In Triangle, Sharon Rietkerk and Megan McGinnis (pictured below) play sisters who share a tenement building in 1911 New York City. You may be familiar with these two: Sharon was last seen at TheatreWorks in Marry Me a Little (2014), and Megan in Daddy Long Legs (2010). The two have just finished playing the Dashwood sisters in Paul Gordon’s Sense and Sensibility at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, but as soon as they arrived in Palo Alto and began rehearsing for Triangle, we had several questions for them both.
TWSV: You both played these roles in the developmental production at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma last year. How much of the story has changed since then?
Sharon: Counting the New Works Festival reading, this is my third time doing this role, lucky me! I am so happy to be working on the World Premiere. While the core of the story has remained the same, there have been big changes—entire numbers have been tossed out, and new songs written. New musicals are exciting and challenging and ever changing.
Megan: And I actually played Chaya [Sharon’s role] in a reading in 2006 of Triangle! And it has changed quite a bit from then. Since last year’s production, there are some small changes, but nothing radical. There is a new ending of Act One and new beginning to Act Two, and then some finessing throughout. And every day we make adjustments, as we explore this new script. It’s been really fun!
TWSV: Did you personally do research on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory or the fire? When you’re doing a show that’s based on a real-life person or event, do you spend time learning about that person or event? Or do you build the character mainly from the script and rehearsal?
Megan: Last year I toured the Tenement Museum in New York City. I was able to view actual tenement housing and hear stories of Russian immigrants and what their life was like. It was incredible. I’ve also done a fair amount of reading about the Triangle fire over the years. And for developing my character, I’ve relied on some of my own family history, as my dad’s ancestors were Jewish immigrants from Russia. But at the heart of it, my character develops from rehearsals, for sure.
Sharon: I think it is important to do the homework: to know what life was like for an immigrant woman in New York in 1911, how small a tenement building apartment really was, how hard these women worked to get by. Because I work on period pieces frequently, I feel like I am also always a history student! It adds a level of understanding, compassion, and authenticity to a performance. That being said, I always come back to the script, because that is the foundation. My choices have to be based on what is represented on the pages since that is the story we are collectively telling.
TWSV: We asked Director Meredith McDonough about the difference between a developmental production and this World Premiere production, and she phrased it like this: “It’s a different thing for actors. In a workshop, the questions are driven by the creative team. In a world premiere, I need the actors to come to the table with their ideas and questions and choices from day one. We all have to come to the table in a slightly different way.” Do you agree? What are you bringing to the table this time? Do you still have questions about the character even after all the time you’ve spent thinking about her?
Sharon: Each step in the process allows for growth. In this production, we have the advantage of bringing a deeper level of understanding of what worked and what could have worked even better in Oklahoma. It’s not as though my approach has changed, however my knowledge of the piece and of my characters has grown, so the questions I am asking are coming from a different place. I have the opportunity to bring up things that I had circled in my script when I got home from Oklahoma. My goal is to take everything I learned from that production and improve upon it.
TWSV: Without giving anything away, do you have a favorite song or scene in the show?
Sharon: There is one scene in Act I that starts off with my favorite line in the play. I look forward to saying it every night.
Megan: Sharon and I have an incredibly fun number in the first act where we get to celebrate the sisterly love that we have developed. We are working together now for our third time!
Sharon: Oh, anytime I get to share the stage with Megan is so much fun, so artistically satisfying. I will play her sister any time, any place, just sign me up!