Journey through the Creation of Adapt! - The Realness
An Actress's Notebook by Krista Apple
Opening is almost here. It’s getting real around here.
We’ve finished a week of previews. The audience arrived, they showed us where the story lived, and we rehearsed daily through it all, learning what their attention taught us. Memorizing new script pages, cutting others, restaging transitions, perfecting music.
The story is here. “Past and future meet,” as the play’s Old Woman says.
And Adapt! is, unapologetically, Blanka’s story. The content of the story is hers: a young Czech refugee, Lenka, seeks the freedom that only America can offer. But the form of the story is also hers: wildly imaginative, funny and absurd, with a dark but laughing heart. As she says in her program notes: “Even after living here for four decades, there’s still an absurdity-loving Czech hiding inside me.”
The Wilma now offers nightly Lobby Talks after each performance, and it’s there that Blanka has really opened up to audience members, and to us, about where her life and her play intersect (and where they don’t). What’s real, and what’s imagined. There’s a moment in the play when a huge pile of clothing falling from the sky, and she likes to talk about the moment that inspired it: an early visit to an American department store that made her physically sick, because of the sheer amount of stuff.
She talks about learning how to speak English along with her son while they watched Sesame Street together (which isn’t in the play), and about the feeling of alienation that comes from not knowing the language of everyone around you (which is, in other ways). She freely shares what she considers ‘real’ in the play: letters Lenka writes to her sister, taken from actual letters between Blanka and her family; experiencing the shadow side of American freedom in romantic relationships; losing connection with her family and friend because of her departure.
Blanka and I both love the writings of British author Jeanette Winterson, and I’m reminded this week of what Winterson says about autobiography and art:
“Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.”
- Jeanette Winterson
Anyone who’s ever worked with Blanka knows the wonderful contradiction that she carries: the seriousness with which she forges her art, and the playfulness with which she moves through her life. The curious wonder, deep wisdom, and sense of absurdity that define her.
The cast and crew of Adapt! at Lobby Talks.
Blanka and I shared a moment early in Adapt! rehearsals that is one of my favorite memories from the process. We had all just moved into the Wilma’s new rehearsal space in South Philly a few days prior, and we were all still running around delighted about it. Blanka was especially giddy. Along with her recently established HotHouse company of actors, a dedicated rehearsal space was a dream she’d been working toward for years.
So, there we are standing in the rehearsal room after warmups, taking it all in. She falls silent. Then she looks at me, her eyes twinkling with surprise.
“Just think,” she whispers. “It happened before I kicked the bucket!”
She laughs. We laugh. The laugh makes her face light up and her whole body shake. Then, seeming to remember something she’d previously forgotten, she walks back to her script, starts reading, and gets back to work.
We open tonight. We close April 22. See you at the show, dear reader. Come join us for the wild ride. Join us for the imagination, and for the Realness.
Me as Lenka 35 in Adapt! Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.