If you love ISC and you love our actors then you’re going to have a wonderful time seeing them do something different. The Snow Geese is a very complex piece of writing and it's really entertaining to explore all the permutations of these characters. This production is a platform for some really great actors and these are some of the best actors in the company.

- David Melville, Director

An Insider's Peek Backstage

A look into the dressing room. Photos: Grettel Cortes

Go Deeper with the Cast

In the play’s 1917 setting, cultural visibility is mired in a class system and foreigners are seen with a great amount of distrust. Some of the cast told us of their personal, family history of coming to this country.

When did your family enter the U.S.?

Melissa: Pre-WWI.

Bernadette: My family came from Ireland (because of the potato famine) and England in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.

Kalean: My mom’s family came through Ellis Island around the turn of the century. My father came in 1964 and his relatives in the 1980's. They were refugees from Cambodia fleeing the Khmer Rouge. My family was well off in Cambodia. My grandfather worked for Prince Sihanouk and my aunts were married to men in the government. That was before they lost everything.

Bruce: All four grandparents arrived in the wave of migration from Europe between 1895 and 1905. They were raised in various parts of Ukraine. The Jewish migration at the turn of the last century was spurred by an increase in Pograms in Czarist Russia. I imagine that the stories in Fiddler on the Roof were very close to the stories of my great-grandparents. My extended family was deeply affected by World War II, when families and villages in those areas of Ukraine and Poland were systematically wiped out. My brother recently went on a pilgrimage to the village where my father's family originated. There is a memorial in the center of the town, dedicated to the Jews who were rounded up and executed en masse. I'm sure I had many unknown relatives lost in that slaughter.

Can you share any insight into how The Snow Geese explores xenophobia?

Kalean: I play Viktorya, a servant in the Gaesling/ Hoffman household. Viktorya was from an aristocratic family in Ukraine and during WWI lost everything. She came to America as a refugee and has just been hired, though she has never had any experience as a servant. The family talks about her like she is not there and it is humiliating for her. Duncan, keeps referring to her as Russian even though the Russians were responsible for the deaths of her family members, and her own personal trauma.

Bernadette: Even though Clarissa has hired Viktorya, a refugee, she is treated as though she is a shadow of a human being. Spoken of and referred to as ‘the girl,’ ‘the help,’ ‘your Russian girl’ in her presence as though she can’t hear this or isn’t affected by it. Refugees are either celebrated or vilified, again with very little regard of their feelings.

Melissa: I think that there is a pretty clear representation of benign oversight. In other words, many of the characters are not able to, or not interested in empathizing with the others—both the characters that are immigrants as well as within their own family. I think we can really see the results that a lack of empathy brings in our country right now. I even think empathy is not a particularly valued trait in the “American identity” or at least the American narrative that we are a nation of individuals pursuing our individual happiness.



In the rehearsal room

Whether it's 1917 or 2017, sibling rivalry is timeless.  Director David Melville (right) works a creative moment with the Gaesling brothers Arnie (Nikhil Pai, left), Duncan (Evan Lewis Smith, center). With Kalean Ung as Viktorya, a Ukranian refugee recently arrived in the household.

Nikhil, Evan and Kalean last appeared together on the Independent Studio stage in Pericles, Spring 2015.


 Melissa Chalsma & David Melville in an early play by SHarr White. New York city, mid-1990's

Melissa Chalsma & David Melville in an early play by SHarr White. New York city, mid-1990's

David Melville & Sharr White on working together

David: We met about 20 years ago when I first moved to the US. Some of Melissa’s friends would get together on weekends to read Shakespeare plays and knock about ideas. I was drafted into this cohort and it was out of this group that the fledgling Independent Shakespeare Co. emerged. We worked on a new piece that Sharr wrote for us called Lost.  A chunk of Michigan, spinning in the cosmos, is all that survived the earth’s destruction. On this rock a piece of bean-curd has developed over millions of years into a sentient being (that was my character). It was an enormously funny piece. Bean curd would say “I’m dissipating!”, which became a bit of a catchphrase/motto for me.

Sharr: They were brilliant and funny and fully committed to this weird play of mine, which I especially appreciated because in our circles they were kind of royalty, having met during performances of Ralph Fiennes production of Hamlet.

David: I loved working with Sharr, he’s a complex writer underpinned by a naughty, anarchic sense of humour. He was also the first person I saw writing a play on a laptop computer, which I thought very impressive. It is so inspiring to witness Sharr building a national reputation as a playwright: in regional theatres, off-Broadway, on Broadway and other productions around the world. I’m so happy that we get a chance to work with him again.


 Ruoxuan Li checks the details

Ruoxuan Li checks the details

Ruoxuan Li, Costume Designer

I’m trying to have the costumes disappear. In costume there’s a saying, especially if it’s a film, “when you watch a film if you’re amazed by the story and didn’t notice the costumes at all, that’s good costuming.” When the story point is about wowing with the costume, then it’s okay to wow. But other than that you should not be paying attention to the costumes. The audience should be attracted by “Wow, this character Elizabeth looks so pretty,” not, “Wow, this dress that Elizabeth is wearing is so pretty.” It should be the character itself who stands out, not the costume. But I’m so excited to fit Duncan in the Halloween costume, because it’s the start of the show. He’s jumping like a kid and in the script it says an “Asian robe” but what I found for him was more of an 18th century French robe with heavy embroidery that’s Chinese inspired. It’s a light, bright green and I think it will look really good on him. And there’s also a Halloween mask. And I found a mask with a super long nose. I’m so excited to see it on him. Because everyone’s trying to figure things out but he’s the thing that just pops.

 Bruce Katzman with Evan Lewis Smith

Bruce Katzman with Evan Lewis Smith

Bruce Katzman is Max Hohmann

I felt very flattered to be asked to join a team, with a play that is really important to David and Melissa because of their relationship to Sharr. They don’t usually do non-Shakespeare plays, so this whole thing is a real gift. With all my years of “experience” I don’t always understand the play when I read it for the first time. To be honest, when I read this for the first time I didn’t quite get it. It was hard for me to envision - what’s the story about, who are these people, why should we care about them, what’s the event of the story? And then at the first reading you hear these voices come alive and at the first rehearsal you see these characters take on dimension. I am falling in love with the characters in the story, the mother and her two sons, the sister and the husband (I play the immigrant husband from Germany). Everyone has a story and every character has a challenge to find peace and happiness and comfort or serenity or acceptance in life. As we’ve worked on it, it’s been amazing how quickly and how easily I felt like I was fitting into this company of actors. From the get go, I was welcomed and honored and respected.


 Bernadette sullivan

Bernadette sullivan

Bernadette Sullivan is Clarissa Hohmann

I love doing something that is set in an era that is considered classical, but it feels so contemporary. One of the things Sharr White (playwright of The Snow Geese ) said when we started to rehearse is that the play is set in 1917 and in 2017 so much has changed, yet there are so many recurring themes. That is something I hope that people see, not only the richness on being a fly in the home in a particular family and seeing how similar and how different families are, but also the bigger picture of how similar and different life, humanity and politics and human nature are. I think he’s really achieved something in writing this play because we refer to Victoriana and a certain way of presenting one’s self and assuming how one behaves in society, that’s a subject in the play, and yet it’s talked about in such a contemporary way.  There are these layers and levels with what’s going on on stage that it’s pleasurable, it’s wonderful to be working in so many facets.


We'll continue to add more rehearsal moments and insights from the artists involved throughout the run of The Snow Geese.