As IU Theatre’s production of Mr. Burns, a post- electric play continues its run this week in the Wells-Metz Theatre, first year MFA actors – Nicholas Jenkins and Tara Chiusano –
sat down to discuss the challenges of performing this landmark play-musical hybrid.
Mr. Burns was a New York smash hit in 2013, and established Anne Washburn as a leading American Playwright. Chiusano plays multiple roles in Mr. Burns, including a young woman attempting to play Lisa Simpson.
Nick Jenkins: What challenges have you encountered while working on Mr. Burns?
Tara Chiusano: The rigor of the process. I couldn’t believe the energy and commitment of the BFA students. My background is in regional theater. In some ways, the professional world actually doesn’t push you as hard. Also, my passion was strictly to be an actor, so didn’t take dance and singing classes growing up. And there’s so much singing and dancing in Mr. Burns. I’ve had to catch up in a hurry! I really believe some of the 19-year-olds I’m working with are on the fast track to Broadway.
Has Mr. Burns changed the way you approach musical theater?
Yes. I have a new respect for the precision needed in musical theater. I actually did a number of musicals in Atlanta, before I came here. But I didn’t have a strong foundation on how to move really well on stage. And I’ve had to learn how to use my voice in a pop style. Ray (Fellman, music director) and Liza (Gennaro, choreographer) push you. You pretty much have to do it until you get it right.
I haven’t worked in that kind of detail, because you actually don’t have that much rehearsal in the professional world.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this show?
I hope that they’ll see the show as a testament to why we need theater. I hope they connect with the idea that our lives are pretty empty without art. I hope they connect with the concept of the play: When the cell phones, iPads, and electricity is all gone, and people are going rogue in the streets, we still need stories. They start telling stories, because they’re depressed and scared, and they need something to hold onto. They need to laugh. They need to have a moment of understanding with another human being. I hope the audience connects with the idea that theater will last as long as there are humans. We need it. Ultimately, the one irreplaceable career – believe it or not – is acting! So when people are like, “Well, why are you trying to get your MFA?” We can tell them that actors have an implicit importance to the human race – to tell stories and to help humans be humans.