By Lindsay Eberly
I recently sat down for a chat with Emerson Artist-in-Residence, and current star of New Rep’s Bakersfield Mist, Ken Cheeseman on his recent absence from Emerson College. His time away from Emerson was anything but a vacation. He was a little busy performing the role of Pischick in Classic Stage Company’s Off-Broadway revival of The Cherry Orchard with the likes of Dianne Wiest and John Turturro.
I like to begin a discussion with any theatre professional with the obvious question: How did you get to this point? The answer usually reveals a whole host of interesting topics and follow-up questions. Not disappointing me, it was soon discovered that Ken Cheeseman has acting in his bones. His mother was an actress at Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island when he was a child so he had been raised around the theatre.
Despite his childhood spent around the theater, Cheeseman went to college to study anthropology. After graduating and spending quite a lot of time riding around the country on his bicycle, he came full circle and enrolled in the graduate conservatory at Trinity Rep. After completing the program he was immediately drawn to teaching and, as his Emerson students can attest, he has quite the knack for it. He began his career teaching at Emerson eight years ago.
The story about how he came to the role of Pischick in The Cherry Orchard is just as interesting. Cheeseman had previously worked with director Andrei Belgrader in Classic Stage Company’s 1993 production of Scapin where Cheeseman played opposite Stanley Tucci. Belgrader and Cheeseman developed a close friendship and, ever since that highly successful collaboration, had been looking for a chance to work together again. When the opportunity for Belgrader to direct The Cherry Orchard was presented, they both knew that such an opportunity had arisen.
The Cherry Orchard enjoyed a successful run, including two extensions. Apparently this was a case of Chekhov done right. When I asked Cheeseman his thoughts on why Chekhov is so often misunderstood on the American stage he pointed out that the Americans have trouble understanding the humor and spirit of Russian theatre. He thinks this is because the Russian spirit is more similar to that of the British than it is to American.
He added that this experience made him miss teaching. While away working in the field, he observed the same techniques the acting faculty is teaching at Emerson being employed by his fellow professional actors. He was eager to return and continue training Emerson actors in a way that will prepare them for work beyond their college careers.
Emerson’s Berkeley Beacon recently interviewed Cheeseman on his role in Bakersfield Mist. Read the article here and if you’d like to see Cheeseman in his current role at the New Repertory Company, read more information about Bakersfield Mist.
Lindsay Eberly is a senior BFA Stage/Production Management major at Emerson College.