Festival Theatre presents the one-woman show The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey in a limited run May 17 thru 20 directed by Josiah Laubenstein and featuring company member and Arts Education Director Rachel Kuhnle.
FESTIVAL THEATRE: So. What is The Amish Project at Festival Theatre?
RACHEL KUHNLE: The Amish Project is a one-woman play by Jessica Dickey based on true-events. It was inspired by the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting in an Amish community in 2006 and the show is what the publisher calls a “fictional exploration” of the events. All the characters in the show - there are seven total - are related to the shooting in some way and offer unique perspectives on related themes. The show just a bit over an hour, no intermission.
FT: Seven characters, all played by you?
RK: Yeah, oh man, it’s hard. I mean even just memorizing it took solidly a month.
FT: How does an actor go about portraying the different characters?
RK: Well, we use our actors tools, making specific choices with our voices, physicality, and specific choices about these characters, what they need… But I’ve NEVER done anything like what Jessica Dickey’s script calls for. The best way to describe it is it’s like a mosaic - the different characters and their perspectives work together to create a big, beautiful picture with moments of humor and heart all in the shadow of this terrible act of violence. And she goes back and forth between characters so quickly, sometimes a single line of dialogue will be shared by 4 different characters!
FT: That sounds confusing!
RK: Yeah...well, no. Or at least, it won’t be confusing if I do my job right. It’s not impenetrable. But that’s only because I have a great director - our Marketing Director Josiah Laubenstein is making his Festival Theatre directorial debut! Sidebar - he’s also totally my husband…
FT: How’s that working out for you two?
RK: Haha, great! It’s a difficult undertaking for both of us but he’s very supportive and patient and really has a strong vision for how to tell the story. It’s great to be working with people I trust, like Josiah and our stage manager and resident designer Peter Weber. It’s kind of a three-person band, all said and done. But with lots of love and support from the rest of the Festival Theatre family, of course.
FT: So you said the characters are all fictional?
RK: Yeah, which feels necessary to me, to keep the story from being exploitative. It’s a very fine line to walk, I think - any depiction of Amish people feels like a violation - their separation from US is such an important part of their way of life. Makes their way of life possible.
FT: Have you learned anything interesting about the Amish while working on this piece?
RK: Wow, well, I can’t say I really knew ANYTHING about the Amish before taking on this show so… yeah, they’re very interesting. I enjoyed reading about the differences between different Amish districts and communities and the varying degrees to which they interact with the modern world. Like some Amish people will use modern technology so long as it’s battery-powered… Like cd players and computers.
FT: What made you interested in performing this show?
RK: I’d never seen it but I read it for the first time last fall. It was the ending that really made me want to do it - the final moment of the play made me cry, just by reading it! Faith is a big part of the story and the strength the characters find through faith resonates with me - my dad is actually a pastor so I grew up part of a small church community myself... One of the characters, the widow of the gunman, goes on a difficult faith journey that really hits my heart and I think a lot of people will relate to her. Also, I’ve never done a full-length one person show before and I was really curious as to whether I could pull it off or not...
FT: Do you have a favorite character to portray?
RK: There are two young Amish girls in the show named Anna and Velda who play important roles in the more tragic and light-hearted moments. They are such a relief in the light-hearted moments! The simple joys are the best, you know? A love of peach jam, dancing, and doing something nice for your best friend.
The Amish Project runs May 17 thru 20 at the Franklin Square Black Box. Get your tickets today!