PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 4, Part 1, The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek

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Chris Christensen:

Hello and welcome to the PMA podcast. This is episode number four. Oh, this is actually part two of the “Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.” Today in the studio I have Elise Czuchna, Sam Morrison. Did I say it wrong?

Elise Czuchna:

Elise Czuchna.

Chris Christensen:

Czuchna, Elise Czuchna, Sam Morrison, and Irving Torres, and actually returning with us today is director Nick Fesette as well.

Nick Fesette:

I'm still here.

Chris Christensen:

He hasn't left the room. So where would you like to start?

Elise Czuchna:

Okay. So I feel like we're really well prepared. We're chugging along at a really good pace. We've already got the whole thing blocked. We're pretty much all off-book. Nick likes to say that everything is in a good place, which is reassuring, and that we can only go, we can only get better. But I feel really prepared and I'm really pleased with how it's going and I also love everyone involved in this project, so.

Sam Morrison:

I'm really excited for the extra... I'm really excited for it because we have so much time. And my part is so interesting that I get to play around a lot with things such as animal impressions. And so I get a lot of room to just explore and figure out how far I can push it, how weird this character can be. And a lot of times I'm dialing it back, as Nick can tell me. But because we have so much time to explore, you really get to like find the boundaries of this character and figure out where you can take the play to the most interesting point and where you need to really focus in your energy.

Irving Torres:

Yeah. I think same, uh, with, with, with this time. I think that's the biggest, the biggest piece of this for me now. Uh, I think because of this production and where it's put in the season and everything was so early on, we had to be off book by February 5th. Uh, so like we, we sort of like, I had everything blocked and sort of kind of, things are like set a lot quicker than I've, I've ever experienced things being set in a play before. Uh, and so that, I think that that gives me now ample room to not focus so much on like the little blocking bits or, or things are just keeping me in my head and just focus more on figuring out who my character is because there's so much of him that I, I, I can't quite understand yet. Uh, and so given that the show opens March 3rd, it's, it's, it's, it seems like so, so much time to like really like sit down and, and, and, or stand up and play around and figure out where it is, where it is that I'm going to go. Uh, and, and that, that's reassuring. That's, that's very comforting.

Chris Christensen:

Well, let's, let's lead in with that or go to that next spot. Irving, tell me a little bit about your character.

Irving Torres:

Right. So, Dre is, he's the father of the protagonist, Dalton. He's in his mid-forties and he lost his job, we decided amongst ourselves, about a year before the play begins. And so this was, this is a man who, who like many other men of the time and even today, people today sort of define themselves by their labor and what it is that they can produce, what it is that they can do, and so without his job, he sort of becomes this shell of a human. He's distant from his wife. They haven't had sex in... and doesn't let his son touch him, doesn't interact with his family. He just sits in the corner, and every day makes shadow puppets on the wall or breaks plates. He just shatters plates that have this need to do something, to make something happen. And so it's very sad. It's very sad to see this husk of a human who can't understand or refuses to think of himself outside of, of his work and validate himself or to see himself as a human being who has the right to exist and should exist separate from the fact of whether or not he's employed. And I think there's so much more to that, like responsibility to the family responsibility as a man, to the culture. But about all of that factors into this awful, just regression from everything.

Chris Christensen:

Okay. Yeah. His character almost seems invisible. And even gets into that a little bit at one point in the play. Sam, did we decide it was Chaz or Chass? What are we going with?

Sam Morrison:

I'm going to go with Chaz because when I asked if it was Chaz, I was, I would like to say mocked, I would say mocked by our director. Which is, coincidentally, also Chaz's jazz. Chaz is, he's a freaky dude. I don't think he's freaky. When you go to the play and you watch it, he's going to be a freaky dude. You're going to think he's definitely manipulative, and there's definitely a lot that's off with him, but I think that he is misunderstood. I think that he is definitely a victim of the situation. He's a victim of literal oppression, of economic oppression. Chaz is the jailer and he's a really interesting part. He basically comes into the play and the part is just what, five monologues. Chaz is kind of doing his own thing throughout the play and it's really reflected in the cast photo we took to market the show, because everyone is around this table as like a happy family, not a happy family, but at least a family. And then Chaz is in the corner with a broom just looking at them. And it really, it really, um, reflects Chaz, his character. He comes into the play and he has this jail cell, and he takes up the whole stage and it's his time and he has to figure out a way to entertain himself in this tiny little jail that he is stuck in, like relentlessly stuck in.

Chris Christensen:

There's this one scene that really sticks out for me where he's standing over Dalton who was asleep at the time and he's peeling an apple and his apple peels are falling on Dalton's head in his sleep. And then, I think Dalton wakes up and he's screaming and right before that. He says, "Whatever you are my boy, I'll find you out. I won't sleep. And little by little you'll stop sleeping too." There was just really weird scene thereafter when Dalton wakes up. Do we want to talk about that at all or we want to kind of save that for?

Sam Morrison:

Oh, we want to talk about it.

Chris Christensen:

Alright. Go for it.

Sam Morrison:

What I think that is is, a big part of Chaz is doing these animal impressions. And I do them all throughout the play. At one time, I sort of have a rap-off animal impression with Irving who plays Dre, which is I think the highlight of the play. He's really trying to find ways to entertain himself and has become obsessed with animals and he could never figure out what animal his son was, Brett. And when he tells Dalton I'm going to, I'll find you out, he's literally saying, I'm going to figure out what animal I think you are and I'm going to be able to do an impression of you before you get out of here, which is, it's funny how like literal that is. But at the same time it's really significant to him to be able to figure out what animal someone is.

Chris Christensen:

Elise. So you play the character of Pace?

Elise Czuchna:

I do, yes.

Chris Christensen:

I guess one of the elements in this play, we're talking about being broken, being cut in half, and that's something that your character reflects on quite a bit in terms of Brett. You want to talk about that at all?

Elise Czuchna:

Yeah, so first I'll set it up with who Pace is. She's a 17-year-old girl in this town, and really her story, her narrative is mostly told through her interactions with Dalton. And really what she wants more than anything is, well, there's a lot of things, but one of them is to be different. And I guess going back to the Brett thing, Brett was a close friend of hers and that I think was one of the first connections that she had with a person. And I think he helped her a lot to see the world in a different way. And then now in her relationship with Dalton, she's kind of helping him progress and experience the world in the ways that, maybe she learned from Brett and just the interactions that she had with him and what he taught her. And now she's going forward. And not replacing Brett with Dalton, but having that relationship and helping him to see the world in the same way that she does, which is very different because like I said, she really wants to be different and she does see the world in a very different way. She really critiques the society that she lives in and mostly critiques the complacency that everyone has, and really transforms the way that Dalton sees things, because of the way that she sees things, which is very different and unusual. So she's an interesting character. She's a lot of fun.

Chris Christensen:

One of my favorite lines is, "You're, you're a good boy and someone needs to break you in. I guess it'll have to be me."

Elise Czuchna:

Yeah. Yeah. That's a good line. So she's very tough, which is a lot of fun. I get to beat up Jack Press, who plays Dalton the majority of the show. So in a way, I literally break him in half because I am, you know, assaulting him a good part of the play. There's so much about like being cut open and having...I mean, one of the biggest things is like having a deep connection with a person, on a very meta level. Like not just physically but emotionally, and really combining and connecting to people on such a deeper level. And so that idea of breaking someone open or cutting someone open, to see the inside. I mean, at one point she says, I could cut you open and see my face. And there's just this idea about you and who you are and your being inside of another person because of how deeply connected you are and how much you've shared. Which I think is a huge part of the relationship that Pace and Dalton have, is that deeper connection and it's demonstrated in the last scene, which Sam likes to say is a disgusting scene. Thanks, Sam. I think it's very cool. Just that whole idea of breaking someone open or cutting someone open and seeing yourself because you've shared so much of yourself with another person on a very deep level that transcends the physical, I would say.

Chris Christensen:

Very nice.

Elise Czuchna:

Thank you.

Chris Christensen:

Oh, yes, Irving, you have a cultural cue that you wanted to add to this little podcast.

Irving Torres:

Yes. So my cultural cue is the song “Breathe No More” by Evanescence. It was released, like most Evanescence songs, in the early 2000s. Some of Amy Lee, who's the lead singer Evanescence, some of her music that she's written, I think I just Googled it, both before this podcast recording and six years ago when I first encountered the song, I've come across a lot of different explanations for why she wrote this song, but I think one of them is the fact that when she was very, very young, she lost her little sister, and she had to deal with that. Some of the songs that she's written about that she just does not perform live. It's just a haunting song. And the imagery in the lyrics suggest a lot of different identity disorders, personality disorders, um, and so there are things that... and the lyrics refer, allude to shards of glass and cutting open and being open. And that's a running motif in the play. It's just a lot of breaking glass plates and cups and shards of glass. And the song kind of describes looking in a mirror that's just shattered and seeing a shattered reflection of yourself. Dre kind of doesn't know, like one of his lines, he doesn't know how to be here. He doesn't know if he is here present in the moment. He doesn't recognize himself, doesn't know who he is without his work. And separately, the reason why this song was the first thing that popped into my head when Nick asked us to bring in these cues in was this thing called, I think it's called derealization. I'm not sure if anyone's ever experienced this. I've experienced this at points of high anxiety in my life where it's kind of like, you're zapped to the back of your head and you're watching your life as if it's a movie, where you have control over your body and what you're doing, but you're watching your entire life play out before you, when it comes either at points of high anxiety, it's really common in a lot of these identity disorders, and it's also a deep philosophical reflection, which I think I've also come to that point through that. But yeah, just play the song.

Breathe No More:

“I've been looking in the mirror for so long that I've come to believe my soul's on the other side. All the little pieces falling, shatter. Shards of me, too sharp to put back together. Too small to matter, but big enough to cut me into so many little pieces. If I try to touch her, and I bleed, I bleed, and I breathe, I breathe no more.”

Nick Fesette:

Happy song. Really lifts you up.

Chris Christensen:

Bright and shiny.

Irving Torres:

But yeah, that song is just, I came across, I mean I was a huge fan of Evanescence my first year or two of high school, I know a lot of their music. I learned how to play the song on the piano, which is just a beautiful song. And so to just think, if Dre were a fan of Evanescence, just to see himself in that song and talk about just being broken, is really powerful and also very, very sad imagery.

Chris Christensen:

Alright. So I'm curious, what do you think this play can bring to Cornell students, other students here on campus or what might intrigue them about the play?

Irving Torres:

Yeah. I think I can answer that. So, I have a lot of friends of mine, actually, a friend of mine who some weeks ago posted a status about her frustration with just that, with people being defined by their labor and how it's not so hard to just remove yourself from that, especially if you're in college, if you're in a high-pressure environment like Cornell, where everyone just seems to be thinking about their classes and their work and the extracurriculars and what they're going to do after college. And there's summer internships. And it's so, I want to say, I don't want to say, I don't think taboo's the word, but it seems so strange when you interact with someone and the asking what, what they want to do over the summer or what they want to do after school and they reply, oh, just chill out. I don't know, take a break or just not. Are you going to go to grad school straight after? No. You're going to get a job? No. Those rare people who people just here view as, okay, what are you going to do with your life? It's expectation to go out there and do something. And the pressure and shame that comes with seeking that work to then be defined by the fact that you are a worker. Especially in this kind of society and capitalism as a force that just sort of puts people in the situation. This play is set in the Great Depression and is a great sort of pure way of seeing that put on stage with people who are very depressed and very sad and put into that extreme. Right? That extreme that Dre finds himself in where he is not a human or doesn't see himself as a human because he doesn't work.

Elise Czuchna:

Yeah. I have two things. First one, as I get closer to the mic, is kind of related to the political situation. We talked a lot about at the beginning about how these people are so desperate for change that they're willing to throw themselves in front of a train to experience that and experience something, which I think is very relevant to the current political status. But the other thing is the importance of really watching and seeing and being aware of what's going on and thinking about things in a different way. Because one of the biggest problems we have right now and the reason why so much social unrest is finally occurring, is because people have been complacent for so long. And this idea of complacency with the status or just society and accepting things as they are and thinking, oh, well, there's not much I can do to change that because it's the pattern of life and this is the track I'm on and I have to stay on this and I'm going to grow old and do what my parents do and blah, blah, blah. And that same old narrative again and again. And so just that idea of transforming the way that we think about things and critiquing the way we think about things and viewing things in a different way. And I think that's very important right now. In terms of bringing about change, be it with, political stuff cause that's very relevant right now. But just in your day-to-day life, I think a lot of people, especially our generation is really trying to break the mold and challenge the prescribed norms in society and really try to change things. So I think the show really demonstrates that even though it's set in the 30s.

Chris Christensen:

Some things don't change, right?

Elise Czuchna:

Some things don't change.

Chris Christensen:

Sam.

Sam Morrison:

Yeah, I think they covered it pretty well. I'll just add that I think it's a really, really good play. I hadn't interacted with Naomi Wallace's work too much before this, which I'm really upset about now that okay, I'll get close to the microphone. Now that I'm in front of the microphone. All right. I'm just going to, uh, um, now that, uh, what was I talking about?

Nick Fesette:

Naomi Wallace.

Sam Morrison:

Who is that? Um, the play is a phenomenal play itself. And I think that, I mean this is certainly tooting my own horn, but, it's some of the best acting that I've seen in this building, from the past four years, I think we're in a really good place and I think that, I'm really proud. I mean it's all my friends, so obviously I'm biased, but, I'm really proud of all of us. I think we've come so far since freshman year. Yeah. And like I've acted with these people for like three, four years. And also, it could not be more relevant to the political climate, especially because it is set in what we think is Finchburg, Kentucky, and we're in Ithaca, New York, at this elite institution. And just taking yourself and trying to embody that place and that character. And that time period of the Great Depression era is so, has been so valuable for me to try to like conceptualize this, that this Trump person.

Nick Fesette:

Maybe talk about culture. Maybe introduce your cultural cues now.

Sam Morrison:

Yeah. Oh yeah.... I'm just going to talk about an exhibit that I saw recently. It was just a I guess a couple of weeks ago, over winter break at the Whitney Museum. And it was very simply just a janitor's cart and it had all of the items that agenda would usually have, but attached to those items were human flesh, not little human flesh, but actually human flesh that was 3D-printed based off of real janitors that were interviewed and worked with to create this exhibit. And, uh, when I saw it, I was preparing for this role. And so I was already in that mindset and was literally playing a jailer, who is not quite a janitor, but it's that same, he's been a jailer in this small town doing the same work for at least 30 years, I think. And it affected me really viscerally and emotionally when I first saw it when I first walked in, it was actually like, I was like a little, it was so, it's in the middle of this giant room and there are just four janitor carts and human heads on them. And I was like, who let—like some sixth grader won a contest to get their Halloween exhibit in here? When you look closer and it's not scary at all, it's just hands, just heads. And it becomes so, you don't even really, you start to realize more and more where human's body parts are attached to items such as brooms such as those little water squirters, such as gloves, such as shoes. And it literally embodied that the work that you do is you, which is a huge theme of this play. And I think it was my personal arc of looking at this from ah, stupid exhibit, oh, that this is just a human head on a cart to like, oh my God, human parts are attached to every single part of this object. The human has literally become the object and like has this same instrumental value as it. And it really, it kind of shocked me.

Chris Christensen:

As a sort of float into your character at all? Why is it?

Sam Morrison:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's definitely informed my acting choices. Sometimes it's hard to decipher a lot of times specifically how a character is created by the character work, the text work, the political work that you do behind it.

Nick Fesette:

It's not always, I don't think it might not be conscious, certainly, but you know, the artist is Josh Klein, right? The artist is Josh Klein. And a lot of his work is about labor. He's similar to Naomi Wallace in that way, all her plays are about labor in the same way that Irving was talking about. And so I think if, whether you know it or not, whether you are conscious of it or not, Irving and also all of you with these cultural cues, they do inform, they're informing what you're doing, the way you described this piece, it's in the performance, whether or not you mean to do it. Does that make sense?

Sam Morrison:

Yeah, yeah, it totally is.

Chris Christensen:

He must accept what the director says. So I guess I would like to say thank you very much for joining us down here in the small studio. Oh, your cultural cue. There's still—no, no, no, no. Really, please.

Elise Czuchna:

So what I have, it is a poem by Lacey Roop, who is a slam poet in Austin, which is where I'm from. She's pretty big in Austin, Texas. And really it's called “The Parts of Human Science That Science Can't Explain.” I actually did it in high school. I was on a speech and debate team and I did poetry and this was my poetry piece. It's very interesting. Lacey Roop, I think, thinks very similarly to how Pace does, in terms of critiquing the complacency that we have and really noticing how as we get older, older generations tend to not have the same joy and liveliness that they did when they were younger and kind of abandoned that. And she views the world very differently, kind of like how Pace does and she really challenges the norm. So I feel like this piece, Nick and I kind of emailed back and forth about it and Nick was like, for some reason this just seems like something that Pace would say. And I do think it represents kind of what's going on in Pace's head pretty well, so I can read it. Okay. I hope I don't mess it up. I haven't done this since my junior year of high school, so, “The Parts of Human Science That Science Can't Explain” by Lacey Roop.

The Parts of...:

So there are parts of humans that science can explain. We know the mechanics of organs and which way the blood flows. We know the effects of smoking and typical reactions to taste buds. A scientist likes to think that in time he will know everything. The problem with knowing everything is that we often forget what's worth remembering. The doctor sits me on a table and asked me to stick out my tongue. I do. I asked him if he sees the paintings I carry in the back of my throat. He laughs as if I'm telling a joke. I'm not. I've got Basia, Sheila, Van Gogh, and Davinci, so when I laugh I taste brush strokes. I asked him if he can stick out his tongue so I can see what he has trapped inside of him. He hesitates a little and then he does and I see a man who struggles for acceptance and chokes on the word love. We've got robots that dismantle bombs so soldiers can still pull triggers with their fingers. We've got a blueprint for a hotel that will be located on the moon in 2047, we've got microchips small enough to be slipped inside of hair follicles, yet we still have a hard time saying words like please and thank you and offering our hands to help strangers. The psychiatrist asked me what I'm feeling so she can prescribe me a pill to take that feeling away as if that will solve something. I sit there silent, hoping not to interfere with the tambourines and trumpets being played in my head. She stares in my eyes and I hope that she can see my insides dancing, but I can tell by the sigh in her face that she hasn't danced in a long, long time. This is what we are creating, a world where the living and breathing are depending on inanimate objects that only move because they have buttons and batteries when we have hearts. I go to school to make sense of this, to find the formula that will save us. When my professor instructs me to lift my head from my desk and quit sleeping, I tell him I'm not sleeping. I'm dreaming. There is a difference. I asked him if he dreams and he tells me that there isn't enough time for that when we have work to do. So I take out my pen and paper and I draw him what I dream. It is people who sleep in rain clouds, pass out more smiles than business cards and find beauty in the broken things. It is people who can speak every language so we can better understand each other while he continues his lecture about the greatest inventions of the 21st century. All the students in the class speak excitedly about iPhones, satellite radios, and plasma screen TVs that can help us see things more clearly. When this world that we're living in seems more foreign to me than Pluto's moons or the idea of being a queen. With every great advancement we make it seems like we're taking something more important back. Like we're trying to prove to ourselves that we're smarter than monkeys and apes because we can build skyscrapers and send rockets to space. To each his own seems to be our motto. And since this is the case, I wish the aliens would come attack us today because only then would we unite as one world instead of being separated by our own governments, prejudices, religions, and races, and only then would we may be able to figure out the parts of humans that science can't explain.

Chris Christensen:

I think you did a fine job. Very nice. I think we'll call that an end note right there. Thank you very much to all of you for coming in here this morning. Bright and early.... Thanks for listening to the PMA podcast. “The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek” opens on Friday, March 3rd. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at schwartztickets.com or in person at the Schwartz Center box office located at 430 College Avenue in Ithaca, New York.