Journal of the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program, 2014
Notes from Randy Bryant – President & CEO, Ten Chimneys Foundation
Sunday, July 13, 2014
The sky was clear, the air was light; it was another beautiful day at Ten Chimneys. All of the Fellows had safely arrived in Wisconsin on what was a glorious summer day. As I walked the estate in preparation for their arrival I couldn’t have been more proud to be a part of what the Lunts had created. The estate was at its best, as the Lunts would have had it. A view toward the Cottage revealed sparking glasses filled with champagne.
As the Fellows arrived they were filled with excitement and anticipation for what the week would bring. As we began the tour in the Cottage it was obvious that they were all well versed on Ten Chimneys, but their thirst for additional knowledge allowed for the tour to be not only entertaining, but presented in a theatrical way that an actor would certainly appreciate. As we moved to the Studio, the presence of the Lunts immediately appeared. We were in their environment - the place where they practiced their lines, where they danced, where they dined, and the actors were consumed by what life must have been like when the Lunts were in residence.
When departing the Studio, there is a shift that completely exemplifies the diversity of the Lunts lives. From theatre lore to Wisconsin farm life, all in a matter of seconds. As the tour passed what was once the Lunt’s working farm, the chickens roaming the grounds truly told the story of how the Lunts’ lived.
The tour continued through the Main House while the scents of the evening filled the air. As the Fellows descended to the Flirtation Room, the Dining Room doors were opened to reveal a gourmet dinner awaiting them. The menu included: Alfred's Vichyssoise soup, a refreshing melon and cucumber salad, pan-roasted sea bass with braised kale, roasted red potatoes and a light lemon sauce, completed with a dessert of frozen lemon souffle.
Over dinner, the Fellows and David discussed the issues affecting actors in American theatre today. It was an honor to share the table with them, to continue the tradition of sparkling conversation in the Lunts’ Dining Room. As the evening came to an end, I was proud that Ten Chimneys Foundation is able to carry on the Lunts’ role of mentorship in this way; that something so memorable had just taken place. And, it was only day one.
Monday, July 14, 2014
After a good nights sleep at the Delafield Hotel (where the Fellows were thoroughly impressed with all of the amenities), everyone arrived at Ten Chimneys feeling well rested. Breakfast was served on the Terrace of the Main House. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the chickens had provided an abundance of eggs for everyone to enjoy. I was pleased to be able to serve them all of their breakfast delights to help them energize for the day ahead. Sunday's dinner was quite elegant and took them to a special place. During the week, my goal was to ensure that they were engaged not only with Ten Chimneys, but with the community of Genesee Depot, and with the Lunts.
After breakfast, we adjourned to the Drawing Room. Angela Iannone engaged the class in an icebreaker that involved movement, stretching, and getting in touch with one’s core. After the icebreaker all of the Fellows arranged themselves in a circle. David asked that they each share what they were expecting to get out of the program. He emphasized that more than anything this was to be a meaningful retreat and reward for the actors. The focus of the week was to be on plays related to the Lunts and their famous friends. David appreciated that each Fellow had provided scenes in which they wanted to work, but expressed that he may ask them to stretch and do something they may not be as comfortable with. It was really nice observing the Fellows as they read through their opening scenes.
After several of the Fellows had an opportunity to rehearse, it was time to break for lunch. I wanted to give the Fellows a flavor of what it was like in this great town of Genesee Depot, which the Lunts so loved. As we walked down Depot Road into town I couldn’t have been happier with the freshness of the air, the greenery, and the sight of the town emerging into our eyesight. As we walked toward the Depot Café the Fellows started pulling out their smartphones and taking photos of the charming former train depot. We had ordered ahead and the staff at the Depot Café had everything ready. The Fellows loved the experience of being in the café where everyone knows one another and the food was made especially for them.
The Fellows and David Hyde Pierce with our friends at the Depot Café.
I had arranged for the shuttle to pick us up, but the Fellows enjoyed walking and wanted to head back to Ten Chimneys on their own. Once back in the Drawing Room they immediately began their readings and working with David on the scenes that he had selected. It became very apparent that this was a day for each of them, including David, to determine what plays and scenes each would focus on during the week ahead.
At the end of their class session, David felt it would be a good idea for the Fellows to watch The Guardsman together, to observe Lynn and Alfred performing some of their signature styles.
Then, after a long day, still satisfied from lunch and tired from the day, the Fellows retired to their rooms at the Delafield Hotel.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Tuesday provided the first opportunity for the Fellows to work in the performance space at the Lunt-Fontanne Program Center. Needless to say, they were in awe with the presence of the Lunts’ images that surround the room and the scenery beyond the vast windows. It provided the perfect backdrop for the class session. After the Fellows had their breakfast and were getting started we found that David, as I learned was his nature, had been up all night going through the plays and continuing to read The Fabulous Lunts. He began assigning roles and making requests for additional scenes. As the Fellows and David continued to work, they started honing in on which scenes may be best.
Because the Fellows are so talented their comfort with David and the scenes they were working on became quite vivid. Even as they worked through the scenes their dedication toward perfection was evident. They were all very willing to take the advice and helpful hints that David provided them. It was great watching David. From the first day I knew that he was not settling for anything less than perfection.
We broke for lunch and enjoyed the casual nature of the Cornerstone Restaurant. The Fellows once again walked to and from the restaurant. I enjoyed hearing them talk about how much they loved the food and being in the town where the Lunts lived, so removed from the communities where they presently work. While we were away, the Steinway B piano arrived in preparation for the songs that would be added to the class schedule.
The Fellows and David Hyde Pierce with our friends at Cornerstone Restaurant.
By now the Fellows had fallen into the routine of breakfast, work, lunch, work, and the element of surprise for dinner. Today was a special day because I had worked out an arrangement with Young Presidents Organization to have a poolside reception with David and the Fellows. Throughout the day we had the fear of rain and thunderstorms. The organizer for YPO had called and said we had to go to our alternate plan as it looked like inclement weather. I didn’t want to do that because it would change the experience and so, I said we’d chance it. As the hour grew near and our guests started arriving miraculously the sun came out. It was a glorious evening on the estate full of champagne, great conversation, and the Fellows and members of YPO got on beautifully. The camera was flashing to the delight of our guests. It was a great day.
As we traveled back to the hotel the evening was still early and we decided to go to Zin in Delafield to continue the festivities. Again, great conversation and sharing of experiences; as I looked around I could see that the connections that happened so quickly had become even stronger.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
By now you get the picture... breakfast, class, lunch, class…the difference today was that during the class there was a stronger emphasis on the Fellows stretching their comfort zone in areas where David could truly help them. Each was eager to receive David’s direction. I could feel the intensity of the actors as they repeated the scenes over and over and over again, striving to do better.
The rest of the day was dedicated to the Fellows enjoying their own personal pursuits, the opportunity for them to make their own connection to the estate. The Fellows chose to read, to stroll the grounds, to sit inside the historic buildings, and to gather at the pool as the Lunts did with their friends. It was a time of rejuvenation.
David and I had an event in the evening to attend; meanwhile, upon David's request, the Fellows had an opportunity to watch one of the Lunts' performances that was considered lost forever, but was found by the widow of the director. Unfortunately, because we have not announced this to the public yet, I cannot share the title. They then enjoyed beer and pizza on the Cottage porch.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
On the ride to Ten Chimneys from the Delafield Hotel I listened as the Fellows discussed that they were becoming more comfortable with the scenes they were working on and that they knew the direction they needed to go.
In class, Angel Desai, Julie Briskman, and Blake Lindsley each had prepared songs that they wished to sing for the Concluding Presentation. As they were singing I couldn’t help but think how talented they all are and how not only can they act, they can sing and play various instruments. Blake blew me away with the aria from Cosi Fan Tutte. Such a beautiful, well trained voice. Angel was like an angel. Julie’s song was joyful; so playful. It was all coming together.
The intensity of the acting continued where I felt that they were not just reading but the intonations and gestures all gave the feeling that I was in the midst of a real life event. David was there every step of the way providing guidance and fine tuning the details. The nice thing about it was that the actors were skilled enough where they were able to accept his suggestions. It was never a hard and fast direction; it was just that – suggestions. They analyzed the plays as to why each was performed in a certain way and why that method was of value.
Lunch was again in Genesee Depot. The weather was beautiful and after we finished up we were going to take some photos. As I went to reach for the camera I heard one of the Fellows share that Elaine Stritch had passed away. At that moment we knew that we had to honor her during the Concluding Presentation.
After lunch, the Fellows teamed up and worked with a partner on their scenes.
Thursday evening was our traditional Summer Supper where the actors, our board members, and major donors celebrate the Fellows and the week at Ten Chimneys. The traditional toast was done by Ten Chimneys’ longtime supporter, Tony Meyer, heartfelt as always, which brought a couple of the Fellows to tears. It was such a great pleasure taking care of the Fellows in a Lunt-like manner. They were so deserving, so appreciative, and yet, so humble.
Friday, July 18, 2014
Friday morning was a time set aside to interview the Fellows, but still a working day. While some of the Fellows were working on their scenes, the others were interviewed for historic record and Ten Chimneys Foundation purposes. At this stage I could see that David had formulated in his mind what Saturday’s Concluding Presentation would be. Even though we were one day away from the presentation, by this point each of the scenes was looking good and the songs were at their zenith. David was relentless, he continued to push the envelope and had the confidence that each of the actors could do better. All rose to the occasion. He even shared various techniques with Chris Wszalek, his accompanist for the class. Angel, Blake and Julie again practiced their song selections.
Earlier during the week we had learned that the Kettle Moraine Summer Academy was doing the play Curtains. David requested that we stop by the school to visit the cast. We drove to Kettle Moraine High School and as we walked down the hallway we ran into someone from the drama department that was thrilled to see David and she immediately led us to the room where the students were. The minute the door opened, the screaming and cheering began. The students were so excited that David took the time to visit them, especially knowing he would be taking the stage that night too.
Next, was David’s Conversation at Ten Chimneys. David and I agreed that we were just going to have fun – and, that’s exactly what we did.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Saturday morning during breakfast I could see the love and care the Fellows had for one another. They were all in it together. While they all knew that the Concluding Presentation wasn’t going to be a performance, because it was for the public, they wanted to be at their best. I could see the excitement, but nervousness, beginning. In my mind, they were ready. They were now rehearsing back on the estate, in the Drawing Room, inspiration was flowing and the presence of the Lunts’ was evident.
As I watched the actors going over their scenes I couldn’t help but think of the Lunts in that very room, doing the exact same thing. There was tenseness in the air because this was it, there was no more time. No more changes. No more analyzing. Each Master Teacher at Ten Chimneys has had a different approach and emphasis regarding their classes work. David took a bit of all of it when he chose to focus on works related to the Lunts and the Concluding Presentation was a true conglomeration of the Lunts’ and their friends work. It showed the audience the range of the Lunts, and the range of these master students. David and the Fellows ended the presentation that night by paying tribute to Elaine Stritch with the closing song ‘Sail Away’ which the Lunts’ dear friend Noel Coward wrote for Elaine. The response from the audience was overwhelming; it was certainly a night to remember.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
We all had brunch together at the hotel, a final farewell and thank you. Each Fellow shared what the experience meant to them and how important it is for regional theatre actors to have a program like this in place. Prior to his departure, David asked me if I would take him to Forest Home Cemetery, where the Lunts are buried. It was a touching and fitting ending to a week dedicated to the Lunts and the legacy they began.