Behind every great performance on stage, there is a huge team of support. Part of that team for Remy Bumppo’s current run of Steven Dietz’s Bloomsday is actress Margaret Kellas who took on the challenge of understudying the role of Caithleen. I chatted with Margaret about how she prepares her understudy work.
BTD: What’s your favorite part of working with Remy Bumppo?
Kellas: The rehearsal room itself. During the rehearsals with the main cast, having the opportunity to watch people at work felt in many ways like a masterclass in being an artist on all fronts. I find myself looking at the whole team of people and the way they’re simply at work. It’s a collaboration, it’s vulnerable and it’s extremely gracious. I think it’s one thing to watch the acting, but the in-between parts — when direction is given, the way it’s digested, the chiming in from other collaborators in the room — that’s where it’s truly special. I find myself looking at people’s temperaments and thinking “I want that in my practice too.” I think there’s something to be said about a person’s ability to not judge themselves and be willing to jump off the cliff every single day. You need stamina for sure, and you need to be willing to not have it right. Asking questions, not knowing completely what the play is about quite yet for the characters. I really have loved that part, and these folks involved have taught me a lot. And now that I’m in understudy rehearsals, getting to work with what the designers have built for this show and getting to work with the stage management team, assistant director and dialect coaches feels great. I feel very advocated for.
BTD: Is there a moment in Bloomsday you’re excited to take on?
Kellas: The entire play! I’m loving getting to run the show in understudy rehearsals. Choosing a specific moment, there is a scene between Caithleen and Robbie where they’re sitting on a bench in St. Stephen’s Green. My assistant director referred to this moment as the first time they’ve ever uttered these truths to anyone. The first time they’ve ever had someone be this truthful back. How special is that? While this is in many ways a love story, it doesn’t brush pass the difficulty that comes with asking someone to take on a part of your emotional life. To hold your secrets as sacred as you hold them. It’s scary.
BTD: Do you have any tips for actors taking on an understudy role?
Kellas: Be intentional in what you choose to understudy. It’s hard work, make sure you absolutely love the play. I think passion has to fuel you because while you’re often given understudy rehearsals, so much of the work is left to you to do on your own without being on your feet in the rehearsal room or on the stage almost every day. I think the more passionate you are about the story and the characters, the easier it is to get off-book quickly, be malleable in your rehearsals, and be truly prepared and ready to hit the ground running if you ever get to go on.
Bloomsday by Steven Dietz, directed by J.R. Sullivan. Rempy Bumppo Theatre Company at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave, (773) 975-8150, theaterwit.org, $57. Through June 22th.