José Rivera’s Sonnets for an Old Century blends the lived experiences of a patchwork of souls from across the United States through a series of exquisitely written monologues. The unique anthology-style script provided opportunities for deep character work and creative staging by director Corey Allen and associate director Braxton Rae, brought to fruition on the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre as the Department of Theatre and Dance’s first in-person production in over a year. To learn more about the process of bringing this poignant piece of theatre to life, we spoke with the directing duo and actors Sophie Miller, Se’An Boatner and Jared VosWinkel about the lessons they’ve learned from the characters of Sonnets and the shared excitement they’ve felt at being able to create in a room together once again.
Tell us about rehearsal; what was the process like?
Braxton Rae: It was so nice to get back “in the room” for rehearsals with the actors! We first worked with each performer individually in our table sessions to gain a deeper understanding of the characters, their intentions and why they choose to say what they do in their last moments before disappearing from the Bardo into whatever may happen next.
Se’An Boatner: One word to describe rehearsals would be exhilarating. Being away from a real stage for almost two years wasn’t something I think anyone planned for, so to be back in this space for this type of show is an honor. The show is so abstract, so it’s been fun to have a limitless bound of creativity flowing around me. My favorite part has been being able to create a movement-based language for the show.
Sophie Miller: This process has been so wonderful and engaging. We started out individually working each piece, so we were able to nail down the specifics and really dive into these characters before introducing them to the rest of the cast and crew. It has been an incredibly collaborative process. Each time I stepped into the rehearsal room, I knew that it was a safe space to be in conversation with our directors Corey and Braxton while exploring these stories.
What have you learned from working with these characters? Any connections made or lessons learned along the way?
Se’An Boatner: The biggest lesson I’ve learned from all my characters has been the reality of life’s inevitable balance. What I mean by this is: with all good must come the bad. You can’t have happiness without pain. Without hardship you won’t really appreciate life’s sweet moments. Therefore, there is no reason to try to avoid the pain. You should rather face it head on and let it help you make life’s beautiful moments even better.
Jared VosWinkel: Something I’ve learned from playing these roles is just how free you need to be on stage. Both of the characters I portray, I like to believe, are far from who I am as a person, so as an actor I need to find the fun and freedom between and within the lines. Also for my character “X,” who is a very aggressive and bigoted character, I needed to understand my part in the storytelling by saying yes to the director’s vision.
Sophie Miller: I have learned a lot from the three characters I played, so I will try to sum it up to the best of my ability. I have learned that it is okay to accept when you’re wrong and grow from it. The time for action is now, because if not now then when? I have realized that you must believe in yourself in order for others to believe in you. Your story is always worth fighting for, so don’t give up. And finally, I have connected how sometimes the fights you think you are fighting alone are being fought by so many others, and together we are stronger.
Braxton Rae: Working with these amazing actors it was so wonderful seeing them bring characters to life. Life? Sort of life? Anyways, the big takeaway that I got from this show is that these characters have one chance, one opportunity to say their final words before they transition to whatever is next. It has made me think a lot about what my last words would be about if I was in that position. What would I even say? Honestly, I’m still not quite sure.
After a year filled with various unique virtual productions, what does it mean to you to be performing as a collective in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre?
Corey Allen: We’re in the midst of a global pandemic that had many of us feeling disconnected and isolated this past year. Nearly all the theatre productions I’ve witnessed in the past eighteen months were either virtual or archived performances. Even the most compelling Zoom productions I attended have felt disembodied, so my mandate for this production has really been to create an intimate and visceral, fully embodied theatrical experience for an audience to share in person. I think we’re honoring the text and boldly getting back in the business of taking artistic risks.
Sophie Miller: Words can’t describe it. I have been looking forward to this since it was announced that we would get to do live theatre again. Being part of this artistic team in which everyone has something unique to bring to the table is so inspiring. The energy in the room is electric, and man, does it feel good to be back! I am soaking up every ounce that I can and don’t take this opportunity for granted.
What are you most excited for audiences to experience?
Jared VosWinkel: I’m super excited for the audience to experience the gamut of emotions! There’s moments of awe, heartbreak, epiphany, joy, excitement and peace in the span of our play.
Corey Allen: I’m most excited for the audience to experience the play inside the otherworld our incredible team of artists is building to frame Mr. Rivera’s rich and lyrical text. He is a singular writer and we’ve dreamed up an evocative scenic design that will function almost like an art installation, buoyed by a beautiful original soundscape composed by an award-winning composer. Our exciting lighting and costume designs will be supported by an immersive integrated media design.
Braxton Rae: I’m so excited that the audience will experience a re-entry into theatre with us and will see the amazing work that the actors, production team and everyone’s else has put in! I’m also excited about posing to audiences the question, “If you had one last chance to tell your story… what story would you tell?”
Sonnets for an Old Century
October 7-17, 2021
Oscar G. Brockett Theatre