News Column

'Behind the Eye's' Annie Enneking can also rock the house

May 1, 2014

By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

May 01--When Annie Enneking was chosen to play photographer Lee Miller in Park Square Theatre's "Behind the Eye," her first instinct wasn't to read about the model-turned-war correspondent. It was to look at her photographs.

"What I love about her is that she goes, 'I'm going to do whatever I want.' Who does that?" Enneking asks. "At some point, she couldn't stand being a model anymore. She wanted to be the photographer instead of being photographed, so her first decision was to go to Paris and study with (pioneering photographer) Man Ray."

Eventually, Enneking read everything she could about Miller. But it was the photographs, which range from fashion shoots to victims of the Dachau concentration camp, that revealed the most about the character Enneking plays in Carson Kreitzer's drama about Miller's remarkable life.

Miller died at 70, in 1977.

"The first one I looked at is this beautiful picture of a pyramid, but it's not the pyramid she is photographing, it's the shadow of the pyramid," Enneking says. "I realized: She doesn't want the object; she wants the evidence of the object."

That insight shows how deeply Enneking has burrowed into her character, according to "Behind the Eye" director Leah Cooper.

"She works harder than anyone I've ever seen," Cooper says. "She's so precise and so prepared. She was off book (not reading from the script) a week into rehearsals, in a show where she has 80 percent of the dialogue, and I think that has really served her."

So has Enneking's mercurial creative life, which ranges from singing in a rock band (Cooper took Kreitzer to see Enneking's band to show her the actress had the charisma to play Miller) to teaching stage fighting.

"Her passion is evident in everything she does. She's just one of those joy performers to work with," Cooper says. "I think the precision of her work is informed by her music and her choreography and all that other stuff."

"All that other stuff" is a LOT of other stuff, beginning with stage combat.

SHE CAN BEAT YOU UP

Well, at least Enneking can make it look like she's beating you up. She has choreographed stage violence for dozens of productions, including "Venus in Fur" at the Jungle, "Of Mice and Men" at Park Square and "Jackie and Me" at Children's Theatre Company. Like many aspects of Enneking's life, her love of stage combat began with a moment of clarity.

"I was in a play eight or 10 years ago where I got to hold a broadsword and, I swear to God, I was holding that thing and thought, 'My arm is complete,' " says Enneking, assuming a vaguely Mel Gibson-ish accent for that last part. "I was a dancer for a long time, so the movement of it just felt good to me. And I had been a gymnast, so the grounded feeling felt good. Also, it's the epitome of the acting-and-reacting we talk about in acting classes. You're really communicating with the person you're fighting with."

Enneking says the challenge of staging a fight is figuring out how to tell stories: What are the characters trying to accomplish? Are they good at fighting? How do they react if they are winning?

"A lot of it is about creating movement that feels right to the actors and I think some of those principles might be useful to a person on the street," Enneking says. "I'm not saying I could throw down on the street but I do seek to create fights that, while safe, don't look safe. That's the ultimate goal.

"

SHE WILL, SHE WILL ROCK YOU

Being in a rock band also puts Enneking on stage, but she says playing with her rock band, Annie and the Bang Bang, is "totally different from theater. I can unleash myself. Playing a role, I have to shift around inside the confines of a character, so that's a different joy. In rock, anything can happen."

The band, which will record its second album this spring and summer, has played at the Turf Club and Palmer's, they have a regular gig at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins and they will be playing as part of Art-a-Whirl in Northeast Minneapolis later this month. Wherever they're playing, Enneking says, "I love performing with these guys (drummer Chadly Koppenhaver and bass player Tom Penney). When things are going well, it's so explosive."

Not surprisingly, parts of Enneking's other creative lives occasionally bleed into being a rocker.

"Sometimes, I like to have the audience come up on stage and fight in slow motion because I want the room to have an experience," Enneking says. "It's my ultimate goal to have bizarre, out-of-nowhere stage fights break out during a song. I think that would be really fun."

SHE STARTED THIS ALL AS A KID

Enneking is only 46 but she's in her fourth decade as an actress. After her family moved from Seattle to Minneapolis, her mom took her to see "The Marvelous Land of Oz" at Children's Theater Company and she had an experience similar to the one with the sword.

"I watched that play and thought, 'I want this.' I'm sure most people have an experience like that where something tells them, 'Go here. Do this.' Like it's already in you, waiting for you to recognize it," Enneking says. She didn't get cast in the first CTC show she auditioned for but she did get into a summer school program there.

Ultimately, Enneking appeared in dozens of shows, including one as CTC's original Pippi Longstocking, opposite her then-teacher, the Twin Cities theater legend Wendy Lehr.

"At the time, there would be one or two students who would get a lot of focus. So I had a lot of responsibility. It was lovely and it was hard," Enneking says. "I didn't get much math or science but I got a lot of theater. I look back now and remember standing backstage, watching all those brilliant adult actors and thinking, 'Wow, this is an education.' "

SHE ALSO TEACHES

Enneking has taught theater and stage combat but feels more comfortable with fighting.

"Teaching stage combat, I can give specific instructions: 'Send your energy out the tip of your blade,' 'Aim for the shirtsleeve,' 'Make eye contact,' " says Enneking, who lives in Minneapolis with husband Jeremy Norton, a firefighter, and their two daughters. But acting is not so straightforward.

"As an acting teacher, it's so hard to talk about the process of becoming more emotionally connected to a person on stage. That's amorphous to me," Enneking says. "In stage combat, the wrong way is if a person gets hurt but, in theater, there's no right or wrong way. Or, I guess, there are so many right ways that I find it hard to teach."

SHE WRITES THE SONGS

Enneking has been composing songs since was 15. Sometimes, her songs find their way to Annie and the Bang Bang but she also writes for the characters she plays and she has completed a batch of songs for an as-yet-untitled theater project about the mythical sirens, whose beautiful music was said to lead sailors to their dooms.

"The songs feel like they're about love and loss, death and transformation," says Enneking, who plans to develop the siren piece with actor/director Samantha Johns and Open Eye Theatre.

The sirens project will deal with the idea that the women are doing what they were created to do -- sing -- but it causes harm in the world. But when Enneking talks about the themes of the piece, she could also be talking about being a creative person.

"I'm really curious about the idea that the things that bring us the most joy are also sometimes really painful," she says, mentioning the ships that crash because sailors are obsessed with their songs. "The sirens have to deal with, 'If I can't sing anymore, what am I supposed to do?' "

It's a question all artists end up facing at some point but Enneking has alternatives ready if, for some reason, she decides to stop singing: Act, teach, brandish a sword, choreograph a fight.

"I used to think I had to choose, that I couldn't be a singer and an actor and a dancer," Enneking says. "But then I realized it's all the same thing: this massive desire to express myself."

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552. Follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie.

IF YOU GO

What: "Behind The Eye"

When: Through May 18

Where: Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul

Tickets: $58-$38; parksquaretheatre.org or 651-291-7005

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com

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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


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