The Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895 was an exciting time in Atlanta. The world was changing and the city was changing. In the world premiere of Janece Shaffer’s The Geller Girls, Roselee and Louisa Geller (played by Courtney Patterson and Ann Marie Gideon, are caught in the change and uncertainty that this exciting time in the city’s history brings. In this Feature Q & A, Patterson and Gideon discuss the play, the costumes and more.
Who are the Geller Girls?
Patterson: The Geller Girls are Rosalee and Louisa. They are the children of their father, Albert, and their late mother. They are girls who are changed forever by the Cotton States Exposition of 1895 and what it brings to Atlanta and to their home.
Gideon: The Geller Girls are two young Jewish sisters living in Atlanta in 1895. They couldn’t be more different, and yet they are both yearning for MORE out of life during a time where life for a woman was “from your father’s house to your husband’s house.” Times are changing for women, and both sisters are fueled by these new desires for freedom.
What do you enjoy most about playing your character?
Patterson: Riding a bike on stage!
Gideon: I relate so much to Louisa – her bubbly vitality for life, her love for her family and her hunger for discovery. She’s passionate and smart and aching to figure out what she truly wants out of life. I love telling her story.
How would you describe the play?
Patterson: The play is a funny, touching coming-of-age story at a time in our city’s history that changed Atlanta forever.
Gideon: This play is an incredibly poignant, historical comedy. There are lots of laughs, but there’s some heartache, too. A timeless tale of family and how we deal with change – something almost everyone can relate to.
What do you think audiences will enjoy most about the production?
Gideon: The bicycle scene . . . that’s all I’ll say!
As a period piece, do you wear intricate costumes?
Patterson: Yes, we are wearing period clothes from corsets and bustles to hats and gloves. Because the play takes place over the 100 days of the Exposition, there are almost new outfits for each scene. I think every single one of my changes in Act II is a quick change that happens in less than a minute.
Gideon: We are beautifully costumed in 1890’s apparel. Corsets, petticoats, lace-up boots, full skirts, high collared blouses, tailored coats, hats, gloves, etc. All my little girl dreams of playing pretend and dress-up for a living are being fully realized! I have 10 costume changes in all.
Is it difficult wearing period costumes?
Patterson: Well, the corsets certainly make breath support difficult, not to mention bending over.
Gideon: It’s unusual at first to wear a tight corset and navigate your path on set in full skirts and petticoats, but you get use to it, and it becomes a part of your character and how they move.
Do you have a favorite costume that you wear?
Patterson: After wearing layers of bustles and petticoats and skirts, changing into the pantaloons is fantastic!
Gideon: My favorite costume is the one I wear at the Exposition. It’s a gorgeously detailed bolero and a BIG, beautiful hat.
What makes working with each other enjoyable?
Patterson: We genuinely enjoy each other’s company so that makes it easy to become a family for 2 ½ hours. We’re really lucky. It doesn’t always work out like that.
Gideon: We laugh all the time. It keeps us connected and positive.
Besides your own character, who is the character that you enjoy the most?
Patterson: If I could play another character in the show, I would want to play Charles (Joe Sykes’ role). Charles is an electric spark that travels south into the Geller home and changes their lives and his own forever. It’s such a great trajectory. So fun.
Gideon: I love Sarahann. She’s the misunderstood Southern matriarch who genuinely wants what’s best for her daughters. She just often lets her own unfulfilled desires get in the way of her good intentions.
The Geller Girls plays on the Alliance Theatre’s main stage through February 9, 2014. For ticket and more information, please visit the theater’s website.