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The College of Arts Sciences

Q&A with Riele Short '19 ('The Caucasian Chalk Circle')

September 19, 2017

Riele Short '19 plays Grusha Vachnadze in PMA's production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht, September 21–23.

When: September 21, 22 & 23, 7:30 p.m.; September 23, 2:00 p.m. 

Where: Kiplinger Theatre, Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts


What is it like to do a Brecht play now?

It’s really pivotal. We’ve had a lot of conversations about issues that happened during his time period (postWorld War II) and with what’s going on right now—a new rise in Nazism, a chaotic political situation in the United States and also globally with North Korea and Russia. It's kind of shocking because I didn’t expect it, especially since I consider myself to be a person who does theatre as a form of escape. I’ve gone to see shows that are political, shows that makes statements about very serious issues but I didn’t initally expect it from this show. However, I do think that questioning humanity’s role in such chaotic times is really relevant in this story and I hope people will see it when they come to see the show.

When you were auditioning, did you anticipate there being such a strong connection between the world around us and The Caucasian Chalk Circle?

Yeah, no. We did know that Trump was president and a lot of things were changing and tensions were rising between many groups, but I didn’t think it would be as relevant as it is.

Why do you think audiences, especially at Cornell, need to come see this show?

I think at Cornell that we’re definitely in a bubble, especially within Ithaca and the greater upstate New York area because the majority of people have similar mindsets and opinions on a lot of issues. At the same time, there are members of our community who disagree vastly. It was just last week when slurs were thrown at the Latino Living Center; people were made to feel unsafe in their homes. Even though this is a bubble of peace where we are made to feel like it’s a safe place, a lot of hurt can still happen.

What role do you think theatre can play in social change?

I think it’s like any other outlet. Theatre is a form of art and art is always a take on what is going on in society at that time. Theatre is another facet in which people could re-examine what is happening to their classmates, their professors, and to inspire them to take action and stand up for what they believe in.

If your character, Grusha, were alive today, how would she respond to the current state of the world?

I think Grusha would be a grounds work activist, somebody who is probably not well known but is so out in the field. Every single day she works for what she believes in. Especially when it comes to DACA, just forcing people out of their homes because they don’t have documents would definitely set her off. And I think that she is a person that is pretty compassionate and that would draw her in to working directly with people as opposed to lobbying in the government.

What’s it like working with director and PMA associate professor Beth F. Milles?

I love Beth. Doing Brecht in particular is a challenge for me because the acting style is completely different. How you relate your character’s feelings and emotions on stage is different from any other show I’ve ever done. Beth has kind of let it be free rein, so we’ve been exploring how to do that for ourselves. We definitely have times where we question what we are doing and she will just tell you to go on instinct. It’s definitely a learning process but I think she’s been a really great advisor and I love having her as a director.

In three words what has your experience been like with The Caucasian Chalk Circle?

I am learning.

Riele Short as Grusha in 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' ©Thomas Hoebbel Photography