The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca

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The Ithaca Journal - Sept 23, '10: Actor's Workshop in kicks off stage season

Actor's Workshop in Ithaca kicks off stage season kicks off with edgy, adulterous offering

By Aaron Munzer

Eliza VanCort and Katie Spallone have long been behind the scenes of the local theater scene.

Now, the two longtime acting teachers have thrust themselves in front of the curtain for the Actor's Workshop's second full season show, the edgy, adulterous "Orange Flower Water," and it's making them a little nervous.

Ratcheting up the nerve-wracking factor is the fact that hundreds of their former students, including many who've made it big on Broadway and in Los Angeles, are coming to watch their teachers "expose themselves emotionally and physically," as VanCort, the Workshop's director, puts it.

Among the returning alumni: Amanda Setton, who played Penelope on the hit TV show "Gossip Girl"; Ria Mofo, who lives in New York City and performs in off-Broadway theater and has numerous roles in upcoming films; and Esosa Edosomwan, whose work as an actress has screened in numerous festivals worldwide, on BET-J, and in the Museum of Modern Art.

"There's a huge amount of pressure; it's so much easier to do this in New York, where no one knows who you are," VanCort said, laughing. "One of my teaching assistants said, 'If you went up there and were horrible, I would say, 'Man, I wonder why I'm teaching for this woman.'"

It's also the first time in about 10 years that either VanCort or Spallone has been on stage in a full production. However, VanCort said acting is sort of like riding a bicycle, and since their job is to teach people how to ride bicycles, they're not overwhelmed. That doesn't mean it will be easy; she's given herself only four weeks of rehearsal time, the same practice time she allots her students.

Part of what brought VanCort and Spallone back into the limelight after many years was a desire to share the same stage together, Spallone said. "We've been friends for 10 years now and she truly is like my sister. We've been dying to perform together for years."

"Orange Flower Water" is the first show of the Actor's Workshop's six-show season, kicking off what VanCort hopes will become an annual theater tradition in Ithaca. Last year, the group's first full show was "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," which was well-received, she said.

"The main complaint we got was that it wasn't a long enough season," she said.

This year's play, authored by Craig Wright, who also has written for HBO's "Six Feet Under" series, explores adultery and a failing marriage, with a twist -- the main set is a spotlighted bed, and when a character is not in the action, he or she takes a seat at the edge of the light and silently watches.

"It's a series of high-intensity scenes between two rotating pairs of people, and the scenes build on each other," said Amina Omari, the show's 28-year-old director and a one-time student of VanCort's. "It's really a show about reality on stage -- it's not a big musical -- it's these intense, honest, emotional moments on stage. I watch it over and over again in rehearsal, and it still gives me goose bumps."

VanCort couldn't be more pleased to be given directions by a woman to whom she once gave directions.

"Now Amina's directing me, and it's sort of like a real 'circle of life' moment," she said. "This is really amazing and wonderful."

In the play, VanCort plays Beth, who is married to Brad (played by Lance Milne), and Spallone plays Cathy, who is married to David (played by Jonathan Meyerhoff). Both Milne and Meyerhoff are Workshop alumni.

Spallone said the play has given her and the other actors -- and the audience, she hopes -- a chance to examine their own relationships.

"It makes us sometimes uncomfortably aware of the good things and bad things about our individual relationships, and having to work this out within the confines of another character is an amazing thing," she said. "There's so much going on underneath the surface in our relationships."

* Ithaca favorite Richie Stearns will provide live music during the play. Stearns and Judy Hyman, both founding members of the Horse Flies, most recently spent the summer touring with Natalie Merchant.

IF YOU GO

* What: "Orange Flower Water"

* When: 8 p.m. Oct. 1, 2, 8 and 9

* Where: Risley Theatre, 302 Risley Hall, Cornell University

* Tickets: Adults, $17; seniors and students, $11. To pre-order tickets, go to actorsworkshop.biz. A limited number of tickets will be sold at the door.

* Note: The play is not intended for individuals under the age of 18, and they will not be permitted entry. * More information: actorsworkshop.biz Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Amanda Setton, who played Penelope on the hit TV show "Gossip Girl"; Ria Mofo, who lives in New York City and performs in off-Broadway theater and has numerous roles in upcoming films; and Esosa Edosomwan, whose work as an actress has screened in numerous festivals worldwide, on BET-J, and in the Museum of Modern Art.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

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