Interview: On Art and Friendship- a discussion with Actors Mark Scharf, Steven Shriner, and Eric C. Stein

Friendships come and friendships go, and sometimes a disagreement in taste can be all the difference in the world between “best friends” and the end of 15 years of friendship. Taking a moment to dissect this concept, I’ve sat down with three seasoned veterans of the stage— Eric C. Stein, Mark Scharf, and Steven Shriner— who are currently performing in the Vagabond Players production of Yasmina Reza’s Art and gotten their opinion on the matter.

Three Best Buds sitting on set in Serge's living room early on a Sunday morning. From the left- Eric C. Stein, Steven Shriner, and Mark Scharf discuss their current production of Art at the Vagabond Players.Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Three Best Buds sitting on set in Serge’s living room early on a Sunday morning. From the left- Eric C. Stein, Steven Shriner, and Mark Scharf discuss their current production of Art at the Vagabond Players.

Gentlemen, thank you for hosting this interview in Serge’s living room. If you could tell the readers who you are and where they might recognize you from, I think that would be a great place to get started.

Eric C. Stein: I’m Eric. I’m Stein. I’m playing Yvan in Art at the Vagabond Players. In the past year I have played Charlie in The Foreigner at Vagabond Players, Alceste in The Misanthrope at Vagabond Players and I will be directing Rabbit Hole, surprisingly enough for the Vagabond Players in February. And I am also on the board— full disclosure— of the Vagabond Players. I pay them a lot of money in parking alone just to be here.

Steven Shriner: I am Steven Shriner and I am playing Serge in Art. Recently I was Owen Musser in The Foreigner at Vagabonds. I’ve done Death and the Maiden at Spotlighters…I can’t remember what I’ve done. I did Almost an Evening at Mobtown Players, an Ethan Cohen piece. I also did Medea there.

Mark Scharf: Weren’t you in Hot L at Spots?

Steven: Hot L was like a thousand years ago at this point.

Mark: We’re going to have to go back about that far for my last area acting credits.

Steven: And I am not on the board at Vagabond Players. Full disclosure.

Mark: Hi, I’m Mark with a ‘K’ Scharf and I’m playing Marc with a ‘C’ in this show. The last time I was on stage was a million years ago in The Iceman Commeth at Fells Point Corner Theatre. The last show I was in here at Vagabonds was Old Times. That was also several years ago. I’m primarily a playwright so that’s where I focus my time. I can’t really tell you what of mine has been done around here recently but I can tell you what’s coming up. Opening October 17, 2014 at the Twin Beach Players they are going to be featuring my adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and opening on January 8, 2015 at Baltimore Theatre Project is my play Fortune’s Child. That’s an actor’s equity project. And I just signed a publishing contract for Sleepy Hollow so I have the trifecta on that one. I got to write it, it’s being produced and now it’s being published. I feel very good about that. If you want to go back years I can talk about things like— well I don’t think anybody cares.

Eric: No, no. We care. Deeply. The two of us.

Mark: Well, they care.

Eric: Inside. We care inside.

Steven: Amanda, you might have been too young to have seen those things.

Mark: Well I didn’t feel old until right about now…

Eric: We still have a show to do today, let’s stay positive!

How does Art, as a highbrow comedy with heavy dramatic undertones, differ from other productions that you have done recently?

Mark: The last show that I did had a cast of thousands. This is just wonderful because it’s just the three of us. It’s wonderful to have that intimacy. I’ve seen their work a lot. So I was worried about holding up my end of the trio. I’ve seen these guys and they’re good. This is no bullshit; I’m not just blowing smoke up your skirts.

Steven: Thank you for telling people I’m wearing a skirt, Mark.

Eric: It is Sunday.

Steven: It’s my Sunday go to church skirt.

Mark: Well it is plaid.

Eric: The school girl look is good on you.

Mark: He looks good in knee-high socks back in the dressing room.

Steven: Sorry. I do have the gams for knee-high socks.

Mark: And evidently you do look so hot on stage. That’s what we keep hearing from other people in the audience, that he looks so hot. You know there are two others up here…

Steven: I’ve only heard our stage manager’s grandmother say that. You know what it is, though? It’s the eyes. People can see my eyes from the house. And I’m wearing that bright blue shirt, you have to wear that shirt. That’s why people think I look attractive.

Mark: His eyes are piercing. When he’s pissed it’s scary, he looks like he’s coming to get you. It’s like a wave coming out of his face coming to knock you down. Where was I? Oh yeah, talking about how this has been a great experience getting to hold my own with the two of them. It’s a truly great experience; it’s one of the best experiences you can have to be in a small show. Especially with people that you like being around.

Eric: You didn’t sound very sure just there. You sure you like being around us?

Steven: That did sound a little forced. But seriously, we love each other.

Mark: It’s because I’m a little old.  

Eric: You know, we were all talking upstairs about how there are about five places where we can say “yes, we know we’re going to get laughs” here in Art. As opposed to The Foreigner, which Steven and I just did together, the jokes are fairly written in for you. And it’s high physical comedy on top of that. This show is a little more witty as opposed to slap-you-down and make-you-laugh funny.

Steven: Big words.

Eric: Yeah. Where The Foreigner, at least for me as an actor was “pace down, pace down, pace down,” because Charlie is so slow and I’m so fast as an individual normally, this for me as Yvan was trying to pick up a pace and still be understandable, which was my main goal. That’s where it is for me, the pace of this and the fact that you are holding up 33.333% of the show. Making sure that you’re there for everybody else whereas in a bigger cast you do have a little bit more deflection.

Steven: And time to go pee.

Eric: Yeah! We don’t really have that in this show.

Mark: These people are so articulate. The repetition— there are just so many places that you can go astray.

Steven: The dialogue did not make it easy.

Mark: When we would be rehearsing, if we rehearsed out of sequence I would constantly be stopping to say “okay, where are we? Where are we?!?” Because there are so many places throughout that are kind of like another place in the script but not quite and you really have to focus to stay on top of where you are.

Steven: All I know is I think I’m losing weight. We don’t get to stop. And honestly, I was talking to Carol Evans, who is on the board here, during opening night and I said to her this is a lot different from Owen from Foreigner in that the articulation of the show has to be so precise almost 100% of the time. My jaw hurt by the end of a night’s rehearsal. I wasn’t used to it. Most people as individuals are very lazy when they talk. But with this you have to be so precise and hit all of your consonants, I was exhausted by the end of it.

Mark: There are no apostrophe ended words in this. Nothing hanging, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t even any contractions.

Eric: We don’t even get a moment to really drink in this show. There’s only one moment where I get to do that, the moment right before I go off in my tirade. I’m backstage chugging as much water as I can before my monologue. In that four minute window I’m drinking as much water as I can so that I can carry on with the rest of the show. There is so much talking!

What was the draw to want to do this intense, fast-paced comedy for you guys?

Eric: I was lucky enough that I was on play-selection committee here. When I got the script and I read through it I got to Yvan’s monologue and I said “I’m auditioning for this show.” If nothing else I just wanted to try and do that. Luckily enough Howard (Howard Berkowitz, Director of Art) called me for it. That’s what drew me. It was so witty and so fast paced. I had done Room Service here at Vags, and Room Service was the same kind of thing. You walk into the room and you just talk and talk and talk and talk, constantly going. And I love shows that have that pace. I think it’s very lively I think it’s how people talk normally.

Just the examination of not only the lesser of the two themes— what is art? But also looking at the bigger dynamic theme— what is male friendship? And what I have gone through in my life with friends from high school and getting older over the past ten years, that really motivated me. Watching friendships fall apart and reform, which has happened to me personally, I think that concept speaks to us, or at least to those of us who are getting to be that age.

Steven: We talked about it in rehearsals, because we are all of a certain age we all have those friendships.

Mark: Of a certain age…we’re all not in our 20’s, can we just say that?

Steven: But we all have those friendships that have fallen apart and have come back together and are different and somehow still exist.

Mark: And the male relationships in this show, there is a certain amount of mental fencing, if you will, that goes with the way that we communicate.

That is a beautiful phrase, mental fencing.

Steven: That’s why he’s a playwright.

Mark: I don’t even know if I can really articulate it to you. It’s in our DNA, because of our Y-chromosome maybe? Our communication is just different. When a woman says “Why don’t you just say that?” when we’re talking about feelings with our men friends, “No, I’m not just going to say that to him.” Because we’re men. There are other ways to communicate it. When things are really, really heartfelt and at stake the way that that information ends up being communicated is not always clean. It’s messy but it matters all the same. And I know everyone is thinking that if we’d just come out and say it— but if you just come out and say it, it’s not going to work. Because we’re men.

Art (l to r) Mark Scharf as Marc, Eric C. Stein as Yvan, and Steven Shriner as Serge.Tom Lauer
Art (l to r) Mark Scharf as Marc, Eric C. Stein as Yvan, and Steven Shriner as Serge.

Eric: The most honest I think men ever become are at weddings and at funerals. And when you’ve had a little bit of a drunk or a little bit of a cry then you’re actually able to say certain things. Past that it’s all covered in a bit of bullshit.

Steven: Even when you do get real make sure that you’re alone and that you say “you can’t tell anybody what I’m about to tell you.”

Mark: There are lines in this show— there is no subtext sometimes. It’s just right there. Marc love Serge, and to come right out and say that— to use those words, those very powerful words it’s like little depth charges. You can’t just come out and say that about your guy friend. To say that as a guy to another guy? There’s still all these baggages and cultural defenses that we— well that I as an older person had to grow up with. Expectations of what it means to be male and how you behave with other men, how you handle things, what’s manly and what’s not— that’s all tied up in this.

The playwright gets all of that in here so brilliantly. I would have loved to have written the damn thing. I had a professor in school who would say “would you be proud to have written the play?” And for this? Hell yes! Reza doesn’t spell it out, it’s there to discover. This play is extremely light on stage directions. It’s the dialogue. Everything else comes out of that. I completely agree with that approach, you want the directors and the actors to do all that. This script does not dictate.

Steven: No it does not. But what’s amazing about that is she manages to give you the words that are perfect for the feeling of the moment, the emotion of the moment, the communication of that moment. She’s done brilliant work for male friendship. I don’t know how she’s done that, not being a male and all.

Eric: There’s a lot of insight there that took me into thinking about relationships that I’m currently involved with. I have friend that has been with me since I was five and we’re now on 40 years of friendship. We’re still struggling along to make sure that there is some bind there. To take the phrase from the show “what binds us together” you know, I’m not sure what binds us together besides old times together and being boys but there is always that moment of pure horror when something is happening in your life, and you make that phone call to that person, and that person shows up, and then you realize “ok, that’s what binds us together.” Maybe the fact that we still have those old feelings, but there is a brotherly love there. I think that’s what happens in Art. Even when the proverbial shit hits the fan there is that love.

Steven: They still care about each other.

Eric: They do. And when you find that it bites too deep, and I think that happens with me at the end with you guys, at least that’s how we’re playing it I’m not sure how other productions have done it, but what happens is that we hit way too hard.

Mark: As you know you can play it sixteen ways to Sunday, but he has that moment where he says “this is the end of a 15 year friendship” and that really affects me.

Eric: Well I’m very upset about that too.

Steven: Serge comes to that realization that this might be it. That this person he’s been close with for 15 years is not going to be around anymore. This is what you’re telling me, this is where we are and this is what we’ve come to.

Mark: There’s no back story written in. There are very little clues and some are contradictory. But you get the idea that for the last 15 years these have been the same ridiculous pals that you’ve always kidded around with. To me I was thinking they were college buddies. You know, Howard was going to make my hair even more gray, which I’m grateful he didn’t, but there’s nothing that tells you how old they really are— but you know they’ve been close for fifteen years and that’s saying something regardless of how old they’re meant to be. Also, we’re not old. We’re just well seasoned.

Steven: I think this show is served better with well seasoned gentlemen, like us three, simply because we have much more to mine.

Perfect segue, Steven, thank you. Eric had mentioned that he has some personal experiences that are similar to this show, how are you guys experiencing those friendships now that you’ve experienced the friendship trials that Serge, Yvan, and Marc go through in this show? Are you able to draw from experiences to bring these characters closer to your own reality and vice versa?

Steven: Eric’s comment about his friend from when they were five reminds me of what’s going on in a similar relationship in my life. I just got a phone call the other day from someone who I’ve been friends with since 1981. He lives in San Diego and sometimes we don’t talk for an entire year. We actually don’t talk all but once a year. His birthday is September 4th and mine is September 9th and so we will call each other and say “Somebody has a birthday coming up.” And I’ll say “oh, you old raisin,” and he’ll say “just remember I’ll always be younger than you.”

He called me the other day. We will be into the phone call two minutes and it is as if we have spoken every day for the last 30 years, nothing is missed, we go right back into the same banter, the same personal stuff. He just told me something wonderful about his little brother and I have always loved his little brother. I said “don’t say nothing bad about John, I have always liked me some John.” And he said “Oh no! He’s now the associate dean at Harvard Medical School.” And I was thrilled for the entire family, and I was thrilled for Paul. It was like nothing had ever changed between us. I have that in my personal life that I can draw from.

Eric: There was a trio of us that were together in high school. My best friend who is still the one I talk to, we have this third guy and we were the three amigos. There was a time about ten years ago where the third one said he was going to call me back. And I decided I would let him call me back. We are now at ten years and I am still waiting for him to call me back. My other friend sees him and we actually talk on Facebook occasionally but for boys that were very tight, sometimes there are just points in your relationship where it just hits you and you say “ok, let them go.” However, in doing this show and thinking about how these characters are and where it takes them, my heart has kind of gone to the “maybe I should be the fella who makes the call.” It has affected me in the sense that it is making me look at getting some old relationships back into a talking stage, a “trial period” as they say in the show.

Mark: It does reinforce that cliché, which are clichés for a reason, but it reminds you that life is short. Shorter for some of us than others.

Eric: He’s never going to let that go.

Mark: I never hear the end of it with you guys, it’s not me not letting it go.

Steven: Isn’t it? Oh isn’t it? Haha.

Mark: Funny. Seriously, I have my best friend who I have known since I was five— and that’s X years— he’s coming to see the show. He’s driving over from the Eastern Shore. After decades we’re still close. Our relationship just picks right up no matter if months go by or no matter what’s going on in our lives. Conversely we’ve also had those situations where someone has just said— actually verbalized that we can’t be friends anymore. “Ok? I’m a horrible human being? What’s going on here?”

The other thing for me, at least with the character of Marc and his attitude toward art, I’ve had similar conversations where the same dialogue has popped up before. Not talking about conceptual art, per say but about theatre process. The way I was trained in graduate school verses the way some other folks approach doing a play…and then having those conversations about those processes, there are certain things that I think may be a little—

Steven: Horseshit?

Mark: I was going to say Twee.

Eric: Is that a word?

Mark: It is now. Not that I’m being dogmatic about it, yes I am being dogmatic about it, but having those conversations, the ones from this play, and noticing that they keep popping up, brings it around in my real life for me.

It’s interesting that you brought that up, Mark, because that is a perfect segue into the next question. Over the years what have been the things that have cause friendships to be set aside. Is it art, is it politics, is it different tastes in people? What divides your roads?

Mark: Yes, yes, and yes. Yes to all of those. The one thing that really stands out— I had gotten divorced, and when I got divorced I had gone a little bat shit crazy—

Steven: Don’t we all?

Mark: And that pulled me away from some people, the divorce. But the other thing— I had this one friend…I was at some high school function and he went off on this Tea Party rant. And I’m sorry, we can’t have a conversation now. Even if I know you’re of that party, I’ll still talk to you. But this has infected his entire life. It’s his cause and it makes conversing with him absolutely impossible. I’ve withdrawn. I have withdrawn because I just don’t— I can’t.

Eric: Politics can be a big thing, they are life beliefs. But like with this show, taste in art? I don’t think I’ve lost friends over that. I know that I have had some fiery bar conversations in regards to either actors that I enjoy that other people do not, or shows that I have liked that other have not. Those conversations where after a while I have to rethink whether or not we talk anymore. You thought that was good theatre? And there are times where I just say “No, no I’m sorry, you have to go over to that side of the room for a while.”

Steven: Every time someone says Mamma Mia, I’m done with them for the next hour.

Mark: Can you compartmentalize? And if you can’t compartmentalize, can you deal?

Eric: Right. Like I said, fiery discussions, but I don’t think I’ve ever lost a friendship based on taste. Because if so I would get rid of a lot of people just on music alone.

Mark: I think I’ve lost friends over The Grateful Dead. Their fans get very violent in my experience.

Eric: I really am Yvan in those instances. I am, I don’t care that much to get that fiery about that sort of thing. When I do get fired up, I am very passionate, but for the most part I just shrug my shoulders and smile.

Steven: I’m very passionate too, but it always amazes me that somebody will go to the extent to say that we just don’t have the same tastes. But isn’t that what’s great about the fact that we can still be friends? That we have differing tastes and can argue our points about them? Some people just can’t do that. I have a friend who does not like the fact that I listen to “old music.” Whatever’s not contemporary. I actually enjoy stuff that I enjoyed in 80’s and I enjoy stuff that I enjoyed in the 70’s and in the 90’s too but she’s constantly telling me “you know there is new music.” And I’m constantly telling her “yeah, I know, I just don’t care for it. This is what I like.” And we will go back and forth and back and forth about it. It’s fine, like what you want to like. I have heard new stuff that I kind of enjoy, but I’ve also heard new stuff that I cannot believe anyone would think is artistic at all. We’re still friends and we fight about stupid stuff nose to nose, screaming and scaring servers and waiters in bars. But we’re still friends.

Eric: Those are the good friendships. If you’re that comfortable having those discussions with people? That’s true friendship. Everett and I have nose-to-nose knockouts “let me explain something to you about your life.” He calls me on my BS and I call him on his BS. When you’re capable of saying to someone “really? Really you’re actually going to say that and think that I’m going to believe it?” Those are the people you are going to have with you for a long time.

Mark: There’s a card…it’s in my dressing room, I can’t remember, I’d have to go get it to quote, so I’m going to try and paraphrase—

Steven: It’s William Blake.

Mark: Thank you.

Eric: Read William Blake.

Mark: Thank you! It basically says something like—

Steven: Friendship is opposition. Or opposition is friendship.

Marc (l- Mark Scharf) examining "The Antrios" with Serge (r- Steve Shriner)Tom Lauer
Marc (l- Mark Scharf) examining “The Antrios” with Serge (r- Steve Shriner)

Mark: Being able to call somebody out on something and not fear losing them. When the friendship survives, that’s the test. That’s the true test, when things go down and you have to call someone out and you don’t lose them, then that’s real friendship.

What has been the most challenging thing about taking on this project as a performer?

Steven: I actually did not know Mark when we started. When I got cast there was someone else cast in the role of Mark and then that changed.

Mark: What? I didn’t know that!

Steven: Am I telling stories out of school? No, no, no, I’m sure you’re not second choice. But I was told Mark was cast, and I said “I don’t know him.” So I started asking around town, “Do you know Mark Scharf?”

Eric: As we are wont to do.

Steven: Because I’m about to go on stage with this person. I know Eric and I’m comfortable on stage with Eric, we just finished a show together, but I don’t know this guy—

Mark: Who’s this douchebag?

Steven: I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be one of those situations where I was going “Oh, god! How did I get into this, this is going to be endless!” But I had nothing but good things told to me.

Mark: That’s nice to hear.

Steven: They have all played out. I’m hoping that this could be the start of a friendship for us, I know Eric and I have a friendship.

Mark: Yeah. You guys are my friends.

Eric: The only challenge for me I think has been keeping up and not wanting to disappoint. I’ve worked with Steven before on both side of the fence. I had met Mark and he and I had talked a few times because I’ve done shows with Marianne—

Mark: My Marianne, how do I phrase that? My significant other, she’s done work with him before.

Eric: We did Six Degrees of Separation together and I had met Mark through that and I’d seen him a few times about town. It was more about coming in and just going “ok, there’s three of us, keep pace and don’t fall apart.” That was the challenge for me, keeping pace with everyone else. The rest of it became very easy. Howard is great. This is my third time working with him, he’s an interesting and lovely cat to work with. I think he novel ideas and looks at things a little differently than other people do. He’s a little quirky which I enjoy thoroughly because that’s my style.

Mark: He’s a very generous director.

Eric: I think he made it a very easy work space to be in and it never felt like I was coming to rehearsal. I never had that “Oh God, I have rehearsal tonight,” which is easy to get bogged down in. It was always “hey I get to go be with the guys tonight.” And that was a great feeling. When three actors can sit down during notes and you get told “this was good but maybe not so much this” and you can turn around and say “you were such an idiot” and everyone starts laughing, not only at yourselves but with each other. These bonehead mistakes become funny. Everybody was really gracious about accepting these mistakes and we were all really supportive. There weren’t challenges there because everyone wanted to support each other. Just for me, you know, talk for six minutes and don’t screw it up.

Steven: It’s fun. It’s actually fun and you look forward to being here. For rehearsal you look forward to being here. When we did our final dress we were just so excited to get in front of people and have even more fun. And we did. We had a ball opening night.

Eric: We had time off, actually. Howard went on vacation and Steven had gone on vacation and I just said to Mark “Hey, I know we have a week off but did you want to get together and work on this?”

Mark: And Chelsea (Chelsea Dove, Stage Manager) she came down and ran lines with us. It helped me immensely with my fear factor of not wanting to let anybody down. I understand that I’m new to the process and that they’re rolling the dice with me. They don’t know me, but I think I worked out.

Steven: You were in a little bit of a tougher spot because not only did Eric and I know each other but we had literally just worked together in Foreigner. We were very comfortable. The working dynamic wasn’t all that different. The process is still the process, we were adversarial at times in that show, but it was both of us working on a comedy, both of us working on timing. It was me trying not to be cracked up by him on stage.

Eric: During rehearsals we would just have to stop sometimes. When Mark and I first did the nose to nose thing we had to stop because we could not stop laughing at each other. You don’t normally get that close and right up in another human’s space unless you’re planning on kissing them and um…as attractive as a man as he is and he does somewhat fulfill my De Niro fetish, that wasn’t going to happen at least not in this show, maybe the next one.

Steven: And the olive scene. Oh my God. Trying not to laugh when these two are cracking up, I was never able to do it during rehearsal. I do not like olives. So as soon as I put that olive in my mouth I have something to concentrate on that is really, really hard to deal with and that helps immensely.

Eric: The scene where we laugh together, when we have that moment? From working with each other in Foreigner, you know somebody’s process and you get to know how they work and their quirks. And I think once we really got it to the first time it was real laughing, it was something. It was just this little bit of laughter at first but by the time we opened, my face hurts!

His jaw hurts from over articulation. Your face hurts from laughing too much. What do you have, Mark?

Mark: My elbow.

Eric: *laughing* From fight call.

Mark: *laughing hysterically* From fight call.  I don’t want to tell that story. We were going at 75% speed and as you may have noticed Steven is somewhat taller than I am. Actually, they’re both somewhat taller than I am. I tripped. Steven pushed me. I tripped. I tripped up and went through that wall.

Steven: He took the wall down.

Mark: I thought, “Ok, now they’re wondering why did we cast that asshole? He can’t keep up.”

Eric: I love war wounds from productions. I live for those moments where you get battle scars from fight call. That’s how you know you’re in a show. I have pictures of stab marks and bruises. My wife will look at me like I’m insane when I’m taking pictures of my bruises from rehearsal. And I’ll say to her, “No, you don’t understand, I earned this.”

Mark: I don’t have old football injuries, I have old theatre injuries. From doing Buried Child? Things like that? I have those sorts of wounds. And you can share them amongst your men friends. Well, some men friends.

Steven: Some of them are just like “It’s theatre, you puss.” That’s not a real injury.

What has this show, being involved in this show with these people taught you about yourself as a performer?

Mark: Do you have to ask questions like that? They make me think.

Eric: It’s giving me pause.

Steven: It’s a very tough question.

Mark: That’s— I don’t want to speak for everybody here. But I think it’s taught me about the laughs? There are some places where you knew the laughs were going to be? But there are places where people are laughing that are a complete surprise. They are a discovery; a wonderful discovery but they were a total surprise. For me, personally, a lot of it was handling a script like that. How do I handle a script like that? Can I handle a script like that? Most actors have some sort of insecurity, so in addition to that I had my own personal brand of insecurity of coming in with not having experience with this sort of script. I keep going back to the text which is wordy and all dialogue. Very little description of anything, not even the fight scene.

Eric: It doesn’t say who hits who or what happens, just that I get hit.

Mark: I’ve not really worked with anything like that before. So that was a new experience.

Eric: I think for me…I am a somewhat controlling actor, I guess?

Steven: Um—*stops speaking abruptly*

Eric: Most certainly not as a director, that’s for damn sure. I have no freakin’ opinions whatsoever in that arena.

Steven: Define controlling…

Eric: Mister eight pages of notes…hang on one second guys, we’re almost finished, I know we’re an hour in, but I’ve only got five pages left…

Steven: They were extensive notes…

Eric: It was a big cast. But I think not worrying about things as much as I normally do? That’s what this show has taught me how to do. Normally I’m an actor that is like “this is how this has to go,” and it has a rhythm and it all has to go that certain way according to plan. It all has to be in a row. But this show has just come out and let it fly. And for this show I had to have complete trust in the other two guys on stage. Smaller casts lend themselves to that. It is a more trusting atmosphere. I can’t say that I’m always the most trusting person—

Steven: You’re forced to be. I mean, we’re all we’ve got. There are not five other people who can come out and help us if something goes wrong.

Eric: I’ve done several two person shows in my life, four of them I think, and one four person show. And now this. So I’ve had that kind of pressure of “get out there and you’re it for 90 minutes or 2 hours” and in all those cases it makes me let go of things. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and out of me needing to control everything on stage. It makes me say “ok, these guys are here and they have my back.” I think it makes me better in that aspect because if I’m not thinking about all those things that I have to do, it all becomes very easy to just go with it. They are lovely to work with. No BS about it. They are absolutely lovely.

Steven: 25 bucks that cost me. Twenty-five dollars.

Mark: As corny as it sounds, if you do make a mistake and they do have to get your back, it’s ok. You don’t pay for it. You haven’t soured the relationship, you haven’t lost your trust, and this has been demonstrated throughout the process. We have this trust with each other and we are there to support each other.

Steven: I have to tell you that might be the one area that I think I’ve grown in this production. I’ve always considered myself a generous actor but I am also one of those actors where if you consistently screw something up, you aren’t paying attention, you aren’t getting or you aren’t taking the note and it’s effecting my work? I’ll hold a grudge. I’ll stay away from shows you are involved in. But we have all in this process made mistakes during rehearsals and demonstrated that we all have each other’s backs almost immediately.  Because you’ve built that kind of trust suddenly it’s ok that somebody made a mistake. I know it’s not going to happen all the time. And I know they know that. I don’t have to be that “oh I’ll never work with him again” guy because I know it’s not like that with these two.

Eric C. Stein as Yvan (left) and Steven Shriner as Serge (right) determined to discuss "The Antrios" with gusto.Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Eric C. Stein as Yvan (left) and Steven Shriner as Serge (right) determined to discuss “The Antrios” with gusto.

Eric: It’s one of those things where if we had to bounce back something two or three times within a rehearsal process in a scene, and one of us would say “I’m sorry I’m just not getting this” everyone was always “don’t worry about it, it’s just rehearsal that’s what we’re here for and we’ll get it.” We would mess up a line here or a mess up a line there and we’d just go back and do it again. Letting that control go and not feeling like you have to carry everything on your back, that was really a great thing that I learned in this show.

Steven: I actually love that. I love when there is a tough spot and everybody is having some sort of difficulty in that spot. And you just hammer it, and hammer it, and hammer it until everybody clears away their detritus and we get to where we want to be.

Mark: I actually look forward to that. Once you’ve worked through it? It’s in the back of your mind “oh here it comes.” This is the really fun part.

Eric: That’s the cool thing, at least in my position as “odd man out” that I get to sit back and watch. It’s very easy to be involved in a scene when you are loving what the actors around you are doing. When you can just sit and watch two guys go at it and realize that it’s really fun and interesting? That’s awesome.

Steven: That’s why we enjoy your monologue, Eric. I love watching it. I love being involved in your monologue.

Eric: I worry about boring everyone. I do that monologue specifically to entertain these gentlemen because they’ve heard it 15 times and how can I make it different to entertain them tonight?

Steven: I keep hearing new things in it so it’s all good for me.

What is it that you are hoping people will take away from coming to see Art at The Vagabond Players?

Steven: That we’re brilliant.

Mark: That we’re good looking.

Steven: That we’re good looking!

Mark: Younger than we are.

Steven: That we’re younger than you thought we were.

Eric: Vanity. Vanity. Vanity.

Mark: I want them to have a good time. Obviously it’s funny but for them to hit those notes with the guys, and ladies who have men, maybe help them understand a little bit about our wiring…

Steven: The strange creatures that we are…

Mark: To recognize themselves in it.

Eric: As soon as people realize we’re just big dogs who talk everything is fine.

Steven: We should all be named Clifford.

Eric: It’s true! Pet me occasionally, feed me, take me for a walk. I’m good to go.

Steven: Scratch my ears every once in a while.

Eric: Let me run around. Theatre is playing ball to me, so it’s all good!

Mark: God, you’re not actually going to print this are you?

Eric: I hope they take away a good time and that somewhere along the line they can see a little bit how ridiculous it can be to get so worked up over something so inconsequential. But in getting so worked up about that it helps get to what the real problem is. It’s not the painting it’s you.

Mark: Things can get away, you don’t mean for them to get away. They’re like a train— no they’re like the skier. Voom! You can’t stop it. You want to stop it but you can’t stop it.

Steven: For me there’s that element of passion that each for their things. And that’s what I love about my friends. My friends are all passionate about something. And I love that about them. I don’t necessarily agree with them or about that thing but I love that they have that fire. I don’t want to people my life with people with no passion.

Eric: I don’t want t people who are going to agree with me all the time.

Steven: Please don’t agree with me all the time. Although I will argue my point to the death. That’s what I love. I love that back and forth. I love when somebody says it’s black when I know for a fact that it’s white.

Mark: You know we have a happy dressing room. I look forward to coming down here. I want the audience to have the feeling that I am getting out of this.

Eric: I want them to walk away knowing that if they do get to a point with their friend where they are pushing someone’s button beyond reason and you get to that explosion that you can come back from it and it doesn’t have to be the end of a 15 year friendship just because you don’t believe in the basic fundamentals of—

Steven: Blue felt-tips and tears.

Eric: Exactly.

Mark: Tears.

Steven: Ridiculous.

Buddies! Chums! Friends! From the left: Eric C. Stein, Steven Shriner, and Mark Scharf...an hour later. Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Buddies! Chums! Friends! From the left: Eric C. Stein, Steven Shriner, and Mark Scharf…an hour later.

Art plays through September 28, 2014 at Vagabond Players— 806 S. Broadway in the heart of Fells Point in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 563-9135 or purchase them online.

Click here to read the review of Vagabond Players production of Art.


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