The comedy "Nice Girl" is Redbud Productions' latest family affair
Redbud Productions shows are truly a family affair. My interview with Loretta Grimes -- who is directing Nice Girl at Kerrytown Concert House, Oct. 26-28 -- along with her husband and Redbud collaborator, Tim Grimes, was one of the warmest interviews I've conducted. Like the archetype of a loving married couple, Loretta and Tim -- who is the Events Manager at AADL -- finished many of each other's sentences during out chat in their rehearsal space, which is the basement of their home. It has been converted into an acting space complete with spike tape (to signify where the boundaries of the stage are), the set for their new show, and framed posters from their 19 years of previous productions.
When I entered their house through the backdoor, two of the four actors in the play greeted me cheerfully, having shown up to run through their lines an hour before the rehearsal was set to start. This isn’t rare, Loretta explained, since the actors rehearse five days a week and are all intensely committed.
When I asked how Redbud Productions began 19 years ago, Tim said, “We just started with a little acting class for middle and high school students that kind of grew.” Loretta continued, “It was sort of a wonderful way for us to use our skills in something that we loved. We go to theater all the time. And when our kids were little, all of their friends would come and all of the neighborhood kids took our classes, and it was this big family. And I kind of think that’s how we feel about Redbud -- we get very close to our students and we kind of view it as one big extended family. And it means a lot to us that our kids, who are grown now, still want to be involved.”
Nice Girl is the latest Redbud production, but all the company's plays are an onstage continuation of Tim and Loretta's classes. “It’s all based on this one method, the Meisner Method, and that’s what we learned when we were actually in acting class together. That’s what we teach,” Tim said. “And we teach that in our class, and then when we do a show, which we do twice a year, it kind of is an extension of the class and we always use our students.”
“The educational piece is really important to us,” added Loretta. “Once we teach Meisner and they learn the method, we like to give them opportunities to use their skills. All of the cast members are current or former students.”
Students in Redbud classes range in age from teenagers to people in their mid-80s, and people come in with many different life experiences and acting backgrounds, with the hope that everyone can learn something from everyone else. “I like to excite my students in the journey of it. If they stick to and enjoy the journey, the end result will take care of itself. I want them to be enjoying the process and not just waiting for opening night.”
Not only are Redbud shows almost always cast using some faction of 40- to 50-odd people who are currently in or who have taken Redbud's various classes, but the stage manager and the backstage crew have as well. Tim said both of his sons and one of his son’s partners consistently take part in many parts of the process for Redbud shows, including designing the programs and posters, choosing the music for the sound design, and acting as the house manager for the performances.
Since the Meisner Method is so important to Loretta and Tim, what exactly is the concept behind it? “Meisner is method acting,” said Loretta. “What we love about Meisner is it’s using your own life experiences and emotion to fuel whatever it is you’re doing, so the end result is this very open, honest, and connected acting. It’s not pretending to feel a certain way; it’s fueling your body using either emotional recall or past experiences.”
“A lot of people think acting is putting on a mask," Tim adds, "but what Meisner says is that acting is taking off a mask to reveal a character, and the character’s always you. So it’s teaching people to find in themselves, rather than pretending to be way outside them, to find things in themselves that can connect with that character. And rather than doing a funny walk or a different way of talking, it’s just you.”
“So it’s not working from the outside in but from the inside out,” concluded Loretta. “It’s trusting that if you do the internal work, the external work will take care of itself.”
What can audiences expect when they go to see Nice Girl? “We have a reputation in Ann Arbor of doing these darker, heavier dramas,” Loretta said. “So when I tell my friends, ‘No, this one is funny,’ they’re like, ‘Ha! Yeah, right.’ But this one is. I don’t like schtick-y comedy; I like comedy that has some meat on it, and this play is definitely like that. It’s very funny, but it’s also very poignant and touching and sad.”
In talking about the themes of the play, Loretta said, “You start off in life, and you have this idea of what direction your life is going to go in. And it’s amazing how it doesn’t go that way. And how do you deal with that? How do you deal with regrets in life and how sometimes you feel stuck?” Tim added, “Do you take care of family at the risk of dying inside because you did the right thing?”
Admittedly, these themes don’t sound much like the standard makings of a comedy, but Tim explained, “This could easily be -- there’s a lot of depth in this, but some of it could be like a sitcom with the banter. But it never is, because it’s got all this character work behind it.” Loretta added, “We’re flushing out all those emotional colors and layers; that’s what we’re doing now. It’s a funny play with serious undertones. It’s those humorous moments that occur every day in life.”
Redbud is a part of everyday life for the Grimes, who say this family-run affair strengthens their union. “We always feel so grateful and blessed that we can do this together, and that we have the same passion and love for theater,” said Loretta. “I think it has been a real blessing in our marriage, in our relationship.”
Toby Tieger has directed, acted in, and written plays over the last 10 years, and sees theater as often as he can. He is a building supervisor with the Ann Arbor District Library.