Ellen Cribbs Brings The Funny Directing “A Servant of Two Masters”

There is a not-so-secret weapon in Capital Region theater and she goes by the name of Ellen Cribbs. Since moving here from Chicago in 2017, I have been keenly watching her every move and have been amply rewarded with exceptional performances in “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” at ACT, “Other Desert Cities” at SCP, “Sea Marks” at Theater Voices, “Shakespeare in Love” and hysterically in “Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberly” at theREP and especially her show tune loving mermaid in that ConfettiFest one act. She’s also found the time to have a beautiful daughter, Claire, survived the pandemic like the rest of us and has even amassed over a year and a half of podcast episodes of Everything Theater with her partner-in-crime, Benita Zahn.

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Ellen Cribbs

Since the theaters shuttering, there may be no project I have looked forward to more than Ellen Cribbs directing “A Servant of Two Masters” for Confetti Stage running 8/6-8/15 at The Shaker Heritage Society, 25 Meeting House Road in Albany. I am just very confident after all that I’ve seen of Ms. Cribbs’s work and with all the great talent involved that this will be a most enjoyable evening. I took this opportunity to turn the tables on her and ask her as she asks her guests on her podcast, “Are you ready for your close-up?”

Patrick White: What was the moment for you when you knew you wanted theater to be part of your life?

Ellen Cribbs: Ever since I was in 1st grade, I was determined to be a scientist (a geologist specifically). My family lived on an army base in Germany at the time and although I was too young for the community theatre productions, my mom would take me to rehearsals since she and my brothers were in the shows and my Dad was in the field. I would watch rehearsals for hours, longing to be part of a show. Fast forward to high school, I was in a science program at my school where about 70% of my classes were in different scientific fields. I started doing community theatre again at that time, and I vividly remember the day when I was in 10th grade and told my parents I didn’t want to be a scientist anymore… I wanted to be an actor. They just said “okay.” I quit the science program and two years later I was attending Ithaca College earning my BFA in Acting.

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Directing “A Servant of Two Masters” for Confetti Stage. Have you ever directed before? What has come as the greatest surprise in directing a show?

I have directed on and off since I was a kid, but fairly sparingly. I always love directing, but after directing a show, I usually want a year break from directing to focus on getting back onstage as an actor. Then the directing bug hits again. The biggest (and most recent) production I directed was “Macbeth” for the Shakespeare All-Stars in Chicago. 

This production of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters” was translated and adapted for modern audiences by Oded Gross and Tracy Young; with original music by Paul James Prendergast and original lyrics by Odet Gross, Paul James Prendergast and Tracy Young. Why this play and this adaptation?

When I was putting together a proposal to direct “Servant of Two Masters”, I took many script adaptations with me on vacation. As I sat by the river relaxing, I read through the various versions of the show. As soon as I read this adaptation, I knew it was the one I wanted to direct. When I told my husband, he said “yeah, I knew you would pick that one – that’s the one where I heard you laugh out loud several times.” This adaptation stands out for several reasons. It is definitely more modern than most translations, it has music, and it is constructed as a “play within a play” with the acting troupe breaking the 4th wall and having to perform “Servant of Two Masters” using old props and costumes from previous productions due to their limited budget. It’s simply a good time, which I think we all need after such a long 2020.

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After being away from it for a year and a half and now opening a show on Friday, what have you learned about the role of theater in your life? What is the irreplaceable element?

To be perfectly honest, the combination of being a new mother and the pandemic hitting at the same time was really tough for me. Not having theatre felt like a loss among so many other challenges of 2020. I was lucky enough to sneak in one show after my daughter was born (“Sea Marks” at Theater Voices) before everything shut down, and it was really helpful for me to have a project to work on. I love being a mom and would never trade it for the world, but I came to realize this year that so much of “Ellen” is linked to the theatre. It’s an essential part of my identity that I really missed last year. It’s important to do things for yourself as a parent, and theatre IS the thing I do for myself. It allows me to stretch my creative muscles and produce art to share with the world, and for me, there is nothing else like that.

What are your hopes for Capital Region theater emerging from this cataclysm?

I hope we all move forward from this with kindness and openness. I have been very impressed and embraced by the Capital Region theatre scene since moving here in 2017, so I hope we hold onto that wonderful feeling of community as theater starts to open again. Now more than ever, after such a long hiatus, there is no room for hatred, cattiness, or disrespect in the theatre. From the director to the actors, the design team, stagehands, and tech crew… everyone needs to feel safe, respected and heard. Theater is a precious gift, so let’s not waste it.

“A Servant of Two Masters” 8/6-8/15

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All performances will take place at The Shaker Heritage Society, 25 Meeting House Road, Albany, NY 12211. Please bring your own seats, blankets, and bug spray.

Tickets will be available at the door or may be reserved by calling the Confetti Stage Box Office at (518) 460-1167. Online ticketing available at http://confettistage.org/buy-tickets.

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