Artist Formerly Known As: Alicia Andrews and Pete Van Steenburg

PVS: I bet you don’t get too many couples for Artist Formerly Known As, do you?

That’s true, we don’t.

PVS: Oh, my. I hope we stay together. . . otherwise Artist Formerly Known As will always be a reminder of the heartbreak.

AA: Yeah, I’m real worried. . .

So the two of you worked on “True West” together, which ran this weekend. Alicia, you were the director, and Pete, you had one of the main roles. In your opinion, was it a success?

AA: I think it was a success…We had great audiences each night. People seemed to really like it. I have a review next week with the whole department to see what they thought of it.

PVS: It was just fun and games for me. I just came in and did my part. I don’t have any of this grading business.

Pete, would you say that you were the star of the show?

AA: Well, it’s really an ensemble piece. There are two brothers who both have major roles.

PVS: It’s pretty much split.

AA: Peter and Andrew Giarolo ’04 played the brothers. There are two other parts: the mother, who was played by Rebecca Krass ’03, and Saul, who was played by Israel Mirsky ’03. Their parts are smaller, but Peter and Andrew. . .

PVS: Onstage. Every scene.

AA: It’s an exhausting play for the two of them. Exhausting.

PVS: It’s the most athletic play I’ve ever been in.

AA: They’re running around, throwing things at each other, strangling each other. . .

PVS: . . .breaking typewriters, on the floor, drunk everywhere.

AA: It’s a ridiculous play.

Alicia, this was your senior project, correct?

AA: Yes. Every senior theater major has to do a senior project, and so my friend Pete Applegate ’03 and I last year decided we wanted to do ours together. We really wanted to do a play that dealt with issues of gender and so we spent months and months and months looking for the right play….The two of us have been working on this show for almost a year and a half. We finally decided in July that we were doing “True West,” so we spent the summer doing research and it counted as a class for us in the fall. He was the dramaturge on the show, helping the actors with the context of their roles in the play, the context of this play in the playwright’s work, historical issues and all sorts of literary research stuff. We both did a lot of research in the fall and this semester we were rehearsing, coordinating all the design – too much stuff is what we were doing. It counts as one class each semester, and it felt like about five sometimes! But we cast the show in March, and have been rehearsing since then.

What made you decide to do “True West”?

AA: I think it’s a really fascinating play in the sense of how it deals with gender issues. We had always wanted to do a play that had a small cast and that was really about characters, not about setting or spectacle. We wanted a play that was about the development of characters and their relationships. This play has a wonderful small cast. It’s about two brothers and how they construct their identity as men. It’s about masculinity and what it’s like to be a man in America and how that competition inherent to masculinity is so crazy. It’s a really fun play.

PVS: And it’s fun as an actor because the characters are so rich; you can pack them with eccentricities. There’s a lot of freedom, there’s a lot of play and there are a lot of props, which you don’t get to see in a lot of shows that are done here. But yeah, my function in the show is far less noble. All this research and two years’ experience and “we had to propose this!” No, I just kind of stepped up to the casting procedure.

Pete, did getting a leading role have anything to do with Alicia directing the show?

PVS: No. . .It was funny because a lot of people were telling me, “Oh my God, if you get in the show, then wow! And if you don’t get in the show, then wow.” Either way it was going to be a weird thing for people. I knew I wanted to audition for this show – I’ve wanted to do “True West” for years because it’s one of my favorite plays. And yes, we’ve worked together a bunch of times before. It wasn’t a stretch, and I’d like to think I was well cast!

AA: He was well cast. Pete also worked on casting with me and wanted Peter to be the lead. I think this would be weird if this were the only project we ever worked on together, but since it’s not, it wasn’t that strange. Also, the whole cast knew each other really well and knew us really well. It was just as weird to go through the casting process having some people who are my best friends audition.

PVS: I know how casting works, too. I’ve auditioned for best friends who haven’t needed me in their show, and that’s been fine. You get used to a certain level of rejection as an actor. I’ve been very lucky here, but you do get used to it.

What else have you been in together?

AA: The show we acted in together was during our sophomore year called “The Brick and the Rose.”

PVS: It was a little spoken word thing.

AA: We were in the Goat Room in Perry. It was about 12 people standing around those benches with music stands and everyone played four or five different roles. The audience sat in the middle on the floor and all these voices were shooting out across the space above them. It was really wonderful.

PVS: There has been a lot of overlap. She did costumes for “Angels,” which I was in this fall, and a bunch of other things…we’ve done tech together, as well.

So did you meet through theater?

AA: We were in Theater 101 together.

PVS: We had a lot of common friends too, but 101. . . It was an infamous class.

AA: We’ve been friends since freshman year.

Aside from theatre, Pete, you’re an art major and you work at MASS MoCA.

PVS: That’s right. I give tours and recently I’ve been helping the curator put together a show on movie posters from Ghana, which is really exciting. They give me a lot of opportunities over there – they’re kind of like a family. They’re really good people. They give me little projects and things to research. I interned for them over the summer and I was able to really get insight into how a museum works, which really interests me a lot.

Will you pursue that next year?

PVS: I’d like to. I’d like to be acting; I’d like to be doing theater. But because of a lot of the people I’ve met over there and with the art department here. . . We have the greatest art history professors and art studio professors I would say in the country, but obviously I’m biased. I just have such admiration for the people here. The skills I’ve learned will help me. I don’t need to waiter. I’d really like to look for jobs in galleries.

Alicia, do you know what you’re doing next year?

AA: I am working at a theater in Greenwich Village called “Drama Department” where I was an intern last summer. I’m hoping to find another internship, as well…I received a fellowship from the department, so I can afford to not have every job pay.

PVS: She’s modest. She earned two of them.

AA: It’s true, which was really very exciting and will be a big help next year. New York is a place where it takes a lot to just to pay rent, let alone make art. I feel really lucky to be able to do that.

So both of you will be in New York next year.

AA: Yes, the big city. Quite a change from Williamstown.

Do you think that theater will stay your focus?

AA: These next few years what I would ideally love to do – is have a variety of internships in a bunch of areas of theater and really figure out if this is what I want to do for a while, if not the rest of my life.

PVS: I’d like to be able to study both art history and art in an academic sense and find a way to mix that with what I enjoy about theater. There are lots of places like that and in New York I’ll think I’ll get to see a lot more avant garde and performance pieces and things that are borderline art pieces as well as theater pieces.

Are you working on anything else in your remaining weeks at Williams?

AA: We’re doing a collaborative video project together for Peter’s video class and my senior seminar on women’s and gender studies. It uses this text from the 1960s that is essentially an instructional book on how to be a good girl.

PVS: It is the most sexist piece of literature you’ll ever see in your life.

AA: It’s the most powerful, ridiculous thing. It’s about how the only way to be happy is to fulfill a man’s dream. The only way you can feed the male ego is through sincere admiration. We’re constructing this video that uses that text as the voiceover and then has these images. . .

PVS: Don’t give it all away!

AA: . . .using actors that subvert those expectations… So essentially the images contrast the message of the dialogue. It’s pretty interesting and we’re using a lot of our friends in the video. I’m the voice.

PVS: She’s continually had to participate in my video making. When you date someone, they eventually fall into your videos and your art. If you can’t count on your girlfriend, who can you count on?

AA: Yeah, yeah.