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Interview with Lead Actors Vanessa Marie Babida & Andrew Villarreal STAGEStheatre Gruesome Playground Injuries

Listen to this great podcast on the play from the creator before reading on.

Written by Alina Mae Wilson & Patrick Chavis

What’s your process for getting into character?

V: I didn’t go and research any other productions or look at any of the videos, even though I wanted too. I stayed away from it because you don’t want to force yourself to do what that person is doing. It’s more about being authentic and being there with Andrew in the moment. I think there’s a lot of improv that goes into the show every night. I mean it’s a different show every single night we perform it. I really enjoy that, and I think a show like this needs it because it could’ve easily become really boring and one note. When you add the element of surprise when we both don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s more fun and real.

A: I always like to read the reviews of shows done before. So normally, I hope I can catch a New York Times review or an Off-Broadway or an on Broadway review. I always find out what went wrong with that production and try to do the exact opposite of that. I also of course read the play and form my own opinion of things and research to see if my opinions are correct or if I should open them up to change.

For instance when researching the On/Off Broadway production of Gruesome Playground Injuries, I learned the actors (Pablo Schreiber; Jennifer Carpenter) approached the parts of Kayleen and Doug kind of like people that had a disorder. I brought it up at the first rehearsal that I don’t think there’s a disorder with them. I think they’re just two passionate people.

I didn’t want to get caught up in playing some mental disability. I thought it would detract from the fact that these are just two normal kids. So that’s how I approached it. Even with Psycho Beach Party (a comedy he did previously at Theatre Out in Santa Ana), I read reviews of it. I even read the film review of it to see what went wrong with the film and what people didn’t respond well to in order to find a balance.

If you could describe Gruesome Playground Injuries in one sentence how would you describe it?

V:  I think I’d go with the blurb someone created for us: Scar Crossed Lovers.

What did your director EB Bohks bring to this production?

V: I think EB is our awesome captain. We give her our ideas, and she steers us back onto the same ship. She’s like, “Okay that’s a good idea but here’s my two cents. You don’t have to go this way but here’s what I think we should do for the betterment of the show.” EB is amazing and I love the freedom we have working with her.

A: She’s a really young director, so she still has real energy and passion for story as opposed to production and spectacle. After a while older directors tend to get caught up in the bigger picture, and EB is still very passionate about story and what it means.

A: I mean our rehearsal started with doing Yoga together. I don’t do Yoga. But she does, and it was a very transformative moment because I had to slow myself down and put myself in the space to kind of mesh with Vanessa, and we became one entity searching for what we thought was poignant to us in this play, which is comfort in being you and not having to explain it.


Is Orange County a good place to produce new Theatrical work in your experience?

V: I feel some theatres are more approachable then others. I would definitely call Theatre Out if I had a show idea, but STAGEStheatre or the Maverick, maybe not because I don’t know them as well.

A: I think out here there are strong audiences. I think there are more people willing to come out for shows compared to L.A. In order to cater to audiences you pick a show with a name, kind of like the Maverick does with staging cinema. They pick movies they can adapt to the stage, and people recognize them. That’s how they keep people coming in.

A: I think in L.A/ it’s easier to get people to see original works. You have stuff like the Fringe Festival. But in LA right now the trend is taking anything and everything and making it a musical. There’s Christian Bale: The Musical, Natalie Portman: The Musical

A: It’s my perception but great playwriting is still mostly coming out of New York. They just have a better appreciation for writing up there. Right now in L.A. I feel like it’s just about getting a product out there. Who’s the funniest? Is it so funny or so captivating that someone would put a lot of money into it? You’re not getting a lot of shows that are introspective and about relationships between people.

What’s your opinion about the state of Orange County Theatre?

A: I’ve been coming out here for the last couple of years. I live in West Hollywood. It’s not as exclusive as L.A. L.A. is hard because you need to have friends or be connected in someway. Even then when you do get into the shows, it’s hit or miss. I feel like people try really hard in the O.C., and that says a lot.

V : I always kind of get discouraged going to L.A. because it has the reputation of being pretentious. So, I do think it’s a lot easier to come out here. I haven’t had an audition in a while, and I was able to come in for this show and get cast. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that if I auditioned in LA.


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