TBA Online: News & Features: February 2016

Couples in Theatre - 2016 Edition

Sunday, February 14, 2016   (0 Comments)
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Happy Valentine’s Day from Theatre Bay Area! The life of the theatre professional is far from being all hearts and flowers—the excitement and fulfillment of doing the work we love often involves long hours, hard work and intense problem solving. And all of these components, both positive and the negative, can be magnified when both partners work in the field. 

However, the rewards of partnering with another theatre-maker are extraordinary as well. And as TBA columnist Velina Brown said in her February column, "Who are theatre artists going to be interacting with the most? Fellow theatre artists. Therefore, it makes sense that the theatre would be the pond we would fish in for partners." 

This month, Theatre Bay Area would like to honor all couples in theatre that are making it work while making great work, including our 2016 TBA Couples in Theatre: Rebecca Longworth & Joan Howard, Alex Kirschner & Alex Rodriguez and James Nelson & Carina Salazar

Couples in Theatre: Rebecca Longworth and Joan Howard

Physical theatre artist/clown Joan Howard and director/designer/performer Rebecca Longworth. Photo: Adam Sussman

What is/are your role/s in the theatre world? For how long?

Rebecca: I’m a director, sometimes a projection/animation designer and very occasionally a performer. I’ve been doing it forever, but professionally—let’s call it 15+ years.

Joan: I’m a physical theatre performer/clown and also a scenic designer and builder. I’ve actually been both a performer and designer since college. That’s been—well, let’s just say the last college reunion I attended was almost 10 years ago, and there was a bouncy castle. It was not for me. In 2013, Rebecca and I started our own theatre company called Idiot String, to create delightful and accessible ensemble theatre. We’re the coartistic directors of that company.

How and when did you meet? Did sparks fly right away?
Rebecca: We met performing in The Odyssey on Angel Island with We Players. There was definitely an immediate attraction, despite the unflattering cut of the brown sweatpants we all wore under our costumes.

Joan: She played an old nurse, and I played a lecherous suitor, so, of course, the chemistry was palpable.

What are some of the advantages of having a significant other in theatre?
Rebecca: Passionate conversations about every play you see together (this can also be a disadvantage, depending on the passions and the play!). Being with someone who understands theatre hours, understands your commitment to the theatre world, and understands your artistic drive. It’s also amazing to collaborate on the right project—we have adapted two outdoor plays together and are working on an original script (I direct and produce; Joan designs & performs).

Joan: It’s truly an amazing thing to be with someone who understands the life of a theatre artist and shares the same level of passion and commitment to it—in all its challenges and rewards. We have a deep capacity to support each other through the disappointments and frustrations and also celebrate each other’s successes and joys. It’s also fun to see shows together and know Rebecca is noticing the same fabulously subtle character tick an actor has perfected, or the less fabulous, just-slightly-off-kilter scenic prop just visible in the corner of the stage. 

What are some of the challenges of having a significant other in theatre? How do you address them when they arise?
Joan: Rebecca and I are equally passionate about theatre, and we are equally adamant about our opinions. It can be hard sometimes to stop and hear one another when we feel so strongly about our ideas, especially when we’re creating a show together. It can also be difficult to just stop talking about theatre and go for a walk and just enjoy one another. We’ve made it a point to schedule time to talk shop—and also put limits on theatre conversations when we’re ‘off the clock.’

Rebecca: Money! It’s hard to live in the Bay on two artists’ incomes...but we rely on creativity and positivity to get us through the scary stuff.

What advice would you give to new couples in theatre, to keep things happy and healthy? 
Rebecca: Know your needs and boundaries, both artistic and personal. If you do collaborate, treat it with care. It can be so rewarding to work together, but takes time and perseverance to figure out how you fit together as collaborators—and that can be very different from how you fit together as a couple. Advice I’d give to any couple, theatrical or not: honor each others’ differences.

Joan: Make time to make your art—for you—and make time to share your art with one another. Have interests and spend time with friends outside of theatre and outside of your relationship. Be honest about challenging feelings that arise from playing in the same world—work out solutions together. Really listen when your partner shares their ideas. Exercise.

Rebecca: Laugh together.

Joan: Laugh. A lot.


Couples in Theatre: Alex Kirschner and Alex Rodriguez

Director (and Ray of Light Theatre production manager) Alex Kirschner and TBA Award-winning actor Alex Rodriguez. Photo: Courtesy of Alex Kirschner and Alex Rodriguez

What is/are your role/s in the theatre world? For how long?

Alex R.: I’ve been acting in the theatre, mostly in musicals, for almost 18 years (wow, has it been that long?) I got my start doing community theatre down in Southern California and then made my professional debut in the North American tour of Miss Saigon at the end of 2001 or so. I’ve recently started exploring other areas of theatre like plays (no singing!) and taking a seat behind the table as choreographer, with next being The Wild Party for Ray of Light Theatre.

Alex K.: I graduated from St. Mary’s College in Moraga as a communication major and theatre minor with aspirations of being a full-time artist, but quickly realized I had bills to pay. I’ve been very fortunate to have employers who support me and my art, so since I moved to San Francisco in 2006, I’ve been working steadily. I started off acting only, with companies like New Conservatory Theatre Center, Pear Avenue Theatre, foolsFury and Ray of Light. Ray of Light is now my home; I’m on the volunteer staff, helping run the company as company production manager, having also directed Triassic Parq. I’d love to carve out the time to be onstage again soon, and will definitely keep directing when the project is right.

How and when did you meet? Did sparks fly right away?
Alex R.: Did sparks fly? Well, kinda. I was doing a show at Pier 39 (Insignificant Others, written by Jay Kuo, of Allegiance fame) and one of the cast members was like, “I have this friend that would be perfect for you!”—so very matchmaker. So she arranged to have us meet blindly while we were out at a cast karaoke session in the Sunset. I was quite nervous, and of course my friend and I decided to sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” I was just like, “I’m singing this in front of this really hot guy—oh, crap.”

Fast-forward to our first date on Valentine’s Day: we had to meet very late in the evening because we were both in shows at the time. It was romantic, but because I’m Latin, I scared him off, apparently—we’re quite passionate, you know? So we actually lost touch for several months, and personally I’m quite thankful the timing wasn’t right then. Fate would have us meet [while working] in the same show later on, and we were rehearsing together and the timing was right. On August 8, 2008 I asked him out while we were in line for a late-night burrito because I wanted the moment to be unique.

Alex K.: It didn’t start as a showmance—of that I am very proud!

What are some of the advantages of having a significant other in theatre?

Alex K.: We honor and respect one another’s hectic schedules. Admittedly, Alex (Rodriguez) is working far more frequently than I am because he’s so ridiculously talented, but frequently our nontheatre friends seem amazed by the hours we keep. Up early in the morning to work out together, then off to our day jobs, then on to some theatre endeavor in the evening. It takes stamina, to be sure, and having a partner who both understands that and can keep up is a lifesaver.

Alex R.: Understanding of the business. Complete and total understanding of the business. More often than not, if you’re not in the theatre, you have no idea what goes into it—the long hours, late nights, total commitment to your art. The advantage is that he gets the quirks that come with the business, and we create no guilt or jealousy around what could be considered “another person” in our relationship. Theatre is definitely another person, since you spend a good portion of your time and give a lot of your emotion to it.

What are some of the challenges of having a significant other in theatre? How do you address them when they arise?
Alex R.: We’ve been quite lucky in terms of challenges, as they’ve been quite few. I have friends that refuse to date other actors because actors usually have egos. I’ll be honest in saying that if AK were the same type as myself (and worked in musicals), that might be another story. [But] we’ve never had to compete against each other, as we’re two totally different types.

Now, I can tell you that one of the largest challenges came when I was offered a role in Triassic Parq with Ray of Light, on which he was the director. I initially needed some time to think on it, only because I knew that if I were to commit, there would be no safe zone in the house. He would also be the person telling me what to do on that stage, and if I disagreed, well...you get the picture. Ultimately, we talked about it and determined that, because we had been together for many years, we were ready to make that leap. We had to set boundaries and establish guidelines. Was it easy? No. But he also got to see my process as an actor and I think that only made us stronger.

Alex K.: Deciding when it’s right to work together on a project has served as our biggest challenge so far. With Triassic Parq, I avoided casting AR because I didn’t want to be seen by others as favoring him, and was also unsure of the director/actor/partner dynamic. Once Ray of Light artistic director Jason Hoover slapped some sense into me (AR went on to win a TBA Award for his performance, by the way), it was creating boundaries between the rehearsal studio and our home life. It wasn’t easy, and I could no longer be his sounding board when he came home from rehearsal, because he couldn’t vent to me about a production I was at the helm of. At the same time, it was not an easy show to put up, so we had to be there for one another. Striking the perfect balance when working together might take one or more tries.

What advice would you give to new couples in theatre, to keep things happy and healthy? 
Alex R.: Be an adult. That requires you to be honest, accountable, to communicate, and maintain responsibility to your partner. I think this is true of any relationship, not just in theatre. Also, we’re theatre people—we should be the experts at breaking out the creativity and surprising each other!

Alex K.: Leave egos at the door, and be the support system your partner needs. Artists are fickle beings who frequently base their value on what others tell them or how loudly an audience claps at curtain call. Don’t bring that into the relationship—trust one another, be honest and be patient.

Couples in Theatre: James Nelson and Carina Salazar

Actor Carina Salazar and director James Nelson at the 2015 TBA Awards Celebration. Photo: Sal Mattos

What is/are your role/s in the theatre world? For how long?

James: I work as a freelance director, which has been my main discipline for about six years. I’ve been directing two to four productions a year since graduating from college. My day job is here at Theatre Bay Area, working in membership and program support.

Carina: I was born and raised in the Bay Area and have been working in theatre as an actor for the last six years. 

How and when did you meet? Did sparks fly right away?
Carina: We met through Theatre Bay Area! I first met James, very briefly, when I was working as the events & membership coordinator at TBA and he was in the ATLAS round for directors. I would assist Dale with the ATLAS sessions, so I would see James around. A few months after that, he was applying for a job at TBA, and we worked together. Zero sparks at all! We simply looked at each other as coworkers who did work well together and got along.

James: Carina and I worked together here at Theatre Bay Area for over a year and had a great working relationship, but no romantic thoughts ever crossed our minds during that time. When she moved on to another job, we started to see each other socially to keep in touch; at some point, that evolved into dating, which we thought was probably a disastrous idea at the time. We were very happily wrong about that!

Carina: We laugh about it now, because it was so unexpected when we got together. We were right next to each other all this time, it just took us a while to find each other and see a partner in life. 

What are some of the advantages of having a significant other in theatre?
Carina: He’ll always want to go see shows with me! We’re both avid theatregoers, so it works out that we can be each other’s dates. It’s great, because then I have someone I can talk to afterwards about what I just saw and felt, and it’s fun to discover what we agree or disagree on.

James: I can’t imagine anyone else dealing with the schedule—when I’m in rehearsals for a show, my work week is 70-80 hours. When I’m in between rehearsals, I’m seeing my colleagues’ shows almost every single night, which is another crucial part of my work. I spend less than five nights at home every month. When both people in a relationship are working similarly intense schedules, you strike a balance and find ways to support each other. Beyond that, theatre is the central focus of my life in every regard, so I find it necessary to have someone who can really engage me artistically. She sees all my work and is willing to be critical, and I do the same for her.

Carina: It is nice to have someone who shares the same love of theatre. I don’t like having to explain what I do and why I do it to people—and with a theatre person, there’s that understanding already. 

What are some of the challenges of having a significant other in theatre? How do you address them when they arise?
Carina: The biggest hurdle, always, is our schedules. Since we first started dating, it has always been the case that one person is working on a show and the other isn’t, or we’re both working on shows at the same time. So we make the effort to see each other every night, even if it’s for just a few moments. It gives us a chance to check in with each other, and it’s something I always look forward to, knowing that I get to see him after a long day. The times when we actually have a chunk of time off, we treat it like it’s a special occasion since it’s so rare for us.

James: Finding time to actually go on dates or take trips together can be really difficult, although it’s very special when it does happen. Also, theatre is a very low-income industry, so when both partners work in that field, it’s harder to alleviate the financial implications of the work, and things that other couples can afford (marriage, kids, buying a house) seem so distant and unobtainable, especially in a place like California that has such an aggressive cost of living.

What advice would you give to new couples in theatre, to keep things happy and healthy? 
James: Theatre is a stressful career, but you can’t take your stress out on the other person—that’s selfish and destructive. Your partner is working just as hard as you are, and any way you can find to help make things easier for them will make you both happier. I think it’s also important to find someone with whom you share a similar energy—Carina and I are both introverted, and we end most days exhausted from social interaction, so being a calm, positive presence for each other keeps us both sane.

Carina: I am not one to roll out couples advice, ‘cause I barely know what I’m doing! What has worked for me and what has worked for us is to take it day by day. Each day is another chance to be with each other and find ways to show our love for one another.

James: There are many different ways to say “I love you”—when I can have dinner or a glass of whiskey waiting for her when she comes home from rehearsal, or she finds a way to sneak a cute note into my wallet for me to discover later, those little gestures mean so much.


How do you show your loved ones in theatre how much you care?
Share your tips and tricks below!