Taking risks with Nicole Wiesner

Nicole Wiesner has been with Trap Door Theatre for over 15 years. But just for the second time in her life she took the risk of being a director of the play. And the result came out to be quite splendid. Come and see yourself how Nicole took on written by Meg Miroshnik play The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls and gave it a breath of fresh air.

– Nicole, how did the theater come into your life?

I got into theater originally because I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Cincinnati, OH. The public school that I would have attended was notoriously dangerous. My mother had me audition, when I was 7, for the School for Creative and Performing Arts, which is a public performing and creative arts school. I wanted to be a ballerina. They told me I was too big. I scored a 10 on the acting entrance exam. So, I became an actor.

– How long have you been a member of the Trap Door Theatre in Chicago?

– I first came to Trap Door in 1998. I was a student at Columbia College, and my teacher Sheldon Patinkin suggested that I might like the style of work that Trap Door did. I think Trap Door was in its 5th or 6th year at the time. I came to see a show and was completely blown away. Not only by their choice of difficult and obscure literature, but by the physical style of the work. I kept coming to shows until I got the opportunity to work here. This has been my home ever since.

– Actor and director: what role helps you to fulfill yourself more?

– I am primarily an actor. Beata Pilch, our artistic director, is one of my favorite directors to work with, and very collaborative. In addition to years of one-on-one learning with her, I have the wonderful opportunity to work with great directors in Chicago, as well as some incredible directors coming from Europe. One of the benefits of being a part of an ensemble is the opportunity to take risks. I’ve played roles at Trap Door I would never have the opportunity to do at other theaters. The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls is only the second show I have ever directed. I am extremely proud of how it came out. But directing takes a level of confidence I was not used to. As an actor, you come in every day with new things to try, and you take risks… but you always have the director there to make sure you are on the correct path. As a director, you choose the path and have to have the confidence to insist that everyone in the room take that particular path with you.

Halie Ecker, Emily Nichelson, Simina Contras; photo by Michal Janicki

– Why have you chosen to put on stage “The fairytale lives of Russian girls” written by Meg Miroshnik?

– Martha Lavey (former Artistic Director of the Steppenwolf Theatre) gave me the play a couple of years ago, because, she thought, it would be a great fit for our company. I agreed, but wasn’t sure, who would be a good director for it. Then, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It resonated with me. The experience of the American girl leaving home for the first time and being introduced to a magical world, the universal themes of the different ways in which women are oppressed… I started to get itchy to work on a project, remembered this play and pulled it out to read again. I was scared of directing, I was scared of the play… But I began to see HOW it should look… in my head, so I knew that I should try. Also, it was such a great fit for our ensemble. Six female parts. The opportunity to work with some of my favorite actors in the company. A sexy play.

– Does Russia interest you in one or another way or this play just happens to be about Russian girls?

– Russia does interest me. This country is next on my list of places I want to explore. And I am especially interested in the theater being done in Russia, but that interest wasn’t what drew me to this play. I think this play is pretty universal. It could take place anywhere. The fairytale characters that exist, Baba Yaga, for example, can be found in a lot of European folklore. The commentary on these young women being stuck in these archetypal roles, still trapped in these dark fairytale worlds is a commentary on women’s experiences everywhere…

Because of Trap Door’s unique mission, we have cultivated a multicultural audience and ensemble. In addition to our artistic director being Polish, my dramaturge is Serbian, the woman playing Baba Yaga is Polish, Masha is being played by a Romanian actress. All four of them have been a part of our company for a long time, and all four of them were able to add great insight into the folklore and experience of NOT growing up in the United States. Our audiences are very diverse as well. You regularly hear a multitude of different languages being spoken at Trap Door; our Polish patrons will come to see the French play, for example… So it is really great to have a show right now that (I hope) is fun for our Russian patrons.

– Theater and cinema: what attracts you more and why?

– Theater, no question. Live storytelling. Collaborative process. The experience of fully immersing yourself into someone else’s experience for a couple of hours… I don’t pursue TV and film work at all, although I have always had a great time when someone has asked me to be in something.

– Why in your opinion people have to see “The fairytale lives of Russian girls” and who could relate to that play?

– My favorite theater is theater that does not just rely on the text to tell a story. The theater done in the US is primarily playwright based. Our job, when working on a play, is to try to honor the playwright’s intention. The theater that has inspired me the most, however, is the work, where the director is using the text in whatever way they see fit to tell the story that they want to tell. I have seen a lot of theater in Poland and Romania, for example. Because the director is telling their story with a concept, visual pictures, and the technical elements… I am having a strong experience, even though I do not understand the language. I am still laughing, when everyone is laughing, and crying, when everyone is crying. I tried to marry both worlds a bit while working on this play.

The play is rich with characters and themes that a lot of people can relate to. Our Russian audiences will hear familiar stories and characters from their childhoods. It’s provocative, fun, and has a lot of heart!


The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls
Show runs:
till November 21st on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. CT
Location: 1655 West Cortland Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
Tickets: $20 on Thursdays and Fridays; $25 on Saturdays; Special 2-for-1 Admission on Fridays
Info: trapdoortheatre.com

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