Navy Pier sat down with the leading women of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s new performance, Sense and Sensibility. Opening April 18, 2015, this Jane Austen classic has a new added twist: a special musical composition written by Tony Award®-nominated composer Paul Gordon created especially for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Needless to say, we were excited to speak with the actors playing the starring sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two ladies that are new to the CST stage, Sharon Rietkirk and Megan McGinnis, respectively. Read on to learn more about their experiences with CST, how their offstage friendship helps their onstage performances, and their favorite things to do at the Pier!
This is your first performance with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. How has this been different from other theaters/casts you’ve performed with in the past?
SR: One of the most wonderful thing about working at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is that every single person I have come in contact with—from the marvelous wig and costume department, to company management, to the marketing department, to the stage crew—everyone has been welcoming, generous, and incredibly talented. I get the impression that everyone loves to work here, and that generates fantastic positive energy throughout the building.
MM: Chicago Shakespeare is such a supportive environment! Everyone who works at the theatre has been so kind and incredible to us. We are in such good hands with this creative team and this cast—it feels very comforting. I’ve never worked on such an extreme thrust stage before, so that has been an education! It’s pretty freeing though, so I’m excited to experience it with a live audience. It really allows you to feel the energy of everyone in the theatre.
What trait of your character do you believe is most important to capture on stage?
MM: My favorite thing about Marianne is how freely she expresses her emotions. I’ve often been told I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I certainly identify with Marianne’s desire to emote! But it’s such a wonderful thing, to be unfettered by society’s rules. The time period may instill in Marianne the ideas of “sense” —that she should remain the perfect lady and not show her emotions—but instead, she ignores those rules and embodies “sensibility.”
SR: I think Elinor is such a wonderful, interesting woman—she feels deeply and loves fiercely, but does not wear her heart on her sleeve. She is practical, but still passionate; I think the tension between the two is what makes her so fascinating (and relatable!).
For Sense and Sensibility, the chemistry of the Dashwood sisters is important. How did you work with your castmate to ensure a successful onstage relationship?
MM: I don’t have to work at all to ensure a successful relationship on stage with Sharon! How lucky am I—we are already good friends! We played sisters a year ago in another new musical, and became immediate friends. I was SO sad to leave her then, as she lives in San Francisco, so to be reunited again is just so fun. I’m grateful for the friend time with her, and grateful that it’s so easy to be on stage with her. I admire and respect her talent so much. Oh, and she is a dynamite cook and often makes us meals. Like I said, LUCKY!
SR: Megan and I have played sisters before, which is a great advantage for us. We have a friendship upon which to base our stage sisterhood. The love between us on stage is effortless. We trust each other, respect each other, and understand the other’s process. I am so grateful for Megan; she is such an incredible actor, scene partner, and friend.
How does the script of S&S differ from Jane Austen’s novel? What does the musical aspect bring that a regular play performance does not?
SR: The beauty of a musical adaptation of Sense & Sensibility is that through song, each character gets to express their inner thoughts and reveal the most secret parts of their hearts to the audience. While singing alone on stage, Elinor can admit feelings and hopes that she would never express in conversation with others. The way we communicate in song is very similar to a Shakespearean soliloquy, come to think of it. A perfect match for Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
MM: Our script is pretty faithful to the novel. Yes, there are some differences, but I was surprised how little I missed them when I read our script. I’m a huge fan of the novel, and Paul Gordon has captured these characters so well. It’s incredible. And to hear them SING—it’s the best way to show emotion. I was always told that a song begins when text can no longer support the emotion. And there is so much emotion in this story. Setting it to music seems appropriate.
If the audience captures one thing from your performance, what do you want it to be?
MM: The Dashwood sisters take such a journey in this story. I just want the audience to be able to hop on for the ride. I think they will enjoy it!
Do you have any special [rituals] idiosyncrasies or superstitions you follow before a performance?
SR: My pre-show ritual is to do a bit of yoga. It loosens my muscles, relaxes my spirit, and tunes me into my breathing (which is so important for singing!); my body and voice is then warmed up and ready to hit the stage.
MM: I always warm up my voice. It was instilled in me early by my voice teacher. It’s kept my voice healthy all these years!
You’ve probably gotten to know Navy Pier very well — what’s your favorite thing to do here when you’re not rehearsing?
SR: Megan and I have a habit of heading downstairs on our lunch break to share a cup of Intelligentsia coffee at Häagen-Dazs and a walk outside along the pier before heading back to work. You can’t beat the view which makes it a perfect mid-day pick-me-up.
MM: I love incredible views of Lake Michigan and the beautiful city of Chicago!