5 Questions with Jennifer Van Iderstyne
Jennifer Van Iderstyne is directing this weekend’s Capital Region premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists” at Schenectady Civic Players. It’s an interesting choice for many reasons. It’s a diverse cast of four women taking on a historical epic focused on regime change that has devolved from lofty ideals to violent male rhetoric. Here’s hoping we see ourselves in these four.
PW: So, who are “The Revolutionists,” what are they revolting against, and how is their struggle reflected today?
JV: “The Revolutionists” are four badass women in France who become friends and help each other find clarity, strength, and humor in a dark time. Three of them are based on real women that lived and died during the French Revolution.
To me, the heart of the story is less about what or who they’re fighting against and more about what they’re fighting for. They all want to make a difference in the world in their own ways. On a broader scale, they’re fighting for grand ideals like equality, freedom, and justice, even if they don’t always agree on how to do it.
On a deeply personal level, they’re fighting for the right to have a voice, to define their own identities, and have agency over their lives and bodies. You might be able to see where I’m going with this…
The fight for self-definition and agency continues every day all around us. In that sense, their mission is very relatable to the world we live in today. But their relationships and the “sisterhood of heroes” they create together, I think, will also resonate with audiences. I hope it will remind women and men of the friends in their lives who inspire them to be better versions of themselves.
PW: This is your second Lauren Gunderson play after “Silent Sky” for SCP in the summer of ’19. What do you love about her writing, and is there another Gunderson you would like to take on?
JV: Yes, I love Lauren Gunderson. I really appreciate how she shines a light on unsung women who have had a bigger impact on history than most of us know. Women like Henrietta Leavitt and Olympe de Gouges were pioneers, and Gunderson does a beautiful job of telling their stories with humor and heart.
As for another one, I think that between the two of us, Laura Darling and I may just cover her entire catalog eventually.
PW: Congratulations, and thank you for your service. You’ve been wearing two hats this season as you have also been serving as President of SCP as well as directing this production and assisting Ellen Cribbs with “Jump” at ACT. What have you learned by taking on this new responsibility?
JV: Community theaters take an absolute village to operate. Each production has an entire team behind it that no one sees, and those are important and often difficult jobs. But behind that team, no one sees is yet another team that people see even less.
Those are the people keeping the doors open and the lights on. The people trying to preserve a legacy while building the future. It is a pure labor of love. I think I’m more aware than I’ve ever been of the quiet generosity and dedication that has to exist behind the scenes in order for theaters to survive.
PW: What is the play that changed your life?
JV: It has to be “George M!” It was the first play I ever did at 9 years old. I went to Mohonasen, and the drama program there was K-12 inclusive. I found out about auditions the day they were happening, and I just knew I needed to be there.
I had to call my mom at work and have her sign the permission slip by proxy so I could go. Neither of us knew at the time, but that call was a turning point. I did “George M!” that year and have gone on to do at least one show a year, nearly every year of my life since.
PW: You’ve been performing and producing at a very high level for a long time in the Capital Region; how do you feel about opportunities available to you and the theater’s growth in that time?
JV: Well, thank you for that. I love Capital Region theater. If you want to do theater, there’s always an opportunity to be part of something. If an audition doesn’t work out, there’s probably another one at another theater in the next few weeks or an opening on the production team. There is always somewhere that needs you.
There’s been a lot of change in the last 20 years. Not just in terms of the growth of the theater community but the rapid proliferation of easily accessible entertainment. But I think the optimistic way to view that change is by challenging ourselves to create visceral theater that needs to be experienced in person. And that prospect is exciting as an actor, a director, a board member, and an audience member.
Can I end with a shout-out to the team? To the cast and production team of The Revolutionists, you are all mind-blowingly amazing and I love you dearly. Thank you for making this adventure possible and bringing a dream to life.