How Constellations Became Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat's Next Husband-and-Wife Project
The Broadway spouses leave the musical universe to take on Nick Payne's scientific two-hander for their third summer at Berkshire Theatre Group.
In another universe, Tony nominee Kate Baldwin (Big Fish, Finian's Rainbow) and Graham Rowat (Mamma Mia!, Guys and Dolls) have not been married for 11 years, do not have a five-year-old son, and have never stepped foot on a stage. Fortunately, we live in this universe where the Baldwin-Rowats are Broadway regulars and have made Berkshire Theatre Group their family summer getaway for the past three years, joining their spousal forces in productions of A Little Night Music (2014), Bells Are Ringing (2015), and now Nick Payne's physics-filled two-hander Constellations.
New Yorkers saw the play on Broadway in 2015 with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson as Roland and Marianne — Payne's pair of destined lovers whose lives we see unfold in several variations in accordance with the scientific theory of the multiverse. It's not the "romp-around-the-garden" kind of production that Baldwin typically attributes to summer theater, but it's given the musical-theater mainstays a chance to put the songbooks down and jointly explore new theatrical territory replete with British accents, quantum mechanics, and romance that's written in the stars.
Did you two get to see Constellations when it was on Broadway?
Kate: No, we never saw it! We only read it. I don't know why we missed it.
Graham: The reason we missed it is because we have a child. When you have a child, you have to pick [your shows] more carefully.
Kate: And we usually go and buy tickets to support friends. Not that we wouldn't love to be friends with Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal.
So where did the idea to do Constellations come from?
Kate: We did A Little Night Music two summers ago, we did Bells Are Ringing last summer, and so this summer, Kate Maguire — the artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group — approached us and said that the musical was going to be Little Shop of Horrors and would we like to do that? We kind of looked at each other and said we want to stretch ourselves in a different way. I had the idea that I wanted to do a play, so I went down to the basement and gathered up all of my favorite plays and put them on the kitchen table. Little did I know [Graham] sort of had an idea…
Graham: Kate Maguire was planning her season and there was an opening in their smaller space. So [I thought], "Wouldn't it be great if I could find a two-person play just for Kate and me?" And I remembered that play having been in New York the previous year.
It must have been exciting to be able to pick your own project.
Graham: It's rare that actors ever get a say in what they do. So to be able to say, "I don't know anything about Constellations, but I'm going to read it and fall in love with it and hand it to Kate and have her fall in love with it" — and then to be able to turn to Kate Maguire and say, "Hey, we'd like to do this play. What do you think?" And the next thing you know it's moving forward — it's the most amazing feeling.
What were both of your first impressions of Constellations after reading it?
Kate: It's a gorgeous play. I don't think anyone could read it and say, "Nah, I don't feel like it." It's one of those stories that just sucks you in — because it appeals to both your head and your heart.
Graham: One thought that's a little dizzying is…what if everything doesn't have a purpose? What if it's just chaos? If you really thought about that, how does that make you live your life? Does that mean you make your choices more carelessly or more recklessly? Not that our characters are aware of this, but people coming out of Constellations have that in their mind.
As actors who primarily work in musical theater, how does it feel to be doing a play?
Kate: I love doing a play. I think in my career, which is going on nineteen years, I've done two plays. Everything else has been a musical.
Graham: Yeah. I know when I was starting out, I was like, "Well, there are going to be fewer actors with the same skill set, so my odds are going to be better if I audition for a musical."
Kate: Graham is very practical. [laughs] A play has such a different rhythm to it than a musical does. Because I've done a lot of musicals, I understand the structure of musicals really well: Scene into song and then maybe a scene within a song. I know how to handle those things. And the underscoring can establish a rhythm for you. In a way it becomes your scene partner. In a play that rhythm is more malleable, and you have to find it through rehearsal— through repetition. You have to go, "Oh right, that's what this scene is about. Here's the music of that scene. Here's how it has to feel."
This play has a particularly unique rhythm with a lot of repeated text that you have to deliver differently each time. How do you map out your different line readings?
Graham: When I was just starting out with the text, I thought, "OK, this will be the serious one and this will be the funny one…" But I realized that if you change the reading too much between variations, that would indicate your character is aware of the other variations. So it's tricky. It has to be much more subtle.
Kate: Yeah, because they're the same people throughout. It's not like they completely change who the spine of the person is. It's sort of our contract with the audience as well. We can't go so far away from who they are. And on top of that, we need to have the audience root for these two people. At the very beginning, we need to establish that they are destined to be together. And isn't that a wonderful thing in these millions of possibilities that you would find the person that you are destined to be with? I guess that's the romantic take on all of it.
Is that easier to play opposite your real-life spouse?
Kate: In a certain way it is, because you do feel that romance, but in a certain way it's not. I know so much about Graham, whereas Marianne in those first scenes doesn't know anything about Roland. So I have to remember that there are things about him that are intriguing and mysterious and not rely on the fact that I know everything about Graham because I've known him for thirteen years.
Graham: And I try to help Kate by dropping mysterious new things she never knew about me into conversation. [laughs] But of course the later scenes when the characters have known each other for years, I think our existing relationship really helps. There are some really tender and moving and sad things at the end of the play where I can tap into my relationship my wife to really feel the emotions.
If you could choose your next project to do together, what would it be? (i.e. What was in that stack of plays you dumped on the kitchen table ?)
Kate: My dream musical to do is Sunday in the Park With George. But in that stack of plays — I love summer theater. I want it to be fun and funny, so I had put a bunch of Shaw and Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward. Why am I so British all of a sudden? But I love British funny runaround farce kind of stuff. To me that's summer theater.
Graham: We had initially thought about musicals that would go well in [Berkshire Theatre Group's] beautiful Colonial Theatre. And I know that Annie Get Your Gun was one of them. I would just like to see Kate play that part.
Kate: Well I think you'd be a very good Frank Butler.
Graham: Well thank you.