PCS Blog

Spotlight: “Bo-Nita” Director Gretchen Corbett

Posted by RJ Hodde | 24 January 2014




Bo-Nita director Gretchen Corbett took some time out from the production photo shoot
to share her thoughts on bringing this play to life. 



What drew you to this project initially?

I like plays that make me laugh and cry at the same time. And that’s what this play does. It’s the portrayal of the indomitable human spirit. And it’s an opportunity to see a world-class actor at the top of her game playing seven characters. And I’m really excited to be working with the whole creative team PCS [Portland Center Stage] has pulled together.


The character is fascinating. Will you talk a little about her?

Well, I love our heroine. She’s so scrappy, but moves through the world with grace and sophistication. She’s got grit. But she’s still a kid. She loves her mom… But in the way we all love our mom. She’s fascinating.


What has been particularly challenging from your vantage point as a director?

Initially, I had a hard time trying to place the environment. My impulse was to put it in a playground, and although I moved away from the idea for a while during research, I came back to that idea in the end. I love the set because there’s so much we get to do with it, and yet at the same time it feels kind of forlorn. There’s something so bereft about a playground with no one playing in it. It’s like her childhood is a metaphor.

When one person is telling us a story, and that person is a kid, it gives us an opportunity to interact with the space in ways that are not “normal.” A thirteen year old doesn’t live in a playground the way a kid does any more. So Dan [Daniel Meeker, Scenic & Lighting Designer] and I looked at different jungle gyms from different eras online and around town. We wanted something that would do what Kate [lead actor, Kate Eastwood Norris] and I needed physically, and I’m really thrilled with what we ended up with. Dan Meeker is my hero – his design is so retro, but has grace and beauty – it looks like it could be from any decade, maybe the fifties or even the seventies.


Gretchen watches as PR Manager Claudie Fisher and Multimedia Designer Patrick Weishampel
photograph Kate. 


This is the first studio show this season being done in a three-quarter round. How did you decide to utilize the space in this way?

Dan and I talked about it quite a bit, because a one-person show has very unique needs. For the audience, we wanted to bring the action much closer. And for Kate, it makes it so that she doesn’t have to project as much. Because the thrust is so deep, it’s almost like playing in the round, and makes the whole thing more intimate.


Did you do any unique research for this play?

As a piece of storytelling, this play doesn’t ask for a lot of research. It’s a very personal story, so I spent a lot of time examining thirteen year olds in simple ways: their mannerisms, their energy, and the music they’re listening to. And of course I did a lot of reading on the nature of abuse… But Kate and I have been in conversation over the last few months, so our dialogue has been a great resource.


Can you talk about that? Have you ever directed with a solitary actor in a full length play before? And how does it compare to working with an ensemble or even a duet?

I’ve never done a solo show by myself. And I’ve never directed somebody in a solo show. When you’re directing two or more people, everything is about relationships: each character’s relationship with the world and each other, as well as the audience. But when you’re working on a solo show, the primary relationship is between actor and audience.


Kate Eastwood Norris as Bo-Nita.

And how has it been for you, stepping into this project, since the actor playing Bo-Nita has a past life with both the play and the character?

Well, I saw what Kate did at JAW and thought it was wonderful. But this time around is so much different because it’s not a reading, and the seven characters she plays each need a physical life. And Kate is so talented – she’s so in her body – and we’ve been able to explore these seven personalities and create a physical life for them. And that process started months ago.


And you also worked with a Movement Coach to explore the character’s life. What can you tell me about working with Kemba Shannon?

She’s a crazy woman! [laughs] Kemba’s awesome! I just watched her play through some movements and then edited together what she brought in. She’s such an incredibly talented artist and doesn’t do anything the same twice, so you have to be alert and decide, “I’ll take a little bit of that, and a little bit of this.” And then you’ll have a moment where you think, “Oh! That was cool! How about that? Let’s do those!” It was incredibly fun to watch her work with Kate. But thank god for iPads!


Bo-Nita runs February 1 — March 16. Tickets available HERE


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