Director Anne Kraft is anxious to see her work on the play “Two for the Seesaw” for the first time, and she knows her two stars, local theater veterans Annie Gaybis and Peter Gutierrez, are anxious to see themselves, too.
Kraft – a St. Augustine resident, co-founder of that city’s Limelight Theatre and a veteran performer with Palm Coast’s City Repertory Theatre – directed an independent production of that 1958 Broadway play by William Gibson, in which a Nebraska lawyer flees his failing marriage by moving to New York City, where he meets a young, eccentric Jewish dancer.
“When they say the words ‘opposites attract,’ it was never more true than in this play,” Gaybis said on her website, anniegaybis.com.
But patrons won’t be able to see “Two for the Seesaw” live at a local venue. The play, a benefit for the Palm Coast Arts Foundation and City Rep, was professionally filmed by Eclipse Studios at its facility in St. Augustine, and will be available to view online Feb. 5-7 and 12-14. Tickets are $25 for PCAF members and CRT subscribers, and $30 for the general public. Tickets and viewing details are online here.
As of this writing, Kraft, PCAF executive director Nancy Crouch and the two performers had yet to view the final video edit, which was handled by Eclipse’s Angie Bailey following the three-camera shoot.
Kraft says the modus operandi for her and the actors was largely “to ignore” the presence of the cameras as they brought the play to life, even though “of course we had to be aware of what was going on for angles and whatnot. But we had people (the film crew) there who were very good about it.”
While Kraft confesses she had to relinquish “a bit” of artistic control during the post-production process, she adds, “I’m so anxious to see the final cut, and I know Annie is and Peter too. I feel very comfortable with what will come out.”
A real-life seesaw of anxiety afflicted the trio during rehearsals: Early on, members of Gutierrez’s family tested positive for Covid-19 while he did not, Gaybis said on her website. After moving to Zoom for rehearsals, Gutierrez’s family recovered and tested negative, rehearsals resumed at Kraft’s home, and then Kraft had to undergo surgery. After returning from the hospital and resuming rehearsals, Kraft tested positive for Covid-19. Gutierrez subsequently again tested negative, as did Gaybis. All parties have now recovered.
Gaybis wrote on her website: “As I said to Peter when we finished the last day of shoot: ‘In a million years would you have ever thought that title of the play became our reality?’ ”
Kraft, a St. Augustine native, worked 25 years as a professional actor in New York before returning to Florida, where she has worked with Limelight and A Classic Theatre in St. Augustine, and performed in City Rep productions of “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Women,” “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” “Other Desert Cities” and more.
While Kraft has directed numerous productions, doing so for a virtual presentation “is totally new for me,” she says. “But we need to keep trying new things. It’s a play like no other. I’m absolutely blown away by the technology of today.”
Gaybis, however, has long been at home in front of the camera, mostly before she and her husband, comedian-actor John Byner, moved to Flagler County from Los Angeles in 2004 because he “wanted to get out of the middle of earthquakes and the craziness of show business,” Gaybis said in a previous interview. “He wanted to move to clean air and have space. We ended up here.”
Gaybis, who graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a degree in theater education and a minor in dance, played a hooker in the 1984 Tom Hanks comedy “Bachelor Party,” a Chicken Ranch girl in the film version of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” a cashier in “Friday the 13th Part III,” a nightclub dancer in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” and a Cheetah Dancer in Paul Verhoeven’s notorious “Showgirls,” among other movie roles.
On television she’s appeared on “Baywatch,” “Sliders,” “Married With Children,” “Leeza” and other series. She’s performed dancing and non-singing roles in operas with Placido Domingo.
Since moving to Flagler, Gaybis has played Eliza Doolittle in “Pygmalion” and Cherie in “Bus Stop” at City Repertory Theatre, among other roles. Gutierrez, also a City Rep veteran, previously performed with Gaybis in area productions of “Chapter Two,” “Love Letters” and “The Rainmaker.”
The filmed virtual production of “Two for the Seesaw” was the brainchild of Gaybis, and on her website she doesn’t mince words about her motivation: “It’s all to help an arts foundation that is about to go broke and a rep company that is in the same situation.”
Nancy Crouch, the Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s executive director, notes that the pandemic has once again forced PCAF to cancel its annual Picnic and Pops, the popular, annual spring outdoor concert featuring the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra – and which serves as PCAF’s major fundraiser.
Staging a symphony concert “still costs the same whether you have 10 people or 1000 people attend,” Crouch says. “We had to make some really, really serious judgment calls, and we had to scratch it this year. So Annie came to us, and she’s done several things (benefit performances) with us successfully. She’s got a big reach from coast to coast — from California to New York, not Florida’s coasts (laughs).
“She wanted to do a two-person play, and we wanted to do something virtual for obvious reasons – no one wants to come out into a crowded audience. So we thought ‘Let’s experiment with this.’ A lot of people are starting to do things, but I think we are the only one in the area, maybe outside of Orlando, that is actually doing a play we created in a studio. I haven’t seen the entire play because it’s locked into the show website now. I’ve only seen the trailer and bits and pieces of it, but the studio production is very elaborate, with three cameras.”
City Repertory Theatre joined with PCAF to co-produce “Seesaw,” although the play is not a CRT show and neither City Rep director John Sbordone nor any other members of the troupe had any artistic input.
“CRT came on board to help us split the expenses and also the revenues that are generated from this,” Crouch says. “CRT and we are very supportive of one another. We are allowing them, of course, the use of our outdoor stage for their season so that they don’t have to fold. They still have expenses too, just like the rest of us. We’re just trying to promote one another and promote the arts and promote theater.”
The production’s bottom line received a boost when ParkSide Realty Group, owned by broker Sam Perkovich, became a sponsor. Perkovich, Crouch notes, is PCAF’s president.
“So, we just have to sell some tickets,” Crouch says. “This play has a lot of firsts – it’s all in the infancy stage here. It’s an experiment. It’s exciting. PCAF is never afraid to do anything risky, edgy, to put something new out there to the community, even if we make no money on it. Everybody still wants that personal theater experience. Until we can do that again, we’re still trying to offer that experience in the comfort of your own home.
“And the beauty of this is that it’s global. You don’t have to live here in our little community to enjoy this. We are hoping people share this with their family and friends all over the country, to try to get people to support the arts in a small community.”
PCAF is dedicating the play to former Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, who died in January from Covid-19, Crouch says.
“He was such a supporter of the arts,” she says. “You could see him in the front row of everything going on in town. He was always at our events, at CRT events, at the Flagler Playhouse. He just supported the arts. I thought this was a very timely opportunity to recognize that.”
Crouch expresses gratitude for the creative trio of “Two for the Seesaw”: “Peter and Annie are wonderful actors. They put a lot of time into this – studio time, learning their roles — and they did it for free. So did Anne. That’s just amazing to me. That just shows their heart. I can’t thank them enough.”