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Town Dump Inspires Kaminsky ’98 to ‘Salvage’ Play

Between starring in a one-person play in Connecticut, and staging her own original play, Salvage, in Maine, Lena Kaminsky ’98 is very busy.

Lena Kaminsky ’98, left, talks about 2.5 Minute Ride with the show’s director Zoë Golub-Sass, middle, and Hartford Stage Artistic Director and Emerson College Performing Arts Professor Melia Bensussen, who is on leave.

Kaminsky’s solo performance in Lisa Kron’s 2.5 Minute Ride has been critically acclaimed. The show is running at the Hartford Stage through June 23. As Ride’s run winds down, the world premiere of Kaminsky’s Salvage, will be presented by Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House from June 20-30.

In between performances in Hartford, Kaminsky talked with Emerson Today about how a town dump inspired her, why her sister, Eva, is starring in Salvage and not Lena, and Emerson College’s impact on her career.

How did your Emerson experience help you professionally and personally?

Kaminsky: I got great training there. Emerson prepared me on how to show up to a rehearsal room and work with a lot of different personalities and people. So much of the entertainment business is about relationships.

Your play, Salvage, premiered on June 20. What is the play about?

Kaminsky: The play is about what takes place at a town dump in a small town. It could happen anywhere, and right now I’m imagining it is in Maine.

There are three characters dealing with grief and loss in their own way. Two characters work at the dump, and one is a little bit of an outsider who brings stuff to the dump. It’s about three lives who cross paths and each get something from the other. It’s really about connection, and allowing yourself to be seen by other people.

Lena Kaminsky ’98 in monodrama 2.5 Minute Ride at the Hartford Stage. (Photo courtesy by T. Charles Erickson for Hartford Stage)

How did you come up with the play?

Kaminsky: My wife and I moved to upstate New York. I’m still based in New York City. We bring our trash to the [Town of Clinton’s transfer station]. I grew up on Long Island and I would recycle, but we didn’t go to a dump. I would recycle [cans and bottles] to get the refund .

I wrote the play over the pandemic. …I was just so taken by the beauty of the dump. … I was totally shocked at how beautiful this place was, and with the organization of it. It was amazing! And the people – the community came together there. It’s intimate in the way people are leaving their trash and taking other things. One person’s trash can be another person’s treasure. I missed talking to strangers during the pandemic. I think something really happens in terms of what you reveal to someone you don’t know. I thought, ‘This would be an amazing place for a play.’

The main character, Carla, is played by my sister, Eva [Kaminsky]. her character is an obsessive-compulsive thinker. The play starts with her bringing all her mirrors to the dump.

She struggles to be around other people. She really can’t stop looking into the mirror. The play starts with her looking into a mirror and asking questions — Who am I? Do I look like this? Do I look like that? I think it’s her accepting herself. She wants to get rid of the mirrors because she knows it’s getting in her way. I think a part of the theme is how to get out of your own way, and what’s the solution to getting out of your own way.

Over the course of the play the mirrors disappear because people take them. It’s really Carla’s story, and goes through her private moments. She’s dealing with loss of her best friend. He had an essential oil business, and she inherits the business. She’s trying to sell oils to people, understand the oils and her inner thoughts.

Left to right: The cast of Salvage, Eva Kaminsky, Chris Thorn, and Adinah Alexander. (Photo courtesy by Josh Flanagan for Opera House Arts)

Is the play autobiographical?

Kaminsky: I came to writing a little bit later in life. I still act [but] the first time I wrote was 2016. I took a class with a wonderful playwright. I thought I would observe as an actor, and I started writing, and after getting over the horror and fear of it, I found I really like writing.

I find everything I write is somewhat autobiographical. It has a part of me in it, for sure. Every character has something of me in them. I find myself writing about how people get through letting go, loss and grief, and how people connect with other people. It’s sort of about me.

Why is Salvage premiering at the Opera House Arts in Maine?

Kaminsky: I worked with [Opera House Arts] Artistic Director Kathryn Markey a couple of times prior to this. Last summer we did Almost, Maine there. I wrote this play and passed it to Kathryn. She thought it would be a good fit for that community. People love the dump. There’s a real sense that people go and see each other at the dump. When I go to our dump/transfer station, I end up staying for an hour because I become friendly with people and just talk and sometimes conversations go pretty deep. And so, I think they have that type of community there.

I think it’s the kind of play that can be done anywhere. I think people identify with it. …People get excited when they hear where it takes place. Hopefully, it’s funny.

I’ve been zooming into rehearsals while I’m doing the play in Hartford.

Lena Kaminsky ’98 has enjoyed balancing starring in 2.5 Minute Ride at the Hartford Stage while the play she wrote, Salvage, is being performed in Maine. (Photo courtesy by T. Charles Erickson for Hartford Stage)

Why not act in your own play?

Kaminsky: I haven’t acted in anything I’ve written. I cast my sister. I’m not against acting in my own play, but right now, I don’t have the desire to. I like sitting in different seats and being on different sides of it.

I do a lot of different things. I have a casting business, Selective Casting… We cast primarily for educational training videos for the corporate industry. Like Carla, I inherited the business. So yes, I guess it is autobiographical. I worked for the casting director for years and when she retired, she gave me the business. I’m grateful, and I love it.

It’s funny because I remove myself from casting myself for Selective Casting. I wear a separate hat when I’m doing it. I’m working on a play that I’m writing for me and my sister [because] no one will cast us as sisters. We’ve never played sisters in a play, and we’ve tried. I was like, ‘I’ll write something for us.’ That’s my next project.

What is it like balancing both plays?

Kaminsky: Emerson taught me to be disciplined. I had to balance a lot of things at Emerson. We would do a lot: rehearsals, class, auditions. I feel really grateful that I’ve got two plays. It worked out, timing wise, that when I was opening my show in Hartford, the cast from Maine sent a happy opening video.

What kind of input did you provide for the play?

Kaminsky: There were two readings over the course of writing it. After the readings, Kathryn and I worked on it together [over] a weekend. She’s been super communicative about design and ideas about the show. We talk daily. I come home from my show in Hartford at night and get on the phone with her.

I wrote a very prop-heavy show. There’s a lot of recycled items, bins, mirrors, and a lot of different thing things to handle. As an actor I love to work with, and around props. I tend to write things that give people things to do.

Have any mirrors been broken during production?

Kaminsky: No! I’m too superstitious. Knock on wood.

Did you get props from the dump in Maine?

Kaminsky: They’ve been collecting things like cans and other stuff. We invited the entire team who work at the dump to the show. I hope they come. I think it could be a site-specific show and [actually have it performed] at the dump. Another version. I see performance reports after rehearsal every day, and it says we’re still collecting cans and bottles. Maybe we’ll do a big recycling trip at the end.

What else would you like people to know about yourself, Salvage, or your Emerson experience?

Kaminsky: This is my first full production of the show. I’m so excited about everybody working on it. [2.5 Minute Ride] closes on June 23 and I’m driving right to Maine. If anyone is on Deer Isle they should come and see it. There are only nine performances.

I’m excited to see the life of this play. I’m learning so much from watching people create it. When you have good actors doing your material, it’s such a gift. And a director like Kathryn. The design team is great and it looks really good. I am going from there and then seeing where else I can do it.

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