CREEDE, COLO.: He’s the associate artistic director of Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT). She’s an award-winning actor who’s worked at theatres across the country. But before Caitlin Wise and John DiAntonio became a Creede Rep power couple, they started out as strangers on a bus en route to a callback. This month, they’re finishing the Creede Rep run of Kind of Red (June 3-Aug. 28), DiAntonio’s world premiere play, in which he stars alongside Wise.
How did you two meet? Did theatre or love come first, or was it some combination?
Caitlin Wise: On March 7, 2008, John and I climbed aboard the same Super Shuttle to take us to callback weekend at the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver. John sat in the front seat, and I was in the back. I remember seeing his profile and thinking he looked like an ancient Roman god. We toppled out together in front of the Curtis Hotel, realized we were there for the same reason, exchanged niceties, and then rode up the elevator in unknowing politeness. We were accepted into the MFA program along with eight other actors and so began a year and a half of friendship—laughing in classes, flying on trapezes, kissing in scenes, and a build-up of chemistry until the sparks caught hold, and we were swept up in love. We ate lobsters on my apartment roof, ran a marathon together, performed summer theatre, created plays, climbed 14ers, explored national parks, licked cake batter bowls, sang improvised songs, developed characters, laughed until we collapsed, ran from dogs, and loved exponentially.
John DiAntonio: We created an original low-flying trapeze piece in movement class inspired by Adam and Eve. Our first ever kiss was upside down, Spider-Man-style. It wasn’t soon after that I fell madly in love with Caitlin.
In what ways have you worked together?
Wise: John changed my way of working on plays. We were rehearsing a scene from Loot, and after a mediocre run in class, he insisted we work until midnight making each beat specific and funny. The next day our teacher’s jaw dropped after we performed. John never just “did” a piece. He always thought about each moment and wasn’t satisfied until he had an understanding for every bit of the scene. He has helped me become a far better actor.
DiAntonio: Creede Repertory Theatre has been our artistic home. Our final year of grad school, we auditioned for the theatre, and we’ve worked here every summer since. It constantly pushes you to expand as an actor, similar to life in grad school.
Tell me about working on Kind of Red.
Wise: When does anyone get to have a play written specifically for them and their talents? John knew I loved Lucille Ball and that comedy was my joy. He wrote me a part to shine in and tailored it to my strengths and energy. My heart is full to bursting every time I perform.
DiAntonio: The play was inspired by our life in New York City and my Lucille Ball-looking/acting wife. We got in contact with Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Lucille Ball, who put us in contact with CBS, and they were generous enough to give us permission. We are still amazed how fortunate we are to tell this story. The play revolves around Rick, a professional jazz trumpet player, who has hit rock bottom and sends a desperate prayer to Saint Lucia for guidance. Signals get crossed, and the universe sends him another memorable redhead to transform his life into a chaotic, hilarious, 1950s sitcom. Kind of Red is a fast-paced farce that explores the desire for fame, the passion of performance, and the longing for connection. It’s the best-selling world premiere in CRT’s 51-year history.
Caitlin and I have acted together a lot, but we’ve never had the experience of working on a play that means so much to both of us—written out of love and passion for art. Every night you can’t help feeling all of the heart and soul, and unavoidable history and relationship in every performance. We are each other’s muses.
Do you have “rules” in terms of parsing out theatre life and life life?
DiAntonio: We’d probably be a lot smarter if we did. If someone is doing a show out of town, we try to visit a lot. It may not be practical or financially feasible, but long distance is tough. It has this subtle, Iago-esque way of getting us on each other’s nerves. Probably because I’m terrible on the phone. So we visit each other. Something about being in the same room makes it possible to get on the same page. I guess that’s why theatre is so special too. Liveness!
Wise: Yes, we are both actors and we understand how the theatre works and what it takes to be in a show and that sometimes we will have to be apart and fall in love onstage with other people. But, for me, I never get used to seeing John kiss other women onstage. It is not something that has gotten easier over the years. I love to watch him perform, but he warns me when there are romantic scenes and I don’t watch them. This becomes a difficult rule when we are in the same show watching each other kiss different people!
We got married during a Creede season, on a Monday. That weekend, we had five different shows. The CRT costume shop altered my wedding dress. Our music director played the piano. Former artistic director Mo LaMee, who first hired us together, married us.
We do have some refuge from theatre—usually hiking, running, ice cream sundaes, and obviously Netflix.
What are the particular joys and draw backs of working with your beloved?
Wise: It is a joy to work with John because he gives and gives to his partner. I never feel like I’m being judged, and he has a wonderfully improvisational spirit. He is very consistent, and yet every night the moments are a little different. We can start at a whole new level of comfort when we work together because the trust and love is already there in heaps.
DiAntonio: I think one of the greatest joys of working with your beloved on a new play, like Kind of Red, is that we go through the entire journey together. Caitlin reads every draft, helps me figure out what the play is really about, makes my dialogue active, funny, and sound human. She’s brutally honest, guides me when I’m stumped, commiserates during the defeats, and celebrates the small victories along the way. Having gone through all this together, when the play is finally alive and thriving, it makes it all the more sweet. I look into her eyes onstage, and that entire history is there in the moment. It’s like that feeling when you’ve finished a marathon.
There is another side to that coin, of course. It’s not always easy to leave life at the door, even when you’d like it to be. We’re in rehearsals for Private Lives at the moment. Sometimes during Act 2, when Amanda and Elyot are supposed to be basking in a post-coital stupor, it can be hard to let go of life’s burdens and give completely over to that moment. But I guess that’s why they call it acting.
Do you have advice for other theatremakers?
DiAntonio: As anyone pursuing a life in the theatre knows, it’s really hard—if not impossible—to predict the trajectory of your career. For younger theatremakers, I would say: Loosen up a little on your career to-do list and keep an eye out for the individuals who believe in you. Deep down, we all have more to give than the number of opportunities that allow us to shine in this business. When you’re lucky enough to cross paths with those people who can see the potential that you have to offer, latch on. It’s with them that you’ll grow the most, become your best self, and suddenly you’ll find more doors opening. Caitlin was one of those people for me. Creede Repertory Theatre was one of those theatres for me.
Wise: The old improv mentality—say, “Yes, and…”—is a good life mentality. Say yes to the doors that open and give more than was ever expected. And, don’t be afraid to marry/love/share a life with another actor. It can be successful and be one of the most rewarding relationships of your life.