Spotlight on Gretchen Grassl:
Director of the Kirk Players Production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang
This show contains adult language. Not appropriate for children.
By Marilee C.C. Rusiniak
One fateful day, Gretchen Grassl was asked by her local park district if she’d be interested in teaching their “Kids on Stage” class. This experience changed the momentum of her life within community theatre. Grassl said, “That was a fantastic experience and gave me a huge love of teaching and directing children’s theatre. Eventually…I went on to teach and direct various youth plays, occasionally appearing onstage.”
Gretchen Grassl makes her Kirk Players directorial debut as Director of the final production of the Kirk Players 52nd season, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang. (Playing June 8, 9, and 10 at Mundelein High School). She came to the Kirk Players in the summer of 2010. “My husband Peter and I were looking for a performing group where we could work on shows together and work both onstage and backstage. So we went to the Kirk Players free Adult Summer Workshop, got put into one-act plays and the group was a great fit for us” said Grassl.
Gretchen has been deeply involved with the Kirk Players since her summer workshop experience. She obtained Master Player status in 2015 and was elected to the board as Administration Director. In 2015 she also received the Most Valuable Player Award and earned the Best Supporting Actress “Leslie” for her portrayal of “Irma Tory/Mrs. McGlynn” in Sherlock Homes and The Case of the Jersey Lily. In 2017 she earned the Best Actress “Leslie” for her depiction of “Mama” in “I remember Mama”. Grassl currently serves as Administration Director and Vice President of the Kirk Players.
Grassl had the opportunity to head the 2017 Kirk Players Summer Workshop where she made an effort to incorporate scenes by both Christopher Durang and Anton Chekov. Grassl explained, “When we (the KP Board of Directors) picked the season and discussed the idea of how the plays of Chekhov influenced Durang in his writing of Vanya, we thought it would be interesting to do some scenes from plays by both playwrights. For people who were not familiar with their work, it was interesting to see them tackle the Chekhov themes of unrequited love and discontent with life in a more serious way and then deal with similar themes in Durang scenes with more humor. Durang explains that in his writing of Vanya, he took the Chekhov themes and threw them into a blender. So the result is a beautiful partnership of real humor and real pain.”
The Kirk Players have hosted two special event fundraisers, The Golden Quest (scavenger hunt) in 2015 and Trivia Tonight in 2017. Both events were chaired by Grassl. She drew upon her strong background working for nonprofit organizations, helping with special events and fundraising, “For the last five years I have worked for an elementary school managing their communications, newsletter, social media and other items. I also still teach youth acting classes in the NW suburbs.” Grassl recently had the experience of directing The God Committee for a NW Chicago group.
When not on stage or working, Grassl enjoys writing and seeing her theatre friends in their shows. She and her husband, Peter, a fellow Kirk Player member, have been married for almost 30 years. She and Peter met in a college production of Tartuffe. They have a son, Dylan (27) who is working in the film industry in New York City and does stand-up comedy. Gretchen has even had the opportunity to appear onstage with her son when he was seven.
Grassl talked about her desire to become a Director for the Kirk Players. “After directing children and teens for many years, I decided that if the right play came along, I would like to direct adults. I co-directed one season of The Velveteen Rabbit and Becky's New Car for Kirk Players, and was keeping my eye out for a solo opportunity…I am on the Play Reading Committee for Kirk Players and I was waiting until we selected a show that I connected with, and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike seemed like a great project for me…This show is about family members going through real changes and real problems who in a matter of days get tossed into new situations and they really begin to see things differently. Some of the situations are very funny and silly, but you never lose sight of the fact that these are all real people who ended up here for many different reasons.”
Grassl said the most challenging aspect of directing this production, “…is balancing all of the aspects of the show and knowing when to let go of certain projects. I have amazing crew heads who I respect as people and as leaders, so I have the luxury of knowing it will all get done and be fantastic. The most rewarding part of this experience has been, “…working with this wonderful cast. They are generous, good people as well as very talented actors. The research put into all of the historical and literary allusions has been fantastic and our discussions of characters was thoughtful and will enhance their performances. Everyone has large line loads in this show, so I was lucky to get such a strong, committed cast.”
The Kirk Players Production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang and Directed by Gretchen Grassl plays June 8, 9 and 10 at Mundelein High School. Grassl concluded, “I want (the audience) to laugh with these wonderfully written characters, but also see their human sides and be excited to see where all of the unexpected twists will lead them…I am very grateful for this opportunity to direct this fantastic, 2013 Tony Award winning play for Kirk Players, please come out and throw your support behind our efforts to do newer shows!”