We posed a series of questions to Slaphappy: A Covid-Era Commedia stage manager, Kenzie Bradley. Kenzie is a first year graduate assistant in the props shop and gave us a glimpse into the process of stage managing this devised production!
Tell us about yourself – where are you from and what brought you to Villanova?
My name is Kenzie (She/her)! I was born and raised in downtown Chicago, Illinois and lived there until I was out of high school. I love Chicago – I got to work in a lot of cool theatres in the area because I was at a big public high school. I first started college at Central Michigan University, and after two years I transferred to Georgia College to get my BA in Theatre. It was through those two schools that I found my love for directing, scenic painting, and stage management. For my senior capstone, I directed a full-length performance of Shooting Star by Steven Dietz – it was the last show I did in-person. I am also the production manager and co-owner of the virtual international theatre company Cloud Theatrics.
I found out about Villanova’s program when I went to an Atlanta conference called LINK to meet with potential graduate schools. I got to meet Kevin Esmond and James Ijames while I was interviewing for director positions. That was where I fell in love with the program! It would be hard to not love the program after getting to speak with those two amazing folks.
How has the experience stage managing SLAPHAPPY: A Covid-era Commedia been different from other shows you’ve stage managed?
The differences were far and wide, but in the best ways. After stage managing Bakkhai Variations: Beginning last semester, which was done entirely through Zoom, it was a wonderful feeling to do something in-person again (especially with the masks)! One of the biggest differences was the twice-weekly COVID testing that the University provided us, it was a great way to make us all feel a bit safer. My assistant stage managers and I became a makeshift COVID-19 task force: guaranteeing that all of the props were completely sanitized before handing them off, checking actors’ temperatures before they entered the room, and thoroughly cleaning the spaces afterwards. Also, doing theatre in a pandemic means that everything is filmed, which is COMPLETELY different from live theatre. It was so wonderful to get to work with our Director of Photography and his team and learn about the film world: I definitely know a decent amount about how to shoot a film now. Another big difference that comes with a devised show (as well as a filmed show) is that your tech becomes a bit shorter, and you don’t get your cues until almost right before – I was learning how to call the cues two or three times before jumping right in and doing them for filming! It was so awesome.
You’re open about being a theatre maker with a chronic illness. In what ways does this impact or influence your work? Has this taken on new meaning as you continue to make art during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I have cystic fibrosis: a disease that impacts the lungs, pancreas, and sometimes kidneys. It involves taking enzymes (little plastic capsules) prior to any meal with fat as well as many other additional pills, as well as therapy treatments for 20 minutes each morning and night. It also involves frequent hospital visits for check-ups and occasionally long hospital stays.
My parents found out that I had cystic fibrosis before I was born, which was really lucky. They were able to prepare my life so that I was always able to do my treatments properly and have doctor appointments so that I could live a healthy life. One of the biggest influences that cystic fibrosis has on my professional life is that I have to constantly be reminded (either by myself or by my friends/family) that I need to take breaks. I have a tendency to go 14 hours straight by accident, and then I feel worse in the morning after realizing that I may have missed a therapy treatment or some medication. Cystic fibrosis has also impacted my work in a very positive ways too: I get to bring it into the theatre space with me! I once did a solo performance where I brought my treatment machine into the room and did a performance about cystic fibrosis while I was wearing it. It felt very vulnerable at first, but everyone was so accepting that it was delightful. Since we are in a pandemic, I have found that I need to be safer than ever before. People with cystic fibrosis are at a high risk of having additional complications if they get COVID-19, so I am always double-masked with hand sanitizer, always washing my hands, and being extra careful.
You have really inspired us with your leadership and positivity. What might you say to other theatre artists with invisible illnesses?
Don’t let anyone (in this industry in particular) hold you back. You are phenomenal and worthy of being here and doing what you do. You are valid, loved, and appreciated. We are spreading awareness to create a more accessible world: Zoom theatre has really opened up some doors for that conversation to continue, so you should be a part of it! Please be a part of the conversation. On your journey, please remember to take care of yourself. Make sure to listen to your body. Take a break. Eat a snack. Enjoy a weekend off. You’ve got time. Be vocal about yourself, your needs, and how your life and lived experiences may be different (but no less important) from the others around you. It’s worth it to give your art your absolute best shot – you’ll be grateful that you did!
What has been your favorite part of the process?
There was a ton of nostalgia going into production, mostly because everyone really missed in-person theatre. Going almost a year without it really hit us hard. There was always so much excitement in the room at any given point simply because everyone was so grateful to be there. Being around so many excited and dedicated creative minds was awesome. I also came into the process knowing nothing about commedia dell’arte, so having an opportunity to work with all three of our commedia coaches (as well as our director, Dr. Valerie Joyce) was a huge gift. I now feel like I could semi-confidently run a short class on commedia dell’arte.
What has been the most challenging part of the process?
Trying not to laugh while filming! I joke (even though this was difficult). I’m tempted to say managing schedules, especially since we had a cast of 19 people broken into three separate troupes, as well as some cast members who jump between troupes depending on the act and some who are in no troupes at all! It was absolutely challenging to remember who was who, so I found myself in my spare time trying to list off folks so that when a designer or cast member asked me, I was able to give them a quick and simple answer. I was practicing every pneumonic trick in the book to get them all down!
Is there anyone who you couldn’t have done this project without?
Is it a cop out to say “everyone”? Haha! I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful assistant stage managers Autumn Blalock and Emma Miller. We were a small stage management team but we were all so on top of it that we really got to help make the magic happen. When one of us forgot something, another one of us picked it up and had it done before we even realized it was missing. I have no idea how I would have done it without them, and I’m so thankful for them and their support and dedication to the practice.
Funniest rehearsal moment?
There are SO many to choose from, but I think an all-time favorite is when we were filming the confessionals for each member of each troupe. A lot of the confessionals were completely improvised in the moment with some guidance from our director, Dr. Joyce – and the cast really just went crazy. Everyone behind the scenes would be making really intense eye contact with each other in an attempt not to laugh, because the cast would say the funniest things. One of the biggest challenges of the show was to try not to laugh on camera!
For more information about Slaphappy click here!