Krista Apple’s husband pointed out that in her role as Brooke Wyeth in “Other Desert Cities” at the Walnut Street Theatre, she would be performing for more people in one night than the combined number of people watching her in her next role as Queen Elizabeth with the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective throughout the show’s 17-day run.
With more than 1,000 people watching her perform the latest play in Walnut Street Theatre’s 2014 season at every performance, Apple realized how vast 1,000 people are in one theater, and how different that is for her.
“I love that side of human nature,” Apple said. “The side that loves to be told a story and be in the room that it was told. It’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years, and it’s pretty important. When there are 1,000 people in the room, it really feels pretty important.”
In 2009 Apple graduated with an master’s of fine arts in acting, unsure of what kind of jobs she would have in theater.
“I started at Temple’s program assuming I would go right into a university teaching job, but the acting work started coming, and I obviously got into theater because of both my love of teaching and the art itself, so I wasn’t going to turn down that work,” Apple said.
Apple teaches at Drexel and the University of the Arts, and she has advised at Temple in the past, where she teaches acting to theater and non-theater majors.
“When you’re onstage, it’s very easy to feel really removed from the end result; it’s rare that you get to interact with the audience,” Apple said. “We don’t get to have conversations or actively know what effect we have on an audience. With teaching, you know immediately what effect you have on your students, semester to semester, class to class.”
Without ever being in Philadelphia before she studied at Temple, Apple said she chose this city because of the theater community.
“I like to call it the best kept theater secret in the country,” Apple said. “I know that what I do here, I couldn’t do anywhere else in the country. There is not a place in the country where there is this amount of available work and where I feel like I could be part of a community. I actually know the people I am making my art with.”
Apple described the Philly theater scene as a unique community, where it was easy to develop deep and meaningful artistic relationships over time. In her latest show, “Other Desert Cities” by Jon Robin Baitz, Apple said she was comfortable with her co-stars Greg Wood and Matteo Scammell, who play her father and brother in the show, because they have worked with her in the past.
“They are two of the people in the show that my character feels very close to,” Apple said. “It sure helps that I already feel close to them.”
The show is about Apple’s character Brooke, a liberal writer, when she returns home for Christmas to visit her conservative parents in Palm Springs, Calif., with the news that she had written a book about them. The news does not go over well, and all of the characters confront their differences, not only politically, but also with their ways of dealing with personal tragedy.
“It certainly is one of the largest roles I’ve played in a long time – it’s probably my biggest since leaving Temple,” Apple said. “It was a game changer for me, because it was one of the largest roles I’ve been given in Philly, and the largest theater.”
For Apple, the show seems to encourage the audience to take sides, and force them to notice more than just the lighting or costume design. It compels the audience to have conversations about the themes, issues and betrayals in the story.
“It’s a really powerful thing to be standing on stage not just for my character, but for the audience’s point of view as well,” Apple said. “I’m up there taking a side for people who know what it’s like to deal with a grief in a way that other people can’t acknowledge. You can hear the sides being taken in the room.”
As a producer of classical theater with her husband in the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, a small theater company that celebrates classical theater, Apple has not worked on a play that was written after 1920 in almost two years. Her next role as Queen Elizabeth in “Mary Stuart” with PAC, running April 2-19 at Broad Street Ministry, reflects the kind of work she typically does on stage.
“Whenever you are working on anything, but especially a classical piece, you have to keep your audience in mind,” Apple said. “Today we need things to happen faster and are interested in things that are only happening quickly. It’s all about the audience experience.”
“Other Desert Cities” at the Walnut Street Theatre runs until March 2.
Emily Rolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.