Saturday, June 8, 2019

INTERVIEW: Rhyn Saver in "The Cake"

When I saw the casting for The Cake at Horizon Theatre Company, my face lit up as if  it'd been years since seeing a dear friend. In actuality, it'd only been a few weeks, but I've been a fan of Rhyn McLemore Saver since the first time I saw her on stage, which turned out to be her first Atlanta performance. I'm thrilled to bring you this interview with Rhyn during the run of The Cake, on stage now through Sunday, June 23.

Rhyn Saver | Photo: Mark Bradley Miller
Rhyn Saver | Photo: Mark Bradley Miller

Before we get to the interview, allow me to set the stage. The Cake was written by Bekah Brunstetter, writer of the hit television series This Is Us, as well as a number of other shows. If you've seen This Is Us, you already know what a treat The Cake is going to be.

The Cake is loosely based on the Supreme Court case of a Colorado baker's refusal to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. This story, set in Winston, North Carolina, is not about forcing acceptance down anyone's throat, but instead it's presented with hope of opening hearts.

Now, let's meet the phenomenal and totally awesome Rhyn...

wanderlust ATLANTAPlease share with us a little about your journey to Atlanta, and then your journey to the stage at Horizon Theatre.

Rhyn SaverAs a Southern woman (born and raised on Jekyll Island, GA), I've always felt strong ties to my home state. No matter where I've traveled or lived, my heart has always remained in Georgia. 

My theater training took me up north to Pittsburgh, where I received my BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. From there, New York City became my home base for well over a decade. Throughout my career, I've always kept a finger on the pulse of the Atlanta theater community, looking for potential job opportunities to bring me back down South. 

I'm forever grateful to Freddie Ashley for giving me my first job in Atlanta (Stupid F*cking Bird at Actors Express), which was a wonderful introduction for me into the Atlanta theater community. 

Since then I've been fortunate enough to work at many incredible theaters here in Atlanta. I still have representation in NYC, and I go up to NYC now and then for various auditions; but I'm thrilled to now call Atlanta my home base. Horizon Theatre has been on my bucket list of places to work, and I'm so excited to be doing this gorgeous play at this fantastic theater!

I was first introduced to The Cake a few years ago when I did an initial workshop of it at The Alliance. Marcie Millard (who plays Della in our current production) played Della in that workshop, and we had the immense honor of working directly with the brilliant playwright Bekah Brunstetter. I remember thinking, "Man oh MAN I hope I get to do a full production of this someday". And now here we are—years later—doing it at Horizon! And the fact that I get to do it again with Marcie?! Well, that's some pretty delicious icing on the cake, pun intended.

wanderlust ATLANTA: This was my second time seeing Parris Sarter (Macy, Jen's fiancée in The Cake) perform and I certainly hope not my last. (She was amazing in The Revolutionists) She's brilliant in this role, being true to her character's real self in interactions with Jen and Della. You'll see the later in the opening scene and you'll get Parris' deep talent right away.

Macy (Parris Sarter) and Jen (Rhyn McLemore Saver) in "The Cake" at Horizon Theatre Company
Macy (Parris Sarter) and Jen (Rhyn McLemore Saver) in "The Cake"

wanderlust ATLANTAAs an actor—and as a human being—how do you reconcile or separate political and religious beliefs from the character you're playing when they're not in alignment? Or even when they are?

Rhyn SaverI love this question. The simple answer: empathy. 

I have played myriad characters that are the polar opposite of all that I believe in: from an extreme racist, to a homophobe, to a murderer...I've played them all. And every time I had to dig deep to discover the underlying emotions driving these characters. And EVERY time, I've discovered a common thread: fear. Specifically: fear of the unknown. Fear is such an incredibly powerful emotion, and it's often  the driving force behind acts of unkindess and hatred. 

I'm able to get into the minds of these characters by placing myself in their shoes and seeing through their eyes. It's uncomfortable, but necessary in order to live their truths. 

In the case of my character in The Cake (Jen), our beliefs happen to very much align. She is torn between two different worlds: the world of her religious, Southern  upbringing and the world of her life in NY and her love for Macy (her fiancée). She is struggling to stay true to her roots and her faith, while also staying true to her authentic self.

Like Jen, I am a Southern woman who was raised with a strong Christian faith, but have found myself questioning certain beliefs within that faith. Also like Jen, I've found that "the parties (up North) are easier when people start talking shit about people down here, I just nod and say 'totally'. But something inside of me burns a little, so in my head I go away. I just go away". I have totally been there, and I can completely relate.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Marcie Millard is hilarious! She plays Della, owner of a famous bakery in Winston, NC, and she's just been selected as a contestant on the most popular baking who on American television! We, the audience get to venture inside her blissful-turned-confused imagination while "on the set" of the television show. She's also a devout Southern Baptist, which she has to reconcile with her love for her best friend's daughter when asked to make her wedding cake.

When you meet Tim (Allan Edwards), you'll wish you'd checked your funny bone at the door, because it's going to hurt! Tim is the antagonist in the play--and damn funny about it--but his love for his wife is undeniable.

Della (Marcie Millard) and Tim (Allan Edwards) in "The Cake" at Horizon Theatre Company
Della (Marcie Millard) and Tim (Allan Edwards) in "The Cake"

wanderlust ATLANTA: All of us theatre enthusiasts know how little free time you have, but when you do have a little time to do something for you, or just for fun, what do you find yourself doing?

Rhyn SaverAs someone whose job is to be in the spotlight, I tend to shy far, far away from the spotlight on my days off. :) I'm definitely a bit of an introvert, and I cherish my alone time. So my days off are usually spent at home with my pup Sadie, some delish delivery (I'm fairly certain I keep Postmates in business), and Netflix. :) I also LOVE spinning, so I try to take class at least 4-5 times a week (shout out to my Vibe Ride family in Grant Park!)

wanderlust ATLANTAYou’ve been in Atlanta for a few years now. What has been your biggest surprise about Atlanta? Has anything changed your mind, for better or worse, about Atlanta?

Rhyn SaverI actually spent a lot of time in Atlanta long before I became a part of its incredible theater community. My sister has lived here for a long time, so I have many happy memories of various visits and holidays over the years. 

I think the biggest surprise (and greatest blessing) for me has been how head-over-heels in love I have become with the Atlanta theater community. I always knew I wanted to work here, but it has been such a beautiful gift to realize that Atlanta is a true home for me, both personally and artistically.

Jen (Rhyn McLemore Saver) in "The Cake" at Horizon Theatre Company
Jen (Rhyn McLemore Saver) in "The Cake" at Horizon Theatre Company

wanderlust ATLANTAJust for fun, what’s your favorite kind of cake?

Rhyn SaverOh man...this is a tough one, mainly because I love cake. Period. If I *had* to choose? Red velvet. But only if it has cream cheese icing. Lots and lots of cream cheese icing. :)

wanderlust ATLANTA: I've said it dozens of times, one of my favorite parts of performances at Horizon Theatre--aside from the remarkable plays and musicals--is getting to meet, thank, and make photos wit the actors!

When you post your photos with the cast of The Cake, be sure to tag them on social media with #htcCAKE and #htc35.

Rhyn Saver and Travis Swann Taylor on the set of "The Cake" at Horizon Theatre Company
Rhyn Saver and Travis Swann Taylor on the set of "The Cake" at Horizon Theatre Company

Playwright Bekah Brunstetter's intent here was to write a play that would offer hope and serve as a model of how we might begin to talk to each other. “You still have to love your family. You still have to reach across the table… Della is lovable because most of the time your family members are lovable… You have to give people time to change, reevaluate and change some more,” said Brunstetter.
Part of Horizon Theatre's 35th anniversary year, you can see The Cake, in its South-Eastern premiere, now through Sunday, June 23, 2019...

  • Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8PM
  • Saturdays at 3PM & 8PM
  • Sundays at 5PM
And there's a special matinee on Thursday, June 20, 2019, at 11AM.

My most sincere gratitude to Rhyn Saver for giving me this interview, and to Horizon for coordinating it, and I hope you've enjoyed it, too. Come out to see Rhyn and the rest of the AMAZING cast in The Cake!

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