Max’s Treehouse

The sudden passing of an ex-boyfriend (Benjamin Cardona) forces Scout (Emily Sullivan) to return to her hometown and confront her feelings for Winnie (Rachel Schmeling) and the moments they shared together in an old treehouse in Max berry’s deep exploration of even deeper feelings in Treehouse of Dreams – part of the 2019 NYWinterFest at the Hudson Guild Theater, 441 West 20th street in NYC.

Reliving their memories and the emotions they evoke and looking their affection for each other right in the eye.

Treehouse of Dreams the story of three best friends, Winnie, Scout, and Mark as they navigate grief, loss, and drastic change at the cusp of young adulthood.

Max Berry’s parable of friendship and confronting powerful feelings premieres as part of NYWinterFest @ the Hudson Guild Theater, 441 W 26th St, New York, New York 10001
January 7 @ 6:15pm; January 11 @ 9pm; January 13 @ 3:30pm

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Treehouse of Dreams, a play by Max Berry, features
Rachel Schmeling,
Emily Sullivan,
Benjamin Cardona
and is directed by Brooke Viegut

 

We climbed the tree for some one-on-one with the cast. 

Tell us about yourselves as artists?

Brooke: Oof… That’s tough! As a director and choreographer I believe that ordinary people lead extraordinary lives full of love, lust, light, and languish. I strive to dive into the universal struggle of our individual experiences and recognizing, relating, and ultimately learning from them; in whatever medium it comes in!  I came to theatrical storytelling through dance, so most of my practice is based in movement and music. We all have these beats, natural rhythms that drive us through life, and my work tends to highlight that. I direct/choreograph musical theatre quite a bit, and it’s been very refreshing to tackle a full length play again. 

Rachel: What a loaded question! I guess…I am a storyteller. I love telling stories about humans to create empathetic connections in today’s world. 

Emily: My background is primarily in live theatre, specifically working with the classics–I’ve done more Early Modern work than anything else! Lately I’ve been working on more new works, which is very exciting–it’s very special to work directly with a playwright and create something new. The weirder the play, the more interested I’ll be. I write poetry as well and have a secret passion for music. 

Ben: Thank you for using the term artist. I actually go by creative. It can be frustrating to have to answer to a single discipline when you’ve done other things. I started as an actor in college, yet was always interested in directing and writing. I can safely say I enjoy writing and directing my own material, but acting for projects that don’t come from within. I’m an observer and a listener. I’m the kind of person that can listen to a piece of music and will likely safe the lyrics for last. If there’s a musical journey, to me that’ll suffice.

What does this play “say” to you? Can you relate?

Brooke: For better or worse, I can very much relate to Treehouse. Each of these characters are incredibly likable, and watching them navigate grief, guilt, and honest love for each other is gut-wrenching at times. That, surrounded by our base expectations for how society functions is the epitome of human struggle, and we can easily find pieces of ourselves in Winsten, Scout, and Mark’s individual experiences.

Rachel: To me, this play is about love and grief coexisting, and how we navigate being young and having lots of feelings that we maybe don’t know what to do with. And it’s important to see that struggle, see the loss and love existing beside each other because that is so much a part of life. I can definitely relate to that. I’m going through it right now in a way! Processing all those feelings at once, for the first time….it’s hard. But a very human struggle, and I hope people resonate with the play. 

Emily: The idea that love doesn’t validate behavior or can ultimately be harmful immediately stuck out to me when I first read “Treehouse”, and it’s an aspect of the play that still resonates with me. The characters of the play are at the threshold to adulthood, and that’s a hard lesson to learn, especially with regards to romantic love. I can definitely relate; it took a while for the realization that just because you love someone, or they love you, doesn’t mean they’ll be kind, or a relationship is healthy.

Ben: Treehouse of Dreams doesn’t deal with this particular topic explicitly, yet the conflict is unequivocally moved by it, and that’s the effect of assumptions as a solution to uncertainty. I can certainly relate to the uncertainty aspect of it since it’s one of the most unbearable feelings to me. Of course, it’s supported by the aspect of expectations which have been established in my brain. I can’t help it! Being imaginative is in my nature.

This play packs a punch. What is your process as an actor when you are involved in a piece with such subject matter?

Brooke: This piece is a whirlwind! As a director I believe it’s imperative to create a safe, open, compassionate space regardless of the piece we’re working on. Cast and creative, we’re all a team dedicated to telling this story and it’s my job to bring us together. Things like bringing in an intimacy director and making sure everyone feels empowered in the room lets the entire team do their best work. This show has some moments that are deeply personal to me, and finding a balance between thinking objectively as a director and relating empathetically can be difficult, but so important.

Rachel: Being able to let stuff go after rehearsal, leave it in the room so to say, is really important. I have to find a way to separate my character from Rachel the actor and feel real feelings, but be able to feel them as Winsten and not so much as Rachel. It’s an interesting process…and differs show to show, but being able to “tap out” and say goodbye to things in the room is helpful. 

Emily: It’s important to me as an actor when dealing with emotionally fraught subject matter to relate to my cast on a personal level and build relationships–I want to create an environment where I feel I can let go and that I’m on good terms with my co-artists. Trust is key. Working with an intimacy choreographer for the first time on this show has also completely changed my approach to physical intimacy and confirmed my belief in the importance of consent and communication on and off stage.

Ben: Music really helps me create an internal rhythm for my characters so once I identify a piece I consider suitable I play around it. Our director (Brooke) mentioned the integration of movement so I’ve been exploring a bit with motion for Mark. It’s a work in progress, but it has been most helpful. A piece like this one can easily turn gloomier than necessary so it has been refreshing to have Brooke pull us out of that pit to level it.

Tell us your thoughts on independent theater – what purpose does it serve both to the artist community and New York audiences.

Brooke: Independent theater is a place to explore worlds closer and further from our own. For most of our team, this is one of our first full-length productions as well, and independent theater is our way to break into the industry. It’s where you get to see new ideas of normalcy played out onstage, and where artists have more freedom to explore their mediums, blurring the lines of conventional storytelling. The New York theatre community is itching for shows to break the mold, for old stories told in new ways as well as new stories, and this production of Treehouse of Dreams is just that. . It’s a way to be seen as creators and share our skills while 

Rachel: I think independent theatre is where you get to see really cutting edge, experimental, new, exciting theatre that doesn’t always make it to the mainstream. It’s raw and unique and an exciting world to be a part of. You see a lot more risk and sometimes the reward is great. It’s also a great place to try things and fail and try again…the community is really supportive. I also think it makes theatre and the arts more accessible to NYC audiences. 

Emily: Independent theatre in New York is unbelievably important–it provides work and a platform for the New York artist community that isn’t Broadway, which is becoming increasingly hard to break into considering how productions utilize celebrity actors in order to draw audiences and keep the lights on. Independent theatre needs a lot less money for less lights, and can give new actors, directors, designers, writers, an opportunity to be seen, and it can more directly engage New York audiences. The financial threshold for audiences is lower as well, which allows for greater economic diversity in patrons.

Ben: I live for independent theater. Although they’re not synonyms, independent is usually a euphemism for low-budgeted. Before I moved to New York I directed Angels in America: Millenium Approaches stripping it from the elaborate effects and expenses. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you face limitations that end up distinguishing a creative vision expanding its horizons. To me, that’s the true purpose of this independence. It’s a way to rebel against conventional forms (usually supported by capital) to achieve the same (and at times better) result via other means.

What’s next for you?

Brooke: Life is full of possibilities! I’ve been developing a few plays with some lovely writers, have a few other ideas bouncing around in my head, and a few things that I can’t quite share yet. I’ve only been in working in the New York theatre community for a few months, so it’s a period full of growth and discovery. 

Rachel: Lots of auditions, waiting to hear on summer contracts….diving back in! I am doing a short film in January, and a regional premiere in February of a show I was involved in a few months ago. Exciting things on the horizon and I hope more to come.

Emily: I’ve been in New York three months and plan to stay! Back to the audition grind and expanding more into screen work. There’s a lot to learn in the city and I’m excited I have the chance to live here and grow. 

Ben: Before coming to the city I finished shooting a second feature titled Onomatopoeia that’s currently being edited. We hope to have it completed before the end of 2019. I will also fly back home (Puerto Rico) to shoot a short film for L’Alliance Française titled Kinder that I wrote a while ago. Also, auditioning! We gotta keep up that muscle.

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