Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Chat with Faculty Member Paul Budraitis

Paul Budraitis is a director, actor, writer, and solo performer, as well as a teacher of acting and stage movement. In Seattle, he has worked with On the Boards, the Degenerate Art Ensemble, Annex Theatre, Balagan Theatre, New City Theatre, and Cornish College of the Arts, among others. His solo performance (IN)STABILITY premiered at On the Boards in February, and his production of David Mamet's Edmond received a Seattle Times' "Footlight Award" as one of the best productions of 2010. Paul received a State Department Fulbright grant to study theatre directing at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy (LMTA) in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he earned his master's degree under the mentorship of visionary theatre director Jonas Vaitkus. In Lithuania, Paul worked with the National Drama Theatre of Lithuania, the State Youth Theatre of Lithuania, the Kaunas State Drama Theatre, and Oskaras Koršunovas/Vilnius City Theatre (OKT). He has assisted directors Jonas Vaitkus and Oskaras Koršunovas, and most recently acted in a contemporary re-imagining of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, directed by acclaimed Finnish director Kristian Smeds and performed at the Vienna Festival.

Paul, we're excited that you'll be teaching a Movement class with us at Freehold. You've been teaching at Cornish and now you'll also be teaching at Freehold. What, in particular, do you enjoy about your teaching work?

Teaching is a learning process for me, because every time that I propose a concept to a new student, I'm checking back in with the concept myself. It’s always a rewarding experience to be able to recognize a particular problem a student is having and then to be able to provide specific advice that addresses it. Seeing the proverbial light bulb go off in a student’s mind as they discover a new level of confidence in their ability is probably something that all teachers love about their job. It’s great to be able to watch those moments of discovery add up over the course of a semester and to know that you’ve helped someone develop a deeper overall understanding of their craft.

You're a director, actor, writer, solo performer and teacher. As you began your own training, what came first, your work as an actor, writer, director? How have they informed each other over the years?

I started my career as an actor and worked that way exclusively for several years. Along the way, I developed an ever-increasing curiosity about directing and writing, and eventually began experimenting with both. My first major directing project was an adaptation I wrote of a Herman Melville short story called “Bartleby the Scrivener” which allowed me to combine both of these interests in one project. Since then, I’ve continued working in all three areas, which has helped me gain a more well-rounded understanding of the process of making theatre, as well as a deeper understanding of my collaborators and the specific challenges they face.

I understand that you received a Fulbright grant and studied theatre directing at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy in Lithuania. Can you share one or two memorable experiences of your time studying and working in Lithuania?

It’s difficult to know where to begin, because I have so many memorable moments from my time overseas. One that comes to mind off the top of my head is when I was acting in a student production of Aleksandr Vvedensky’s “Christmas at the Ivanov’s” that toured to the Baltijskij Dom Theatre Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. We performed the play in Lithuanian, and the touring budget didn’t allow for a translator, so we wound up performing for an audience that literally didn’t understand a word we were saying. It was an intimidating situation, but ultimately I found the physically expressive style of the show allowed the audience to understand the actions and intentions of the characters quite well in spite of the language barrier. Having people laugh and react enthusiastically to my work while knowing that it had nothing to with them understanding the words I was saying was an experience that I won’t ever forget.

You recently acted in a contemporary re-imagining of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, directed by Finnish director Kristian Smeds and performed at the Vienna Festival. What was that experience like?

It was remarkable, a true gift. Kristian is a director who is on the cutting edge of developments in contemporary theatre, and it is always great to have an opportunity to collaborate with him. I inevitably walk away from these experiences with a newfound perspective on what theatre is capable of and with new questions for myself about how I want to create the theatre that I create. For example, this particular performance took place in a refugee housing area on the outskirts of Vienna, with the first part of the performance involving the actors playing soccer against a team of Somali teenagers on a beat up dirt field. We lost the game in a sudden-death shoot out, and the kids rejoiced as if they'd just won the World Cup. The main action of the play took place in a garage-sized tool shed that allowed the actors and audience to develop a focussed and intimate connection over the course of the evening. It can be said that the creation of this intimate, human connection was actually one of the primary goals of the performance. I could go on describing the project for a long time, but for anyone who might be interested, there are links to the entire performance on Vimeo (see below). If you have an English version of the play, it’s possible to follow along.

Cherry orchard 29-5-2011 intro and football from Ville Hyvönen on Vimeo.

Cherry orchard 29-5-2011 first half from Ville Hyvönen on Vimeo.

Cherry Orchard 29-5-2011 second half in Vienna with German subs from Ville Hyvönen on Vimeo.

You have a great line in your Movement class description where you reference one of Meyerhold's favorite actors, Igor Ilyinsky who said "Technique arms the imagination." How does the Meyerhold's Biomechanics work allow for the "arming of the imagination?"

The imagination is limitless. Our bodies are not. By studying Biomechanics, a student is making the effort to develop the expressive capabilities of his or her body in a new way, essentially working to make his or her artistic process more responsive to the limitless impulses of the imagination. To put it another way, for an actor, knowing the body means knowing the artistic palette. The more an actor understands his or her palette, the more they are able to unleash the power of their imagination. An actor can never know what new challenges will arise in a rehearsal room, so he or she must prepare to engage any possibility with confidence and joy. Biomechanics is a practical, no-nonsense way to accomplish this, which is why I enjoy passing it on to others so much.


Paul will be teaching a Biomechanics Intensive: Arming the Imagination Fall Quarter 2012 at Freehold. For more information, go to: or call us at (206) 323-7499.

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