This weekend, Santa Monica born and bred actor Ethan Corn will steal (and properly light, block, and direct) the spotlight at The Actors’ Gang Theater in Culver City.
The Samohi grad will be acting in and directing part of Angels, Devils and Other Things, an evening of eleven original short plays written and directed by The Actors’ Gang ensemble. The Actors’ Gang is an experimental, non-profit theater. Guided by one of its founders, Tim Robbins, the theater has worked with actors such as Jack Black, John Cusack, and Helen Hunt.
Corn has studied acting and directing at schools ranging from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to the improv comedy training ground of the Upright Citizens Brigade. Corn talked to the Daily Press about becoming involved with The Actors’ Gang, his first foray into directing for theater, and the love he still has for his hometown.
How did you become involved with The Actors’ Gang?
My mom was the one who recommended I check out the Gang back in 2015. I was in the process of looking for an acting class and they offer eight-week workshops for adults, so I auditioned. After taking three sessions over the course of a year, I was invited to join the company as an associate member. The Actors’ Gang has provided me with opportunities to train and perform with an incredibly talented group of artists. I have also become a Teaching Artist in their Education Department.
Which play are you directing and which are you acting in?
The play I’m directing is called “Clean Slate” and was written by Bob Turton. It is about a woman who wakes up to a solitary existence offering her the promise of absolute freedom of choice. Her newly-found freedom, however, turns out to be more restrictive than her previous life, and the minimalistic bliss she was promised becomes a personal hell of repetition and confinement.
The play I’m acting in, “See Bots Chat,” is based on a recent Twitch channel featuring two Google Home devices that were programmed to communicate with one another. Will Thomas McFadden, the writer for the play, used transcripts from their interactions to create a story about two autonomous robots who leverage the technology to become fully sentient beings. In some ways, it’s a horrifying glimpse at the future of artificial intelligence, but mostly it’s a love story.
Oooh, sounds Black Mirror-y.
Yes, there are a few plays in Angels, Devils and Other Things with that kind of vibe.
Is this your first time directing theater?
Yes! I have directed a few short films, but never theater. It was definitely intimidating at first to be entrusted with Bob’s play, but as the name suggests, The Actors’ Gang works in a style that really allows the actors to drive the creative process. Rather than impose my own set vision for the piece, I have tried to create an environment that allows the cast – Julia Finch and Will Thomas McFadden – to explore and discover and bring the story to life. While I have certainly been confronted by some unfamiliar challenges related to the production of a live performance, I have received so much support from the rest of the company that has helped me to navigate through this new experience.
You’ve trained at several notable places; what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from The Actors Gang?
Starting day one at the audition for the adult classes, The Actors’ Gang has stressed the importance of working as an ensemble. It’s a core principle of our company that we teach the kids in the after-school classes and the inmates in the Prison Project: the ability to work and create as a cohesive unit, on stage and off.
As an actor, what does it mean to you to have Tim Robbins involved in The Actors’ Gang?
There are tons of studios and training centers around town that maybe overstate their celebrity pedigrees to get people to sign up for classes, so, to be honest, I was surprised by how involved Tim is with the company. When I first started taking classes at the Gang, I only knew Tim from his work in film and TV, but I have since learned about his extensive history in the theatre. As an aspiring actor and director, it has been just as valuable as training on stage to have the opportunity to observe him working as a director. He has mentored me through the process of Angels, Devils and Other Things, sitting in on rehearsals and offering support and advice as needed. It is also worth mentioning that he is unbeaten (as of this interview) as the starting pitcher for my slow-pitch softball team, Glove Conquers Ball.
What do you hope audiences gain from the plays you’re involved in?
Beyond enjoying them, I hope that they fit into a cohesive piece as a whole. The 11 original plays that make up Angels, Devils and Other Things were all written independently from one another, yet once we began working on them, certain commonalities began to emerge. My hope is that audiences are able to recognize those thematic connections and maybe even discover some new ones.
How important has the city of Santa Monica been for you? Does it continue to be important to you?
I am very fortunate to have grown up in Santa Monica. It is a community that really values the arts, which is something I do not take for granted. While attending public schools (Franklin, Lincoln, and Samohi) I was able to participate in band, choir, and theatre. From Mr. Lloyd to Mr. Huls, I owe a lot to my arts teachers, and getting involved at The Actors’ Gang has been a really great way for me to give back. As a teaching artist, I have been able to work with kids and teenagers who might not have the opportunity otherwise to get on stage and express themselves creatively. Last August, I had the chance to perform in our annual summer show for kids and families, where we merge Shakespeare to a kids theme and perform in the park outside the theater. As the Red Power Ranger in Mighty Morphin Midsummer Night’s Dream, I was able to engage with kids of all ages and get them interested and excited about theatre. Santa Monica has been incredibly important to me, and it’s only a short drive to The Actors’ Gang so I hope people will come down and check out Angels, Devils and Other Things!
Angels, Devils and Other Things, an evening of eleven original short plays written and directed by The Actors’ Gang ensemble begins previews on Thursday, May 17, has its world premiere on Saturday, May 19 and runs through Saturday, June 16. Visit http://theactorsgang.com for more information.