With the opening of SiNNERMAN Ensemble’s fifth season opener “Sweet Confinement” only a matter of days away, the ensemble’s media coordinator Joe Erbentraut spoke with the company’s co-artistic director Anna Carini who, in addition to writing the company’s latest production, is also taking on the role she wrote, Ginger, as part of the show’s cast.
“Sweet Confinement” opens Thursday, Nov. 17 and runs through Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Viaduct. Call 773-296-6024 or click here for tickets and more information.
How is the show’s rehearsal production coming along, Anna?
It’s going great. We are chugging along and everybody is really pleased with how things are coming along. I’m especially excited to see the set and other technical aspects coming together because that is not my strong suit, so I personally really enjoy watching those aspects of the show really bring the play to life.
How has the process of this production compared with the process for the previous production of the script in 2008? I understand the cast — which includes you this time around — is almost entirely new, the production team is quite different and the script has also been revised significantly.
The process has been completely different on many levels. The most different thing for me is that the first time around I was just a playwright sitting on the outside looking in and was still really working on the script, making a lot of changes depending on what worked when the scenes were being worked on. This time, I made a lot of changes before we went into rehearsal and I feel like I’ve fleshed out the characters more, especially the girls and especially Amy. She feels like a stronger, more well-rounded character to me than the first time around.
It’s also a completely different experience being on the inside this time, being in the cast. It’s really fun and a little trippy too. But the entire look and feel of the show is completely different. There’s only one original cast member in the production and one of the cast members never even saw the first production of it. As a playwright, one of the most fun things has been to create these characters and see the cast bring them to life with their own talent. I recently almost missed one of my entrances because I was so caught up in watching the story happening on stage.
That sounds like a good thing, so long as it doesn’t happen in front of an audience. But seriously, as the playwright of this work, a cast member and a co-artistic director of the ensemble, is it overwhelming to have all of those different priorities in the back of your head?
It has been overwhelming and in fact, like I said, a little bit trippy. I have had a couple moments in rehearsals where we all laughed and Brea [Hayes, director] would ask me, “Anna, do I have to remind you? You wrote this play.” I felt like I didn’t understand Ginger [Carini's character] until I started attacking her role. She was the character that I understood the least. But that was pretty grounding and funny. It’s been a great challenge and one that I’m really enjoying.
The production feels very personal in a lot of ways. What originally inspired you to write it?
The first draft was written in 2006, which was a while ago and I was at a different place in my life then. It was the first play I ever wrote. I had never written anything before, though writing was always something I loved and did a lot in college, through technical writing and editing because I majored in journalism and public relations. I just got to a point where I wanted another creative outlet.
At the time, I wasn’t getting a lot of acting work. I was getting frustrated I felt like I had no control over my career and life. I also had a bit of free time so I started writing it then. I wanted to write something that had a lot of strong female characters, women who were not just the girlfriend or just the wife or just the prostitute. There’s a lot of really great plays written by men with women in them but I don’t see the kind of roles I want to play on stage all that often. I tried to make it an all-female play at first, but that didn’t work — I realized I needed the tension of some males in there too, and it’s been great especially with the guys that are in the cast. I love what Keith [Neagle, as Josh] and Howie [Johnson, as Caleb] are doing.
Were there any particular other playwrights or even filmmakers that you feel inspired how you approached writing “Sweet Confinement”? Or would you say you derived more inspiration from your own life and experiences?
I think it came more from my own life than anything, though I’m hesitant to say that because I don’t want to say that it’s anything that happened directly to me. The opening night after the first production, people came up to me and said things like, “Wow, it sounds like you’ve had a crazy life, what’s your relationship to suicide?” For the record, I’ve never known anyone who has committed suicide, but I went with the idea and let my imagination take me from there.
The relationships in the play were somewhat based on personal experience. I like family dramas and comedies and seeing stories about family dynamics. The brother-sister relationship that is central in this production is not something that I see represented that often either, even in movies.
The play, besides exploring blood family relationships, such as that bond between a brother and a sister, also showcases “chosen” family relationships. Why was that important to you to include?
I think that’s again something that came from where I was in my life in my mid-20s, when I was writing this play. I think that’s something that’s happened with my generation, where more and more of us move away from home, especially artists. We go out and look for something else that’s not often near our blood families. And we’re starting our own blood families later and later. My mom always tells me that “life is relational” and that that’s the bottom line, and I agree with that. The people you’re spending all your time with are the people you’re leaning on emotionally and creating those bonds with like they’re your own family.
That’s something that’s been a strong theme in my own life, which I’m very blessed and grateful for. The other people in SiNNERMAN are that for me, so it’s great to do a play about that with those same people.
Speaking of the ensemble, I know this is a time of transition for SiNNERMAN, as some folks have left for new cities and other endeavors, others have joined, and it’s the company’s fifth anniversary season. Tell me about the significance of the ensemble presenting this show at this point of time for the company. What do you all hope to accomplish with this production?
It is kind of bittersweet. We’re definitely in a time of change now, as some people have moved to L.A. and gone different ways. When we were trying to decide our season, we were trying to come up with something that would best showcase our ensemble and that the whole theatre company could get behind. We were all sitting around one day and someone — Cyd [Blakewell] — mentioned “Sweet Confinement.” We had continually talked about producing it again ever since we first did it, but it hasn’t felt like the right time until all of a sudden here we were at that right time. It felt very much like something we had ownership over during this time of change.
I’m hoping we can bring a beautiful story to life. It’s one that we’ve told before, together as a group, and we just felt it would be another great bonding experience as an ensemble to tell it again. We had a pretty good reception for it the first time, so I’m hoping that people will be moved by it again.
Anything else you want to tell people that they can expect from the production?
It’s a family drama about blood family, as well as about family who aren’t blood-related. It’s a very realistic play written in real time, and the audience will watch it all play out as it plays out in real time in these characters’ lives. You’re going to see people who love each other and care about each other trying to help each other deal with life and the crises that come up.
I know that’s kind of vague, but that’s the way life is. We run up against things that are difficult to deal with and we turn to the people we love to deal with it. In seeing “Sweet Confinement,” the audience will watch a group of people enjoying each other while laughing together, hurting together, loving together and, hopefully, healing together.
All photos by Ben Chandler.