Leah's Train: Director Chava Curland

Travel through three generations of adventure, grief and love. Co-presented by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities and the Sabes Jewish Community Center, we are pleased to bring you Leah’s Train by Karen Hartman March 7-22, 2015 (all performances at the JCC).  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you a chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this first interview, meet director Chava Curland.

Director: Chava Curland
Director: Chava Curland

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

My dad took me to see shows at a very young age.  We had regular tickets to CTC and when I was 10, he started taking me to see shows at the Guthrie.  I was enchanted with this make-believe world where anyone could be someone. And when a friend of mine convinced me to take acting classes in middle school, I was hooked.  While I was a teen actor at The Children’s Theater Company– though it is weird for me to think of myself as an actor for them as I only did 2 shows, small parts there–I remember thinking during a  particularly arduous technical rehearsal that the decisions the director was making, the questions he was grappling with with the designers were ones that I had ideas for, ones that I had my own answers to.  I thought, I can do this. So, I changed from an fine arts to a theater major going into Ithaca College and said “I’m a director’.  Big headed to say the least—I am highly embarrassed by what I must have been like as a know-it-all freshman in college.

Since then, my road in theater has taken me many different directions—as an actor, a mask maker and puppeteer, a dancer/movement theater artist, playwright, world traveler–but I always come back to directing and to the power of the rehearsal process. Directing is not just telling people where to move like chess pieces in space–it is excavating a story, like an archaeologist, digging deep into the dirt of the lives of the characters–its forging relationships within this micro community of a production–crew, cast, company, audience–we are a little microcosm–and it is also to be a visual artist, the painter who sees the whole canvas of the evening but must decide which strokes need to be made to reach the final image. Thats why I stay in it–to be an explorer, a painter, and part of a community all at the same time.

Have you worked with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? How and in what capacity?

I last worked with 20% as an actor in Changes in Time.  I played Court.

How has this directing experience been different than working for 20% as an actor?

I get to see the full picture.  I can follow the little tendrils of my thoughts on a scene, experiment with different points of view and different arcs to the play–and certainly a lot more responsibility to the play and actors in that sense. Otherwise, I would say working with the company and the people in it isn’t that different as a director. Everyone has been so wonderful and supportive—though that was the same as an actor, too 🙂

Tell us what originally drew you to the Leah’s Train script. Why did you want to direct it?

Its deceptively simple.  You look at the words on the page and think–hmm, this seems pretty straight forward.  But when you look at the motivations behind the words and the disconnect between what people say and do, there is a whole deeper level of tension and intention that is going on.  It’s a play full of rich emotion and specific history, yet takes place in the neutral impersonal space of a train.  I saw a prime opportunity to work on a powerful, reality driven story but within a more abstract onstage world.

I also feel strong personal connection to sense of ancestry and healing of generations past in the play.  My father’s side of the family is Polish Jew and they fled during WWII to Russia, then Siberia, then Uzbekistan, and at the end of the war to Berlin before finally getting passage to NY in 1951. While Leah’s train predates WWI, the haunting echos of the past the follow Ruth on her journey I feel in my own life.

Did you have a specific vision for what the cast would look and feel like during the audition process?

I didn’t have a specific vision for the cast, but rather a sense of how they needed to function together—Hannah and Ruth needed to be powerful players together, Ben needed to have chemistry with Ruth and Hannah, Leah needed sense and Sammy sass. But beyond that, I tried not to have any preconceptions of how they would look or talk.  I wanted to be surprised, discover what could work or not based on what was coming out of the actors mouths.

Do you have any hopes about what the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, thinking, etc.?

I hope they come out of this thinking about their own family and the journey that had to happen for each person to end up where they are right this moment.  Ruth says “family is made, not born”, but I think that’s false.  We can’t runaway where we come from–we can only accept it, make peace with it, and build our own lives from there.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

Theater and Non Profit Admin–I work as a Company Associate for Girl Friday Productions and Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Germanic-American Institute.  I also have fun training my dog, Ruby-Rue the Corgi-Aussie, playing very nerdy board games, salsa dancing, making masks/art creations, practicing yoga/acrobatics—and exercising (which means using the steam room) at the JCC.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

The lakes, rivers and the bike trails—especially around late April/May when everyone is waking up from hibernation and spring fever is catching on.  I love seeing all the people, dogs and life bustling around on the Greenway and the Grand Rounds.

What is your favorite type of transportation?

Anything that lets me feel the breeze.

If you have one, tell us a little bit about your most memorable train ride?

While I don’t have a specific train ride in mind, I’d say the times when I commuted between NYC and The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in CT.  I was living in NYC, with a real nice off-Broadway literary internship, but me being the crazy-always-need-to-be-busy person I am, decided that I also wanted to Apprentice under the Droznin Russian Movement teacher at the O’Neill’s National Theater Institute.  I would leave Queens at 2:30am and take a 3-4 hour train ride (including subway and connections) up along the dark coast.  I’d see the bright city fade away to old, abandoned looking towns, then trees shoot past my window until I could see some brief silver glints of the ocean.  I would arrive in New London in the bluish- predawn light, and just as I would pull into the O’Neil grounds, the sky would go pink and a round orange sun would pop up over the horizon.

Then, I would beat up my body for 6 hours of intense acrobatic work, ride back that night and go to work the next day.  It was grueling, but those train rides, which brought a sense of peace, freedom, and possibility, were the thing that often got me through the week in the Big City.


Leah's Train: Meet Actor Kevin Fanshaw

Travel through three generations of adventure, grief and love. Co-presented by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities and the Sabes Jewish Community Center, we are pleased to bring you Leah’s Train by Karen Hartman March 7-22, 2015 (all performances at the JCC).  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you a chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this first interview, meet actor Kevin Fanshaw.


Actor: Kevin Fanshaw
Actor: Kevin Fanshaw

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I am 24 years old and was born and raised near Madison, WI.  I got into theatre part way through high school as a result of relentless peer pressure from my band and choir friends.  Particularly those falling into the ‘attractive-female’ category.  It is true that you can become an addict after trying something only once, and I’m hooked.  I could go on about what I’ve come to find beautiful about theatre, but what captured me from the start was the people.  Splendid, wacky, thoughtful, explosive, ridiculous people.

Is this your first show with 20% Theatre Twin Cities?


Tell us what originally drew you to the Leah’s Train script. What interested you in auditioning for this show/company?

I was initially drawn into the script by the character Ben.  I was coming off a show where half of the 10 characters I played were senior citizens, so accessing someone so immensely similar to myself was a welcome relief. I was not familiar with the history of 20% Theatre until I received a callback and did some research.  I was all the more excited about possibly working with the company after learning how devoted they were to promoting the work of women, and trans* individuals.  Last year I was living in Chicago and working for the Human Rights Campaign and I am always thrilled when two of my passions cross paths.

Tell us a little bit about the character you play?

Ben’s having a tough time. He’s just beginning to get over the loss of his mother, and coming to understand he can’t fully do that while he’s with his current girlfriend. As he emerges from mourning he’s unsure of his place in the world, who he is, and who he wants to become. The time has come, however, to find out.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

I wait tables to pay the bills, and I enjoy getting paid for being kind and hospitable.  In my free time I cycle through a slew of hobbies: playing music, painting, creative writing, etc.  I also have a great desire to travel and am already looking forward to the next adventure.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

I love all the local food and (especially) beer!

What is your favorite type of transportation?

Generally speaking, biking is the greatest way from A to B.  However, if I ever get another chance to ride on the rooftop of a bus through the Himalayan foothills… that kind of takes the cake.

Rapture, Blister, Burn – Get to Know Christine Sweet

20% Theatre Company is thrilled to present Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage April 26 – May 10, 2014. Opening night is less than a week away! We are giving you the chance to learn a little bit about the artists involved in this production. Meet Christine Sweet in this interview!


Can you tell us a little but about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre? 

I was in an acting apprentice program in Boston many years ago. At age 25 I chose a different career path, radio broadcasting. I didn’t formally return to theater, i.e., auditioning, till a few years ago when I was cast in Freshwater Theatre Company’s Desperation Panties, directed by Claire Avitabile. Since then I’ve had roles in several Twin Cities theater productions, and it’s been like coming home. I am absolutely thrilled to be part of 20% Theatre’s production of Rapture, Blister, Burn.

Tell us a little about the character you will be playing in Rapture, Blister, Burn.

Alice is the 70-ish mother of the lead character, Catherine. She has recently had a heart attack but does not want to be fussed over. She is devoted to her daughter and only child, whom she gave birth to later in life, and her goal is Catherine’s happiness and comfort. Unlike her daughter she’s not highly educated nor career-driven, but she’s perceptive and independent and I don’t think she could have raised a child like Catherine without possessing those traits. She’s enjoyed being a mother and has accepted her traditional role, but some of her advice for Catherine is a little surprising nonetheless. I imagine that Alice had quite an independent life as a single woman before she married and became a mother.In what ways do you personally relate to this character?Alice is a character from my mother’s generation, or the generation between my mother’s and mine. I’m a Boomer who came of age during a time of tremendous social change, including the women’s movement this play references, and my goals were facilitated by the feminism of that time. My life has been very different from my mother’s. However, I’m quite familiar with a lot of the traditional expectations of women that Alice represents, because those influenced my childhood and early adolescence as well.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is often called “a feminist play”. How would you describe the play? How do you feel about feminism and what it signifies today?  

Rather than a “feminist play”, I would call it a play about feminism. It’s also about anti-feminism. And the consequences of both – yes, there’s something for everyone here! And it’s not just for women! The play offers no pat conclusions but reflects back to us, through the views and experiences of three generations, the complexities of the places in which we continue to find ourselves. While it is a comedy, working on RBB has stimulated deep discussion among our cast and director, and I’m sure it will do so among audiences.

Personally, I owe some of my significant career opportunities in a male-dominated field to feminism. Regardless, it has not been an easy ride. There were few women in radio when I started, and it was uncharted territory. I could write a book. Maybe I will someday. I feel concerned when I hear some young women today wishing not to be identified as feminist, or with what they think the word means – I admit I’m not sure what it means to them. Feminism was and is about freedom and equal rights. It concerns me that we are still in danger of losing some of the rights gained by the women’s movement, even as we often take them for granted now. The sense of deja vu and “didn’t we already fight this battle?” is stunning and frequently discouraging. Like the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, the struggle continues even while on the surface, so much progress has been made.

How do you personally balance the expectations of being female in our society with the concepts of feminism in your daily life?

Wow, I have so much to say about this, I couldn’t possibly cover it all here. The short version is, my life experiences have confirmed over and over that being true to myself is the most important thing to me. The point of feminism is having the freedom to do that, whatever it entails for me as a woman and whether or not all my desires coincide with feminist principles. Being told I can’t do something – a career, a sport, etc. – because I’m female was and is one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard in my life. But I never took it to heart, and feminism has helped me in that. Today in our society the opposite message is more prevalent, and I’m very glad of that.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

I still work in radio, now as a producer after many years as an on-air host.

How did you get to Minneapolis? (Where did you grow up? Where are you from?)

I grew up in the Boston MA area and moved to Chicago in my late 20’s for a radio job. I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for over 30 years, having come here to work for MPR.