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Debating Our Country’s Future – With Marissa Gast of “What the Constitution Means to Me”

February 10, 2023

When Marissa Gast moved to Sarasota to be an Acting Apprentice at FST, she knew she would spend a year learning from FST’s team of professional artists, but she had no idea that she would be a key cast member of one of FST’s Mainstage productions.

Marissa Gast makes her FST Mainstage debut this season with What the Constitution Means to Me, an Obie Award-winning play by Heidi Schreck, charting how the U.S. Constitution impacted the lives of four generations of women in Schreck’s family. The second part of the contemporary, comedic play finds the character of Heidi Schreck (played by Amy Bodnar in FST’s production) debating a young woman about whether The Constitution should be abolished or not.

We sat down with Marissa to talk about her pre-show rituals, the rehearsal process for What the Constitution Means to Me, and what it’s like to perform with two Broadway-caliber actors.

You’ve been an Acting Apprentice at FST since September. What does being an Acting Apprentice mean? What have you done since you came to Sarasota?

Acting Apprentices are emerging artists right out of college who spend a year at FST getting first-hand experience in the industry, getting a well-rounded understanding of what it takes to run a professional regional theatre.

Since arriving in Sarasota this past fall, I played Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, the first production in FST’s Children’s Theatre Series. We used Spanish Web and aerial silks—both of which I have experience with and training in—to help tell the story of Charlotte’s Web. I actually started rehearsals for What the Constitution Means to Me while I was still playing Charlotte. It was such an interesting contrast to be working on both shows at the same time and to be playing two such different characters.

What was the rehearsal process like for What the Constitution Means to Me like?

I alternate performances with Deysha Nelson to play the young woman who takes the stage to go head-to-head with Amy Bodnar in part two of the play.

Deysha and I worked with the show’s director, Kate Alexander, on the opening and closing of the debate. We worked on how the words sounded as well as what they meant. This period of time allowed me to explore my connection to and the personal stakes I have in relation to the U.S. Constitution, which helped light the fire for the debate with Amy.

I also had the opportunity to sit in on some of the rehearsals to watch Amy Bodnar and Kevin Loreque—the two primary actors in this show—work together. It was a great learning experience to see them explore the text, the story, and the highs and lows of this play together. It was helpful to see what set the debate into motion, so that I could connect the dots and genuinely reference things from earlier on in the play.

What is it like working with Kevin and Amy, both of whom are veteran actors?

It has been fantastic working with such experienced actors. This show requires the actors to be so brave and so real with themselves, each other, and the audience. I love debating with Amy because I know she is always there with me, in the moment, on her toes, and ready to refute whatever I say. Kevin is so funny and so heartfelt. Offstage, they are both really kind, and I’ve gotten advice from Amy that I will take with me long after the show closes.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

While I’m waiting backstage, I listen. I listen to Kevin and Amy, and I listen to the audience. A couple minutes before the debate, I do some squats, swing my arms, and do some jumping jacks to get the blood pumping to my brain. I’m not lying when I say that the debate “keeps you on your toes.” And then I listen more, especially during Amy’s final remarks as Heidi and the recording of Justice Ginsburg. 

What surprised you about the debate portion of this show?

During rehearsals, I actually argued the proposition side of the debate, but since then, I’ve also debated for the opposition too. Debate is challenging because it is both impersonal and personal. You have to commit to your arguments and make good points, no matter what your own stance is on the motion. You have to argue points that are objective and substantial. But you also have to be able to relate it to yourself, especially in your opening and closing remarks, when you are appealing straight to the judges.

What the Constitution Means to Me played in FST’s Keating Theatre through February 26, 2023.