Born in Brazil but raised mostly in Louisville, Gisela Chipe is a busy professional actor who returns for a repeat appearance with Actors Theatre of Louisville in the play O Guru Guru Guru, or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you, which begins previews March 20 as part of the 37th Humana Festival of New American Pays. In the few short years since finishing an M.F.A. at the University of Delaware, Gisela has built an impressive resume that shows considerable range. Recently we asked her to talk with us about the life of an emerging theatre professional, and what both Walden Theatre, where she was student for five years, and ATL have meant to her development.
Arts-Louisville: Since finishing grad school, you have enjoyed a very active professional life as an actor in New York and many other cities. What are things like for a professional working actor in today’s climate? What advice do you have for others?
Gisela Chipe: There is that old saying, “You move to New York to get out of New York.” (Editor’s note: many regional theatres, including ATL, cast their seasons in NYC.) I’ve been fortunate to be able to work a lot places regionally and in NYC, because graduate school gave me a showcase to be seen by people. I found a manager through that, but mostly it was through…gumption. I realized that by training in the classics, there is a ratio of 1 to 5 women to men, or something like that, in classic plays – fewer roles for women and therefore fewer opportunities to practice your craft and improve. So I looked for opportunities and approached auditions as a bit of theatre that I could do for two minutes – a moment to be training still. After that, it’s up to the energy in the room and the vision of the director and what they see. But I had to work really hard, and on my own. I’ve had managers and agents, but for a long time I had to get work through my own connections.
I was an EMC (Equity Member Candidate) before I joined the union (Actors Equity), so the most important thing I could do was get there early enough in the day to be one or two on the EMC list. (Editor’s note: Actors Equity has EPAs [Equity Principal Auditions] and ECCs [Equity Chorus Calls], where EMCs are allowed to sign up and audition, provided the theatre is seeing EMCs and if an Equity member is a no-show, or they can squeeze you in the schedule.) If you were lower than third on that list, it was rare that you would be seen unless it was an unusual call because all of the Equity people would be seen first. So I was getting up early enough to be somewhere at 7 a.m. almost every day for a year.
There are a lot of good, supportive people in New York, but nobody pushes you “out there.”If you don’t want it bad enough, you’re not going to get it, and you have to actively search for it.
A-L: So it sounds like there’s no one secret, and that that everyone’s path might be a little different, but that determination is the key?
GC: Absolutely! I know people who just finished their undergraduate degree and then started to make things happen. Look at your community, find people whose work you like and study with them, work with them, and make connections that way. I feel that in the theatre, like-minded people tend to find each other and work together, and it’s a beautiful collaboration.
A-L: Your earliest training was at Walden Theatre, here in Louisville, which places a great emphasis on the classics. How much of a factor is that training in getting cast so often in Shakespeare, Shaw and Chekhov?
GC:HUGE! Both professionally and personally. Walden Theatre exposed me at a very early point in my life to language that was mysterious, magical and rich; incredibly expressive in a way that I was powerfully drawn to. I was born in Brazil and grew up speaking Portugese, so speaking another language was not a new experience. And Shakespeare was like learning another language because of how in-depth and rich his text is. The range of the classics we did gave me a hunger for this work, allowed me to channel that adolescent emotion into drama and was very cathartic for me. In college I wanted a more rounded experience and, although I considered conservatories, I was very happy to grow more as a human in a liberal arts education that wasn’t necessarily focused on an acting career. Walden was very helpful in guiding me in those choices. Later, when I was considering grad schools, I was certain of what I wanted, but I need that time to develop as a human.
I know that for people who didn’t follow through in studying theatre, Walden helped THEM socialize with THEIR peer group and everyone had an opportunity to get onstage and find their voice, and you need your voice no matter what you do!
A-L: Tell me a little about O Guru Guru Guru.
GC: Protecting the work is very important, so I can’t say too much. I am part of the journey of Lila, who is 30 and trying to figure out her life. She lived an unconventional childhood, growing up in an ashram, which was such a huge focus in her life. And now she is attempting to understand the context of her life through reflection and creating herself anew. I’m part of that journey…but I cannot tell you how [laughing]!
A-L: You have been at Actors before doing Dracula, but how different is it to be in the Humana Festival?
GC: One of the things I love about working here is the collaboration. I feel very nurtured here. But doing a new play is very different. The Dracula script, especially here, is very “set.” It is almost like doing a musical in the sense that there is prescribed blocking with the same set each year, which gives you a reference: this moment is a laugh point, or here is where the audience is going to scream! You are allowed to bring your own take to the character, but there is a framework to work within that can feel comforting and secure.
With a new play there has never been a full production with an audience and you’re not sure yet how they will react, but we have to be on our toes and not be too attached to the material because the playwright is here. Its lovely to be working so in-depth with their vision, but they are still formulating that vision.
A-L: Have there been a lot of changes with this script?
GC: I was part of a workshop of the play in New York, and there have been a lot of changes along the way.
A-L: Was that a factor in being cast…having been involved in the workshop?
GC: I’ve heard that sometimes happens, but it is not always the case, and it wasn’t for me. I auditioned for the play later, in New York, and for me it is a dream come true, because since I was 13 years old, I wanted to be in the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville and now…here I am! Now I need to make some new dreams!
See Gisela in O Guru Guru Guru, or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you by Mallery Avidon, directed by former directing intern Lila Neugebauer.The play will run in the Victor Jory Theatre beginning on March 20, opening March 22, and running through April 7. The production is part of the 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays. Tickets are on sale now to the public and can be purchased at the Actors Theatre Box Office by calling 502-584-1205 or online at ActorsTheatre.org.
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