

MW: Morgan, when you first read Kentucky, did you imagine using double-casting to package the play as more easily producible?

Morgan Gould: As a person who has produced and worked at theaters for a long time, I figured if I was ever lucky enough to direct a full production of Kentucky I may have to double-cast it. Actors cost money (as well they should)! But I never wanted double-casting. Each person (and animal, in one case!) feels so specific that double-casting always felt forced, like a matter of convenience rather than of purpose.

MW: EST and Page 73 are glad that coming together for this production enabled us to hire a full cast of 16. How does that multitude of bodies on stage help you tell the story of Kentucky?

MG: The heart of the piece is coming back to a landscape that is populated with all the figures from one woman’s past. Each one of them brings something special to the texture of the world. It is the story of how large and unwieldy our pasts are – how they inform us, how they shape us. I always have felt that the piece is epic in that way.

LNW: Going home for a wedding doesn’t usually mean seeing four people at a dinner table. It means having strange and harrowing yet beautiful mini-reunions in spurts with the many, many people in our lives who have shaped us. Our diverse cast reflects the Kentucky I grew up in, and I think having so many characters to interact with deepens everyone’s arc.

MW: What’s been the most fun part of having 16 actors in one room?

MG: I feel a little like a football coach wrangling 16 actors, who are aged 24 up to 79. The second we think we have everyone in the room, someone is in the bathroom. But it’s a ball. This cast is so raucous and joyous. They play tricks on each other. They laugh. They care for each other. It’s like an insane elementary school classroom of talented people. It adds such life to the play.

LNW: Each performer brings something so specific and special. It’s incredible to see. There’s also always someone I can talk to! I love it so much, I’m going to miss it. It’s been an honor and a privilege to get to play with so many people.

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