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Married...with an Audience
Actors Hans Altwies and Amy Thone share what's it like being married on stage and off
An interview with Erin Kraft, Seattle Rep Casting Director

Hans Altwies and Amy Thone playing another on stage couple in Much Ado About Nothing with Wooden O. Photo by Deb Fialkow.

It's the first week of rehearsal for God of Carnage, and I've been tasked to interview Hans Altwies and Amy Thone, the actors playing Michael and Veronica Novak, about being a married couple both on and offstage. We head outside on their twenty minute lunch break for a talk that Hans hopes will be "Quick, but painful."

In the elevator, we're joined by the director Wilson Milam, who jokes that this cast is so great he's not going to have to do any work at all. Hans has worked with him before on Seattle Rep's production of The Seafarer, and Amy comments that she loved the production so much, "I couldn't stop crying at the opening night party. People thought I was demented." Hans is immediately modest, and suggests Amy was just crying because she finally had some hope that Hans could act. I am immediately panicked, because this couple is being charming and adorable before I've had a chance to get the tape recorder on.

We get outside, the tape recorder goes on, and I hope that the set-up for Bumbershoot won't make our conversation totally inaudible.

Have you guys played a married couple before?

Hans: No.

Amy: We played Antipholis and Adriana in Comedy of Errors, and they’re married.

Hans: No, they get married.

Amy: No, they’re married.

Hans: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Amy: Hello? He hasn’t read the play.

Hans chuckles.

Amy: Oh, no, we played Emila and Iago and they're married! So, a couple times...

Hans: Three times..

Amy: A couple times...

In a play that gets as contentious as God of Carnage does, I often find that the cast either spends all night out drinking together, or they all try to get away from each other as quickly as possible. Do you guys try to make a conscious effort to leave work at work, or can you just not help yourselves?

Hans: We talk about theatre at home together anyway, so when we're in a play together we just have more to talk about. We met doing a play, and we liked each other talking about theatre, so we're actually drawn to it.

Amy: It's actually better for us [to be working together], because we have a lot of—like everyone else does—brass tacks in our life: the kids and the schedule and the logistics and the money. It's nice to have a shared creative enterprise to talk about so that we’re not always just talking about logistics.

Hans: It's also a time issue, because when you're [he's speaking to Amy, not you, dear reader] doing a show you need to work on your play. But I'm usually doing something else, and I don't have a lot of time to talk to you about your play, and you don't have a lot of time to talk to me about my play. Now, we can actually work on it together at home.

Amy: It's good. Before Much Ado [About Nothing, with Wooden O] this summer, we hadn't done a play together since I was pregnant with Stella [their five year-old daughter] and we both felt that doing Much Ado this summer—even though it makes things more logistically kooky, and can be hard on the family unit—it makes us like each other better.

She smiles.

Do you feel like you work in similar ways? Or do you complement each other’s thought process?

Puzzled looks at each other. Who wants to take this one? A helicopter goes by...

Hans: I don't know. Because of ETI [Ensemble Training Intensive] we're currently thinking about the same acting book...we're both reading the book out loud to each other right now—

Amy: Which makes us sound like the biggest losers.

Hans:—so we're currently thinking about the same stuff, but we actually don't work the same at all.

Amy: I think Hans is...he's so gifted physically...so I think he has the ability to explore and discover things bio-dynamically; whereas I do almost everything cerebrally and emotionally. So we work differently. I guess we complement each other...we like it. We enjoy it. I don't think we're horrible to work with [as a couple.]

We briefly go off the record to laugh about some infamous couples who ARE awful to work with. Amy stops to take a bite of salad, and the helicopter returns.

Amy: Erin, you're only going to hear that helicopter [when you try to transcribe this]...

No, that’s good. It’ll help me just make this whole interview up.

We laugh. I totally lose my train of thought. I start feeling shy interviewing colleagues about the intersection of their art and personal life. So, somehow, Amy starts interviewing me...

Amy: Have you and your boyfriend ever done a play together?

Me: Yeah...we have.

What just happened? Aren’t I the one asking the questions?

Amy: How was that?

Me: Well, I think I'm so used to coming to a rehearsal hall as a space where I can just share whatever helps me get into this reality...

Amy: Right.

I think she and Hans have enjoyed turning the tables on me.

Me: And I do think there's that moment of hesitation, if he were in the room...

Hans: Uh-huh...

Yes, they’re enjoying it...

Me: ...where I might think twice about sharing something, because it's about us.

Amy: Totally.

Me: Especially in a play about love relationships, that situation comes up more and more.

Amy: I mean Hans did say, and I think this is marginally related to what you're saying...

Thank God. Amy kindly turns the interview back around.

Amy: "I wonder if this play is going to be hard on our marriage?" Beatrice and Benedict [from Much Ado About Nothing] was actually pretty good for our marriage, so who knows? We're just starting to scratch the surface of God of Carnage, but it's pretty clear that Michael and Veronica's relationship has been altered negatively forever...But certainly the spill from your real life—the secrets you would really tell, the fights you would really have—it's interesting.

Hans: We're not very private people, really.

Amy: It's true.

Hans: And that helps for sure. We've been married twelve years, and we've shared birthing tubs together. There's not a whole lot that we're afraid to talk about, or that we're shy about.

Any interesting stories from the first few days of rehearsal?

Hans: It’s a very loose rehearsal hall. We spend, sometimes, forty-five minutes off-topic. We call it "team-building."

Amy: Everyone's been very generous, very cool. I like the way—Hans knows this much better than I do—Wilson works. Sometimes you're kind of talking around something, and someone like me who's very linear is like "What the F*** are we talking about?" But then I realize, we ARE talking about the play. We ARE talking about gender-dynamics, or power, or whatever. So there's a circuity that I think is very purposeful in the way that Wilson thinks. I got done with the first day, and I thought "I already know 120 things that Wilson believes firmly about this play." And I don't know where I got them, but I got them. It's not a linear room, but it's very—

Hans: Effective.

Amy:—Effective, yeah.

Their 20 minute lunch break is almost over, Amy has handed Hans back the salad that they're sharing, and I'm about to end the interview and leave them to enjoy their last few minutes of sunshine.

Well, good. I feel like I can...

Amy: Make some stuff up?

Yes. Thank you.