Drama graduates grace the Pittsburgh stage
On Sept. 30, the 1920s comedy The Royal Family will open at the O’Reilly Theater downtown, and it will include two members of Carnegie Mellon’s own family in the cast. Lindsay Kyler and Evan Alex Cole, both of whom graduated from the School of Drama in 2008, will take the stage as Gwen Cavendish, a member of the famous family of actors, and Perry Stewart, Gwen’s fiancé, respectively. Between sushi trips and new plays, both actors talked about the play, the significance of the Cavendishes, and their experiences as actors.
Kyler’s interest in acting was sparked early in life when her fourth-grade class performed a rendition of Rumpelstiltskin. Soon after, Kyler started to take acting classes, and she eventually attended a performing arts middle school. While at Carnegie Mellon, she starred in several independent films in addition to her theater roles.
Kyler moved to Queens, N.Y. after she graduated, but now lives in New York City’s Upper West Side, and has appeared in plays such as Anne and Emmett, the world premiere of Legacy of Light, and Le Grand Meaulnes. She met Ted Pappas, the director of The Royal Family, when she played the role of Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Pappas directed for the Pittsburgh Public Theater last December. When Pappas offered her the opportunity to return to Pittsburgh to work on The Royal Family, Kyler jumped at the chance.
Kyler spoke highly of her fellow actors and their influence on her experience in the play. “The cast is wonderful. Alex Cole and I are the youngest people in the cast, and it’s so rewarding to learn by working with such wonderful people we are sharing the stage with, people who are so much more seasoned than we are,” she said. Last Wednesday, the cast spent the day blocking the play. “We did a table read for two days, and now we are doing blocking direction. Starting next Friday, we go into the theater space and start doing a technical rehearsal,” she said. Kyler matter-of-factly described her busy schedule. “We’ve been going from 10 to 6, usually with an hour lunch break.”
Kyler could instantly pick her favorite part of her experience at Carnegie Mellon. “Definitely the sense of community we had at Purnell — we spent all of our time there. The creative community there is such a collaborative environment. It was a very supportive network of friends and teachers,” she said.
Cole’s interest in acting began when he played Shakespeare in his middle school’s performance of Dogg’s Hamlet. After being discovered in a restaurant in his hometown of Marietta, Ga., he flew to Los Angeles to shoot the 2004 movie Back When We Were Grownups, starring Faye Dunaway and Blythe Danner. “That whole experience was great,” he said, referencing his time shooting for the movie, “but it made me realize that, in order to really do this, I was going to need actual training.” Cole returned to the East Coast to attend Pre-College at Carnegie Mellon before being accepted to the School of Drama. He now lives in Queens, where he has been working in both film and television as well as stage performance, appearing in Adventureland and She’s Out of My League. He is also a musician and recently released a single on iTunes about his experience on the show As the World Turns, appropriately called “World Turns.”
When asked how he got involved with The Royal Family, Cole went all the way back to his time in Pre-College. “I met Ted Pappas for the first time when I saw a play down at the Pittsburgh Public about six years ago,” he said. “I never thought I’d get asked to work here — it was one of those pinnacle experiences.”
“A month and a half ago I got a call from Ted, and he said, ‘What’s up, what’s going on,’ and at the end of the conversation, he was like: ‘You wanna come down and do a play with us?’” Cole said, “And I was like, ‘Duh!’”
Both Kyler and Cole rejected the description of The Royal Family as a parody. The play centers on the Cavendishes, a family of actors who are said to be caricatures of the famous Barrymore family. Helena Ruoti stars as the glamorous actress Julie Cavendish, and David Whalen as her equally celebrated brother, Tony. Kyler plays Julie’s daughter, Gwen, who is conflicted between following in her famous mother’s footsteps as an actress and pursuing a life away from the stage with her stockbroker fiancé, Perry Stewart, who is played by Cole.
“It’s just a glimpse into a family of actors, not a parody,” Cole argued. “It’s just a backstage view of what this family of incredibly successful actors is like. I’m a stockbroker, Lindsay’s suitor, so I’m an outsider, contrasting the larger-than-life-ness of the Cavendishes. These are characters who want to have as normal an experience as possible, but can’t live without the stage. I’ve experienced this myself — it really has a lot of relevance for Pittsburgh audiences who’ve seen Helena Ruoti and David Whalen and know them as daily faces around Pittsburgh.”
Kyler agreed. “It’s a family drama,” she said. “The way Ted has it, it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. It’s all about these characters and their individual journeys, and how they affect one another — the matriarchs Fanny and Julie, and daughter Gwen, and how their relationship is affected by the future legacy of the family name. Will the young daughter follow in the footsteps of her family, or is she looking for something different?”
“It’s very voyeuristic, because the audience is watching actors in their own home,” she continued. “Usually they see these people in their element, putting up this front. All of a sudden you’re seeing a family of actors not acting, getting inside the mindset of who they are as people and artists, so it’s not a parody at all, but a very humanistic play.”
Both also had advice for students currently studying acting at Carnegie Mellon. “I had a very type-A personality in school,” Kyler confessed. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Take advantage of the safety net you have at school — you have people there to guide you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, take a leap of faith. If you want to try it, do it now.”
“Take advantage of Pittsburgh!” Cole said, listing the number of theater venues available in the ’Burgh. “There’s the Public, City Theater, and, because of Pennsylvania’s tax incentive, there are loads of movies filmed here every year. Students should take advantage of the fact that Pittsburgh is a thriving arts town, and go get experience at professional auditions as soon as possible.”
Spend an evening at the O’Reilly for the chance to see a couple of Carnegie Mellon alumni living their dreams on stage, and for a unique play about the bonds between family and the passion inherent in all those involved in the performing arts.