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Director And Actor Celebrate Two Decades Of Collaboration

I Hate Hamlet, the current production by Town Players of Newtown at The Little Theatre, is the 20th full-length play at the Orchard Hill Road theater in which director Ruth Anne Baumgartner has had the pleasure of directing actor Rob Pawlikowski. She has directed other actors multiple times, but none more than the Roxbury resident who has become her “A-list” choice and personal friend.

It is, no doubt, not the last time that the two will collaborate to bring entertainment and thoughtful contemplation to local audiences. A rapport built on mutual respect has created a bond that makes Ms Baumgartner frequently pencil in Mr Pawlikowski’s name when contemplating a play selection, and one in which the actor is loathe to turn down an opportunity to work with her, no matter how much of a character stretch she asks him to make.

Ms Baumgartner has been involved with Town Players since 1992, when she was unexpectedly drafted into a directorship.

“A show fell through and while they still had a cast, they needed a director. Barbara Lyon convinced me to take the job,” recalled Ms Baumgartner. Her theater experience to that point had consisted of high school singing and play writing, some summer stock, and acting in student and school productions in college.

“I got a part in A Man For All Seasons, and it was a transforming experience working with that director. He was God, mentor, and a surrogate parent to us,” she said.

But post-college, Ms Baumgartner found the “perfect job for me,” teaching English and Shakespeare at the University of Bridgeport. It was there she met Al Kolesar, who was acting in Town Player productions.

“He was a talented actor,” she said, and when she visited Newtown to see him in a play, “I liked the place. I liked the smells and sounds,” Ms Baumgartner said. Still, she was caught off guard when he recommended her to take on the directing of the summer 1992 play.

“I just pretended, and it worked out okay. I discovered I loved directing,” she laughed.

It was not until two summers later that she and Mr Pawlikowski rubbed shoulders, acting together in Arsenic and Old Lace. Still a novice at directing, Ms Baumgartner tried out and got a smaller part “as one of the aunts. I heard Nick Steele was a good director.”

Mr Pawlikowski appeared in that play as Jonathan, “the villain,” he said. Then a Sandy Hook resident, he had been urged by his wife, Laura Evans, to rekindle his high school interest in acting. Arsenic and Old Lace was his first of what would be many appearances on the 500-square-foot stage at the Little Theatre, and the renewal of a passion for theater.

“I thought [Mr Pawlikowski] was a little full of himself,” said Ms Baumgartner of their first interaction. By the time the play ended, she was convinced that maybe he had good reason to be so. When she began planning for the 1993 production of As You Like It, she sent out an audition notice directly to him.

“I knew he’d be perfect for the part of Jacques,” she said.

For his part, he was thrilled to have a chance to do Shakespeare’s second most famous monologue, “All the world’s a stage…”

“I look for a good voice, good posture, and a good brain [in an actor]. Rob has those things. It’s wonderful to direct him and it has become easier as years to by. He has enough theatrical experience to know that when a director gives note, it’s not a personal criticism,” said Ms Baumgartner.

 Re-inspired by the acting world of Town Players, Mr Pawlikowski, an assistant administrator at Connelly in Wilton by day, has taken a comedy workshop, acted at Hartford Stage, other summer stock, and is always seeking to improve and learn.

Working with professional actors at Hartford Stage, including Hal Holbrook, has taught him about the nuances of the acting world. They are tips that he is happy to share with fellow actors at the Little Theatre. That, said Ms Baumgartner, is a help to her.

“People come to community theater with all different levels of skills. It’s helpful to have someone like Rob on stage who knows the protocol. I know that his role is one that I can kind of leave alone and I can spend more time with the other actors,” she said.

Trust of the director is essential, Mr Pawlikowski said, and the level of trust between himself and Ms Baumgartner makes it possible for each of them to take a show to a little higher level, he said.

“You look at the plays we’ve done, and there is that thread of quality that runs through them,” he said.

Her Shakespearean teaching background draws her to the lighter Shakespeare pieces that are suited to the small stage, admitted Ms Baumgartner. Knowing that she can count on Mr Pawlikowski’s talent and predilection to comedy means that among the plays they have collaborated on are seven by the Bard.

She has also challenged him to go beyond his comfort level, Mr Pawlikowski admitted, stressing again the trust built up in two decades of working together that makes it possible for him to do so.

“I think the first time I felt that ‘Oh, I can’t do that part,’ came when Ruth Anne suggested me for a tragic character in Measure For Measure at Westport Community Theater,” he said.

“But then you put your foot right in it,” boasted Ms Baumgartner. “I trust him to know where I want him to be and I trust him to explore that and show me a little more than I expected,” she said.

“It made me more open to difficult parts. Theater,” Mr Pawlikowski said he has learned, “is about tension and release. The director holds up a mirror to us.” It is the “getting to that point” that makes a play successful or not, he said, and how the director helps the actors to get there.

“Ruth Anne recognizes that you can’t tell an actor. You can’t push them, you have to pull them. It’s always better if an actor comes to [that point of tension and release] by him or herself,” said Mr Pawlikowski.

 

A Common Goal

The twenty years of comradeship have been valuable to the plays presented at The Little Theatre, with the common goal of making something that will be not only an entertaining evening for its viewers, but a play that will leave the audience with something to talk about.

Retreat From Moscow (2012) was one such play for both Mr Pawlikowski and Ms Baumgartner. William Nicholson’s intimate tragedy was a stretch for both of them, and unlike any other play they had done before. Its success was measured by the positive  — and sometimes painful — response from the audience, they said, which related to the intense divorce situation and its fallout that were the crux of the play.

“I like to think we’re both getting much, much better. I try to chose plays that stretch me,” Ms Baumgartner said of the contemporary and classic plays she selects, in addition to her familiar Shakespeare pieces. I Hate Hamlet, for instance, was the first Broadway comedy that Ms Baumgartner has directed at The Little Theatre.

“Any long term relationship shifts and grows, and things go along. That’s true of our relationship. What has become increasingly important to our professional relationship and friendship,” she said, “is the level of trust and confidence.”

“We focus on what works and what the goals are,” agreed Mr Pawlikowski.

Their working relationship extends in other directions. Mr Pawlikowski has often done lighting and sound for Little Theatre plays directed by Ms Baumgartner. He was instrumental, she said, in bringing the Little Theatre out of the analog and into the digital era.

He is full of praise for her excellent costuming skills. Community theater cannot afford to rent or purchase costumes, so Ms Baumgartner measures, makes, and fits costumes for actors.

They co-directed the 1998 Newtown High School Drama Club production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, and Mr Pawlikowski has directed Ms Baumgartner in several staged readings in the area and the Town Players 2003 production, The Lives of the Saints.

“I had Ruth Anne in mind for the part,” that of a Polish lunch lady, Mr Pawlikowski said, a very difficult part in that it required miming of an entire kitchen set up. “When we first started, I wasn’t sure how to give her criticism, and she’s not a trained mime. As an actor doing direction, I have to fight to not get up on stage and show the actors what I want,” he said.

For her part, said Ms Baumgartner, “I had to keep telling myself, ‘Shut up! You’re not the director!’ It was a great experience, going against instincts and dealing with each other — very eye opening.”

“But in the end, we got there,” said Mr Pawlikowski, and as long as they both are able, they look forward to many more happy endings.

It is not just his role as a former Town Players board member that keeps him entrenched in the community group, he said, “But Ruth Anne keeps casting me,” he said in jest. He loves the intimacy of The Little Theatre, as well, and finds it a comfortable venue.

“Town Players,” he said, “is my theatrical home.”

“Theater is a collaboration,” concluded Ms Baumgartner. As she tells all of her drama students, “Theater is what happens in this space, and everyone brings something to it. That,” she said, “is what makes directing so exciting.”

I Hate Hamlet, the current production by Town Players of Newtown at The Little Theatre, is the 20th full-length play at the Orchard Hill Road theater in which director Ruth Anne Baumgartner has had the pleasure of directing actor Rob Pawlikowski. She has directed other actors multiple times, but none more than the Roxbury resident who has become her “A-list” choice and personal friend.

It is, no doubt, not the last time that the two will collaborate to bring entertainment and thoughtful contemplation to local audiences. A rapport built on mutual respect has created a bond that makes Ms Baumgartner frequently pencil in Mr Pawlikowski’s name when contemplating a play selection, and one in which the actor is loathe to turn down an opportunity to work with her, no matter how much of a character stretch she asks him to make.

Ms Baumgartner has been involved with Town Players since 1992, when she was unexpectedly drafted into a directorship.

“A show fell through and while they still had a cast, they needed a director. Barbara Lyon convinced me to take the job,” recalled Ms Baumgartner. Her theater experience to that point had consisted of high school singing and play writing, some summer stock, and acting in student and school productions in college.

“I got a part in A Man For All Seasons, and it was a transforming experience working with that director. He was God, mentor, and a surrogate parent to us,” she said.

But post-college, Ms Baumgartner found the “perfect job for me,” teaching English and Shakespeare at the University of Bridgeport. It was there she met Al Kolesar, who was acting in Town Player productions.

“He was a talented actor,” she said, and when she visited Newtown to see him in a play, “I liked the place. I liked the smells and sounds,” Ms Baumgartner said. Still, she was caught off guard when he recommended her to take on the directing of the summer 1992 play.

“I just pretended, and it worked out okay. I discovered I loved directing,” she laughed.

It was not until two summers later that she and Mr Pawlikowski rubbed shoulders, acting together in Arsenic and Old Lace. Still a novice at directing, Ms Baumgartner tried out and got a smaller part “as one of the aunts. I heard Nick Steele was a good director.”

Mr Pawlikowski appeared in that play as Jonathan, “the villain,” he said. Then a Sandy Hook resident, he had been urged by his wife, Laura Evans, to rekindle his high school interest in acting. Arsenic and Old Lace was his first of what would be many appearances on the 500-square-foot stage at the Little Theatre, and the renewal of a passion for theater.

“I thought [Mr Pawlikowski] was a little full of himself,” said Ms Baumgartner of their first interaction. By the time the play ended, she was convinced that maybe he had good reason to be so. When she began planning for the 1993 production of As You Like It, she sent out an audition notice directly to him.

“I knew he’d be perfect for the part of Jacques,” she said.

For his part, he was thrilled to have a chance to do Shakespeare’s second most famous monologue, “All the world’s a stage…”

“I look for a good voice, good posture, and a good brain [in an actor]. Rob has those things. It’s wonderful to direct him and it has become easier as years to by. He has enough theatrical experience to know that when a director gives note, it’s not a personal criticism,” said Ms Baumgartner.

 Re-inspired by the acting world of Town Players, Mr Pawlikowski, an assistant administrator at Connelly in Wilton by day, has taken a comedy workshop, acted at Hartford Stage, other summer stock, and is always seeking to improve and learn.

Working with professional actors at Hartford Stage, including Hal Holbrook, has taught him about the nuances of the acting world. They are tips that he is happy to share with fellow actors at the Little Theatre. That, said Ms Baumgartner, is a help to her.

“People come to community theater with all different levels of skills. It’s helpful to have someone like Rob on stage who knows the protocol. I know that his role is one that I can kind of leave alone and I can spend more time with the other actors,” she said.

Trust of the director is essential, Mr Pawlikowski said, and the level of trust between himself and Ms Baumgartner makes it possible for each of them to take a show to a little higher level, he said.

“You look at the plays we’ve done, and there is that thread of quality that runs through them,” he said.

Her Shakespearean teaching background draws her to the lighter Shakespeare pieces that are suited to the small stage, admitted Ms Baumgartner. Knowing that she can count on Mr Pawlikowski’s talent and predilection to comedy means that among the plays they have collaborated on are seven by the Bard.

She has also challenged him to go beyond his comfort level, Mr Pawlikowski admitted, stressing again the trust built up in two decades of working together that makes it possible for him to do so.

“I think the first time I felt that ‘Oh, I can’t do that part,’ came when Ruth Anne suggested me for a tragic character in Measure For Measure at Westport Community Theater,” he said.

“But then you put your foot right in it,” boasted Ms Baumgartner. “I trust him to know where I want him to be and I trust him to explore that and show me a little more than I expected,” she said.

“It made me more open to difficult parts. Theater,” Mr Pawlikowski said he has learned, “is about tension and release. The director holds up a mirror to us.” It is the “getting to that point” that makes a play successful or not, he said, and how the director helps the actors to get there.

“Ruth Anne recognizes that you can’t tell an actor. You can’t push them, you have to pull them. It’s always better if an actor comes to [that point of tension and release] by him or herself,” said Mr Pawlikowski.

 

A Common Goal

The twenty years of comradeship have been valuable to the plays presented at The Little Theatre, with the common goal of making something that will be not only an entertaining evening for its viewers, but a play that will leave the audience with something to talk about.

Retreat From Moscow (2012) was one such play for both Mr Pawlikowski and Ms Baumgartner. William Nicholson’s intimate tragedy was a stretch for both of them, and unlike any other play they had done before. Its success was measured by the positive  — and sometimes painful — response from the audience, they said, which related to the intense divorce situation and its fallout that were the crux of the play.

“I like to think we’re both getting much, much better. I try to chose plays that stretch me,” Ms Baumgartner said of the contemporary and classic plays she selects, in addition to her familiar Shakespeare pieces. I Hate Hamlet, for instance, was the first Broadway comedy that Ms Baumgartner has directed at The Little Theatre.

“Any long term relationship shifts and grows, and things go along. That’s true of our relationship. What has become increasingly important to our professional relationship and friendship,” she said, “is the level of trust and confidence.”

“We focus on what works and what the goals are,” agreed Mr Pawlikowski.

Their working relationship extends in other directions. Mr Pawlikowski has often done lighting and sound for Little Theatre plays directed by Ms Baumgartner. He was instrumental, she said, in bringing the Little Theatre out of the analog and into the digital era.

He is full of praise for her excellent costuming skills. Community theater cannot afford to rent or purchase costumes, so Ms Baumgartner measures, makes, and fits costumes for actors.

They co-directed the 1998 Newtown High School Drama Club production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, and Mr Pawlikowski has directed Ms Baumgartner in several staged readings in the area and the Town Players 2003 production, The Lives of the Saints.

“I had Ruth Anne in mind for the part,” that of a Polish lunch lady, Mr Pawlikowski said, a very difficult part in that it required miming of an entire kitchen set up. “When we first started, I wasn’t sure how to give her criticism, and she’s not a trained mime. As an actor doing direction, I have to fight to not get up on stage and show the actors what I want,” he said.

For her part, said Ms Baumgartner, “I had to keep telling myself, ‘Shut up! You’re not the director!’ It was a great experience, going against instincts and dealing with each other — very eye opening.”

“But in the end, we got there,” said Mr Pawlikowski, and as long as they both are able, they look forward to many more happy endings.

It is not just his role as a former Town Players board member that keeps him entrenched in the community group, he said, “But Ruth Anne keeps casting me,” he said in jest. He loves the intimacy of The Little Theatre, as well, and finds it a comfortable venue.

“Town Players,” he said, “is my theatrical home.”

“Theater is a collaboration,” concluded Ms Baumgartner. As she tells all of her drama students, “Theater is what happens in this space, and everyone brings something to it. That,” she said, “is what makes directing so exciting.”

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