Company Profiles: Mary Werntz

•February 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This is the ninth in a series of posts profiling our company members — get to know the Synetic family of actors. I sent a few questions out to some company members, and their responses, as well as some info on the actor, can be found in this series. Enjoy!

Mary Werntz

Mary Werntz

Mary Werntz has been a company member of Synetic since 2008. She has performed in the ensemble in Carmen, Dante, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Lucy in Dracula, and as Octavia in our current production, Antony and Cleopatra.

Where are you from?  What is your background? I grew up in Akron Ohio doing gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics as a kid.  I also took acting classes because my mom was always taking me to the theater and I was mesmerized by that world.  But I was very shy (still am, minus the very), so the acting classes were quite challenging, though I did enjoy them.  I did one summer of classical ballet, but found it to be boring (shame on me) and opted for tap and jazz throughout high school.  I never thought I would study dance further until I discovered the art form of concert dance in college.  I was hooked.  I spent all my time reading everything I could about it, going to concerts and changed my major and enrolled in a school that was ballet based so that I could get the foundation of that classical training.  Back to ballet I went and with enthusiasm this time around!  That training allowed for me to have a varied career as a dancer – doing operas, musical theater, working on cruise ships, and traveling the world with the USO.  But I most enjoyed modern dance, especially the collaborative creative process, and bringing an emotional life to movement.  I lived in NYC and performed with a physical theater company there. I figured I would forget about all of that when I moved to Maryland with my husband a few years back. That all changed when I auditioned for Synetic in March of 2008.  Finding this company felt like finding a long lost family.  It is a perfect blend of all the things I love.  I’m very happy here.

With Roger Payano in "Dracula" (photo credit Graeme B. Shaw)

Holy Smokes!

How is Synetic different from other experiences? It is rare to find a company that works in this manner – training its actors and building an ensemble. Even after 2 years, I still feel I am only skimming the surface of all there is to learn.  The physical nature of the work and the focus on the musical element are both very gratifying aspects for me. I almost always approach acting by finding the emotional connection rather than a through a cerebral analysis.  Paata will often direct us to listen to the music and allow it to dictate our actions and the qualities of a scene and there’s no way that will work if you think too much about it.   And I really love the ensemble work.  It can be very meditative – to tune into the group and move together as one.

As the fortuneteller in "Dante" (photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

As the fortuneteller in "Dante" (photo credit Raymond Gniewek)

Do you have a favorite role/show? It is very difficult to choose a favorite, but I pick “Carmen”.  It was my first show, the cast was wonderful and I loved all the dancing.

Do you have any crazy stories from rehearsals or shows? No stories to share, instead I offer the following tally.  In Synetic shows, I have: given birth twice (Dante-to a demon child, MSND-to Puck), been bitten to death twice (Dante – Ugolino, Dracula-Dracula), been shot in the head three times -once at my own hand (Dante). And the sex – on a cage (Carmen), an orgy (Dante), ending in death (Dracula).  Phew.  Is this stuff legal?


Company Profiles: Ben Cunis

•February 5, 2010 • 2 Comments

This is the eighth in a series of posts profiling our company members — get to know the Synetic family of actors. I sent a few questions out to some company members, and their responses, as well as some info on the actor, can be found in this series. Enjoy!

Ben Cunis has been an actor with Synetic since the Fall of 2006, when he joined the ensemble of Macbeth in the role of Macduff. Since then, he has appeared in…a lot of shows. He played the horse Boxer in Animal Farm, Laertes in the 2007 remount of Hamlet, was a member of the House in the Fall of the House of Usher, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Don Jose in Carmen, Zviadauri in the 2008 remount of Host and Guest, Dante in the play of the same title, and is currently playing Antony in Synetic’s production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre. He was also the fight choreographer for all of these shows, as well as for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which he also adapted. He is the co-creator of the upcoming web series “Hamilton Carver: Zombie, PI” with his production company, Granite Kiss Productions.

As Zviadauri in "Host and Guest"

As Zviadauri in "Host and Guest"

1. Where are you from? What is your training?

I grew up in Campton, New Hampshire, on the side of a little mountain, in the middle of the woods. If it sounds like an idyllic childhood, it was, and I always find myself amazed when I am back there at how beautiful the place is, and how peaceful. I was involved in theater starting around…12 I think? I got my finger stuck in a xylophone in a production of Trumpet of the Swan. I performed all through high school, even fancying myself a musical performer for a time. I haven’t sang onstage in years, but even as recently as college I was constantly singing — I came to DC in 2002 to major in Drama at the Catholic University of America, and I’ve stuck around ever since.

The very best thing about my education at CUA was the opportunities to perform I was afforded. I went from playing El Gallo in The Fantasticks as a freshman to Trigorin in The Seagull as a senior. I got to perform improv, acapella, fence, even hip hop (though my skills were utterly rudimentary…). I got to play a crazy commedia del’arte clown in a production that went to perform at the Dubrovnik International Theater Festival in Croatia, a production that first exposed me to stylized movement in the theater. I made wonderful friends, some of whom I still have the pleasure of working with.

Prior to Synetic, however, I had no formal dance training, just moves picked up here and there in shows, and some tricks from hip hop and breakdance taught to me by friends. I was able to train in stage combat under Robb Hunter at CUA, and fence in a small fencing class.

Since coming to Synetic I’ve spent a lot of time training outside the company as well as within it – I train off and on in hip hop, martial arts, parkour (a movement discipline involving efficiently traversing obstacles from one point to another, take a look at, and gymnastics throughout the year, depending on the demands of rehearsals.

2. What was it like to start working with Synetic? How was it different from your other experiences?

I remember finding my way into my first Synetic training session via my friend Katie Long’s invitation – we’d just finished up a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and she insisted I join a training session. It was a wild time and I just remember being overwhelmed by how beautifully everyone moved (and looked), as well as just how hard everyone PUSHED themselves in that training room. I remember stumbling over the simplest heel-to-toe movement while watching Irina and Paata seemingly float on air and thinking to myself “I’m going to GET this, I’m going to learn to DO that.”

It was like nothing I’d ever done before, and I loved it. It challenged my musical ability to have to match movement to music, it challenged my acting to have to bring characters and emotion to the movement, and it challenged my conditioning to be able to keep up with movements utterly foreign to my muscles.

As I worked more with the company I started dissecting the things I loved about the storytelling, as well. The telling of stories through action is the most basic skill of the theater, but also easily forgotten when overwhelmed by orchestras, linguistic technique, technical tricks, and overwrought acting processes. Despite all the technique of movement, Paata and Irina constantly impressed me with their willingness to cut material that didn’t tell the story. Technique trumps naturalism, story trumps technique, and above even that rises the flow of human emotion.

As Macduff in "Macbeth" with Irakli Kavsadze as Macbeth

As Macduff in "Macbeth" with Irakli Kavsadze as Macbeth

3. Do you have a favorite Synetic role?

Each role brings with it new lessons, and each connects to some real part of me in different ways. I can’t say that there’s a favorite at this point. Though Animal Farm was a little under the radar, Boxer was kind, brave, dumb horse, and he taught me a lot, actually, about how to play a Synetic role, how to work with the ensemble, and how to fall off a tower in slow motion. Laertes taught me how to lock eyes with the Georgian veterans (a face off with Paata onstage is quite the experience). Romeo and Don Jose were lessons in losing control onstage (in the best way) and Zviadauri was a lesson in keeping control, in maturity, and in being a man. Antony has been a great adventure. I’m grateful for all of them.

4. Favorite show?

You’ll have to forgive my sentimentality, but the two big romances – Antony and Cleopatra, and Romeo and Juliet have both been wonderful — though I have to say that watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a delight every single time.

With Irina Tsikurishvili in rehearsal for Antony (photo credit Graeme B. Shaw)

With Irina Tsikurishvili in rehearsal for Antony (photo credit Graeme B. Shaw)

5. Any crazy stories from rehearsals, performance, etc.?

In my first show, Macbeth, I choreographed a fight along with Irakli Kavsadze that we did every night. One night he punched me directly in the face when we messed up a move. We didn’t mess it up again.

A number of fans I’ve spoken to seem to have this impression that Philip Fletcher is an utterly intimidating human being without remorse. Obviously they haven’t met him – he is one of the kindest, most honest and warm-hearted human beings I’ve ever known.

Though it looks great, body paint is not fun, and gets everywhere. I am not jealous of Alex. I still have white spots in my car from Usher.

In Dante we wanted to do (and did) this lift where Vato Tsikurishvili tosses Ryan Sellers over his head with one arm. While I was figuring out the mechanics of it, I managed to perform the lift with Ryan, and proceeded to toss him up and over through the air, where he landed squarely on his back. He was uninjured. I still felt bad.

Here’s why Synetic is an ensemble company – it’s a little known fact that in Romeo and Juliet I had TWO roles. One was Romeo, the other was as the bottom half of a table in a Capulet’s house scene. The other half was Marissa Molnar, the Nurse. We had fun.

A Return from Hiatus

•February 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Dear readers,

Due to the extremely trying nature of the past two months (aka putting together this little thing called Antony and Cleopatra), I’ve been unable to maintain our little blog here — but we’re jumping back into the game shortly with more articles, profiles, and pictures coming soon!



Company Profiles: Natalie Berk

•December 4, 2009 • 1 Comment

This is the seventh in a series of posts profiling our company members — get to know the Synetic family of actors. I sent a few questions out to some company members, and their responses, as well as some info on the actor, can be found in this series. Enjoy!

Natalie Berk has been an actress with Synetic since the Spring of 2008, when she joined the ensemble of Carmen. Since then, she has appeared in Dante as Beatrice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a Fairy, and most recently in Dracula as Mina.

Natalie Berk

1. Where are you from? What is your training?

I was born right here in DC at Georgetown Hospital and have grown up in Northern, VA. I guess you could call me a native Virginian! I started my dance training at a young age at a little studio in Vienna, VA called Cuppetts Performing Arts. I danced there for a little over six years and then moved onto a year at The Washington Ballet. I don’t really consider myself a dancer, but I have definitely taken enough lessons to grasp the foundations of what it takes to create the illusion of being a dancer!

In the second grade I was casted as the lead role of my elementary schools “Mini Musical” production of The Ugly Duckling. This is where I learned my of passion for acting and singing. My parents could both see I had a blooming admiration for theater, but they felt it best to wait until I was old enough to make my own decision on pursuing it as my “craft.” I began my professional training with Imagination Stage as part of their two year conservatory. There, I began to grasp the logistics of building an ensemble. The following summer I took part in Studio Theater’s Young Actors program. This was the same year I saw my first Synetic production and fell in love with the style. I felt it was time to start taking my dreams more seriously so I began private lessons with Lilia Slavova, one of the founding members of Classika. The summer into my sophomore year of high school I assisted classes with Dan Istrate (aka: Dracula II.) That year I auditioned for Synetic in the Spring and was immediately thrown into the professional world of theater! I have been training with Synetic since 2008. One summer ago I trained for an entire month in New York City with The Atlantic Theater Company and have sporadically taken voice lessons with multiple vocal coaches. Throughout all of my middle school and high school career I have somehow balanced school plays, professional auditions, and shows with Synetic. I have even been in production with Synetic while rehearsing/performing school shows on the side! At this point in time, while in rehearsal for Antony and Cleopatra I am taking private lessons at The Shakespeare Theatre in preparation for my college auditions. I have high aspirations of going to Juilliard! What young actor does not?

2. What was it like to start working with Synetic? How was it different from your other experiences?

I remember my first training experience with Synetic. The company basically trains in a hidden, underground warehouse which has been named “The Factory.” I’m not exactly sure where this name comes from, but no name could be more apropos. I felt like I was walking into a scene from David Bowie’s Labyrinth the first time I entered the “Factory” doors. Old props sitting on shelves, broken mirrors tilted up against the walls, oil paint from past sets still glooming the air, and the booming of Koki’s (resident composer) erotic music. It was authentic. It was magical. It was totally and completely intimidating. I couldn’t believe what I was getting myself into… and I mean that in more than a good way. I remember watching “Contact Improv” and being so glued to the lucidity of the actor’s bodies. And when it was my turn? It was so out of body, yet the closest I’ve ever felt to myself. That’s what is so special about this company- the trust you have in the people you’re working with. You give yourself over to one another, not always through speech, but continually body and mind.

3. Do you have a favorite Synetic role?

My favorite Synetic role has been Mina Harker in the most recent remount of Dracula. It was a special show to be part of because the original production of Dracula was the first Synetic show I had ever seen. Looking back, a little over four years ago I never would have imagined I would be part of something so sexy and mind-jolting. I loved that Paata gave me a chance to work with a multi-dimensional character that goes on an emotional journey. The character was a huge challenge and I only hope I will be lucky enough to be challenged with roles like this in the future.

As Mina with Dan Istrate in "Dracula" (photo credit Graeme B. Shaw)

As Mina with Dan Istrate in "Dracula" (photo credit Graeme B. Shaw)

4. Favorite show?

Carmen always sticks out when asked what my favorite show has been. I loved the Spanish music and dance, the risque costumes, the cast, everything! I also loved the process of putting Dante together, as well as performing it. The cast took a large part in the creative process so the show really ended up feeling like a large collaboration. I also loved Dracula! Ugh, What kind of question is this?! All the shows I’ve been in with Synetic are my favorite!

5. Any crazy stories from rehearsals, performance, etc.?

I’m not really sure why, but Chris Galindo has always ended up being in charge of the crosses in our shows. In Dante he was the Pope… (think about it…) In Midsummer he tells Hermia to choose between the cross and the rose, and then again in Dracula, he gives Jonathan Harker the crucifix and tells him: “The dead travel fast…” So, let’s call Mr. Galindo the barer of the cross!

While we were in production for Midsummer and rehearsal for Dracula, Ana (Paata & Irina Tsikurishvili’s 8-year-old daughter) had been following me around with a tiny, bright pink, plastic cross. I played around with her and pretended every time I saw the cross, it burnt my eyes- like I was a vampire, Haha…

It was an evening performance of Midsummer and one of our cast-mates had gotten sick during the show! Chris, being the Jesus-like kinda guy he is, helped her and made sure she was ready to go on stage because they needed to enter together. In a mad panic, Chris didn’t have enough time to grab the little wooden cross to put in his pocket, so out of good actor’s impulse he decided he would pantomime the cross. I mean, it works, he IS working with Synetic.

The scene was quiet and tense, as usual, because it was an intimate moment between Irina (Koval) and Chris- that was until it was time he pulled the pantomime cross out. Somehow, the little, pink crucifix had found its way into Galindo’s pocket! For Chris, Ana’s little toy crucifix had saved the day. But for the rest of us, we could NOT keep our cool- I hope the audience didn’t noticed the muffled laughter…

Dracula’s Last Weekend, Antony’s First Training Sessions

•November 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Catalina Lavalle, Irina Koval, Stacey Jackson as the Wives (photo credit Graeme B. Shaw)

Catalina Lavalle, Irina Koval, Stacey Jackson as the Wives (photo credit Graeme B. Shaw)

This week marks the end of the run of Dracula at the Rosslyn Spectrum — we’ll bid a sad farewell to our titular vampire, his sinuous wives, and unfortunate victims…so if you haven’t caught it yet, go check it out before the vampire passes into history once more….

In other news, company members have begun training and drilling in preparation for putting together what promises to be one of Synetic’s biggest shows yet: Antony and Cleopatra, which is set to open at the Lansburgh Theater on January 28th, 2010.

Judging by the clash of swords and general spinning madness that was fight training last night, it promises to be quite the workout, as well. This should be a fun process, if your humble author can ever work the lactic acid out of his legs.

Quicklink: Move or die!!!

•November 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment


The slump

The Slump

This is a fantastic post over on “begin to dig” a great, in depth, and consistently scientific blog on fitness that is able to address both mind and body without abandoning good science (it’s very possible!). Move or die. Check it out.


Company Profiles: Greg Marzullo

•November 10, 2009 • 2 Comments

This is the sixth in a series of posts profiling our company members — get to know the Synetic family of actors. I sent a few questions out to some company members, and their responses, as well as some info on the actor, can be found in this series. Enjoy!

What will he do with his hair NEXT?

Greg Marzullo. I totally stole your pic off of FB, gregoriko.

Today’s profile is of one of our veterans (we’re barely old enough to be a veteran theater company, however, so this says very little about his age, right Greg?). Were I to go into detail about all the roles he has played in Synetic, I might run out of bandwidth (much the same as with his Other Half, Mr. P. Fletcher). Recent roles have included Virgil in Dante, Roderick Usher in The Fall of the House of Usher, Dr. Faust in Faust, Jonathan Harker in 2005’s Dracula, Jason in Jason and the Argonauts, Herod in Salome, Serpent/Cain in The Bohemians, and Laertes in several incarnations of Hamlet…the rest is silence …to name a few.

1. Where are you from? What is your training?

I mostly grew up in New England, although right before high school, my family moved to Maryland. I attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, a high school-level program, where students studied their standard academics for four hours each day and then their art major for four hours. It was only later, when I was out in the professional world of theater, that I realized how well that schooling served me. We studied different theatrical techniques with the same vigor and focus as college-level conservatory programs, and I credit the teachers there with laying a wonderful foundation for me as an artist.

2. What was it like to start working with Synetic? How was it different from your other experiences?

I began working with Paata and Irina in the fall of 2001, shortly before they launched Synetic (spring 2002). They were still part of Stanislavsky Theater Studio at Church Street Theater in Dupont. I was 24 at the time and searching for a theatrical experience that lived up to my visions of theater as a hypnotic, physical expression of our collective inner landscape (although I probably wouldn’t have put it this way at the time!).
Irina was about 8 months pregnant with their daughter, and “Don Quixote” was being remounted. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 struck shortly after we began training, and Washington was rife with military personnel and rumors of people in hospitals succumbing to strange chemical agents that would claim everyone in a short period of time. So, the time was intense, and yet the training and artistic expressions developed by Paata and Irina helped to ground and focus the tumultuous goings-on of the world into something that was life affirming and deeply fulfilling.
My first Synetic show was everyone’s first Synetic show – “Hamlet…the rest is silence.” I remember standing in the wings during a rehearsal and thinking, “I love this play,” shortly followed by the realization that the version of the story we were telling was not the standard play but was so deeply true to Shakespeare’s vision and brilliance. Opening night was nerve-wracking, because who knew how it would be received? After that success, things began to unfold, not without pain and struggle, but certainly with excitement and inspiration.

Synetic does some of the best theater around – hands down. I personally love that they focus on physical expression as the main mode of communication. The body doesn’t lie. We see this in people’s physical bearing as well as in their patterns of physical tension. I think Paata and Irina both have an unparalleled asthetic sense that’s also highly emotionally attuned. All of the roiling emotions that writhe and pulse within our bodies are then writ large on stage through their vision, and audiences connect with the surrealistic nature of this not because it’s just a cool visual, but because it reflects an inner truth we carry within us.

As Roderick Usher in "The Fall of the House of Usher" (with Irina Koval)

On a personal level, I love working with the company, because Paata turned me into the actor I’d always hoped I’d become. His skill as a director is remarkable. He allows me the freedom to play and then knows how to communicate with me in a way that I can best serve the work and his vision, which I trust implicitly.

3. Do you have a favorite role?

I have a few favorite roles with the company, but I think the top prize goes to Virgil in “Dante.” That show was the culmination of a dream I’d had since I was 15 and first read “L’Inferno.” As a young acting student, I remember thinking what a great piece of drama it could be and I’d hoped that I could be part of a stage production some day.
I spoke with Paata about doing the show about four years before it actually happened. The right cast wasn’t assmebled at that time, but it finally all came together so amazingly – again, not without some of the roughest artistic birth pains I’ve experienced, but what a child to bring into the world!
I was also really happy to play Virgil himself. There are some silmilarities between Virgil and myself, not the least of which was that he had romantic relationships with men all his life. This gave me license to play a bit with his gender expression as being a bit more androgynous. Some scholars feel that the ancient Italian poet was also an initiate and devotee of the goddess Cybele, whose male priests often dressed in women’s clothing and participated in wild, ecstatic rites of dance and song. This also inspired me to portray him as a mystic, a poet, and someone trapped in a cruelly patriarchal spiritual construct.

Other than Virgil, other favorites were Herod in “Salome,” the Serpent/Cain in “Bohemians” and Roderick Usher in “Fall of the House of Usher.”

As Virgil in "Dante"

As Virgil in "Dante"

4. Any crazy stories from rehearsal, performance, etc.?

Given the physicalized nature of the shows, injury is always a problem. I point to my Synetic scars like an old war vet, telling people, “This is from the ladders in ‘Host & Guest,'” “This is from when I tore a large patch off my skin in ‘Jason & the Argonauts,'” etc.
One great thing about Synetic training is that we’re always doing improvisational work, and thank God, because it’s served me well when things have gone awry on stage. During “Dante,” the lights came down very early during a scene where souls in Virgil’s own circle of hell writhed and suffered on specific music cues. The lights went down on all of them leaving a center spot downstage that became a light for me to turn that stretch of music into Virgil’s Divine Punishment Ballet – some random movement improv on my account.
At the end of “Jason & the Argonauts,” as Medea was dancing around the bodies of her dead children, I, as Jason, would run in circles around her, having completely lost my mind. Slick shoes + carpet = a nasty fall, but I turned that into some rolling around on the floor in Jason’s Madness Floor Ballet.
The legend, though, is the opening of “Bohemians,” one of Paata and Irina’s most creative pieces, I think. On the day of opening, Paata called me at 3 a.m. and said, “Don’t go to your children’s show today. I cancelled it. Come to the theater. I’m changing the ending.” This was no minor change. The entire storyline was completely transformed, new choreography created, and in a place where I thought I was finished, I now was the featured storlyine for that entire ending. It came off swimmingly, and, again, Paata’s instinct was right on. After that, I never had any fear about going on without enough preparation, and I learned a great lesson in non-attachment. The show’s not finished until the curtain comes down on opening night.

Thanks for the hand, Virge.

Thanks for the hand, Virge.