Creative Process

It’s All A Game: Exploring Process with Erin Cronican, Exec Artistic Director, The Seeing Place Theater by Frances McGarry

Erin Cronican, Gaia Visnar

Erin Cronican and Gaia Visnar play a dangerous game as The Maids      Photo: Russ Rowland

“The Game — can we continue with it?” is a question posed in The Maids, an absurdist play by Jean Genet which opened March 2019 by The Seeing Place Theater in their East 4th street theater.  This question is not so remotely detached from the current complicity confronting both American and global citizens.  Pretending to strangle their employer, Claire and Solange, sisters and maids to Madame, struggle for their sense of self under the guise of a game of make-believe. At first, the fantasy is amusing but then it turns darkly tragic for the women who find themselves prisoners of their own diversion.

Erin Cronican, Gaia Visnar 2

Erin Cronican and Gaia Visnar   Photo: Russ Rowland

In this production  Executive Artistic Director Erin Cronican, exposes the dilemmas associated with the abuses of power in the class system.  Selecting plays outside the standard bill of fare, Cronican chooses to utilize her theater programming to focus on “creating edgy and compelling reinterpretations of works by playwrights that reflect the struggles and triumphs of our current society.”  Honing a three-phase methodology, Cronican guides the ensemble through an organic two-month process:  pre-rehearsal “Discovery”; rehearsal “Inquiry”; performance “Feedback.” One full month is spent “just breaking down the play, talking about it, talking about its impact on society, and what the playwright is trying to say, what s/he’s trying to do.”

The Maids has its singular challenges in that there “are no definitive texts or quotes to pull together the things that have been written; hours were spent exploring the play’s meaning.”  Once the ensemble creates a vision for its production they then proceed to work on staging.  Rather than having directors bring their unique perceptions to the play, Cronican’s approach invests in the imaginations of its talented cast. In this production we see Gaia Visnar as Claire, Erin Cronican herself as Solange, and Christine Redhead as Madame.  “We don’t have the directors do it separately,” explains Cronican, who serves in both roles as actor and director, “[that way] the actors are part of that developmental process.” With the cast “up on [their] feet trying out a lot of things discussed in the pre-production period . . . by the time we get to performances we have plumbed the depths of these plays very, very personally.  I think that makes the play very different for our audiences because we know [the characters] so intimately.”

Gaia Visnar, Erin Cronican

Gaia Visnar and Erin Cronican play sisters in service      Photo: Russ Rowland


In both capacities as director and actor, Cronican discovered nuances in the script during rehearsal that she may not have discerned otherwise.   Experimenting with and setting the blocking in rehearsal, the actors “create a world to live in, and they choose moment-to-moment how they want to live in that world.”  The effect is it frees actors to take risks and savor the intimate sensation of the scene thereby making each performance a fresh opportunity for discovery, for both cast and audience.  “You won’t see something that’s presented time and time again,” explains Cronican. Additionally, Cronican felt strongly that the play necessitated a female-led sensibility, and in both her capacities she concentrated on the feminine aspects of the play as well.  During the process, a co-director gives an outside eye when needed but for Cronican, since it’s an actor-driven process, “it’s natural that an actor would also be a director.”

Christine Redhead, Gaia Visnar

The company chose this particular play for its central dramatic question:  what is the effect of the abuses of power in the class system? In its final performance phase, Cronican wants “the audience to look at this and say, ‘I recognize this struggle of power, maybe not in my own life, but maybe I recognize it elsewhere and what do we do about it?’”

Cast member Gaia Visnar offered that the play with its thematic inequities “speaks to me today because  . . . [as an immigrant working in the USA on a VISA] it’s about being subordinate and not having power.” Cronican adds that artists pursuing their art, be it music, dance, theater, feel a sense of “helplessness . . . being an artist in the city, wanting to take care of people but not necessarily have the resources to do so.”

The company hopes, in the words of their executive director, that they’ve created an opportunity for audiences to “understand what it’s like to be ‘less-than’ and to walk out with a new found empathy for those in the service industry.  We want audience to stop and think about how they treat people, particularly people who are in service.  [To recognize] that our society is built on people in service positions; and [that] we can treat people with humanity.”

For Erin Cronican, the Arts truly are transformative: The Seeing Place’ is the literal translation of the Greek word for theater, theatron; the place where we go to see ourselves and if we can open up our [hearts and minds] and really listen to a piece of art, and try to find [ourselves] in it — painting, music, dance, that’s everything. By her calculation, opening your heart opens up your capacity for empathy, ”and it just makes you a better citizen.”

The Maids was presented March-April 2019 at Underground Space 64 East 4th St. NYC  For more info on The Seeing Place Theater

Blue Comedy
Frances McGarry, Ph.D. is an actor/arts advocate/activist/theatre educator. She’s the host of her podcast First Online With Fran featuring ordinary people doing extraordinary things in The Arts. She recently starred in the play premier OLD RINGERS at Ridgefield Theater Barn CT,  and co-stars in a CBS pilot starring Michael Chiklas. Proudly serves on the LPTW Board of Directors as Co-Secretary and New York Women in Film and Television Special Events,  Programming Committees. Contact: Fran 

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