There is a light at the end of the nine-week-long tunnel, and Chautauqua Theater Company Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch has seen it grow brighter in the last few days. With the season in its final week, she and CTC have one final gift for audiences: a brand new program called Residency 9.
As the name suggests, Residency 9 is an artist residency program that gives time and rehearsal space for a proposed project during Week Nine. At the program’s conclusion, the artists have an open rehearsal or performance for the Chautauqua community.
The inaugural Residency 9 artists are four 2011 conservatory alumni, performing playwright Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs. There will be two open rehearsals or performances, at 7 p.m. tonight and 4 p.m. Wednesday in McKnight Hall.
The 2011 directing fellow, Patrick Walsh, discovered the play after reading about its London premiere.
“The minute I read it, I knew that I had to send it to Cecilia [Durbin] and that she would love it, too,” Walsh said.
Durbin was the light design fellow with Walsh in 2011.
“When I get a play, I don’t do much research about it before I start reading it because I want to come at it very fresh,” Durbin said. “I sat down to read the play on the subway and started hyperventilating a couple of pages into it.”
Lungs talks about parenthood. A couple, M and W, presumably somewhere in their 30s, decide to have the “should we have a baby” discussion while in Ikea. The conversation that follows is a frank discussion about the right reasons to have a baby, some of which include environmental and carbon footprint-related matters.
Walsh’s first thought for one of the characters was Tyee Tilghman, a 2011 conservatory actor who played Solyóny in Three Sisters that season.
“Tyee is a smart and generous performer,” Walsh said.
Tilghman, who lives in Los Angeles, auditioned via Skype.
“My suspicions were proven right about him playing this role after I saw him,” Walsh said.
At that point, the trio were very keen on bringing on a fellow CTC candidate. Benesch suggested possible actors for the second role; Laura Gragtmans auditioned.
Gragtmans acted alongside Tilghman in Three Sisters as Marsha and, coincidentally, had auditioned for the Lungs role twice before.
“When Pat emailed me about Lungs, I was just super stoked to read the play again,” Gragtmans said.
The rehearsals had left the four “zonked,” as Gragtmans put it.
“You have to be leaning forward to engage with this kind of work,” she said. “There is debris that gathers throughout the play that you have to carry with you, and the load gets heavier as the play progresses.”
Benesch called the alumni the “guinea pigs” because this is the first year of the program, and no one is sure what is going to unfold during the performances.
The group is working for the sake of the work and for each other, and that is the end goal, Walsh said.
The four of them believe Benesch is their best advocate.
“There is nobody in theater I trust more than Vivienne Benesch,” Walsh said. “I think she is a special person in Chautauqua and in the world. She is a force for good in the world and to be able to be here, under her auspices, and to feel that love here, gives us so much more free range to be able to create that product.”