Storms of November Artist Profiles: Heidi Berg and Matt Alto

The Storms of November is a modern maritime legend, a tale of courage in the face of the worst Mother Nature can throw at us. Since September, our cast and crew have been immersing themselves in the history of the Great Lakes. We have explored the people and places of Lake Superior and the shipping trade, learning of storms and shipwrecks and the people who sail its waters. We thought it would be great to highlight our amazingly creative production team by asking them a few questions about the show, character, and the nimbus creative process.

Actor Heidi Berg

What do you find most interesting about your character?
I love that she is a survivor, physically and spiritually, yet while her losses, in some part, define her, it is her resilience and heart that make her powerful. I kind of want to be her, actually, which makes playing her a real treat. 
What did you learn on our field trip or during table work that you found most interesting?
On our field trip, I learned to look at Superior differently than I ever had before. I have always had a strong connection with water, starting with early memories of the Pacific ocean in Washington state, to living on the Mississippi river later in life and extending to the countless hours spent daydreaming at Belmont Rocks on Lake Michigan in Chicago, I feel more connected to my world around water. And powerful storms are a passion of mine. Driving through them, being encompassed by them, tasting the ozone after a nearby lightning strike, watching the wind swirl snow into a dancing yet impenetrable wall - these are all things that make me feel alive. But the idea of merging these two natural forces was not one I had truly meditated on before and my respect for the men and women who make their living risking that very circumstance increased exponentially. Also, prior to this process, the wrecks in Superior were locations on my Places to SCUBA Dive to do list, now they are lives, heroics and wild, impressive weather. 
How does working in a devised environment change your approach to your work?
I feel a much deeper ownership of the work in a devised environment and so I put a lot more of myself, my blood and sweat, on stage. The need to be fully present to create the work is liberating and terrifying. But when it is done in the company of like minded individuals, all working toward the same goal, it can be magic. That magic is why I do theater.

Is there anything about Great Lakes Shipping that you find particularly interesting?

That after the first few disasters anyone would consider shipping on them at all is fascinating. That shipping company owners would risk the lives of their crews to get that 'one last load' through in questionable November weather is horrifying. That the lakes can turn on a dime from glass to a maelstrom is awe inspiring.
When did you first see a Great Lake? What was that like?
It felt a little like coming home the first time I laid eyes on Lake Michigan. This is likely not the first time I saw a Great Lake, but the earliest I can recall at the moment. I was 18 and living with a friend, both of us new to Chicago, but that huge body of water reminded me so much of the Pacific I was comforted by its presence. A huge reminder that Mother Nature is near, even in a metropolitan area, and she is to be respected.
Is there a work of maritime literature that you particularly enjoy, and if so, why?
There is a children's book that I read repeatedly when I was younger called Dragons in the Water by Madeline L'Engle which takes place, in part, during an ocean voyage, and another children's book, with big kid themes, called The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck about a tsunami. In the first book, our relationship with the sea is as a metronome, slowing life down to a more reasonable pace, a guide, and even an ally as a young man seeks answers on his voyage. In the second book, our relationship with the sea is as a destroyer of worlds, of a fiercely powerful entity that changes lives. Both books are, of course, correct. 
Assistant Stage Manager Matt Alto
How does working in a devised environment change your approach to your work?
I think that the devising a work allows actors and designers to be an integral part of the final product.  Rather than being given lines, marks, and characters that you need to fit into, devising allows more creative input.  Moments and character traits can be altered or added so that you feel a more personal connection with the process.  
I like the way that Storms of November integrates factual and mythical story elements.  Extensive research was done to make sure that the production was grounded in reality.  Yet the fantastical elements of sailor folklore continued the tradition of larger than life oral storytelling.  Factual and fantastical roots melded together create the wonderful ship that is The Storms of November.