The Farnsworth Invention
With Lynnette Victoria
This is the second in a series of posts by blogger Lynnette Victoria about the making of TPNC’s production of The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin.
Introducing “The Frat Boys”
One of the best parts of doing theatre is meeting fellow artists. The offstage conversations while you wait for your cue line and the post-rehearsal bonding enriches the process along the way. That’s certainly the case with the “Frat boys” of this group – lovingly dubbed so by director Julie Bell Petrak, and composed of Kellen Schult, Arthur Kitt Watson, and Ryan Giggi.
All three make their debut at the Powerhouse in this production. They are each challenged to take on multiple roles, but their pivotal performances are as the unconventional team that follows Philo on his journey to the invention of television. I got curious about this trio and wanted to know more about their process. They have great chemistry on stage and each brings a different energy to the group. And as for the characters they play – Harlan, Cliff, and Stan – I got to talk to them too.
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1) You guys have great chemistry on stage:
Was this something that came naturally to you? Did you know each other before hand? If not, what makes it so effortless?
Kellen: This is our first time working together. We didn’t talk to each other about what we were gonna bring to the stage; what we do on stage happens in the moment and we all work with what we give each other. I think also our different personalities play a key role. We all have different likes and dislikes [and] we have different tastes when it comes to theatre and sports, etc. What makes it effortless for me, I think, is that I trust these guys. I only just met Ryan and Cliff at the first read-through, but they’re both stand up guys and just cool dudes. And a lot of moments created on stage and in real life rely on that trust and openness. As we grow as friends we only get more comfortable on stage together.
Arthur: This was something that came naturally as we had never met each other prior to this performance. I think having Ryan & Kellen on “Team Philo” has made me feel more comfortable because it feels like being back on a team rather than coming together as separate individuals. We are part of the “underdog” squad and being relatively the same age we have no problem taking criticism and direction where any of us needs it.
Ryan: For me, the chemistry building has come from getting to know the other guys. I had never met anyone in the cast before starting this play, but I have found this to be an exceedingly friendly group that has been really easy to connect with–the other “frat boys” especially. I think Kitt and I identified with each other immediately as first-time actors and we’ve leaned a lot on each other as we’ve tried to figure out how to go about being in a play. Kellen’s enthusiasm and love for the theater, this play, and his role is infectious. He has been a tremendous influence on me; his sense of fun keeps me loose and reminds me why I got involved in this to begin with – acting is fun! Finally, Eric Regan has been a great leader with the example that he has set–I’ve learned a lot just by watching him go about his craft, and I think a lot of my identification with him has come from simply trying (in my own way) to do what he does.
2) What have you guys learned from these men? Did they exist? What do you think they gained from this experience (the invention of television)?
Kellen: Fun fact: Harlan Honn wasn’t actually involved with “the frat boys!” In real life, he was an engineer called in during Philo Farnsworth’s presentation about television to a group of bankers in order to get a grant for Philo’s work. They worked in the same building, but Honn never worked in the same lab as Farnsworth. Unfortunately I couldn’t find out that much more about him other than that he was a “Hard-boiled, competent engineer.” But he absolutely believed in television and must’ve certainly believed that it was a future worth investing in. The only other thing I have to go on are the words Harlan says in the show that Aaron Sorkin wrote, which weaves a fantastic arc for Harlan that I’ve yet to fully tap into.
Arthur: These men remind me of the “bad news bears” in that they are drawn closer together as the odds are stacked against their favor. When Philo is given his initial opportunity through the graciousness of Bill Crocker, his team follows his suit in efforts to change the way we view the world, not for personal gain. These men certainly existed, and if I could infer what they gained from this experience it would be a true appreciation of the power of collaborative team work, and that in David vs Goliath situations, Goliath will often win.
Ryan: It may sound technical, but the big lesson that I’ve learned from Stan is about the value of experiential learning. As an educator myself, I am struck by how much Stan learns as a lab assistant to Philo, and I cannot help but wonder how much more he learns in Philo’s lab than he would have if he had continued his traditional collegiate studies. I think Stan’s coming-of-age is a nice subplot within this play. I’ve been struck by the way Stan grows in confidence and independence as the play goes on. This all comes from his hands-on experience in the lab and from his exposure to Philo’s brilliance, and I often think of the effects that this had on Stan when I’m at work–how can I give my students the same educational experience and help them grow into confident problem-solvers like Stan did?
To Harlan, Cliff, & Stan –
1) Why do you stand with Philo? What is it about him and/or about this invention of television that grabs hold of you? Aren’t you afraid someone will figure out how to invent television before you all do?
Harlan: Philo’s passion and his work ethic are so magnetic, that I can’t help but gravitate towards that. In what might take me minutes to grasp a concept or an idea, Phil just gets it, in seconds. He is a once in a lifetime human being, and a once in a lifetime visionary (tele-visionary? See what I did there? <wink wink>) and a once in a lifetime trailblazer. I stand with him because he works to make his dreams a reality, not just to make history or leave his mark, but to better the world with something that everyone can use. As far as if I’m afraid? We all know that this is a race to the finish. But as a scientist, fear slows me down, makes me think slower, react slower. There will always be inventors in the world working to create something, anything! Which is why I owe it to myself and to my team and to everyone to focus on the now. Namely? Being the first group of men to invent television!
Cliff: I stand with Philo because he is family and a visionary as I have never seen before. With my limited abilities I will never have this opportunity again to be a part of a team that is striving to change the way the world’s information is gathered and disseminated. Philo’s ability to grasp a complex concept (often times unfathomable to the masses), and explain it to our team in ways that allows us to understand, is the true sign of an amazing leader. We are always cognizant that we’re not the only team attempting to invent the television, however we are here to achieve Philo’s vision and our responsibly to is keep focused on attaining this goal. If Philo isn’t worried then we are not worried, and no matter what happens we are here to support him.
Stan: I stand with Philo because he becomes like my big brother in a very real way. I’m a scientist in my own right, but my loyalty to Philo comes more from my idolization of Philo than anything having to do with television. I credit Philo with helping me establish so much of my identity, and it meant everything to me to immediately be taken seriously by Philo.
These Powerhouse “newbies” will be ones to watch as they move forward in their careers.
Tune in to catch them and the rest of this stellar cast May 6th- May 21st.