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Dreams of Regional Theatre

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Alex Chambers:  It's Inner States, I'm Alex Chambers. When Diane Kondrat was refining her skills as an actress, she went through a two year course on the Meisner technique. Part of the goal of that technique is to give you the ability to respond naturally to another person's behavior. It's not until the second year that you try to do it in character. The whole of the first year is about doing it yourself.

Diane Kondrat:  For a while I thought that learning that technique would allow me to practice that in real life, but let me tell you, in real life, truth isn't always what people are looking for. Another reason to prize the stage above real life.

Alex Chambers:  On today's episode we hear from Diane Kondrat on theater and life, right after this.

Alex Chambers:  This is Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers. I grew up in western Massachusetts. As a teenager, I had a feel for the South, the West, the general Midwest even, but Southern Indiana didn't exist as a place. If you're listening here, in southern Indiana, you might think that changed with college, that I was applying to schools and IU came up as a world class university. It did come up actually, because I was looking at music schools. The conservatory here was apparently renowned. I didn't quite believe it, though. I didn't apply. I've been here for 20 years now. I feel like a naturalized Hoosier and it turned out there were more things in Southern Indiana than I'd dreamed of. Still, sometimes I wonder what things would have been like if I'd landed in a big city.

Alex Chambers:  So, when a friend was coming to town to see the locally famous actress, Diane Kondrat, in a one-woman show, I jumped on the chance to join and to talk to Diane, because, like me, she had big dreams as a teenager. She wanted to act. And she probably wasn't dreaming that she'd make her career doing regional theater in a set of relatively small Midwestern cities. I don't think that's what most actors aspire to when they get started.

Diane Kondrat:  [LAUGHS]. A comedy show. I didn't know we were doing a comedy show today, and I feel better already.

Alex Chambers:  Diane's been acting for 45 years, a lot of those years here in Bloomington, Indiana. She formed her own theater company; two of them, actually. She was also a regular at the Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis and at Cardinal Stage, the professional theater in Bloomington, once that got started. She's since moved to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to her grown kids, but she came back to star in Cardinal's production of Every Brilliant Thing. It's a one-woman show about a girl trying to ease her mother's depression with a list of all the best things in the world. We met up at Butler Park in Bloomington, on a beautiful day in early September. We talked about getting into acting, making a life in regional theater, and how to just be with another person. But, of course, I wanted to hear about her origins first.

Alex Chambers:  So, were your parents artistic?

Diane Kondrat:  Nope. My dad played the accordion. Does that count? I come from poor people and, amongst poor people, the arts... especially a career in the arts... is nothing but crazy talk. That's just wrong minded. My father's Ukrainian, my mother's Lithuanian, and I know that my dad, at one point when I said I didn't sing well enough, said, "Oh, you're Ukrainian. It doesn't matter how well you sing. You just sing." [LAUGHS]. But, even saying that there wasn't that much music, or art, around the house. My parents were big theater goers though. I was born in Newark, New Jersey and, if my mother had kept the programs from the year that she saw the premieres of South Pacific, The Music Man, West Side Story... they went to the theater all the time, but they didn't want me to be in the theater.

Alex Chambers:  Were they struggling financially, or were they in that immigrant kind of thing of getting here and managing to make something work?

Diane Kondrat:  They came from quite poor families, but they ended up being in, certainly, upper middle class, I would say, by the time I was in grammar school. My dad was in finance, in retail, one of the reasons we moved as much as we did. But, yes, there was a little bit of time before my father lost his job from the company, Jacobson's Department Store in Ohio. When I was a junior in high school, I wanted a dress and I thought, oh, that dress is expensive, and then I thought I'll just say, and they said I could have it right away. And I thought, hold on, I think we're rich, and then my father lost his job [LAUGHS], and that was the end of that. He became an insurance man and my parents lost quite a few friends. I was shocked. Quite a few friends because they were not in the appropriate social strata anymore. Ain't that garbage?

Alex Chambers:  How old were you when that happened?

Diane Kondrat:  I was in high school, halfway through high school.

Alex Chambers:  And did you feel like it affected you?

Diane Kondrat:  I didn't feel it that much, but my mom did because she had brochures of fancy New England colleges, where she was hoping to sell me into a very lucrative marriage and set me up for the rest of time. And I mean, they were all over the place. I did very well in school, and those brochures were all over the place and they were very nice, and when she realized she had to send me to a state college, she was heartbroken.

Alex Chambers:  So, what about you? Were you already planning on studying theater?

Diane Kondrat:  I was very cowed by my parents, and my mother especially. There are people who are listening to this, who I'm sure know my mom because she lived here for a while. She had a very powerful personality and so, I did what I was told. I know people who broke up with their parents when they graduated from high school and went and did whatever they wanted. I did what I was told, which was go to school. So, as it turned out, for the first two years of college, I switched my major at least three times. I wasn't allowed to be a theater major. I ended up taking all of the requirements for Bachelor of Arts, and then I, "Oops, sorry!", got married when I was 20 to a writer, much to my mother's continuing chagrin. This was one of the happiest memories of my life: I was walking to class the first day of my junior year of college and all the books in my arms were theater books, because I was finally going to be theater major. I was on at least half scholarship. I auditioned and they said, oh, we'll give you some money, so, I was so happy to be able to finally be a theater major.

Alex Chambers:  How did you manage to do that, in relation to your mother? Was it getting married?

Diane Kondrat:  Yes. These were the olden days, you understand, so, once that happened, they were so mad. Phew, they were mad. I started dating the person I married in May and we got married on August 2nd, and part of that was that I was going to get to be a theater major. Because all bets were off, they weren't going to pay, they were mad, they weren't going to pay for college anymore, and he would get his money from one window, and he's walk three windows down and he'd give it all back to pay for my undergrad. Because he was teaching there at the time, he had just graduated with an MFA in fiction writing from Bowling Green State University.

Alex Chambers:  Okay, so, you studied theater. Ultimately, you managed to study theater in college and then what next? How did you move from college to actually working in theater?

Diane Kondrat:  Oh, I have nothing but sad stories for you today. That was kind of a happy story, this is a very sad story. It took me years to recover from this story. When I graduated from college I went to something called URTA, University Resident Theater Auditions, I believe they still have them they're national auditions for jobs, and for MFA programs and stuff like that. I got 14 job offers, some from London, some from Paris. I won't even name... I'm going to start to cry... I won't even name the Masters, the MFA programs, that I received offers of full scholarships from, but my confidence was so low, that I remember thinking "What is wrong with these colleges, that they send people to interview you who are mentally ill?" Because people were telling me they were going to build their entire Masters degree program around me. This happened a lot at those things and I didn't believe it. I thought they were crazy.

Diane Kondrat:  And then everybody talked about it, because this was after I'd been married two years, so, my parents were back in the conversation. We talked about it and Tony had a job offer in Norfolk Virginia, and he said the magic words, "Don't worry, more opportunities will come your way." For anyone who's listening, take the opportunities the first time they come your way. Do not... I repeat... do not wait for them to come again. I never took any of those 14 offers and I moved to the East Coast, to a very large population base in the Tidewaterarea in Virginia. And I auditioned everywhere I could when I got there, and did as much theater as I could. My father was dying a few years after that, while I was still in Virginia, and he wanted me to get an advanced degree so that I would be safe for the rest of my life. That's how we get safe, but there was no MFA close.

Diane Kondrat:  I had already had my son, Nicholas Kondrat-Ardizzone, but there was an MA, so, I have a sterling Masters of Arts in the Humanities from Old Dominion University [LAUGHS], I'm not sure it's going to save my life, but I did get all A's, I did get all A's and my father was happy. I mean, when your father is dying and says, "Please, I'll pay for it, go get your Masters Degree", you say "You betcha, I surely will". The funny thing I did there was Christian Broadcasting Network, and let me tell you, they've got a lot of the Lord's money, or at least they did then. And so, everybody worked for Christian Broadcasting Network, every time they called, so, there was that and I helped to run a theater that was associated with Old Dominion University that was kind of a combo pack. Yes, I helped to run it, I also cleaned the toilets when it went from being a porn house to a theater. Yeah, I remember that.

Diane Kondrat:  I did all the theater I could, and a lot of radio was being done then. I did a lot of radio in Richmond, Virginia. It was wonderful work. So, I patched together a life, because the truth, for me, in all these years, is that I knew that, without theater, I couldn't keep breathing right. The theater is the safe place for me and, without that, oh my, I knew I would just fall apart. So, there wasn't a choice, "Oh, maybe I'll get involved with theater", it was "ah... I have to find... I have to find a place", and I did. And I did. So, the Riverview Playhouse was my home, it was close to where I lived, and I worked there for the whole time we were in Norfolk, Virginia, for nine years. Prior to that, I had never lived in one place for that duration of time, so, that was the first time I'd lived some place for a long time.

Alex Chambers:  Alright, so, you were in Norfolk. Did you come to Bloomington from there?

Diane Kondrat:  Yes.

Alex Chambers:  And, so, you're moving from Norfolk to Bloomington with two young kids.

Diane Kondrat:  Yes, my daughter was three months old and my son was five when I first came to Bloomington.

Alex Chambers:  And you were already acting, and you're coming here wanting to keep acting. How did it feel to move here?

Diane Kondrat:  It was stunning. I had a dream. There's a cemetery at High Street and Covenanter that people who live here will know of, because it's a beautiful little cemetery. And there used to be, and there's still is one great big tree that hangs over the road, but there used to be another one and it's gone down now. Before I had ever seen the cemetery, I had a dream that was a photograph of that cemetery, and the voice in the dream said "I hope you're ready, because this is what it's going to be like." Because, even though I was in Virginia, which when people say they want to be an actor, they don't say "Get thee to Tidewater, Virginia", there was a lot going on. There was a lot going on there, and I came here and there was not. Certainly no Cardinal Stage. And I did what I do, which is go to every single organization that I can find that is doing theater, and bring my resume and my head shot and say hello.

Diane Kondrat:  And I'm polite for a little while; it's really trying, but I do it, and I might even wear some clothes that look like they could be worn for a commercial or something. So, I did that, and I did not find what I needed in town, and so, I started producing, myself, as Oasis Productions. My father died and I had $2,000 given to me by my mom, and I used that for the next 18 years. I spent it and I made it back, and that was the money for a theater company.

Alex Chambers:  Wow.

Diane Kondrat:  I worked for free. Mostly, we had to pay rent, we had to pay royalties, of course, we had to have some kind of sets and lights. The only people who reliably got paid were technicians, because I didn't know enough people who were, like, "Sure, I'll run your lights", or could actually run lights. So, Oasis Productions was small cash shows with great roles for women. Gee, I wonder who any of those women might be? As a producer it was a pleasure to be able to do pieces that were engaging on an intellectual level. I remember doing a Naomi Wallace play called One Flea Spare, that I was looking into right before COVID happened. It's about the last time the black plague came to Britain, and these people that are stuck in their houses with a guard because there has been plague in their house. A woman came up to me at the end of the show and said, "Why do you do plays like this? This woman is suffering and you're giving an example that is very, very dark."

Diane Kondrat:  I have another play that was amongst my favorites. Perhaps people remember Mom and the Razor Blades by Wendy Hammond, who used to teach at Ann Arbor. It's part of a trio of plays called Family Lives: Three Brutal Comedies, and it happens on mom's birthday and is a terrifying play. She beats one of her children to death behind a couch with a baseball bat, and it's like a cartoon, with stuff flying out. So, if I have something that I favor the most, it's dark comedy that's my favorite, but I like darkness all around. All around the neighborhood. Not as much as some people, and I'm happy to say I don't remember this playwright's name: he's a man and he's made a lot of money. People really like him and I can't remember his name, and I'm glad about it. His plays are so dark. Maybe Banging My Head Into... something about hitting my head with nails, or banging my...

Oh, he's famous. I hate his work. There's a pessimism that comes from some people when they do dark stuff, it's like, well, you should kill yourself instead. I don't have to read this, you should eat it, choke on it and die, because obviously that's what you want to do, right? There has to be, I think, in the stuff that I like, either stuff that's so funny, like when me and Karen Irwin did our fringe show by Eric Pfeffinger, Assholes and Aureoles, that we took to different places. It's so dark that you're laughing and laughing because it's, like, "Oh no, this is awful and so true," that then you feel better because you've laughed about it. So, that's one thing that can happen in comedy, but the other thing is when something is really dark in dramatic work, there's an indomitable spirit, I think, that, for me, always exists in women because the oppression of women is so popular.

It's a world-wide popular event for hundreds of thousands of years, across all kinds of cultures, like, wow, okay, how does that work? So, by the nature of doing plays that focused on at least having 50% of the roles be really good women's roles, it meant that you were highlighting an oppressive situation, but still she lived. She lived through it and her eyes are still open, and of course, her heart is even more open because it's been shattered so many times and then had to rebuild itself into a more vibrantly functional organ. And all these are very long answers [LAUGHS].

Alex Chambers:  This is Inner States. If you're just joining us, I'm talking today with actress Diane Kondrat. We'll be back with more after a short break.

Alex Chambers:  This is Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers. I'm talking with Diane Kondrat. By the time she moved to Portland, Oregon in 2014, Diane was an almost 30 year veteran of Southern Indiana theater. But we're still in the early days here, when she was cycling $2,000 through her company, Oasis Productions, in and out, in and out. She needed more work. Because she's the kind of person who puts herself out there, someone came to her aid, and it wasn't just her future collaborator, Nell Weatherwax.

Diane Kondrat:  It was God. One day I get a phone call from Dede Foster at the County Jail and she said, "I'm writing a grant for using interactive theater in the jail, for HIV/AIDS education, and I need somebody who knows how to do theater. Can I put your name on it?" And I said "You bet you can, and if you know anybody else who's writing a grant and they need somebody who knows how to do theater, just spell out my name and put it on the grant." So, she got the money and I contacted Nell. It was, like, "What are we going to do?" Also Chris Jaffe, who I believe still lives in town, was one of our original members. Interactive theater has many, many forms, sometimes it's called applied theater but the way we did it, you had to have three actors and a moderator to do a one hour show. So we needed four people and we got four people. We became competent in the form and it was really exciting work.

My brother had spent time in federal prison. It was very hard for me to go inside jails and to hear, as anybody knows who's worked in prisons, the door close behind you, see people literally in chains. That was really hard. My brother killed himself rather than go back to jail and that was pretty fresh at the time, but also, a lot of people made me eager to serve the population that finds itself in the American prison system, which is certainly a whole other show. So, we started to do that and, frankly, at the time HIV rates were rising among the white, male, heterosexual population, and you can't let those people get sick, so, all of a sudden there was a good deal of money. Later on, when HIV was rising more among women of color, that money went away. But, you know, it took a while, so, yes, we did a lot of work all over the state in juvenile and adult facilities doing HIV/AIDS education for a long time. And that's where I learned how to do improv, before I did What If?

We had two names. When we finally got 501-C3 status, it was Interaction Theater Incorporated, but before that, it was What If Programs because we were always sitting around going "What if, what if, and then what if?" Because you had to write a very short, tight, urgent scene that was written for an actor as a kind of map, without specific lines. So, you learned the story, you didn't learn specific lines, but it had to be crafted so we could come to a reasonable, believable point within five minutes. So it always had to have some really high stakes going on. We were always like, so, "What if, what if, what if he comes in now, and he...?" you know, that kind of stuff, so, we finally called it What If Programs.

Alex Chambers:  Why did it have to be improvised? Why not lines?

Diane Kondrat:  Because that was the form of interactive theater that we chose. And it also prepares the performer because the way we did it was, in an hour we would do three different scenes, which weren't connected to each other like chapters in a book, they were independent. People kept their own names, so, if I was an actor, and I was Diane in the first scene, I would also be Diane in the second scene, but it would be a completely different situation. After the scene happens, the moderator stops the action and then facilitates interaction between the audience and the actors, while they remain in character. So, it's not like, we told this story, now we're going to talk about it. No, the scene just ended and he's got his hand raised, and he's going to punch me in the face, and then the moderator stops the action and says, "Well, what do you think she should do?"

So, then, the story moves, in a way. All of sudden, instead of there being three people in the scene, there's 33 people in the scene, because everybody in the room is now in the scene. So, it prepares the actor for that moment, but it also means that you need less rehearsal because you can bring somebody in, show them a story and say, okay, do the story. If they're good, you don't have to say, on that line, put your foot there. You can say whatever as long as you get the intention going. But before I did those programs on stage, if I missed a line, or somebody else did, the only thing I could do was repeat the last thing I said [LAUGHS], and look hopefully at another person. Maybe I could say their line, but I could never come up with anything that would save me. But, after doing a few years of the interactive theater, that problem was taken care of.

Alex Chambers:  So, where was that in relation to your Meisner training? I was just reading up a little bit about Meisner and that's part of the training there too, is repeating lines, being in the moment.

Diane Kondrat:  Being in the moment. Being in the moment. The repetition exercise, which is a basic part of the Meisner technique... the use of the word "repeat" or "repetition"... probably should be called a different thing, because that's really not the essence of that. The purpose of the repetition exercise is to teach you to work moment to moment off another person's behavior, responding moment to moment as things happen. So, it's don't think, just be there, and be fully with the other person, so, of course, that's all the "yes and" stuff that you hear in regular improv stuff. So, I started to learn Meisner when I was in my early thirties. We started the prison work before that, but it was around the same time.

Alex Chambers:  So, those both helped you.

Diane Kondrat:  Oh, you know what, we should actually go back. The purpose of the repetition exercise is to teach you to work off another person's behavior, dealing with that behavior moment to moment, as it happens. So, it's very much to make you act without thinking and act without judgment, and act without trying to be towards somebody without trying to be clever. It's like no, we don't need you to be clever, we'd rather you were truthful. [LAUGHS] Right?

Alex Chambers:  Yes, right.

Diane Kondrat:  And for a while I thought that learning that technique would allow me to practice that in real life, but let me tell you, in real life, truth isn't always what people are looking for. Another reason to prize the stage above real life.

Alex Chambers:  That was actually my next question. Did it affect you and did it shape your real life at all?

Diane Kondrat:  Yes, because of many things in the way Meisner technique is taught in a two-year program. The first year anybody can do what they're teaching, you don't have to be an actor. So, the first year teaches you how to be present with another person while life is going on. Of course, in theater, it's fictional life, but anybody can learn that. And then, in the second year, you learn the things that allow you to alter yourself to serve the playwright and not be Diane in a situation, but somebody else in their situation, and not everybody can do that. I had some students when I was teaching at IU, there's a thing called a "hot who", an adjective and a noun that deeply and succinctly reflects your point of view. So, if you were in a show and somebody had a gun on stage, and that person knows the gun is a prop gun and not loaded, and they're dealing with that prop in a really casual fashion, you could change it to say, okay, I need you to hot who that gun, and it had better be the alarming weight, right?

I had students that you would invite to consider using a tool like that, and they would tell you the name that they gave it, and it would have no effect on how they touched it. And it was like, uh-oh, you're probably not an actor then. But what I did learn from studying Meisner technique that affected me in my real life is really the benefit, and this has extended so far, of listening without judgment when you're interacting with a person. Just to be there and listen to people and especially now. People are not used to having somebody look at them and listen while they're talking. How many times have I heard people say, "Oh, stop me if I've said this before?" I will not stop you. It would have to be many, many times you told me this today before I would stop you, because obviously you have a desire and a need to tell this story. And it's going to be a little different every time, like every show. People are so hungry to be listened to and attended to in a non-judgmental way.

Another thing that happens in Meisner, and perhaps other acting things, is you look at people and study people without saying what they're doing is bad. You just say, oh, that's how they walk, that's how they tilt their head, that's how they don't look at me, or do look at me. And that's like another letter in the alphabet, it's like, oh look, I can use that, but I'm only going to use the way he walks and not the way he swings his arms, or the way he tilts his head. It really invites people to be more human. To practice being human, which I also used to watch happen in the interactive theater, especially in prisons and juvenile detention facilities, where we always did our best to be alone with the people who lived there, without any guards in the room. So that people could make mistakes in communication, which happened a lot, especially the assaulting, verbal practices against women. If there were ever a woman character that was perceived as misstepping, oh my God, the violence that immediately came out.

The moderator would have to say, "Can you think of a different way to say that to her?" and then they got to practice. They got to practice being a human being and that's what happens in theater, in all different ways. You get to practice all the different ways to be human. So, you know, I could be wrong, but the idea that being present and non-judgmental, and fully open to another human being, is the goal [LAUGHS]. This is a good thing. This is the way to do it.

Alex Chambers:  I was curious about COVID. Obviously, as an actor, you lost a huge part of your working life, and then you were in a Zoom group with our mutual friend, Toby Bercovici, the director. Were there surprises that came out of that? Things that worked, that you learned?

Diane Kondrat:  Yes, it was wonderful. I always said I feel like I'm along for the ride, because I'm a much better presenter of other people's ideas than I am as the one who has the big idea. So, I would watch what other people would do and say, oh, that's really good. The interesting lesson was that, often, the most engaging thing that was presented on the screen was music, which had a huge effect, or even sound, but it was almost always aided by the simplicity of the action, which is also highlighted in Meisner. It's like just hit the nail on the head, as my teacher would say, just hit the nail on the head. Not too much this way, not too much that way. Don't comment on it, just do it, and that thing of being simple was mesmerizing on the screen. Maybe screen people know these things. I do sketch comedy in Portland with Spectravagasm and Sam Dinkowitz, the mastermind of this, is like, "Yeah, big deal, so after COVID all these theater people will have the same kind of talent base that film students have in the first three months of taking a course." Yippee, aren't we smart now?

Diane Kondrat:  So, you know, it's a different genre. For years people would tell me that I should do more film, or do more television, and I never want to do it because of the aspect of the audience and their energy output being absent. People will say, oh, well, the crew is there. Please. That's not the same at all.

Alex Chambers:  If you're just joining us, I'm talking today with actress Diane Kondrat. We'll be back with more after a short break. This is Inner States.

Alex Chambers:  This is Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers. We're listening to a conversation I had with actress Diane Kondrat, outside at Butler Park in Bloomington, Indiana, on a gorgeous cool day last September. So, you've been acting for 45 years. You've figured a lot of things out. Are there new challenges at this point in your career you didn't expect to be facing?

Diane Kondrat:  I think, for me, a lot of them are the same, which is finding good work and good people to work with. My dream with shows and with casts, is to have somebody that's better than me, so I can learn more. One of the things that's happened now that I'm the age that I am, is I get cast as men. In Portland I played Ronald Reagan, I played Adolph Hitler and I played a little guy from New Jersey, because they couldn't find anybody who seemed like they were from Jersey; nobody knows how to talk anymore. So, all of a sudden I'm playing men and that's pretty kooky. I mean, I've pretended to be a man before, but these are instances where I'm actually supposed to be a man. And, with the Ronald Reagan thing, how tall was he? I mean, he was a movie star. Thankfully in this play... Passion Play is the name of the piece... he already has a little Alzheimer's and I didn't know until the last minute. They gave me a microphone and that saved my life because he already had that kind of breathy, hesitant quality to his speech, which would never have worked without a microphone.

They gave me the mic the day before we opened and I was, like, oh, I'm saved. So, that's a new challenge. Other than that, when I look at myself and what I prefer, I have a real addiction to beauty, and that is well served by being in the Pacific Northwest now. But when people are like, oh, just because you're older doesn't mean you're not going to have parts, I know that there are people who think that old people are just as beautiful as young people. I don't know, I really like to see beautiful people. I mean, bodies are the forms that are in theater, and unless you're the kind of director who toys with that form, which is thrilling, that's what you get. And I understand when people don't want to see anything but what they perceive as the most beautiful thing that's on that stage. Now, sometimes it's true, or often, that the most beautiful emotional life is presented from somebody who's mature and the most beautiful physical life is presented by somebody who is young. So, what are you going to do there? I don't know; a lot of radio? It's a problem.

So, I know that I have missed being cast as a lot of queens because I am not tall and I am not thin, and it's like, oh, that's never going to happen, I'm never going to be tall and thin. And now it's like, well, this is the body that I have, which I know is supposed to be the point of view you always have when you go into an audition. "Here I am, it's probably what you're looking for. This is what I've got. It's for you." But it's a big shift. I mean, I say now, my sexy used to worth more than my funny, but now my funny is worth more than my sexy, and it's hugely true. Partially because, if you're good looking for a woman, for a long time nobody wanted you to be funny. You were one or the other: you were either pretty and probably it would be best if you shut up, or you looked a little goofy and then you could be funny.

So, that has changed for me, in the kind of things I'm being asked to do, but even when I was much younger people would say, oh, you're a character actor, but I think that's because I'm naturally comfortable assuming different ways of being. One of the first books I ever read in my life was entertaining my mother with a book that was all Vaudeville radio plays and everything was written out in dialect. So, I was very comfortable with all these different ways of being. So, I've been a character actor, it's not like I've become a character actor. So as far as new challenges, the only ones are to come up with even more ways to keep theater alive and in service to human beings, despite the push toward technological involvement. I know that kids spend so much of their time... and some adults too... playing video games, and never having the sort of reward of intense human interaction that theater gives one. It's like, oh, come, come, come and see what this feels like. So, that's the challenge for me is, is there any way that I can help continue a tradition that needs us, as humans, to be together?

I mean, when you think of something like Clowns without Borders. It's like Doctors without Borders, but they're clowns that go to refugee camps. These are the saints, these are the performative saints in our world. That kind of healing that happens through emotional interchange is a really powerful thing to keep us all alive in what seems to be an increasingly frightening time. I took a weekend class with Giovanni Fusetti, he's in Italy right now. He's a clown and a teacher, and a Jungian, and I got to watch this workshop. He's a fabulous clown. Helikos, H-E-L-I-K-O-S, I believe is his company and he teaches all over the world. I saw people in this workshop. I think there were only two performers and everybody else was a social worker, or a psychologist, or a teacher. The transformations I saw among these people, under the guidance of this clown, were spectacular. And I think that can only happen in theater.

I had a plan that I would go back to school to be a drama therapist once nobody wanted to cast me anymore, but if you are curious, it's really expensive to become a drama therapist, holy moly. And it takes a lot of time. I frankly don't have the money to do that. So, that is something that, if there became an easier way for me to approach that, I certainly would because drama therapy is an astounding process. That's all I got.

Alex Chambers:  That's great, that's a lot. You weren't planning on ending up in Bloomington, spending 27 years here. You've since moved to Portland, which I'm not that much in the theater world, but I'm guessing is also not a big theater destination. Has it ended up being satisfying working in the more regional kinds of theaters?

Diane Kondrat:  In case anybody needs to know, Chicago is the place in the United States that, if you want to do beautiful theater, that's where you go. However, there was a moment backstage at the Riverview Playhouse when I was doing a play called Shadowbox and I was playing the unfavored daughter of a very ill woman who kept waiting for a letter from the other daughter. And then the daughter started to write letters to her mom under the guise of the other daughter. A lady came backstage as I was taking off my makeup. She had those great big eighties glasses, she was a little overweight, not well dressed. Her glasses were so up against her cheeks it was like they were pressed up against a window, and I believe they weren't clean. She came backstage and she found me. She was very quiet, a big woman, tall woman, but her voice was so quite. She touched my shoulder and said, "Thank you very much. That was my life, that story there, with my mom. Thank you." And then she went away.

Those moments are the best and, you know, they can happen anywhere. You don't plan them, you don't sometimes know. I mean, she came back and told me, but who knows for any of us who are performers, how many people feel less alone in the world once they've spent time with you and the show you're doing. And I have a friend who is a scholar and she recently said, "Well, you know, commercial theater in New York, or anywhere, it's all over. It's only money. It's big money and it's people making money." Somebody told her, you know who the actors are now? Only rich people's kids. Because they're the only people who can afford to live in those particular towns, who have the kind of connections to get work, who will have a family member who can donate to a theater... man, I'm not naming names... and then that person gets cast. And she was, like, "You know, it's going to go back to the point where it is regional, smaller, more intimate theater presentation that becomes again the true art, where money doesn't rule the interaction. Where shared humanity and the need to perform and to be in an audience, because not everybody wants to be on stage, but there's people who want to feel the big feelings that come in the theater.

I would like to have a lot of money. I would like to have people clap when they see me walk down the street. That would be swell, but that's not the true heartbeat of being an actor. The heartbeat of being an actor is finding another heart, right?

Alex Chambers:  Diane Kondrat, thank you so much for taking this time.

Diane Kondrat:  Thank you.

Alex Chambers:  If you missed Diane in Bloomington, you can catch her in Portland. She's not stopping any time soon.

Diane Kondrat:  My mother-in-law, who I went to Chicago to see yesterday, she said... she's 96, she has nothing to do with the arts... she said, "I can't believe it, you're so old and they're still paying you to do things." I was like, yeah, it's crazy. Don't tell. Yes, so, the fact that I still get opportunities to do things is super good, because not everybody does.

Alex Chambers:  You've been listening to Inner States. If you have a story for us, or you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at wfiu.org/innerstates. Speaking of found sound, we've got your quick minute of slow radio coming up, but first the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Mark Chilla, Michael Paskash and Kayte Young. Our executive producer is John Bailey. Special thanks this week to Diane Kondrat. Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. All right, time to take a breath and listen to a place.

Alex Chambers:  You've been listening to a train over the B-Line in Bloomington, Indiana. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.

Diane Kondrat

Actor Diane Kondrat (Brian McConkey)

Diane Kondrat had big dreams as a teenager. She wanted to act. And she probably wasn’t dreaming that she’d make her career doing regional theater in a set of relatively small Midwestern cities. Diane’s been acting for forty-five years, many of those here in Bloomington, Indiana. She formed her own theater company. Two of them, actually. She was also a regular at the Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis, and at Cardinal Stage, the professional theater in Bloomington, once that got started.

She’s since moved to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to her grown kids. But she came back last fall to star in Cardinal’s production of Every Brilliant Thing. It’s a one-woman show about a girl trying to ease her mother’s depression with a list of all the best things in the world. We met up at Butler Park on a beautiful day in early September. We talked about about getting into acting, making a life in regional theater, and how to just be, with another person.

Music

Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music.

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