Friday, January 6, 2012

Part Three of the "Gruesome Playground Injuries" Puzzle: Katie Baldwin

Rajiv Joseph's "Gruesome Playground Injuries" opened last night at the Station Theatre in Urbana, bringing alive Joseph's moody, quirky story of two bruised people and how their lives intertwine over the years.

Director Mathew Green talked about his "Injuries" experience a few days ago, followed by some intriguing thoughts from Rob Zaleski, who plays Doug, half of the "Injuries" cast.

To complete the "Injuries" picture, let's hear from Katie Baldwin (shown at left in "Love Song" with Mathew Green at the Station Theatre. Photo credit: Jesse Folks).

In "Gruesome Playground Injuries," Katie plays Kayleen, the girl who continues to meet one boy -- reckless, wounded Doug -- over the course of the play. Here's what Katie had to say...

How did you get started at the Station?

My first production with the Celebration Company was "The Effects of Robitusin," directed by Gabrielle Reisman. It was a collection of comedic scenes, some of them our own original work. We were all in high school and just had a blast with it. Sam Ambler, Gary Ambler's son, was also a contributor/performer.

What do you do in your life outside the theater?

I am in The Abe Froman Project, an improv comedy troupe based out of Champaign. We've been together about 3.5 years; we perform every Monday at Mike 'N' Molly's in Champaign. I'm also a teacher's aide at an elementary school, and I sometimes host Tuesday Night Trivia at Boltini. I go to Krannert to see anything I can, sing karaoke, travel, play with my "nieces," and see live local music as much as possible.

What has been your favorite role so far in general and at the Station in particular?

There are a few that definitely jump out but, among those, it's just a matter of which one was most challenging or fun or new. Besides the role I'm currently playing, Molly in "Love Song," Jackie in "Mauritius," and the women in "The 39 Steps" are among my favorites. Molly was a big challenge; she was my first big role to tackle. Jackie was a part I was dying to play the first time I read the script, and "The 39 Steps" is the most fun I've had in any production so far.

Katie Baldwin (far left) in "The 39 Steps" with (from left)
Mikel L. Matthews, Jr., Mike Prosise and Rob Zaleski.
Photo credit: Jesse Folks.

Do you have a dream role you’d love to play someday?

I know I'll never have the chance to play John Proctor in "The Crucible." I've always wanted to play Bella from "Lost in Yonkers." I'd love to get my hands on the obvious female roles in "Hamlet" and "The Taming of the Shrew."

What do you like most about working at the Station Theatre? What is the biggest challenge?

I love the sense of community we have; some of us are close enough to be family. It's always hard to work on something you care about so much, especially when your space and finances are limited. But that is the creative challenge: put as much of your heart in this tiny box as you can.

You’ve worked with Mathew Green several times as both an actor and a director, I think, although the circumstances and the shows have been quite different from each other. How does “Gruesome Playground Injuries” fit into that picture?

It feels a bit like "Playground Injuries" is a culmination of the other six shows we've done together. I've been on stage with Mathew, been directed by him, and was his assistant director (and eventually understudy) for "Eurydice." We work best on opposite sides of the fourth wall, but I definitely look forward to sharing the stage with him again.

What do you appreciate about Mathew as a director?

Mathew is a master of assembly. He knows who the correct designers, actors, builders, and run crew are for a given production. When it comes to rehearsals, he provides exactly the right environment of trust and creativity. He uses universal emotions, clear imagery, and personal experience to cultivate the emotions he needs in his actors. I always feel trusted, respected, and valued when I work with Mathew. This show is no exception.

How is this show different from your previous Celebration Company shows?

This project is different for me because I've never been in a two-person show. I'm playing the same person in different phases of her life (and out of chronological order), so I need to be able to conjure emotions without a lot of build-up on stage. It's been a challenge, but I'm very happy with the results so far.

And you’ve also worked with Rob Zaleski before. Is there a level of comfort that comes from working with Mathew and Rob again? Or is it different and new every time?

Rob is comfort personified. He always has a great attitude and is willing to try anything to make the scene work. Mathew and his family are very dear to me; there is no way to completely separate that from my work with him. There is a very short list of people I trust more than Rob and Mathew.

What can you tell us about “Gruesome Playground Injuries” and the character of Kayleen? Who is Kayleen and what should we know about her before we see the play? What makes her an appealing character to play?

Kayleen has a lot of feelings of unworthiness. When bad things happen, she feels they're deserved or just not worth mentioning because they happened to her. She takes care of Doug and loves him unconditionally but can't seem to get it together enough to accept his love in return. Kayleen deflects intimacy; it makes her uncomfortable (to put it lightly). I'm fascinated by her protective shield because, while that is a part of my personality, I do everything I can to overcome it. She just builds it.

In general, what do you think this play is really about? What should audiences take away from “Gruesome Playground Injuries”?

This is a play about soul mates. Kayleen and Doug have a morbid fascination and almost pathological urge to heal each other, physically and emotionally.
Thanks so much for all the information, Katie. What are your plans after “Gruesome Playground Injuries”?

This spring I'll be producing for the first time for "Becky Shaw," directed by Kay Holley (at The Station Theatre). I'd like to direct someday, but my main focus is acting right now. There's always something on deck and I try to keep going, keeping challenging myself.

So there you have it -- everything you need to know about "Gruesome Playground Injuries" to maximize your experience when you see the play.
Thanks again to Mathew Green, Rob Zaleski and Katie Baldwin for sharing their thoughts!

Performances of "Gruesome Playground Injuries" continue tonight through Sunday, pick up again next week from January 11-12 and finish up January 18-21. All performances are at 8 pm. Visit www.Station for more information or to make reservations.

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