Actor Spotlight: Courtney DeGennaro Robinson

Courtney DeGennaro Robinson makes her first appearance at ACT in Rabbit Hole. She has most recently appeared on stage as Grace in the off-Broadway production of Starbright, Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross, Sam Fried in Coyote on a Fence, and Cecily Cardew in The Importance of Being Earnest. When not onstage, she is an avid knitter, bookworm, and baker of French macarons.
Name: Courtney DeGennaro Robinson
Character in Rabbit Hole: Becca
Occupation: Paralegal.
Hobbies and Interests: Baking French Macaroons, hiking, knitting, and reading
Why should you come and see a play like Rabbit Hole? The magic of the theatre allows us to experience lives outside our own as we invest in the characters onstage. This play, in particular, gives us a window into an experience that we all hope never to have. Rabbit Hole fosters empathy for those who are suffering, and reminds us that grief is not something that goes away neatly or quickly, nor is it a permanent state of being. There is always hope and light, and life, if we choose to find it.
What is the hardest part about playing your character? Becca has suffered an unbelievable loss, and she is in indescribable pain, but she doesn’t spend the entire play wailing and crying. It would be easier to just feel and release those emotions. Instead, I’ve had to generate that enormous sense of suffering and bury it just beneath the surface, so that it can eke out a bit when the circumstances of the show require it. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
Can you name some of the major recurring emotions you felt throughout the rehearsal process for Rabbit Hole? As odd as it may sound, there was a lot of joy in the rehearsal process. My cast mates and I bonded quickly, and we share a lot of laughs backstage. This show requires a lot of vulnerability and intimacy, and we’ve really leaned into our trust for one another to balance the pain of the deep emotions we’re exploring with care and affection for one other. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to go through this process with.
What is, in your opinion, the most important moment in …

Actor Spotlight: Joann Johnson

For Joann Johnson, the theater was a big part of her life in middle school and high school. Her roles as a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a Lady in Waiting in the Princess and the Pea, and the Goblin Queen in the Princess and the Goblin Queen, helped influence her love for the arts. Mainly receiving smaller parts however, Joann moved onto other art pursuits when college came around. The journey through university was tumultuous, helping Joann decide to take a break to travel, work, and navigate adulthood. After a few years, Joann received clarity that she should pursue nursing school. While pre-nursing courses are arduous, Joann continues to study while working full time as a hostess at Chestnut in downtown Asheville. Joann decided to try out for Rabbit Hole after almost a decade of not doing theater. The role of Izzy felt like the perfect debut adult performance. 
Name: Joann Johnson
Character in Rabbit Hole: Izzy
Occupation: Hostess.
Hobbies and Interests: Hiking, yoga, biking, reading, writing and throwing events for my friends.
Why should you come and see a play like Rabbit Hole? Rabbit Hole is an authentic play that gives the audience a window into a home filled with the mixed emotions that families experience with loss. It has humor, sadness, dysfunction, and frustration that is relatable.
Can you name some of the major recurring emotions you felt throughout the rehearsal process for Rabbit Hole?  Humor, Joy, Sadness, Grief.
What about Rabbit Hole drew you to audition?  My character Izzy deals with pain through humor which I connect with. She is honest almost to a fault. I also have had my own experience with grief. Four years ago I gave my son up for adoption and I’ve been grappling with that grief in my own way the last few years.
Have you grown at all as a person, working on Rabbit Hole? I really feel like this play has helped me deal with my own grief and story in a deeper way. It’s brought me out of my shell in a creative and challenging way. Midway through the show’s rehearsals I also had a hard break up with my partner which was another loss …

Actor Spotlight: Jon Morrison

Jon Morrison is 23 years old and new to the Asheville area. This is his first play at ACT and he’s really grateful to be a part of it. He likes to watch movies and write. Earlier this year he performed in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure at Raleigh Little Theatre in Raleigh, NC.
Name: Jon Morrison
Character in Rabbit Hole: Jason Willette
Occupation: Delivering pizzas.
Hobbies and Interests: Watch movies, video games, write, sports, YouTube. Typical millennial stuff.
Why should you come and see a play like Rabbit Hole? Because it’s what we need right now. If we all took the time to understand each other and see that we’re all hurting in different ways, we’d spend less time fighting and more time growing.
What do you feel is the most important message of your character, and what can it teach other people? To be sincere. Jason sort of says/does what he feels without the filter of what society thinks is normal. It’s not corny to unironically express yourself.
What is the hardest part about playing your character? It’s easier/more fun to work with emotional extremes in acting. Jason is the opposite of that. It’s hard expressing emotions without being overt.
Have you grown at all as a person, working on Rabbit Hole? Of course. I’ve always dealt with grief the same way Becca does; by compartmentalizing. I’ve learned it’s healthier to face your demons head-on.
Have you struggled at all working on such a heavy and potentially sad play? If so, how were you able to remain positive? Yeah it was tough. The deeper we got into it the less fun it became. It slowly became an obligation just to get the story right which is what kept me motivated on the particularly rough days. Knowing that everyone goes through grief and that someone might take something away from the play on how to deal with it.
Can you describe what, in your opinion, the essence of Rabbit Hole is? Sometimes bad things happen that are nobody’s fault at all. You should spend your time learning, healing, growing instead of ignoring, hiding, and placing blame.
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Jon, we hope we’ll keep seeing you on our stages and on other stages …

Actor Spotlight: Kelsey Simmons

Kelsey Simmons is not only making her ACT debut, she’s making her theatrical debut! She’s a rising senior at UNCC, an accomplished model, and an incredibly hard worker. She plays Ally, a student who’s hoping to transfer to Hofstra, but is spending the last days of summer tackling 5 different parts in Bob’s play. Ally is smart, gets inspiration from the world around her, and is a lot of fun. Which also sounds a lot like Kelsey to us!
Name: Kelsey Simmons
Occupation: Waitress
Age: 20
Hometown: Asheville
Little known fact about you: I also like to do hair.
Years involved in theatre: 1. This is my first show!
We’re so excited that this is your ACT debut. What was it about this play that made you come out to audition? I’m really interested in acting and I was looking for a place where I could get more experience – a place where someone wasn’t expecting me to already be a professional. I wanted the full experience of being in a play; having set rehearsal schedules, getting notes from the director. I thought this would be a place where I could learn.
Person or people you gain inspiration from: My grandma, Michelle Obama, and Barbara Jordan
Would you be friends with your character in real life? Yes
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Kelsey, we hope we’ll keep seeing you on our stages and on other stages around town in the future! If you’d like to catch Kelsey’s debut in The Groundling, get tickets here.

Actor Spotlight: Haven Volpe

Another actor making his ACT Mainstage debut is Haven Volpe.  He just finished starring in Robin Hood at Montford Park Players, where more than 6,000 people enjoyed him in the role of Will Scarlett, one of Robin’s Merry Men. In The Groundling, Haven plays Pete, a neighbor who’s been hired by Bob to answer phones and compose music for his office phone system. Pete has never been in a play before (though he would take you to Phantom of the Opera RIGHT NOW he loves it so much), but he’s playing Bob in the play Bob has written.
Name: Haven Volpe
Occupation: Part-Time Student/Salesman/Professional Actor
Age: 16
Hometown: Asheville, Land of the Sky
Years involved in theatre: 14. Been acting since my debut role in preschool: Chicken Little, y’all!
You’ve been involved in theatre for your entire life, basically! What was your first experience at ACT? I was a student at ArtSpace Charter School throughout most of elementary and middle school. I actually received the Rinnie Rocks Scholarship in seventh grade there. It was a full scholarship to Tanglewood Youth Theatre’s Summer Camp and so my first ACT experience was as a youth summer camper.
Oh my gosh! That scholarship is named in memory of Rinnie Hopkins, who was also an ArtSpace student, and who came to summer camp for years. How thrilling that you’ve continued to be involved in theatre, not just at ACT, but all over town. I can’t complain. I love the theatre. I’d do every show in town if I could!
You work with Montford Park Players quite a bit. How different is Pete from some of the past characters you’ve played? Has playing this role been a stretch for you? A stretch? Yeah, I guess you could say that. As an actor, I feel considerably more comfortable onstage in a doublet than a t-shirt! I think modern theatre is a little different from what I’m used to, the character of Pete included. It’s a lot different playing what could be a real, current person. It can end up bring much more personal. At Montford, you’re acting Shakespeare outside in front of upwards of 5 or 6 hundred people. It’s a little less personal and definitely …

Actor Spotlight: Mandy Bean

The fierce, funny, and fabulous Mandy Bean is back onstage at ACT! You’ve seen her as Jeannie in The Great American Trailer Park Musical or perhaps in Snowbound or Nuncrackers. Or, if you’re a Montford Park Players aficionado (and if you’re not, you should be!), you’ve seen her in Othello, Julius Caesar, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In The Groundling, Mandy plays Victoria, the actress who stuns Bob with her ability to listen and react when he sees her onstage. He hires her to help him put on the play he has written – and though she’s not used to working in a garage in Long Island, she takes the job.
(Photo by William Zane Lawrence)
Name: Mandy Bean
Occupation: Stay at home mom
Hometown: Weaverville
Years involved in theatre: 20
How did you become involved in theatre? I started out as a dancer when I was very young, and I fell in love with Mary Martin’s Peter Pan as a toddler. I was always the first to volunteer to read anything out loud in class, and I remember desperately wanting to be in plays, but there was never an opportunity to do so. I didn’t actually find an outlet to start acting until high school, but the drive to be onstage has been there for as long as I can remember.
Who’s the favorite character you’ve played? It’s hard to choose, but the one that comes to mind is Emilia in Othello. She has one of the best monologues of any woman in Shakespeare, and it felt amazing to deliver that.
Can you relate with your character? In some ways, absolutely. I do a lot of Shakespeare, and there are some aspects to Victoria that are really familiar to me. I relate to Victoria’s love of acting, and her frustration over not always being able to find work.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show? It’s hard to pick a favorite, but when she first arrives and interacts with Dodd is a fun one, especially with Scott Keel. We’ve been friends for a decade, and it’s always fun to be onstage with old friends!
Do you have a dream role? There are a few (and I’ve already performed some, …

Actor Spotlight: Daniel Sandoval

This August on the Mainstage, Asheville Community Theatre will present the NC premiere of The Groundling by Marc Palmieri, a play about the ups and downs of marriage and relationships.
About the show: After stumbling upon an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play in Manhattan, Long Island landscaper Bob Malone returns home inspired to write a play about his troubled marriage. He hires two reluctant New York theatre professionals to spend a week at his home and stage the play in his garage, with a cast of colorful locals. A modern romantic comedy with a moving and unexpected ending.
This production includes a small cast of seven community members working diligently and closely together to bring this show to life with the gentleness and care it deserves. Four of the cast members are making their ACT Mainstage debuts – and three are returning to our stage! ACT has asked The Groundling cast to submit some personal and not so personal answers to some of our most burning questions.
To kick things off let’s give a big welcome to ACT newcomer Daniel Sandoval! He’s a native Long Islander – who just happens to be playing Bob Malone, also from Long Island!
Name: Daniel Sandoval  
Role: Bob Malone   
Hometown: Long Island, NY    
Occupation: Mechatronics Engineer
OK, What’s that? Great question – in short, I like to say “Daniel makes machines dance for a living.” Mechatronics is a portmanteau of Mechanical and Electrical, and basically the term used for people who design machine automation systems. Here’s a great example (skip to 3:00 of the video) for the really cool part:

That was a very unusual job. I literally was living in Radio City Music Hall for a week and a half getting all the bugs out of that system. Most of what I do is for factories – like automobile assembly lines.
(For a really detailed description of Daniel’s brilliant creativity in engineering the motion control system for the bus that carried 35 Rockettes, read this!)
What appealed to you about this show?  I totally know these people. I think I’d be friends with my character in real life. We’d have a beer together now and then.
How you became involved in theatre: …

Places, Please: Scenic Design – Creating the Annex

As the Scenic Designer for The Diary of Anne Frank, Jack Lindsay decided how to tranform the ACT stage into the Secret Annex. From the placement of the walls and the doors, to the look of all the furniture and even the floor, Jack has a lot of decisions to make. He talks with the director and the other designers to make these decisions – and he always builds a scenic model to help along the way.
ACT: Why is building a scenic model such an important step?
Jack Lindsay, Scenic Designer: It’s a visual tool of where we’re headed. It’s utilized by the director to know how to stage scenes, by the actors to know where they’re moving, by the lighting designer to see how and where to light, and for the build crew to understand what they’re building. For me as the designer, it’s very helpful to formulate in three dimensions what I’m trying to achieve onstage.
ACT: Do you start your scenic design by building the model?
Jack: No, I start with a sketched plan, because there’s a lot of jockeying around in the beginning. Once I sketch the plans, I start blocking out the areas I’d like to develop. And then I build the model. Once the plan is approved by the director, I create elevations (which are specific designs that focus on the details of what needs to be built).
ACT: Were the specific challenges you faced with this scenic design?
Jack: With The Diary of Anne Frank, the challenge is that the ACT stage is very large, and the actual Secret Annex is very small. We wanted to create the kind of congestion in a space that happens when 8 people are confined to a small area for 25 months. That adds a lot of conflict, as does the fear of being discovered. We needed to portray the almost claustrophobic nature of the actual space – but we still had to think about lighting and sightlines, so the set can’t be too closed in. Usually I can give directors a lot of leeway with a design so that they can have a lot of choices in staging. …

Places Please: Prop Design – Creating the Diary

Ezra Campbell is the Prop Designer for The Diary of Anne Frank. Props are the items held or used by actors during a production. One of the most important props in the show is Anne’s diary, and we asked Ezra how he created this piece.
ACT: How did you begin your research on the look of the diary?
Ezra Campbell, Props Designer: Unsurprisingly, the diary was the first prop I really focused on in the early stages of the design. In this show, the diary is really a character unto itself. So, I knew that replicating such a historic artifact would be no simple task. I began my research by creating a collection of reference images of the inside and outside of the diary as well as individuals posing near the diary while it was on display. I then used these collective images to combine all the details to bring the diary to life onstage. The famous red and white checkered diary was not actually a diary, it was an autograph book that Anne picked out as her 13th birthday present prior to entering the secret annex. This diary was one of several diaries, notebooks, and even loose-leaf paper that Anne used to write in during her time in the secret annex. Those texts, all saved by Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl were later combined by Otto Frank into the manuscript (although the entirety of 1943 is missing) that became The Diary of a Young Girl.
ACT: How did you create the cover?
Ezra: Magic. Well, the next best thing – collaboration. The costume designer, Carina Lopez and I collaborated to create the diary. I found a company that would custom print a replica of the fabric on the cover of the diary. The base is a sketchbook that we then glued the fabric to and attached the buckle. Carina created the closure out of the remainder of the fabric. Using the images from the inside of the diary, we created several replica pages for Faith [the actress playing Anne] to use. These pages, including text from Anne’s original diary entries, are exactly matched and include copies of the photographs that Anne …

Places Please: Mermaids & Theatre Magic

The end of act two, scene eight of Peter and the Starcatcher could be the most spectacular moment in the show–a massive crack of thunder, flashes of lightning, cast members scattering in all directions off stage and a giant mermaid tail swimming rapidly (yet effortlessly) into the vom (i.e. an exit/entrance passageway). Pure theatre magic. The entire instance lasted under thirty seconds, but the concept, design and blocking took weeks to perfect.
Long before Missy Sullivan (Teacher) sat atop a ladder and looked down at Peter (played by Alex Daly) lying like a snow angel in the middle of her parachute mermaid tail, director Chanda Calentine, set designer Jill Summers and costume designer Carina Lopez huddled to brainstorm. The concept was fuzzy at first: multi-use fabric of some sort that could portray water or mermaid tails. Yet, when Chanda asked that Teacher’s mermaid tail drape down from Missy and cover part of the stage and Carina suggested it flow over the stage entirely, a brilliant idea was born.
So, the work began to find enough material to do just that. While fabric was plentiful at ACT, acquiring the right kind proved to be difficult. There needed to be enough to make 12 mermaid’s tails, a giant 30 foot by 20 foot mermaid tail for Teacher, and 4 smaller rectangular pieces to be used as water. The fabric also needed to be able to be lit effectively and had to be durable since the actors would be dancing with it, sitting on it, pulling it, shaking it, running with it, etc. With this information in mind, Chanda reached out to Robin Oswald and her husband John, who is President/CEO of Mills Manufacturing, and the decision was made—parachute material. Robin and John generously donated a huge amount for the show, and ACT could not have been more grateful.
“The fabric was perfect, because it worked on so many levels,” said Chanda. “We focused on the sound it made as well as the fluidity. When the words are meant to quicken the pace, we used the material to assist with that. If we wanted to slow the scene down, we used it in a softer way.”
The …