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Stepping into The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Prior to the start of rehearsals for The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, I sat down to speak with Robert Schleifer, playing John Singer, Jessica Honor Carleton, playing Mick, Myron Elliott, Jr., Costume Designer, and a Sign Language-interpreter from the Chicago Hearing Society. As a member of the hearing world, I was humbled by the way in which Robert, who is deaf, so facilely communicated with his fellow collaborators by way of a universal language shared by this group of artists. For almost an hour, the three seamlessly told stories, laughed, shared anticipations about the start of rehearsal and talked about finding inspiration in riding the CTA. Here are some highlights from that conversation. — Megan Shuchman, Education Manager, Steppenwolf for Young Adults Megan Shuchman: We are one month from the start of rehearsals. What do you anticipate as the unique challenges of working on this show? Robert Schleifer: I’m reading the character of John Singer and the challenge for me is that he keeps himself very quiet. I’m a very interactive person; I’m loud sometimes! But with John, I am sort of in the middle of all this tumult around me—all of it rolls around me and I’m silent in the middle. Most of the time, I use lip reading and my voice to communicate, if necessary. But for this production, to develop my character means not needing an interpreter—not needing help, not needing all of those things, just disconnecting myself from all those resources I usually use. Jessica Honor Carleton: This is something Robert and I talked about when we were meeting about the play—it’s almost like John Singer is the sun and everybody else orbits around him. He’s the one who warms everybody else but nobody’s doing that for him. He’s still isolated in the center, alone. MS: Jess and Robert, I know you are close friends. How long have you known one another? RS: I’m trying to remember how we first met— JHC: I knew you first! Or I knew of you. But, I think we met like two years ago. RS: It’ll be interesting because the two of us are really used to signing with one another. Every time we see each other, we sign. But in this play, the hands have to stay down. We will have to try to figure out how to communicate. That’s going to be a huge challenge. MS: Had you read the novel The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter before knowing you would be a part of this production? What do you remember from reading it for the first time? RS: I remember reading the book some time ago and really had no memory of it until this production came up. Thinking about it in general, it’s about relationships between people and how they relate to one another— people with no labels, just people. Myron Elliott, Jr.: I have the perspective of having read the play first, which is kind of interesting to go back now and read the novel. And it started to fill in, not necessarily blanks, but started to fill in the characters a little bit more. JHC: I was struck by all of the characters and particularly with Mick. One of her first lines, when her father says to her, “You can’t make a violin,” she replies, “Well, I can try!” That is the moment I connected to that character because I feel like that’s often the way I live my life. I am also a puppeteer. As a puppeteer, I start out with a need for a particular puppet like an octopus and go, “Well, I’ve got an umbrella and pantyhose, let’s do this!” It’s a process of using what you have at your disposal. RS: As an artist, I can’t hear but noises occur through my eyes. I’m a photographer as well, so I take pictures beyond what I see. I try to push myself beyond the standard visual experience to the visual imagination, and I try to use that often in my work. MS: Does that connect to your process Myron? ME: The field that I’m in tends to—we have to be resourceful in lots of different ways so sometimes that is something like taking the available elements and making something out of nothing or something out of things it shouldn’t be made out of. MS: Robert and Jess, as actors, how do you view your relationship with the costume design aspect of a process? RS: Every day, I observe people. Costumes can influence all of us by looking at the way clothes themselves offer a vibe. People tend to judge people on how they behave, partly by looking at their clothing and looking at their movements within the clothing. So [costumes] really help to amp up a character, tweak the character. ME: It’s funny that Robert touched on this idea of people watching. That’s what I do! I love it. It’s my reason to take the CTA. RS: I love that, too! ME: I feel like a big part of my job is the initial impact, so that when [the actors] make that first entrance, the audience knows at least half of what they need to know about them before they open their mouths. JHC: There’s something that shifts inside of you when you climb in the physical skin, costumes and shoes, of a character. It’s just a year difference but Mick goes from a child in gym shoes to a woman in heels and I think that is a huge symbolic shift. [Costumes] can’t help but make your work better. MS: What do you find inspiring about this play or what do you hope that this production might inspire in others? JHC: I hope the play inspires people to find that thing that they love—whether it’s music or whether it’s art or no matter what that thing is—and to really hold on to that.