Written by: Danielle Grunenwald Gruhler and Scott Thanasiu
‘Ordinary Days’ opened at Weathervane Playhouse on Friday, October 30th and runs through Saturday, November, 14th. Todd Dieringer, Director of Marketing & Technology and Volunteer Coordinator at Weathervane, enlisted two cast members from the show to tell the Akronist about the upcoming production as well as the evolution of their roles at the local community theater. Danielle Grunenwald Gruhler and Scott Thanasiu asked each other questions about their experiences. They have shared their conversation with us.
Scott: How and when did you initially encounter Weathervane?
Danielle: When he was five, my son Charlie participated in a week-long theater camp in Weathervane’s Young Actors and Education Program. That was our family’s first experience with Weathervane. A number of years after that, he auditioned for an Emerging Artists’ show, and never looked back. Charlie and our younger son Henry have been in a number of productions. As parents, Marty and I logged many hours behind the scenes working the fly system, running the spotlight, helping with props and costumes. Our family pretty quickly felt the embrace of what we now call our “Weathervane Family.”
Scott: What prompted your desire to perform onstage and, as a follow up, why take the stage at this point in life?
Danielle: I was in a number of productions in high school and enjoyed the experience of being in plays and musical productions. After that, college, career, and family took a front seat to pursuing opportunities to perform. When Sarah Bailey, who is the Director of Education, was tapped to direct ‘The Music Man’ (the big summer musical production of 2013) she encouraged family members to audition for parts in this multi-generational cast. Charlie and I auditioned, and were cast along with many others who would become a part of our ever-growing Weathervane family. Performing in that show was such a breath of fresh air. You might say I got “the bug” with that show. I had a blast doing it, was sad when it was over, and was so grateful for the experience. Since then, I’ve done other Weathervane productions, and each one has stretched me to try new things—from dramatic portrayals in ‘Hamlet,’ to tap-dancing my tootsies off in ‘Oklahoma!,’ to learning lyrics and crazy harmonies in a show I was completely unfamiliar with – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Our current show is my first performance in a “black box” theater, so yet again I’m trying something I’ve never done before. For me, performing on stage stirs up feelings of vulnerability. It sometimes feels “risky” (for lack of a better word!) but it always feels exhilarating! I suppose that’s why I do it.
What about you? Why pursue theater now?
Scott: Why now? That is a good question. Little nudges throughout my life, mostly ignored, have pointed me toward the stage. From before the time that memory serves, I’ve been told by family how, as a toddler, I had a little toy guitar that I’d play, imitating Glen Campbell and Elvis. I can remember reenacting comedy sketches alone or with the accompaniment of my brother, Todd. At home, we’d put on short skits for our parents. At school, I recall performing on the playground, acting out renditions of Cheech and Chong routines with a small circle of classmates asking me to “do it again.” After school, Todd and I entertained the neighborhood kids doing sketches, improvising characters, or telling jokes in succession – kind of like a stand-up routine. I remember one time in the fifth-grade, after some high school kids gave a performance of ‘Oliver!’ at our elementary school, my teacher Mr. Simons, telling me he expected to see me up on the stage one day. Despite his encouragement, I never did anything like that, all through my time in school; never any real, organized, scripted theater.
Later, as a parent, my daughters, Shannon, Kylie, and Grace, had been active in theater at different points in their lives, starting with Ingenue Theater Ensemble about 15 years ago. Then Grace did her first show at Weathervane Playhouse in 2011. Diane (Note from Danielle: Scott’s wife) and I had originally become involved as backstage volunteers for ‘Annie,’ Grace’s second of many shows at Weathervane. My exposure to theater, especially community theater, really came through my children.
Perhaps being around it so much had whet my appetite. Still, I’d never seriously considered acting until this past Spring, when Diane told me that you’d casually mentioned to her that I should audition for ‘Oklahoma!’ Somehow, that display of confidence or support, whatever you want to call it, coming from a friend was the spark that rekindled the performer’s spirit in me. ‘Oklahoma!,’ as it turns out, was my first show as an actor and guess what? On the last Friday night that we performed it, Mr. & Mrs. Simons (my third-grade teacher, who married Mr. Simons) were in the audience to see ‘Oklahoma!’ Sometimes, I have to think that it was written, ya know?
Scott: What does theater “do” for you?
Danielle: Love this question. It’s because theater does so much for me that I keep coming back. I love that when a cast list goes up and I’m on it, I know great times are ahead. I know that I will meet new people and will very likely bond quickly with many of them. I’m fairly certain I will find one person in the cast who is a kindred spirit and will form a lasting friendship with him or her.
I talked earlier about how performing can bring out vulnerability in me. True. But I would add that rehearsals and performances are just so damn fun. They are what I often call “grown-up playdates.” In the rehearsal studio and onstage, I get to find and portray characters, sing, dance, be serious, be silly… and when a show is in production – I get to do all those things in wigs and costumes! Grown-up playdate, see?
What about you? What does theater do for you?
Scott: That’s funny, “grown-up playdates.” It’s funny, after learning that I’d been cast in ‘Oklahoma!’ you and I began chatting more often (I consulted with you as sort of a theater mentor) and I recall you using that term. Now, I understand what you meant. My first realization, though, of what theater could “do for me” came from working backstage. The first person at Weathervane to teach me something about working in theater was Scott Ferrall. He showed me how to operate the fly system. I worked numerous shows running the fly or moving set pieces. After a while, I was asked to help with the sound board. Friends showed me how. A few shows later, I had an opportunity to design sound for the production of Edward Albee’s ‘A Delicate Balance.’ That’s how it works at Weathervane; it’s a place where people are encouraged to grow.
I shared with you earlier a little bit about my proclivity to perform as a young person. I remember many times, when I didn’t have an audience, pretending to be Quint, Sherriff Brody, or – alternately – the Shark (‘Jaws’), Capt. Matt Garth (‘Midway’), or Obi-Wan Kenobi (‘Star Wars’), imagining myself as a real life version of those characters. Up until the age 12, I was really comfortable doing this, but as a teenager that sort of got pushed way down inside and I quit acting, overtly at least. I’m not sure why exactly, but I think maybe I just became overly self-aware and maybe a little self-conscious. In a relative sense, I’m new to theater, and still quite a rookie to the stage. Prior to ‘Ordinary Days,’ I’ve only been on stage for one production, but going way back, I think performing is a part of who I am. I think, at a visceral level, theater gives me a socially acceptable way to reconnect to that part of myself that enjoys pretending. Simply put, I have fun doing it; fun working with the whole team involved in the production and fun acting as an individual.
Danielle: Well said. What would you say are the challenges and rewards of participating in theater production?
Scott: The immediate challenge was mustering the courage to walk into the audition room for the first time. The second time, it was easier. Learning dance routines has proven to be especially difficult, but with help from friends I’ve figured it out, so now I have confidence that I can do it again, even when I encounter difficulty. The reward is in overcoming both the fear of failure as well as the difficulty of learning to do something that you couldn’t do before. The bigger reward is sharing the experience with other people; for me it has mostly been an experience of learning from others, but sometimes I am the one helping my castmates, my friends. The reward comes from allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable; likewise to be accepting of yourself as well as of others. The challenges are recurrent, but temporary. The rewards are lasting.
Scott: What about ‘Ordinary Days’ appealed to you enough to seek a role in telling this story?
Danielle: I saw the one-night-only staged sing-through that Weathervane hosted last year and fell in love with the story and score. It is poignant, funny, thought-provoking. The music is crazy fantastic.
Danielle: Why should people see ‘Ordinary Days?’
Scott: That’s what it comes down to, right? People should see ‘Ordinary Days’ because it entertains while giving the audience an opportunity to reflect. It reminds us that, while we often yearn for more, most of the time, most people do live seemingly ordinary lives. Not only is that ok – but, as this show reveals, there is beauty in coming from a place of ordinary circumstances and occasionally achieving the extraordinary, of which we are capable.
Scott: What are some unique characteristics of this production?
This production is in Weathervane’s Dietz Theater, which is a black box theater. If you’re familiar with that type of theater, then you know it is an intimate setting where audience and performers are in close proximity. I think you can’t help but feel involved in the relationships and the story being conveyed in the music when a character is looking straight into your eyes as he or she sings. There are times when ensemble members are seated among audience members. And, although I won’t say what it is, there is a particular moment near the end of the show where audience members can’t help doing the same thing all the actors are doing.
Often, shows in black box theaters have a really simple set design and ours does. But the projections in this production are anything but simple! The city-skyline backdrop of ‘Ordinary Days’ is filled with projections throughout the show. I think they transport audience and performers alike into the heart of NYC and this story. The aesthetic they add are unlike any production I’ve ever seen, let alone been in.
Good talking with you. Even better getting to share the stage with you again.
Scott: You too, friend.
- Thursday — November 12 — at 7:30 p.m.
- Friday — November 13— at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday — November 14— at 2:30 pm & 7:30 p.m.
For tickets, please visit www.weathervaneplayhouse.com or call 330.836.2626.