Meet One in the Chamber cast members Danielle Bourgeois (Kaylee), Grace Doughty (Ruthie), and Liz Osborn (Jennifer).
Joel: When did you first get the ‘theater bug’ and what is your first memory of appearing on the stage? Where did you get your theater training?
Danielle: I was born with the acting bug, I just didn’t have the word for it. My mom read to me and my siblings for hours every night, books like Heidi, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Anne of Green Gables, and then I’d spend my day acting out those characters and stories. It cracks me up to think of because I’d be in some pilgrim costume that my mom made for us running through weeds in an abandoned parking lot but in my mind I was hiking up a mountain to grandfather. There’s actually a photo on the set of One in the Chamber of the day I dressed up in my Anne of Green Gables dress for my 4th grade picture day, in puffed sleeves just like Anne with an ‘e.’ I would get so lost in these characters that it was real to me, so suffice it to say I was (and am) a weird kid. That said, I’m not a natural entertainer, what draws me into acting now is what drew me then; the stories and the characters.
It wasn’t until I was in a Fundamentals of Theater college class that it clicked that acting was a plausible career choice, and then I continued to study in school and started doing plays and little films outside of school. Then I moved to New York and studied there as well, but like most professions you learn the most by doing, so a lot of my education has come from working with fantastic actors and directors and observing how they work and then processing material and characters with them. I’ve been lucky to meet some wonderful older, more seasoned actors who are willing to share what has sustained them in their work, artistically and professionally. And in that way, I hope I never stop training and studying.
Grace: I saw my sister doing my mom’s On Stage Takoma camps, so I wanted to do them with her, because she was older than me, and I wanted to be a ‘ big girl’. Then, when I started, I didn’t want to give up. My first memory on stage was playing Molly in Annie. My mom trained me with her musictheatre camps and Stanislavski-based acting classes (she has an MFA inTheatre), and then I went to do some community theatre stuff, and then I branched out.
Liz: It was Hebrew School Alone (a rousing spoof of Home Alone put on by my Hebrew School) that started my love of theatre…I am from the Princeton, NJ area so I had the great pleasure of feeding this love with classes and performances at McCarter Theatre. My real education started at The University of MD though, where I was a theatre, performance major and a creative and performing arts scholar.
When did you first get involved in One in the Chamber and why did you want to be part of this production?
Danielle: I knew I wanted to be a part of the production as soon as I read the play. After I read it, I just sat in shocked silence. I was frustrated and angry with this family, but I understood too so they also had my sympathy. And ultimately I was curious, I wanted to be a part of exploring these characters and this circumstance and the loaded and complex feelings that come with it. I sent in a self-tape, and then I skyped an audition with Marja, the playwright who at the time was also directing, and then lucky me they said yes.
Grace: My mom saw the auditions and said, “Ruthie lives at my house!” So we went to the auditions and I got it. I thought Ruthie would be fun to play.
Liz: Marja (the playwright) is a good friend of mine and I have performed in her work many times before. We were chatting about this new show she wrote, One in the Chamber, that she was going to produce in LA and I asked her to send it to me…and I just loved it….so I asked her if she would trust me enough to produce it here in DC. Amazingly, she said yes and that is how it all came to be…
Tell me about your character. What is the show about from her point of view?
Danielle: Kaylee is misunderstood. She’s the oldest child in the Stewart family and has lived six years with one of her brothers dead and the other brother to blame for it. She has a fierce love for her family and her little brother who she has seen suffer so much. But the deep love she has for them exposes her to deep hurt. Her parents are engulfed in grief and aren’t present in her life. They minimize her accomplishments, and reduce her to the cliche rebellious teenager. And she can’t help but see what this system and her parents and the situation have done to her other siblings as well. And she does want to leave, but not because she doesn’t care, it’s because the circumstances are suffocating and she needs to find a little air to breathe. I like to think she would try to make it better if she knew how, it’s just so out of her control.
Grace: Ruthie is a very sassy 7 year old, as I like to put it. She has her own ways, and usually does not do what her parents tell her to. [From Grace’s mom: This is not a way Grace & Ruthie are alike. Grace listens to her parents!] But Ruthie thinks her family is a normal family, she does not really understand the death of her brother, or how it happened. She just knows that Adam shot Joey. She does not cry for him because she never knew him.
Liz: The show (from Jennifer’s perspective) is about how under-prepared these young, under-paid and over-worked social workers are for the job they have been asked to do. She has never met this family and would have just been told that the boy’s parole officer thinks he can be released, he has passed all of his drug tests, and that he regularly goes for mental health visits and takes meds to treat his depression. What she finds in The Stewart home is much more complex than what is on paper.
How did you prepare for your role and how did director Michael Piazza help you prepare for your role? What was the best advice he gave you?
Danielle: Whenever I’m preparing for a role, I just read and reread the script. I want to live in it, and really see what the script is already saying, before I try to interpret it. There was a unique challenge with the language in this script because there wasn’t many transitional words in my dialogue that I like using, like “so,” “then,” “anyway,” and my first instinct was to add them, but instead I submitted myself to the text and let the blunt statements that were written inform me about Kaylee and the way she communicates.
I loved working with Michael. He gave a lot of great advice, one thing he did was really encourage specificity in each line of dialogue, instead of applying a general sweeping emotion or feeling. He was pretty sneaky too, he’d casually suggest things to try and then pretend that we were the ones who found it.
Grace: He helped me realize that Ruthie is like a normal kid. All she wants is her parent’s attention, and with 2 older siblings, that is extremely hard to have all the time.
Liz: Mike was a wealth of information because many members of his family and his boyfriend’s family happen to be social workers and had read the play and given him a lot of feedback on the role of the social worker. Their feedback helped to illuminate the missteps Jennifer takes when speaking with the Stewart family. In terms of preparation, I read a lot about Social Workers, and read the materials they are given before home visits. I read a lot of articles about what happens in situations like the one presented in the play and I listened to a lot of real stories on shows like The Moth Radio Hour that were pertinent to the world of the play.
How would you describe the play that Marja-Lewis Ryan has written for One In The Chamber and what scene that you are in is your favorite, and why?
Danielle: It would be a foolish enterprise to try to pick a favorite scene, the writing and performances are just so solid throughout, but a scene that I think flies under the radar is the one of Ruthie (played by Grace Doughty) and Liz (played by Liz Osborn). There’s an unawareness and innocence about Ruthie in this family and in this life that is just so vulnerable and raw, and you can’t help but wonder how she has been formed and shaped by this, and how it will affect her in the future.
Grace: I think the play was very well written, And my favorite scene is when Ruthie skips in and starts doing a crazy, out of control rock dance in a mermaid costume.
Liz: I would describe this play as: Intense, Somber, and Real. My favorite scene is the one with the daughter, Kaylee, because I think it really propels the audience into the story more fully and I think, for my character, it really gives her a deep understanding of what is going on in this house.
What has impressed you the most about your fellow castmates’ performances?
Danielle: I have been so impressed by all of my castmates’ willingness to commit to the lives of these people and tell their story as truthfully as they can, even at a cost to their own comfort.
Grace: My fellow castmates are so into their characters on stage, but are so good at going back to themselves when they’re offstage, which I have a little trouble with.
Liz: Everything! This is such a tough play and every day each one of my cast members shows up and digs deep and listens and reacts and plays and finds more nuance and, and, and…I really can’t say enough nice things about this cast. Not only as a producer – (I hope to be in a position where I could hire all of them again), but as an actor who gets to work with them each performance.
How would you describe the audiences in DC and what has surprised you about their reaction to the show?
Danielle: The audiences that have come to see this show have blown me away. They have such thoughtful, specific questions and feedback after the shows. It’s a very impactful play, so audiences have responded strongly to it, similarly to when I first read it, some with sadness others with anger, many with both.
Grace: I am surprised how easy it is to get the audience to laugh.
Liz: Our audiences have been wonderful. They have been super supportive and they are really with us for the whole journey of the play. The feedback from them has been overwhelming. I have been surprised by how different each audience member’s experience of the play is…each person really gets something very different out of the play. Some are finding the message of the play very political, some are not at all, some are angry with the social worker and find her rude and incompetent, and some have nothing but sympathy for her. The reactions have been really amazing.
Are there any roles that you have performed on the stage or film before that are similar to this role that you are playing in One In The Chamber?
Danielle: Kaylee is unique from any other character I’ve played. She has so many layers and complexities that are created by the circumstances, but she also has so much strength and life in her and that plays out in her humor and sassiness, how she defends her brother, and her unwillingness to let her circumstances have the final word over her life.
Grace: Yes, Balloon Girl in Gypsy at Signature Theatre. She wants the attention!
Liz: Not at all.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing One In The Chamber?
Danielle: Ideally, I’d love for audiences to walk away thinking more about the very real people at the end of a broad issue like gun-control, and the systematic approach that’s been in place until now and how to sensitively approach and improve that system as well as our how we speak about it and our response to those who disagree.
Grace: I want them to go away realizing what happens if you are not careful with violent materials. Even if you have a big accident in life, always keep your children in your heart.
Liz: I want them to COME and tell me what they took from it…I don’t want to give them any ideas about how they should think or feel. It is a show they really need to experience.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
John Stoltenberg names Noah Chiet as a Scene Stealer for his role as Adam in One in the Chamber on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Noah Chiet on Performing in ‘One in the Chamber’ at The Mead Theatre Lab by Joel Markowitz on DCMetroTheaterArts.