One set, one actor, 90 minutes and the story of a mother  baking her homemade apple pie for a son that she’ll never see again. Those are the ingredients director Kirstin Franklin had at hand when signing on to direct Apples in Winter, the latest production to hit the Urbanite Theatre stage. And like a master chef in her own blackbox kitchen, she whips it all together for a drama so delicious that audiences are going back for seconds—by which time Franklin will already be gone. In the month leading up to opening night, SRQ tagged along to see how she did it. 

PHOTOGRAPHY BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

Building the Crust   

With little more than four weeks until opening night, Franklin arrives in SRQ. Fresh off the plane from Chicago, she hits the theater and hits the ground running, having already spent significant time with the script, both in isolation and through teleconference with the creative team, exploring theme and set design. “I’m just one person,” she says. “For me, it’s very much a collaborative process.” Pairing up with an old colleague and fellow Chicagoan—scenic designer Chad Bergman—helps, as the two work quickly through shared shorthand, and by the time Franklin sees Sarasota, the set is basically planned. “That is such a luxury, especially for a director,” she says. “It’s just magical.” Now she can devote her first days to working with actor Roxanne Fay, who will shoulder the burden of performance by herself in this one-woman show. Eventually, Fay will completely inhabit the character of Miriam, a torn and grieving mother; today she’s learning to make a pie—something she’ll have to do onstage every night. “It has to look like it’s muscle memory,” says Franklin.  

 

Making the Filling   

Not even a week later, the table reads are complete and Franklin and Fay cloister themselves in the upstairs Urbanite office adjoining the theater, where, with help from stage manager Mel Klenk, the trio have demarcated a makeshift stage of multicolored tape outlines and “do-for-now” props, or doofers. Purple tape marks the boundaries of the stage, as orange and green boxes represent tables and ovens and overhead hoods that Fay will have to navigate once they move to the stage proper. She stands at a simple folding table for now, surrounded with metal mixing bowls and wooden utensils. Franklin sits directly outside the purple line and studies the scene. Fay knows how to make Miriam’s pie now, and goes through the motions, consulting her script from time to time, though most is memorized already. The challenge at this point becomes syncing the movements with the words in a way where each enhances the other. “It’s sort of like a big puzzle,” says Franklin. And as she and Fay figure out the details of her blocking—when does she place the oven thermometer, clean her space or cross the stage to fetch the rolling pin—the character herself comes into sharper focus, with tics and habits and nervous tells bubbling to the surface. And while Fay looks inward, Franklin takes a moment to look outward and build the world of the play around the stage. “Can we place the warden,” asks Franklin, pointing to the blank wall at stage right. “Is he behind that door?” And with a perfectly timed glance offstage, Fay conjures a character who was never there before.

Baking on High  

Back from holiday break, suddenly there are only two weeks of rehearsal left, and Franklin, Fay and Klenk move into the theater proper for the first stage rehearsal, giving the—mostly—finished set a trial run. “There were a lot of discoveries that we had to make,” says Franklin. Some are small improvements, like a taller table so Fay doesn’t have to stoop so much while making her pies. Others require shifting sizable set-pieces to the other side of the stage, where they won’t compete with Fay’s performance. That’s an inherent danger in a one-person show, warns Franklin, as, absent other actors as sounding boards, inanimate objects become characters themselves. Some of these changes even require reworking the blocking, which Fay and Franklin must nail down before tech rehearsal at the end of the week, when all the intricate audio and lighting cues must be finalized. “So you try to make it as close to what it’s going to be as possible,” says Franklin, “because the main things won’t change.” And as the set dressing enters the picture in all the pots and pans and little bits that Fay won’t necessarily use but serve to create the effect of a lived-in world, she and Franklin delve further into Miriam’s character. The director lobs questions and the actor answers, seemingly in character, though the question remains how much Fay is mining from her own past, and the line between fact and fiction momentarily blurs. The script is fully memorized and the actions have become muscle memory. They replay the scene again and again, trying different inflections and rhythms until they find just the right delivery. “Do it just like that,” says Franklin. And the pies taste good now too.

 

Cool and Serve

It’s the afternoon before opening night and Franklin feels confident. Tech went well, as did dress rehearsals and preview performances. Audiences are already raving online. It looks like Franklin’s job is over. “Roxanne is doing a phenomenal job,” she says, “so it’s hard to change much at this point.” And so she won’t stay past opening night. Having seen the play at least 35 times already, she’ll give it one last viewing—as much as an audience member, and not a director, as she can—before handing the reins to Klenk and boarding a plane to fly back to Chicago and onto the next project. It’s bittersweet, Franklin admits, but for the best. “You have to learn to let go,” she says. “It’s best for the actor, it’s best for the stage manager, it’s best for everybody. Just let it go and let it be experienced for what it is.” 

 

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