Journal of the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program, 2015

Notes from Randy Bryant – President & CEO, Ten Chimneys Foundation

Just a few short weeks ago we concluded our 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program. I couldn't be more thrilled with what all transpired. Here's a glimpse into the week...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The day had finally arrived. Our 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program was about to begin and it was a beautiful Sunday morning. Everything was in place awaiting the arrival of our Fellows, the country's finest actors who were so deserving of the experience they were about to embark on. And, of course, our esteemed Master Teacher, Ms. Phylicia Rashad, was set to arrive.

I arrived at the airport forty minutes early to allow myself plenty of time to properly greet Ms. Rashad. I was fortunate it was an easy drive with little traffic. I parked in the parking structure close to the door and as I walked to the terminal I noticed a beautiful woman strolling toward me. I said to myself that it couldn't be Ms. Rashad as her plane wasn't due in yet. But, the smile was undeniably Phylicia Rashad. Her plane had arrived, VERY early. She had been shopping at the airport store (and had purchased a vivid red Wisconsin sweatshirt, which she wore during her time at Ten Chimneys).

My biggest fear leading up to the Fellowship Program was what if something happens to the Master Teacher and he or she doesn't arrive. Now that Phylicia was next to me, I was able to breathe a little easier and set my focus firmly on the week ahead.

Ms. Rashad was the first to fly into Milwaukee. By 3:00pm, all of the Fellows had arrived safely and were in their hotel rooms preparing for their evening at the magical estate of Ten Chimneys. On our end, we had been busy preparing for their arrival - the silver had been polished, the table set, the pool filled, the Cottage freshly painted - all for our honored guests. There was excitement in the air.

Our evening at Ten Chimneys began with the traditional champagne reception on the Cottage porch. The actors were quite lively; expressing how thankful and appreciative they were for this opportunity and the week ahead. It was a festive time with everyone getting to know one another, sharing stories, and finding connections.

Ten Chimneys 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Class at the Cottage

From Back, Left: Nathaniel Stampley (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), Allen Gilmore (Yale Repertory Theatre), Timothy McCuen Piggee (Arizona Theatre Company), Ed Swidey (The Wilma Theater). Middle, Left: Larry Bates (South Coast Repertory), Liz Mikel (Dallas Theater Center). Front, Left: Gretchen Krich (Seattle Repertory Theatre), Phyllis Kay (Trinity Repertory Theatre), Randy Bryant (President & CEO, Ten Chimneys Foundation), Phylicia Rashad (Master Teacher), Ed Gero (Goodman Theatre), and Holly Twyford (Arena Stage).

One of our wonderful volunteers, Joan Niquette, and I provided a tag team approach as docents of the tour. The Fellows were very interested in how the Lunts created Ten Chimneys, who had visited, and what the Lunts' personal interests were.

Ten Chimneys 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Class with Phylicia Rashad

The tour of Ten Chimneys began in the Cottage.

Ten Chimneys 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Class Tours Ten Chimneys

The Fellows descend the stairway to the back entrance of Ten Chimneys Main House.

The tour ended at the entrance of the Dining Room. The doors opened to reveal the Lunts' table beautifully set for dinner. The thought of dining not only in the Lunts' home, but at their table with their silver truly created a moment of disbelief and indicated the enormity of the week.

The 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Class with Phylicia Rashad in the Dining Room at Ten Chimneys

Dinner was a treat in itself. Let me share the menu... the first course was a chilled avocado soup, followed by an arugula salad with burrata, peaches, and pea tendrils finished with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing. The main course was Chilean sea bass accompanied by oven roasted potatoes, shallots, and seasonal vegetables finished with a leek sauce. Dessert was to die for; a chocolate mousse dome with fresh raspberries and berry sauce. As we enjoyed our coffee and after dinner drinks the Fellows discussed issues affecting American theatre. As I sat and listened, I took in the room and the actors that surrounded me. I knew it was going to be an extraordinary week. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Each morning, the Fellows had time to themselves to do as they pleased and to retreat. They walked to breakfast at a local establishment, slept in, exercised, and rejuvenated at a nearby boutique hotel. One common theme emerged from their first night at the hotel which was that the showers were exhilarating and provided a treat all to themselves. I was happy they were enjoying their accommodations.

The Fellows arrived at the Lunt-Fontanne Program Center. This year's program began with a special guest and dear friend to Ten Chimneys, Dr. Tony Meyer. He was there to kick-off the week with an ice-breaker on the connection between the heart and the brain. Afterward, the group stepped onto the terrace for their morning calisthenics, which they would continue to do first thing every morning throughout the week.

Then, the work began...

Ms. Rashad chose the focus of the class to be against type. She wanted to have the Fellows look deeper into the roles that they may not typically play. The class would then be working within these characters typically not afforded to them.

The class discussion began with each Fellow sharing the typical roles they play and what they saw as their personal strengths. How did they see themselves best? How do others see them? The roles they brought with them to class were addressed. As plays were brought to the table, the Fellows began to look at new roles they were interested in, characters they were seeing in a new light, and Phylicia selected roles she saw fitting their strengths. One of the beauties of the class was the stretching of oneself, examining roles they would never have considered. I felt things beginning to change in the room, there was an emotional poignancy, they were becoming more and more comfortable with each other. I knew the week was going to stretch them in new directions, beyond what they even thought was possible.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

After arriving and warming up, the Fellows immediately began working on their scenes. I've never had so many requests for plays in my life. Every theatre across the country, it seemed, was working with me to obtain the various plays. Once again, the Fellows were seeing their potential working against type and their scene selections were becoming more refined. It was interesting watching Phylicia work. She studied their style and personal comforts, and encouraged them to remove barriers that prohibited them from working against type.

The Fellows took a break from class to have lunch in Genesee Depot. There is so much to love about our local community. They enjoyed it as much as we all do. Some took the opportunity afterward to spend time on the estate and take in the fresh country air. They walked the pathways back and were delighted to come across the Lunts' berry bushes.

Ten Chimneys 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program

Our 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Class

Phyllis Kay (Trinity Repertory Company) and Ed Swidey (The Wilma Theater) near the terrace of the Lunt-Fontanne Program Center.

Back in class, I felt that at first things were tense, as it is every year. The feeling of apprehension of what was ahead and how their experiences and abilities would compare with their contemporaries. Each actor was to give their monologue. When each was called upon he or she seemed to propel out of their chairs to get it over with. Each actor appeared nervous walking to the stage until they sat down and began. Immediately upon sitting, their demeanor changed; they were confident and anxious to go again. I was reminded every time why each actor was selected to be part of this program; they truly are the master actors of their craft.

Each night the group would dine together at a local establishment. It was a wonderful way to unwind from the day and give them all a taste of Wisconsin living. That night there was a striking lightning storm that lit up the sky and brought the actors to their hotel windows to watch. A sign of an exciting week ahead?

Tuesday-Thursday, July 14-16, 2015 - Evening Events

What many people may not know, and here is some inside information, it takes a LOT to be a Master Teacher for the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program. Ms. Rashad, and those that have gone before her, are asked to give a great deal of their time. Every year our teachers deliver beyond our wildest expectation, which is a testament to Ten Chimneys and the value of the program. They get it. They believe in it. And, they want to continue to support the program in any way they can. This year was no exception. In addition to her long hours in class, Phylicia spent time one-on-one working with the actors, and she attended several evening events helping us to further our mission. I cannot thank her enough for her dedication to the week and to Ten Chimneys.

Ten Chimneys President, Randy Bryant, and Phylicia Rashad

Randy Bryant, President & CEO of Ten Chimneys Foundation, with Phylicia Rashad.

Ten Chimneys 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program

Back Left: Ed Gero, Ed Swidey, Liz Mikel, Timothy McCuen Piggee, Allen Gilmore, Nathaniel Stampley, and Larry Bates. Front Left: Holly Twyford, Gretchen Krich, and Phyllis Kay.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - Personal Pursuits

On Wednesday afternoon, as is customary during the program, the Fellows had free time to enjoy the lush grounds of Ten Chimneys. This year, we kept it poolside and the actors enjoyed a picnic lunch, swimming, playing cards, visiting the chickens, and theatre comradery. The weather again was wonderful and many of the Fellows joined the exclusive Noël Coward society. If you don't know what I'm referring to, you must come on a tour to find out!

From Left: Larry Bates (South Coast Repertory), Nathaniel Stampley (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), and Ed Swidey (The Wilma Theater) enjoy lunch by the pool at Ten Chimneys.

Our 2015 Fellows spend time with the chickens at Ten Chimneys.

Larry Bates (South Coast Repertory) rests near Lynn's cutting gardens at Ten Chimneys.

Nathaniel Stampley (Milwaukee Repertory Theater) enjoys the Lunts' pool.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Having spent a great deal of time speaking with Ms. Rashad prior to her arrival to Ten Chimneys, as well as during the week, I was very much looking forward to the evening's Public Program, A Conversation with Phylicia Rashad, in which I was to interview Ms. Rashad in front of an audience. I couldn't wait for everyone to get to know her just a bit better and to see the warm, kind, and funny person I had been lucky enough to get to know. It was a magical night. Phylicia is an AMAZING storyteller and she had the audience following her every word the entire evening. And yes, she even gave us the Claire Huxtable stare! Afterward, she visited with guests, took pictures, and let people shower her with their appreciation for a truly special night.

A Conversation with Phylicia Rashad - Ms. Rashad and Ten Chimneys Foundation President & CEO, Randy Bryant.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Saturday evening Concluding Presentation is always an audience favorite; it's the night that the Fellows take to the stage to share the work they've accomplished during their week at Ten Chimneys. Ms. Rashad sat in the front row of the audience and stood to announce each scene and then the actors took to the stage. It was exhilarating! Occasionally Phylicia would stop the scene and give the actors instruction and the scene would continue on. A peek into a true classroom.

From left, back: Allen Gilmore, Holly Twyford, Liz Mikel, Ed Swidey, Larry Bates, Ed Gero, Gretchen Kritch, Nathaniel Stampley, Phyllis Kay. Front, left: Timothy McCuen Piggee, Phylicia Rashad, Randy Bryant.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday I had brunch with the Fellows and Phylicia to discuss their week at Ten Chimneys. All of the Fellows thought it was a wonderful experience, beyond what they could have imagined, and that Ten Chimneys had created an encouraging and nurturing environment in which they could work. It was truly a week of retreat and reflection and an opportunity for them to grow artistically. Phylicia being gracious and poised, thanked each of the Fellows for their contributions to American theatre. As I said goodbye to Phylicia and the Fellows I was reminded again of the importance of Ten Chimneys, why the Lunts' created this gorgeous haven, and why Joe Garton saved it. It was an honor to share in the week. I can't wait to see what lies ahead for each of our 2015 Fellows. You bet I'll be watching.

What is Ten Chimneys?

Ten Chimneys, the estate lovingly created by theatre legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, is open to the public as a world-class house museum with a progressive mission to serve the arts.

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