Sisters are doing it for themselves

Kate Schrader (left) and Katherine Kennedy rehearse for Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything. Photos: Gregor Richardson
Kate Schrader (left) and Katherine Kennedy rehearse for Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything. Photos: Gregor Richardson
Aiming to address the ‘‘deficit’’ of young female voices in theatre, Heidi Geissler has picked a work that showcases the most female of all relationships, sisterhood. She and actor Kate Schrader tell Rebecca Fox about those ‘‘ah ha’’ moments.

When Kate Schrader and Katherine Kennedy both made the same comment at the same time, they looked at each other and thought ''it is happening''.

''It was a light bulb moment,'' says Schrader.

The pair play sisters in Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything, by Uther Dean, about two very different sisters, Jo and Murph, who are trying to re-establish their relationship.

That moment indicated to them that their work to develop a ''sisterly'' relationship was working.

While they knew each other from working on a previous play, it has taken work to develop the intimacy that sisters naturally have, when they occasionally say the same thing at the same time.

Director Heidi Geissler is enjoying rehearsals for her latest play Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything.
Director Heidi Geissler is enjoying rehearsals for her latest play Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything.
Both have been able to draw on their own experiences with their sisters. Schrader, who plays Jo, has a younger sister while Kennedy, who plays Murph, has an older sister.

This means there are many recognisable moments in the script that mirror situations in real life.

Schrader, who is a broker for Dunedin Dream Brokerage and works at the university part-time, has retrieved her own childhood doll's house from storage at her parents' place to use as a prop in the piece.

''I mentioned this to my sister and she said 'as long as you don't fall on it and break it like you did my barbie house'. I was like wow, there is a similar situation to that in the play.''

They did wonder whether Dean would have been able to capture that relationship.

''He has, he has really nailed it. If you grow up together, siblings are the people who know you best, you are really vulnerable to them so it's been interesting to discover that and build that relationship.''

Initially, she found the script quite daunting and it made her think of British television comedy Fleabag which also handles ''darkness and humour really beautifully'' and has a central sister relationship.

''It's funny. There is a lot of pathos.''

It was one of the aspects of the play that attracted director Heidi Geissler, a drama teacher at Queen's High School, to the play.

She had been searching through Playmarket (a resource of New Zealand plays) for a play that allowed female voices to shine.

''It immediately struck me as funny and sad - two young women desperately trying to build a relationship back up.''

Geissler doesn't have a sister so thinks that might have also been part of the attraction.

''I was like, 'Is that what sisterhood is like?'. But it's also heartwarming and realistic.''

Both characters in the play also love Julie Andrews.

''I have a lot of childhood memories involving Julie Andrews.''

She got Schrader to read the play, to get a feel for what it sounded like ''out loud''.

''It reads very differently and seeing the actors bring it to life makes it even more convincing. He definitely wrote the play to be performed.

''It's one of the only plays I've ever read which has changed and evolved so much in rehearsal.''

There have also been moments when Geissler has identified with the script, based on her experience teaching at an all girls school.

It also represented a challenge for Geissler, who has not directed a play with only two actors in it before.

''It's harder. It's definitely more specific to the actors.''

It meant collaborating more with the actors and listening to their vision.

''In a bigger cast you are juggling so much you have to stick to your vision a bit more, but with this you can step back a little bit and if it doesn't make sense for Kate to do it that way then you try another way.''

As there have been just three of them in rehearsal, they have also paid particular attention to looking after each other and themselves - something Arcade Theatre Company is ''big on''.

''There is a lot more give and take and each day we check in on what our days have been like.''

With just three people, one person's bad day can have quite an impact especially when they are working on quite emotional material.

''It can be taxing and draining. We wanted to create a space that is comforting, open and honest about where we are at.''

The two actors are looking forward to staging the play and both are interested in seeing what Schrader's sister thinks of it.

''My family is coming to see it, so that will be wild.''

To see

Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything, Arcade Theatre Company, University Bookshop, Dunedin tomorrow until August 3.

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