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Players Pen – June 21, 2017

The opening week of the season was filled with so many memorable moments! It was a thrill to see Joel Hatch (“The Tin Woman,” “All My Sons”) arm-in-arm with The Rockettes in the opening number of the Tony Awards Sunday evening June 11.

The Tony Award broadcast also featured Joel performing the song “Welcome to the Rock” with his castmates of the Tony-nominated musical “Come From Away.” The musical is set in Gander, Newfoundland in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and was nominated for seven Tony Awards and won Best Direction of a Musical.

We were also elated to see the scenic craftsmanship of former Master Carpenter Chris Walls and the scenic artistry of Sarah E. Ross during the performance of Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole from the Tony-nominated musical “War Paint,” a new musical that tells the beguiling story of beauty legends Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. Chris and Sarah were creative scenic artists for the pre-broadway run of “War Paint” at the Goodman Theatre and the production, including its scenery, were moved to Broadway.

The excitement continued through to opening night of the 82nd season. Mother Nature graciously provided patrons with a beautiful evening and the company introduced audiences to Steven Petersons’ new comedy-drama, “The Actuary,” with a creative scenic design by Sarah E. Ross.

Steven was able to join the actors and director during the rehearsal process and for a post-show discussion this past Friday evening. Over meal breaks Steven and I have been chatting and I thought I’d share a part of our conversations with you:

Q. What sparked your interest in writing?

I was a dreamy kid, making things up in my head. I’m shy, too, so writing stories appealed to me more than telling them out loud.
Q. Is this your first visit to Door County?

This is my first extended stay. My mom is from Wausau, so I know the north central part of Wisconsin better. My dad is from Chicago. I grew up in the Chicago area where it was tense in our house twice a year when the Packers played the Bears.

Q. What excites you about “The Actuary’s” creative team?

Everything. I’ve been working with this wonderful guy Kevin Christopher Fox, who is the director of the play. You need someone you trust telling you what works and what doesn’t. Greg Vinkler, the artistic director here, took an interest in the play. He really gets it. That’s why he’s playing the lead role! Everyone is great – actors, the stage manager, designers, box office, production folks, interns, administration and cooks. It’s like an army of theater talent here.

Q. How are the choices actors are making for their characters surprising you?

What happens in a new play is a playwright comes in with a script deep in the head. The director makes it deeper by adding the theatre magic. Then the actors delve into their characters, understanding them as humans. Before you know it, the characters become far more specific: funnier, sadder, everything. Oh, and everything Greg Vinkler does makes me laugh when it doesn’t make me cry.

Q. What was the spark of “The Actuary?”

I wrote a short comic scene about a baby shower. I wondered how all the characters in the comedy arrived at the crazy point they do. So, I tracked them backwards in time to find out. I worked at a company with a lot of actuaries and made the main character one of them.

Q. What fascinates you about actuaries?

They think differently. They understand the concept of time in profound ways. They pretend they’re boring, but they’re often quite goofy.

Q. In your bio you mention this play is for Betsy and Hallie. Who are they and did they influence this play?

Betsy is my wife. We’ve been married 34 years. Hallie is our daughter. She is now 27. Let me state for the record: they are different from the wife and daughter in the play! But, sure, they influenced it. The main character is a husband and a father, and he has to learn what that ultimately means.

Q. How do you describe comedy-drama? Does “The Actuary” fall into that category?

In a way. “The Actuary” touches on sad things, but to me it’s comedy because it ends up as a very hopeful play. It deals with how hard it is to follow our own heart, but how much love can come about if we do.

Q. Do you identify with your characters when writing or do you find yourself taking sides with your characters in discussions?
True confession: There is a bit of me in all the characters in the play.

Q. What is your writing process like? Are you a computer, typewriter, or a pen & paper type of guy?

Up early, breakfast, coffee, at the laptop for five hours every day. I have a Midwestern work ethic wrapped around the brain of a squirrel.

Q. Do you have a motto for your life?

By the Peninsula Players stage door someone long ago painted the motto “Love and Be Loved.” That’s hard to beat.

Q. What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?

At a feedback session after a staged reading of one of my plays, someone asked me, “Steven, do you write only new plays?” I thought and then said, “I haven’t figured out how to write old ones.”

Join us for Steven’s delightful new play, “The Actuary” where you can enjoy the performances of Judy Blue, Erica Elam, Kyle Hatley, Matt Holzfeind, Emma Rosenthal and Greg Vinkler. Arrive early and relax by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine! For more information, call the Box Office at 920-868-3287 or visit peninsulaplayers.com.