The sense of community I have built with my castmates in Mr. Burns is unlike anything I've experienced in a show. From the beginning we have been encouraged to “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” This sense of “no wrong answers” has allowed us all to flourish in this space of creativity. I specifically think of the early ensemble rehearsals where we, as an ensemble, were asked to act as a unit through various improvisational exercises. We created a close-knit group who has gone through the post-electric world of Mr. Burns. Not only the bad times but the good ones. We created characters who were connected. We went through scenarios from retrieving weapons in an abandoned warehouse to laying under the stars reminiscing about our pasts. Some of these ensemble members I had hardly talked to outside of theatre, but now when I see them, I feel a true connection. I know they have my back and I have theirs.
Mr Burns follows a group of survivors of an unspecified nuclear catastrophe in a world without electricity. The play opens with the group trying to recall specific events from the “Cape Feare” episode of The Simpsons. The dialogue is witty, fluid, and natural. The second act takes us 7 years into the future, our survivors have formed in to a theatrical troupe and now performs The Simpsons as a huge entertainment event. Now 75 years later, The Simpsons, has become a huge musical, Broadway-type production that alters the original show to fit the needs of ever changing culture around them. This play offers a refreshing take on the overdone post-apocalyptic archetypal story. It focuses on our want to be entertained and what we hold onto when we are thrust into an unfamiliar situation.
Above, J.D. and Sydney Brookshire contribute to building masks for the production. In addition, they are both ensemble members.
In this production, I'm part of the ensemble. I feel that ensemble roles can sometimes be seen as uninteresting, and usually I can understand why it seems that way. The importance and effectiveness of an ensemble is mostly up to the director and the actors themselves. It's really easy to waste a ensemble part. However, from day one our director has made his stance on ensemble clear: just as imagery adds a new depth to any story, an ensemble enhances the experience of a show.
The ensemble in this show create obstacles for the protagonists in the second act and help create a ritualistic atmosphere to the third act.. They act as an ambiguous unit, adding but never taking away. We as ensemble open creative doors for our castmates that may have not been there before. We add a stronger sense of meaning and importance to all of the third act.
Mr Burns reminds us of the unpredictability of the world. It doesn’t offer comfort but a reminder that a lot we have is taken for granted. The world doesn’t always act the way we’d like to. As Washburn’s haunting epigraph claims, “every story ends on a dark and raging river.”