What I have always enjoyed as an audience member of Vermont Stage productions has been the sense of intimacy which allows you to enjoy performances that are subtle and naturalistic. It is more like watching a film. You get close-ups.
At the end of our first week the aspect of this career that I love the most strikes me. Strangers can come together, work on an entertaining and beautiful play, and through the work - become "budding" friends.
My favorite part about directing is the collaborative process. I constantly find myself in awe of my colleagues and their talents. I learn something new everyday about the art of theatre and my own craft from working with other artists who have an array of experiences and knowledge to share.
Directing is what I have wanted to do for a long time. I love the process of putting a show together. Usually I start somewhere along the lines of ‘okay, so, what the heck is this?' and then I look for the answer; finding the heart in the work along the way.
The 39 Steps is a directorial funhouse. It's technically challenging to create all of the places and events on stage with minimal scenic and costume elements but it's exciting to take each scene and explore its essence in an imaginative way.
This play is funny and tightly written. It tackles some big questions like fate and the consequences for choices made long go either by a character or by someone else, and the ripple of those choices carries through to the present.
I think it refers to the term we use when we say someone is "good people." It means we can trust them, that there's an understanding or an unspoken agreement even, and we can accept them into our circle. We rely on good people, to identify with them, so we can feel okay in an uncertain world.
I think the last time I played a character without make-up and heels was in high school. Tara, the director, is keeping me literally grounded. Which feels very naked, but is re-acquainting me with myself on stage, no trappings.
I think the play is asking questions about aging. In what ways does life get easier with age? In what ways does it get harder? Can two people at very different ages experience the same things or help each other to understand life a little better?
The most common response I've heard from those working on this production, after they first read the play, was that they found it to be so true, so real, and authentic. So, it's my job to make sure we retain that in the performance.
I came to the table with a pretty blank slate about "who" James is. I guess he's funnier and stronger than he was when we first began rehearsals. However, I'm continuing to discover new things about who he is all the time.
The script has a very natural feel to it, real people having real conversations. That would seem to make it easier but that is part of the challenge. You learn the lines, learn the blocking and try to make it all seem "unlearned," as though it is happening for the first time, every time you do it.
I'm playing Sarah, a photojournalist who was almost killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. She's the kind of person you want on your side during the apocalypse -- a strong, self-sufficient, no-nonsense fighter.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when you design a show?
Finding inspiration for each show is different. I usually start with my iTunes playlist, which is disturbingly extensive, as I've been collecting music of all genres since cassette tapes were in vogue.
What do you think Barbara would do if she found out her world was going to end?
I think she does find that out in the course of the play, and has an important decision to make at that point!I think what’s kind of neat is that, like any human being, she finds that it’s one thing to ponder the theoretical end of the world, one that happens to “other people”, and very different when it’s personal!
Sometimes when I pick a play to produce I wonder later if I made the right choice. Beyond the challenges of having to create a stage effect that "a comet hits the planet earth and is somehow simulated", Boom has other "hurtles" to overcome in its production
Chris Caswell: I see playing multiple characters as a delicious challenge. Catherine Domareki: Since we often change from one role to another within a matter of seconds, it's a challenge to keep the physical and vocal integrity of each character intact.
Having been involved in athletics my entire life, I can easily relate to the idea of overcoming the odds to succeed. Possessing a 'thick skin' would always prove advantageous. I think Orlando is a very courageous character given what he has to endure at a young age.
As an actor it is very easy to become reactive to your creative environment and go along with what others are telling you to do. Slowly I realized that in order to be effective, I needed to make decisions on my own and in a proactive way.
I lit the production of The Miracle Worker in which Bob Woolf created a set with a “second floor” that worked; I designed the scenery for The Foreigner with a trap door to a root cellar and stairway to a second floor that worked. Now with Shirley Valentine I’ve been challenged to create a design for a show in which a working kitchen disappears between acts.
I fell in love with Shirley and with the play as soon as I read it. It wasn't until well into the rehearsal process that I realized that embarking on this kind of project suggests quite a bit of hubris.
I have a rep for directing musicals, and I've done a slew of them. This year alone I'm slated to do three musicals and an opera, all big, boisterous, heavily-populated productions. They require a unique skill set.
I am fascinated by her. I believe that she has had many ups and downs in her life. Ana is a survivor - an intelligent woman who faces life with a positive outlook and embraces her circumstances and challenges.
It is always fascinating to me to read and study a script before rehearsals begin, thinking you have a pretty good idea about the show, your role and the other characters. Then you go to work with the rest of the cast and the director and all kinds of new things surface...
Cleaning makes you feel good about yourself and your life. You feel like you know where everything is, and everything is in its place, and that feels like the universe is balanced and all is well in life.
The most challenging part of Matilde, pre-rehearsals, was tackling and perfecting the Brazilian Portuguese dialect. Now that we've started rehearsals, it's finding the ways to keep the humor fresh. There are so many funny moments that we are finding in rehearsals...
While laboratories make for sexy visuals--- think of Frankenstein
--this is really a play about human relationships. I often
feel that the less visual "chatter" onstage, the more the audience focuses on
what the actors are saying and doing.
Gosling: In text, I think the character succeeds in providing some lightheartedness, self-effacing humor, and simple humanity to the weighty matters at hand, and, hopefully, I am capturing some of this in my portrayal.
Caspar: Our director helped me imbue the younger Caspar with more confidence, but aside from that I see him largely as I did when we began. He's one of the more straightforward people in a cast of very complex characters!
The prospect of writing this play was very daunting at first. I'd never written a play that relied so heavily on research before, let alone scientific research! And I was not someone comfortable with science, or confident I could find a way to recreate a credible scientific world. But it turned out to be such a pleasure, and of course I learned so much.
Benjamin Wiggins: I can relate to Watson's ambition, and the excitement of one of the biggest discoveries of human history.
John D. Alexander: It seems to me that Crick is neither the hard-driven young scientist personified by Watson nor the awkward, somewhat unpersonable data analyst seen in Wilkins, but is a combination of rigorous scientist and bon vivant.
1st rehearsal is always my favorite part of the rehearsal process. It's the only time that all members of the team - actors, designers, and production staff - get to sit down together and discuss the play.
Stereotypes notwithstanding, scientific research is an intensely social activity.This is at the heart of the story in the play Photograph 51. As a scientist, a woman, a citizen, and a social being, I can hardly wait to see how this work unfolds at Vermont Stage Company.
History is riddled with stories of events that very nearly happen - and then don't.
One of the most intriguing back stories to PHOTOGRAPH 51 was the unlikely clash of personalities that occurred between Rosalind Franklin, the brilliant young woman scientist who arrived at Kings College Lab in 1951, and her soon to be "colleague" Maurice Wilkins...
Well, without getting too deep into all of the nuances of the structure of arts organizations because, frankly, it might bore you to death and I doubt you read this blog to help you get to sleep at night (If you do, pardon the interruption). Here goes:
I remember attending Midwives based on Chris Bojalian's novel, with colleagues from UVM. We found it it stimulated vigorous, enlightening discussion. Just as Winter Tales invites relaxed, cozy sharing, the use of the FlynnSpace sets the atmosphere in so many creative ways.
Lots of folks have been asking me what my plans are once I leave Vermont Stage, so for what will be my penultimate blog post, I thought I would provide a few details – at least as many as I know at this point.
It's a hefty irony we've got going on here: for all the Great Works of Theater I've participated in - Williams, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett - it's a quirky little comedy about a dog for which I'll most likely be remembered.
First of all, let me point out that I haven't been in a rehearsal as an actor in over three years, so, yes, I'm a little out of practice. And my job keeps me pretty busy, which means I haven't been to the gym in a while, so, yes, I'm a little out of shape. And this is a one-man show, which means it's all me, all the time, so, yes, it's a little intense.
I knew all this going in, but that still didn't prepare me for how absolutely spent I was after a mere four hours of rehearsal.
I used to act at Vermont Stage quite a bit. In fact, during my first 8 years as an artistic director, I was in 7 shows (plus Winter Tales), more than any other actor I had hired.
There may have been those who thought I was doing it for personal pleasure or out of some sense of self-aggrandizement, but the fact is, it was often just simple economics - I was usually the cheapest actor I could find to play a role.
I sat in on rehearsals this weekend to get a sense of the kind of progress the cast was making and to get a feel for the tone of the show, and it was...amazing.
Obviously, after only a few days of work, there's only a rough sketch to look at, but I could see the potential and it's pretty exciting. I came away with the impression that this is like no show we've ever done both in terms of its particular style and in terms of the level of complexity.
It's always a little risky to share pictures of early rehearsals. They're usually taken in some barren rehearsal halls under flourescent lights, with the actors in street clothes, often still holding scripts.
While directing a show is nearly always an enjoyable experience for me, there are some shows that are especially fulfilling. The Glass Menagerie was that kind of show.
Everything just seemed so...easy. You know how sometimes when you're working on a project and everything seems to just fall into place and it all feels just sort of effortless? That's what happened on this show.
Not to say there weren't bumps in the road - there always are. But they were minor, and relatively easy to get past. Over all, though, it seemed like everyone was in synch on this one.
The first week of the rehearsal period is often a fairly fraught one for me. I tend to forget that I have 20 years of experience under my belt, that I've directed about 30 plays in my career, and that I usually have a very good working relationship with actors. I convince myself that this play presents challenges that I just won't be able to meet, and I once again thank the stars that I've cast actors and hired designers who are immensely more talented and smarter than I am.
I try not to inform the first read through of a play too much. Mostly, I just want to hear what the actors bring to the roles before I get in there and start mucking around. But there was one thought I wanted them to keep with them as they read.
"This play, for me, is about love," I told them. "I'm not sure if that's what the play was about for Tennessee Williams. He may have been writing about his pain or about his family or about an artist's inspiration and all of those things will be in our production. But I want us to focus on the love, however distorted it might sometimes be. What drives these characters more than anything is love."
Choosing a season is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my job. Often, after a show, someone will ask me "Where did that show come from?" or "What made you decide to put that show in the season?" What follows is a behind-the-scenes look at how I first encountered this season's selections and how I came to choose them for inclusion in my final season as VSC's artistic director. Enjoy!
There are certain plays that, when I choose them, I do so with a specific actor in mind to play a certain role. King Lear was such a play, as was (and is) Sylvia.
When I chose to produce The Glass Menagerie, I had recently worked with Nancy Johnston (Souvenir), and so I asked her to play the role of Amanda. She immediately accepted. Amanda is one of the great roles for an actress of a certain age, and Nancy had had a fantastic time when she was here and was eager to return. Great for her, great for me (because I love working with her) and great for the audience, because I knew she would do a wonderful job.
A few weeks later, I get a call from her agent. Nancy has just been offered a job on Broadway.
Actors and designers work together in many different ways.
Sometimes a director has a very clear vision for what he wants the set to look
like, for example, and he asks the designer to realize that vision.
Most often, though, it's a good deal of back and forth,
usually starting with the director articulating some ideas about the play; not
so much what the set or costumes or lights should look like, but what kind of
feel the director wants to evoke, or what thematic elements he wants to
You may be familiar with the titles, and
you may have read the brief descriptions of next seasons offerings, but I'm
using this week's blog to give you a more in-depth look at each selection,
including some inside information about my reasons for choosing the plays and
some of the early casting decisions. Enjoy!
It's a little hard to say when our season actually ends
around here. Our last show, My Ohio , closed in Burlington
on May 2nd, so that sort of felt like the end, although we then
brought it down to Middlebury where we ran till May 9th. That was
the end of our regular season of produced shows.
And then this past Monday we produced the Vermont Young
Playwrights Festival with the Flynn Education program, a one-day theatrical
marathon where we got to see and hear 32 plays written by middle-and high
school students from all over the state. Now that that's over, we're really
done with the work of producing theatre.
In the theatre, the last seven days before opening is called "Miracle
Actually, I'm going to take you back to last Sunday, ten days before
opening. The cast had been rehearsing in New York for a week, then
we had the big move up to Vermont, which allowed the
actors to work in a space much closer to the actual size of FlynnSpace. (They were working in some pretty tiny rooms
in NYC.) So, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week were spent re-working a
lot of the blocking (as well as the usual musical and acting work that had to
On Sunday, we had our first real run-through of the entire show.
My Ohio represents a milestone for me, and also several
firsts. It's the 40th play I've produced for Vermont Stage (give or
take a few Winter Tales ). And while we've produced several world premieres,
this is the first original musical we've produced.
It's also the first time I've hired actors without having
been present at their auditions (due to scheduling conflicts, I entrusted the
casting duties to director Lisa Roth, playwright Dana Yeaton and composer Andy
Mitton). And, due to several factors, we chose to hold the first week of
rehearsals in New York, which meant that when I went down to the city last week
to pick everybody up in a van to take them to Vermont, I was seeing the
show-in-progress with very fresh eyes.
See, usually, I know the actors, and I know the script, and
I tend to sit in on the first few days of rehearsal, just to get a feel for the
direction the play is taking.
been coming to Vermont Stage shows for a while, you may remember some of
playwright Dana Yeaton's previous work: Mad River Rising, The Big
Random, and his stage adaptation of Chris Bohjalian's novel, Midwives.
fortunate to be producing Dana's first foray into the world of musical theatre
with our production of My Ohio. Dana was recently interviewed by
American Theater Magazine about the process of writing the show. I've included
the interview here.
I like to stick around at the end of a show to say good
night to folks as they leave, and thank them for coming.
It's also a time when I get a lot of feedback about the
show. And after a few performances, I find that a pattern often begins to
the most frequent comment is, "That was fun!" But after that comes a line of
questioning that I rarely hear from audiences at other shows, questions like,
"Where did your ideas come from?" or "How much of that is in the script?" or
"How do they (the actors) DO that?"
So, here's a little glimpse into the creative process that
brought the script of Shipwrecked! to life.
We've just been through three very intense days of technical
rehearsal for Shipwrecked! and I have to say, I am incredibly pleased with the
work we've done.
After two and a half weeks of working primarily with the
actors, tech week is the time we get to incorporate the work of the rest of the
The set was first to arrive. John Devlin has created a
wonderfully imaginative and appropriately simple world in which the actors can
create all the different locations Louis describes in the play. It's all rough
wood and canvas and painted muslin backdrops, giving it the feel of a makeshift
stage for a travelling theatre troupe. I love the fact that it looks fairly
pedestrian at first, but as the actors start to play on it (and the lights are
added) it transforms into a very magical-feeling environment.
As you might imagine, a good portion of my job as an
artistic director entails sitting in my office, emailing, calling, and meeting
with the dozens of folks who do the real work of making theatre. But every now
and then (actually, five times a season), I roll up my sleeves and spend a week
doing the nitty-gritty work of physically mounting a production. This is what a
typical day during production week looks like.
8 am Pick up lumber.
When we loaded in the set yesterday, I realized that the way
I had been blocking the show didn't quite work with the way the set had been
designed. It's one thing to see a set on a groundplan, or taped out in a
rehearsal room; it's something else to see the real thing in place at
FlynnSpace. So when the real thing got there, I realized the main platform
where most of the action takes place needed to be about two feet wider. So, on
my way to town today, I ran over to Clifford Lumber in Hinesburg to pick up a
few more planks, so that we can build an extension.
Here at Vermont Stage, we like to think of ourselves as
pretty eclectic in our offerings. When someone asks what kind of plays we do,
it's pretty hard for me to put a label on our work since we've done everything
from Woody Guthrie's American Song to Waiting for Godot to King
The Burlington Free Press once said that we were known for
intense dramas and smart comedies, and while that doesn't cover everything
we've done, I think it's a pretty good description of our aesthetic
And then along comes Shipwrecked! We're calling it a
family-friendly show, but what does that mean?
Wow! I don't think I've ever been more challenged as a
A little background on the play: Playwright Donald Margulies
(he of the Pulitzer-prize winning play Dinner
with Friends) was initially commissioned to write a piece of children's
theatre. Ultimately, this play became Shipwrecked! ,
a fascinating hybrid of highly theatrical playfulness and an exploration of
some fairly profound questions about the nature of art and truth and fame.
The script is deceptive in its simplicity. On the surface it
looks like an adventure story, narrated by a charismatic raconteur and acted
out with the assistance of two fellow performers, a plethora of props and
costume pieces, and (in our case) a sound effects artist armed with a dizzying
array of musical (and non-musical) noise-makers.
I'm about to go into rehearsal for Shipwrecked!
tomorrow night. If you've been wondering how a director has an impact on a play
that he's directing, here's a great example. This is my letter to the cast and
design team in advance of our first meeting. It doesn't tell them what to do;
rather it suggests to them the kind of world I'd like us all to create. It is not intended as a blueprint to be
followed exactly but rather as a framework out of which further creative
decisions will evolve.
Tech weekend has the reputation for being one of the most
challenging parts of rehearsal - tedious at best, excruciating at worst. Over
the course of three days, we add in all the lighting cues, sound cues, and
costume pieces, a process that requires hundreds of decisions and adjustments,
fine-tuning each element to the point that they become barely noticeable during
the performance of a play.
It can be especially rough for the actors, who, for these
three days, are essentially props, repeating short segments of the play over
and over again, waiting for a cue to be fixed, then doing it again, eight to
ten hours a day. As I said, this can get pretty tedious.
What do you like about this character and about this
Souvenir deals the subject of the accompanist. The
play doesn't go into much detail but that's what Cosme McMoon is: an operatic
accompanist. I actually have worked considerably in this field and I don't know
of another play that deals with it.
Accompanists are a rare breed. You either understand
what accompanying is or you don't. It's way more than just playing the piano
for someone to sing. It's a bit like being a ballroom dancer, especially the
woman's part. (How could I know about this? Well, when I studied ballroom for
several years, my teacher, an Arthur Murray instructor and amazing ballet
dancer, forced everyone to learn both parts.) Following is just as hard as
leading. You must give control to the other person but at the same time give
energy back - you can't just be a limp rag-doll. It's a fascinating experience.
I loved following in ballroom...probably because it was like accompanying.
You've performed this role before. What's it like to
tackle it again? Any advantages or disadvantages to repeating the same role?
How do you keep it fresh?
very fortunate that I have this role "under my belt," but I do
believe I'm also fortunate that I last performed it two and a half years ago.
That's far enough away (for me at least) to feel that in the early
rehearsals I had to depend on the text again. I am still drawing from the
script itself and not totally my brain.
For me, I'm glad it has felt like I'm starting over with this part.
It's going to automatically be fresh because I'm in this moment now, with
the wonderful Sara as director and the delightful Carl. They bring all
new stuff to Madame J's Ritz Carlton suites and so...so will I.
Three women, three wonderful actors, three possible choices.
As is often the case, we would have liked to take a bit from this one and a bit
from that one and combined them all into one perfect performer. But since
that's not possible, we were looking for something that would move us securely
in one direction or another.
Now, as I mentioned, the actor not only has to sing badly,
she has to also sing extremely well. She has to sound the way she hears herself
in her own head, which is, of course, heavenly.
Last year around this time, when I was putting the finishing
touches on the 2009-10 season, I knew that one of my biggest challenges would
be casting the role of Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir .
There are certain roles that call for a very specific set of
skills and attributes, and this is certainly one of them. The actress who plays
Madame Jenkins (as she liked to be called) has to be the right type to embody
that certain sort of society woman you might find on the upper east side of New
York City in the nineteen-thirties and forties - think Margaret Dumont from the
Marx Brothers movies. She has to have a fine wit and excellent comic timing.
She has to be able to sing in what she believes to be a beautiful soprano voice
in the operatic style, and she has to be able to do this very badly, without
letting on that she's doing it badly. And then, she has to be able to sing an
aria as she hears it in her own head - it must be absolutely gorgeous.
Oh, and she has to want to come to Vermont
for six weeks in January.
I haven't been blogging much about Winter Tales lately, and then all of a sudden
I turn around and we've got a show!
Despite the fact that I had decided that we would have
all new material this year, the show seems to have come together fairly
I started by asking Philip Baruth if he would be willing
to write something new - we've read one of his stories every year since we
started, and I've always enjoyed his contributions, so I was hoping he might
have one more in him. Indeed he did, and it's a hilarious tale involving VPR
weather gurus Steve Maleski and Mark Breen.
The question I was asked most frequently during the run of Opus
was "Where did you get all those violins?"
First of all, let me talk a little about what the script
calls for. We needed a cello for Carl and a violin for Alan. We needed Grace's
viola, the one she has before she joins the quartet. And we needed the Lazara
instruments: a matching violin (for Elliot) and viola (Dorian's, that later
becomes Grace's). And it was the Lazara violin that had to be smashed.
The first place we went to for help was The Burlington
Violin Shop on Main Street.
The owner, Kathy, was good enough to lend us the cello, a pair of violins and a
pair of violas.
Stephen Kiernan has blessed Vermont Stage
with his talents on several occasions; from performing with Ethan Bowen in O'Carolan's
Farewell to Music in 2003 to providing musical accompaniment for our second
Winter Tales show in 2006. Last year he shared his writing talents with us with
his story about the prodigious holiday meals in the newsroom, "All Tucked In."
This year, we are fortunate to have another new story from Stephen. Here, to
whet your appetite, is a short excerpt from "A Grain of Rice."
I haven't been sitting in on nearly as many rehearsals as I
usually do. I'm not sure why - maybe it's because I know all the actors, or
maybe its because I trust Jason's directing so much, or maybe because I've been
a little busier than usual, or maybe I'm just learning to let go a little.
Whatever the reason, my staying away for the most part until
seeing a run through last Saturday resulted in a wonderful treat for me - I got
to see the play almost the way an audience member would.
I hadn't read the play in a while, so the first thing that
hit me was how funny the play is. I had forgotten all the humor. And the
actors' sense of play was palpable. They
were relaxed and having fun with each other.
We started rehearsals for Opus last Tuesday,
so by Saturday I figured it might be time for me to go take a look.
Actually, the actors started musical rehearsals in August,
but the acting rehearsals with their director, Jason Jacobs, started last week.
David Gusakov , a violinist with the Vermont Symphony
Orchestra , has run the musical rehearsals and it has been his job to make sure
the actors looked like they were really playing the stringed instruments they
When I step back and try to look at the last nine years of
Vermont Stage's history somewhat objectively, the fact that we are here at all
seems highly improbable to me. There had never been (to my knowledge) a local professional
theatre company in downtown Burlington, and given our minimal infrastructure
(no theatre of our own, no scene shop, no costume shop), our minimal staff
(three at first, now two), and our often precarious financial situation, it
seems all but impossible that we are not only still here, but growing stronger
I named the show The Complete History of Vermont Stage
(abridged) as a take-off on a show called The Complete Works of William
Shakespeare (abridged) and also because this evening won't quite cover the complete
history of Vermont Stage, but rather the history of Vermont Stage at FlynnSpace
(which doesn't include the first 5 years of our existence).
Right after we closed Woody Guthrie's American Song back in January of 2007, there were more than a few requests, both from the
cast and from enthusiastic audience members, to take the show on the road.
For various reasons, that didn't work out...until now.
Last fall, as I started working on this season, the idea of
performing at Middlebury's newly renovated Town Hall Theater came up. We had
been invited to bring one of our shows there, and all of a sudden, Woody
Guthrie seemed like the perfect choice. I called the cast, and everyone
agreed that remounting the show in July seemed like a good idea.
Having the original cast would make this a relatively easy
project. We'd get everybody together a few times to review the music (it had been
a year and a half, but everyone involved is an accomplished musician, so they
figured they'd pick it up fairly quickly), and then we'd spend a couple of
weeks re-working the blocking. That should be plenty of time.
I'm often asked why I got involved with theatre. "Did you
have big dreams about becoming a Broadway actor or a movie star?" Or: "Was
theatre the way for you to express some deep creative urge?" Or maybe: "You
were raised by an artist - did you want follow in his footsteps?"
After I joke that it was actually just a way to meet girls
in high school, I give my real answer, a one word answer: community.
When I walked into a rehearsal for the first time, on a stage
at CVU High School,
I was drawn there by the bustle of activity and the sense of a group of people
working towards a common purpose.
I came back, and kept coming back for the next ten years,
through college and internships and graduate school, because of the
camaraderie, the open hearts and active minds, the curiosity about self and
others, that was shared by nearly everyone I encountered.
Every now and then I run into someone who is surprised to
learn that running a theatre company is actually a job, that it's the way I
earn my living.
I get that it can be a little hard to wrap one's head
around; from the outside I can imagine that it might look like a bunch of
people just getting together and putting on a play. And if I'm not directing
the play, or acting in it, then what exactly is my job?
As I explain the work of choosing plays and hiring artists
and coordinating all the production elements, they start to get it. But when I
explain that I also do all the marketing, fundraising, and financial management
for the company, they're back to surprise.
Our season is drawing to a close. Our final show, Prelude
to a Kiss, closed on May 10th, and the last major event of the
year, our Young Playwrights Festival, took place on May 20th, but
the season officially ends for us on June 30th, the end of our
So, as we're getting near the end of our 15th
season, I thought I might take a few blogs to reflect on what has been an
exceptionally challenging and ultimately rewarding year. What follows are three
postings: the first looks at the artistic achievements of the season, the
second addresses the business side of making theatre, and the third contains my
reflections about the interpersonal aspects of my work. Granted, these categories tend to spill into
one another, but it seems like the best way to order my observations.
When I first got back to Vermont, back in 1994, my first
theatre job was as a dialect coach for a show in Essex called Night Must
Fall. About 10 days before the show opened, one of the actors broke his
leg. I was asked to fill in.
So, I guess if you break your leg while you're working
on a play, I'm your guy.
With a company as small as ours, understudies aren't really
I suppose, when you think about it, we've had tremendously
good luck over the course of the 40 shows I've produced in FlynnSpace. We've
had to replace an actor four days before we opened once, but other than that,
we've never had a show-stopper like the one we were facing now.
Not only did we not have a replacement immediately
available, the likelihood of getting someone up from New York, or even locally,
and up to speed in such a short amount of time was very low. Either we had to
cancel the remaining performances, or we needed someone who was intimately
familiar with the show and ready to go on immediately.
On Thursday, April 30th, I passed up my usual
pre-show dinner of a sandwich from Kountry Kart and decided to go a little
farther afield and try the dinner buffet at City Market. I had checked in with
my stage manager, Jen, at about 5:45 and told her I was headed out to dinner
and would be back in an hour or so.
What is it that separates bad acting from good acting from
great acting? When you say that someone gave a great performance, what are you
The first thing to look for is ease. Does an actor look
comfortable on stage? Does she look at home, like she really belongs there,
free from any traces of self-consciousness or tension? Does he look like he's
having fun (even in a drama, great actors know how to play)? Does he have good
rapport with his fellow actors?
Prelude to a Kiss rehearsals have just ended, and now
that I have a moment, I realize I haven't posted any blogs since the end of our
It turns out it's actually easier for me to blog about
someone else's rehearsal process than my own.
One factor, of course, is time. When I add the 40 hours a week of
rehearsal to the 40 hours a week of being an artistic director, it's a little
harder to carve out the time to write about the work.
For the first time in a while, we're going to stage a play
in the round - haven't done that since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
two years ago.
I like the freedom that provides and the fluidity - very
appropriate for this play, I think. Prelude takes place in 8 different
locations, from a bar to an office to Rita's apartment to a beach in Jamaica,
so in order to avoid taking 2 minute breaks to haul a heap of furniture on and
off stage after every scene, my designers and I have come up with a way to use
lighting, sound and modular set pieces to quickly and fluidly move from
location to location - ideally, these transitions are as seamless as the images
that flash though our imagination as we dream.
At least we've got some good ideas. But what looks
great on paper doesn't necessarily work exactly as planned once you get into
the rehearsal room. It's my job to figure out how to put these ideas into
We started rehearsals on March 30th, and I have
to say, it's great to be directing again. Other than Winter Tales(which
is more like traffic control) I haven't directed a show since King Lear
So there we all were, the cast, the designers and me, at the
VSC office on a Tuesday night, and we read through the script. I say "we" because we didn't have the entire
cast - Malachy McCourt wouldn't be arriving till the second week of rehearsal,
so I read his part.
About a month ago, I set up auditions for the Old Man role
with my casting director in New York. Also, in an attempt to save a few dollars
and feed two birds with one seed, I invited a few actors that I knew to read
for the role of Peter while I was in the city.
My thinking was that if one of these guys could do the role, I wouldn't
have to go through a whole other casting session.
The auditions for the Old Man were fairly unremarkable with
the exception of the fact that Malachy McCourt was one of the people I was
slated to see. I was certainly familiar with his name (having read Angela's
Ashes a few years back) and I know that he had a very solid career as an
actor, so I was surprised to see an actor of his stature reading for our little
Often after a show, people will come up to me and ask,
"Where did you find that actor?"
Usually the story is just a variation on the usual process
of going through auditions in NYC that have been set up by my casting director,
but in the case of Prelude to a Kiss , the three leads all came to the
show in very different ways.
The first role I filled, the female lead Rita, I actually
cast as a prerequisite for making the show part of our season.
I had long wanted to do this play, but since I can usually
only afford two Equity actors per show, and since I knew that this show needed
three very strong actors in the lead, and since I hadn't seen any local actors
who could fill any of those roles, I figured Prelude to a Kiss would be off the
table for a while.
If this was a staged reading, what would a full
production have looked like?
Many audience members were surprised to learn that even had
we done a full production, there would have been only one actor. The main difference would be that with a
full production, we would have had a full set (probably something reminiscent
of one of the rooms in the White House), and the actor would have had three
weeks of rehearsal during which he would have memorized the script. That would
have allowed for more movement, more handling of props, and deeper
characterizations of the various people he mentions.
I'm in agreement with many of the audience members who told
me that this play works just fine as a staged reading; unless you see a full
production, it doesn't really feel like your missing anything.
Andre Montgomery was so good in the role. Had he done it before? Where did you find him?
I just got off the phone with a reporter. She was doing a story about the change we
made with Looking Over the President's Shoulder , and she asked me if it
was ever a distraction to have to focus on finances so much in my job. She
asked, "Do you ever feel that the time and energy you have to put into
fundraising takes something away from the artistic side of producing theatre?"
My initial reaction was to say yes, of course it does.
I wish I could just focus on making plays. Because, I'll tell you, I never
trained for this kind of work. I was a
theatre major in college, with a focus on acting and directing in grad school.
When I was offered the job of artistic director of Vermont Stage back in 2000,
I never thought I would have to be involved in fundraising (okay, I know, I was
pretty naïve - but hey, I had never worked for a non-profit before).
Fortunately, I have a posse of colleagues who give me ideas
for shows all the time. Hardly a week passes without a director, a designer or
an actor sending me a title (or a list of titles) that they think would work
for our theatre (and, of course, that they would like to work on - it's what
you might call enlightened self-interest).
Also, audience members share ideas with me: plays they've
seen recently, plays they've heard about, plays they remember fondly from their
And then there are the plays that I see, reviews that
I read, and plays that other theatres are producing that I learn about through
trade publications and on the internet.
This was one of those magical weeks that make the challenges
of this job all worthwhile.
It started with Sunday's final run-through of the show,
where everything came together (as it always does), and I saw what a lovely
piece of theatre my director, cast and crew had created. I went home truly
excited to share the show with an audience.
On Monday, the first wave of reactions to our change in
programming for Looking Over the President's Shoulder arrived, and I was
deeply gratified (and relieved) to see that the response was overwhelmingly
supportive. A few folks wanted refunds, but many folks wrote in with messages
of encouragement, including this from subscriber Sarah Chamberlain:
"This is a creative solution to an unfortunate problem and
we are very much looking forward to being at this staged reading. Vermont
Stage is important enough to me and my husband that we will cut spending in
another area in order to make a donation to you."
With support like that, I know we're going to be fine.
By now, the word is out that we've made a change in our
season. Rather than presenting a full production of Looking Over the
President's shoulder as originally planned, we have decided to mount a
staged reading instead. This change has led to a few questions, which I'll
What is a staged reading and why will this be a valuable
production to attend?
The biggest difference between a staged reading and a
fully-realized production is that the actor will be reading from a script
rather than speaking memorized lines.
In addition, the set and movement will be greatly simplified. However, the actor will be in costume, and
there will be theatrical lighting and sound cues to help create the mood of the
We will also make time at the end of every performance
to offer a discussion with the actor and director about questions such as doing
a one-person show and the meaning of this show at this point in our country's
history. Each presentation during the week will have a slightly different
At the beginning of the final three days of rehearsal, we
have all of these elements: acting, scenery, lights, costumes, sound, and
props, and at this point in the process there seems to be very little
cohesiveness between them all. It's as
if someone just dumped a big box of pieces of theatre onto the floor and it's
our job to find a way to fit them all together.
The lighting designer may be the most unsung of heroes in
the theatre world. Most of the time, you only notice their work when it is bad.
But when it is good, while you may not notice it, it is one of the most truly
transformational elements of the theatrical experience.
This fact hit home in a more visceral way than usual
over the last 3 days of rehearsal for Remarkable Document . In order to
describe the role lighting plays in a production, I'll start by recounting the
last week of rehearsal.
When Chris first contacted me about directing Remarkable
Document, one of the things I asked him for was a proposal, detailing his
ideas about how he envisioned the production. I thought it might be interesting
to share what he gave me, so you could see which of his early ideas about the
show ultimately made it on stage.
The longer I'm in this job, the more hands-off I've become
with my directors. In the past, when I might have stopped in for a few hours of
rehearsal every day just to make sure things were going smoothly, I'm now of
the opinion that maybe people (actors and directors) do better work when they
don't feel like I'm looking over their shoulder.
So, for this production I went to the first reading of the
script, then stayed away till this past Sunday when I stopped in to see their
first full run-through of the play.
The first read, as I have mentioned in an earlier
blog, was a delight. Funny, touching, engaging. The actors really connected with each other, and just sitting
there at the table, they told an engrossing story
It's always a risk hiring a new director. I can talk to them
about their ideas for a play or their philosophy of directing or their energy
in a rehearsal room but none of that will tell me what kind of work they will
actually do once I hire them. I can
even go see something they have directed, but it's hard to parse out what
choices are directorial versus which choices came from the script, from the
designers, from the actors.
Even so, I take as many of these steps as possible and hope
I make a good choice.
The last time I had read this play in its entirety was
probably about six months ago. That's
often what happens: I read a play the first time as much as a year before it
opens to decide if we should produce it, then I read it again as I'm putting
together the season brochure during the summer. If I'm not directing the play,
I might not revisit the whole script until rehearsal starts.
That means that first read through can feel a bit like
opening the box of sweaters you had stowed away for the summer. You remember
them, but you'd forgotten how much you liked them.
Every now and then, someone asks me what I'd do if I weren't
running a theatre company.
I've done a lot of teaching, and continue to do so,
part-time at UVM, and so that seems the most likely alternative career. I've considered being a therapist of some
sort - theatre has certainly given me plenty of practice working with, shall we
say, interesting personalities. And I
can imagine the day when I might have to fall back on my bartending and food
But my ideal job, one that combines aspects of all of these
professions, would be "Host."
Host of a restaurant?
Not necessarily. I think of the role of host in somewhat more abstract
terms. What I most like to do is create and invite people into an environment
where they can feel relaxed and at ease and very, very comfortable.
Maybe it's because the deadline in theatre is absolutely
immutable. Opening night is going to happen whether you're ready or not, so
you'd better be ready. Or maybe it's because as the number of problems to solve
gets smaller, you're able to devote more brainpower to each. Maybe it's just
holiday magic. But whatever the reason, the creativity dam burst this weekend
and we were able to fill in the remaining holes and put the finishing touches
on the Winter Tales script.
Made a bit more progress on the Winter Tales script this
week, but with only two weeks to go, I feel a bit behind. My cast would love to have a completed
script (as would I) and there are some musical decisions that can't be made
till we know what all the material is going to be.
The good news is that Kathy completed her story for Chris
this week, and it's wonderful. Now, I know, there's the perception that since
Kathy's my wife, I'm predisposed to like her work. But as it turns out, I'm actually more critical of her work than
I am of most other artists I work with.
After that second actor (I'll call her "Juliette 1"), Chris
and I were pretty sure we'd found our Juliette. We couldn't see how anyone
could do the monologue much better. Also, she had a great look and she had done
a nice job with the accent. And, as she
left, she said how much the play meant to her. We could have stopped right
there and been in great shape.
But we had six more women to see.
The next actor had impressed us in the first round
with here wonderful sense of humor. She was, for the lack of a better word,
spunky. I was curious how someone like that would handle the heavy monologue.
Here's the description of Juliette that Chris wrote for the
Actress. Twenties. Young. Articulate. Slender; she hasn't been
eating well for some time. Regal yet innocent outward appearance
(obviously she has had extreme experience in terms of surviving the
genocide). She does not wear her heart on her sleeve, unsure about who
she can actually trust and if trust is even possible anymore. A well of
emotional vulnerability under the facade of control. She is extremely proud and
determined to do things the way they "should" be done. Tradition and
protocol are very important to her.Ease with dialects a plus.
It's a challenging role. It calls for a sense of
humor, a combination of vulnerability and toughness, and the actor has to go to
some pretty dark places. Also, she has to be able to do a convincing Rwandan
Last week I took a short break from working on Winter Tales
to go down to New York to cast the role of Juliet in . . .Remarkable Document . . .
When I got to the audition studio, Chris, the
director, was already there, as was Larry Gleason. Larry was in the interesting position of being the reader for the
audition while also auditioning for Chris.
I as pretty sure I wanted to use Larry in the role of Simon, but Chris
had never seen his work before and with a two-person show I want to give as
much casting control to the director as I can. So the deal I made with Chris
(and what I told Larry) was that we would have Larry in as the reader, and if,
by the end of the day, Chris just didn't feel he was right for the role, I
would set up another round of auditions to find someone else.
Winter Tales stories come from many places. Some have
already been written, like Willem Lange's Favor Johnson. Some are
commissioned and can be used once or several times, like Philip Baruth's story.
As I've mentioned, Kathy usually writes a story, and I have been known to do
the same. I usually spend some time searching the internet for a piece, but
I've yet to find something that really captures the tone I want to set. Also,
there's not much out there that specifically references Vermont, which while
not an absolute requirement, adds to the local flavor of the whole production.
And then there are the stories that just show up out
of the blue.
When Paul told me he was a "Bah, Humbug" guy when it came to
the holidays, I was pretty sure I knew what he meant. My sense was that he
doesn't actually dislike the holiday season, per se. Rather, he dislikes what
can often happen to the holiday season in our over-commercialized culture.
So do I. I told him
that the whole idea of Winter Tales was to get away from a
sentimentalized, saccharine approach to the holidays and create a production
that tells clear-eyed, authentic stories of family and deep human connection
and generosity and gratitude. Winter Tales is really a celebration of
light and as Arlo Guthrie says, you can't have a light unless you've got a dark
to put it in, which means that our show isn't all Christmas carols and
mistletoe; rather, it's about remembering the gifts of hope and love and
community even when times are challenging.
A bit of a "chicken or egg" thing happens when I put
together each year's Winter Tales program. Do I start with a cast and
find material that fits the actors, or do I start with the stories and find
actors that are right for the material?
Usually it's a bit of each. In terms of casting, I always
start with me, because I'm the cheapest acting talent I can find - I'll do it
for free. Then I add my wife, Kathy, because not only is she a good actor and
easy to work with, she can usually write a piece for herself or another actor
at the last minute if I have a slot to fill. Also, she's more effective at
keeping me from stressing out over the whole thing if she's directly involved.
Okay, before I blog about this play, I have to decide what
to call it. The play's full title is I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document
Given To Me By a Young Lady From Rwanda , but I just can't be bothered to
type that every time I want to refer to the show. I have several options: I
Have Before Me, or Remarkable Document, or Young Lady From Rwanda,
or just Rwanda. I'm going with Remarkable
Document because it refers to the object of transformation in the play.
Also, I like the word "remarkable."
Today we had our first sit-down design meeting about Remarkable
Document. While Chris, the director, and Jenny, the costume and set
designer, had exchanged a few emails, this was the first time they were in a
room together, along with me and John (lighting designer) and Jen (stage
Every now and then, I get a call from a high school student
wanting to follow me around for a day on the job to learn what it's like to be
an artistic director. And while I
certainly don't mind having the company, I let them know that spending the day
in my office could be about as interesting as watching pain dry since most of
what I do is not all that interesting to look at.
Still, for any aspiring artistic directors out there, here's
what I did yesterday, which I would say is a fairly representative sampling of
my daily activities.
The final week of Well proved to be every bit as
mystifying as the first two weeks.
Sales patterns were erratic, audience response was unpredictable, and
the comments I received in person or via email were all over the map.
I love measuring things, finding patterns, discovering
reasons. This is useful for the part of my job that's all about the business of
running a theatre company. I need to know how many people are coming to see a
show, and how much we're bringing in and spending, and various other measurable
One of the interesting things about we human beings is that
we simultaneously crave familiarity and novelty. It's why we like sequels and remakes at the movies. It's why we latch onto certain musicians and
writers. It's even why we have life-long friends. In each case, we basically know what to expect, but we still want
to be surprised - just not too much.
The challenge each year with Winter Tales is to
keep the program similar enough to previous years to appeal to those people who
are coming for the comfort of the familiar, but change it enough each time to
keep it from getting repetitive for the audience and boring for me to produce.
Back in 2004 Vermont Stage was looking to jump onto the
holiday show bandwagon. It's something nearly every regional theatre does;
usually it's a production of A Christmas Carol. The idea is to put on a
show every year that, once it's mounted the first time, can be re-mounted each
year with relative ease and minimal expense. Theatres can usually count on it
to sell out each year, so it becomes the big cash cow for the season.
The Flynn Mainstage already has a production of A
Christmas Carol that they bring in each year. We had done A Child's
Christmas in Wales in 2003 and it had been a big success, but given that
our theatre is so small, even with the reduced costs of a remount, it's hard to
make money. Also, the idea of
re-creating a show we've already done doesn't hold much interest for me.
There were two major aspects of Well that
attracted me to it: the themes of integration (societal, familial and
personal), and the theatricality of it. I liked how the main character
experienced what felt like very universal and at the same time very personal
struggles, and I like how the piece plays with the very structure of what
theatre is. I also think it's very
Despite the inauspicious start we had with opening night,
the following performances of Well during the first week - all full or
nearly so, all enthusiastically received - coupled with the great reviews we
got from the Free Press, the Times Argus and North Country Public Radio, gave
me the sense that we had a real hit on our hands. I now believed that we had produced a play that, while unusual in
many respects, had really struck a chord in this community, and that was going
to become box office gold.
There's no reason why opening night should be different than
any other performance. We've gotten over the hump of the first audience, and if
that goes well, we should be treating opening as just another performance. But
of course we don't. The audience is there for something special, something that
they may have been anticipating even longer than we've been rehearsing. Also, there are usually a few critics there,
and as much as we remind ourselves that a review is just one person's opinion,
Broadway productions have the luxury of putting
their show before audiences for weeks, even months before the official opening,
all the while continuing to fine-tune the play in response to audience
feedback. Even many regional theatres devote a week or more to previews. They do this because an audience is just as
crucial a component to the performance as are the lights, costumes, sound, set
and actors. The actors and director
learn which moments are working and which aren't and can address these in
I don't know how it happens. I've been doing this job for eight years, now, and I've directed
or produced nearly 40 shows, and I still find myself absolutely stunned at the
transformation that can happen in the last few days or hours of the rehearsal
This is getting posted after we've opened, so I can
tell you now that the last few days before we opened were even more
nerve-racking than I had expressed in my earlier blogs. It wasn't just that
some of the performances were flat. It
was that some lines hadn't been completely learned, some moments that weren't
making sense (to the actors or to me), and scariest of all, the show just
wasn't that funny. And it was slow and
Friday is split into three parts: acting work, costumes and
video shoot, and the beginning of tech.
It's a lot to get done in one day, and I'm starting to get concerned
about everyone's stamina, but it all has to happen.
The first part of the day, Jim has about four hours to
work with the actors on their performances without any distractions. It feels
like precious little time, but Jim and the actors make the most of it. He
cleans up some of the staging, starts tightening up cues and timing, and
continues to give the actors detailed notes on their work. It's a productive
time, but everyone wishes they could keep going like this.
On Tuesday, the actors got to be in the theatre
for the first time. On the one hand,
it's great because the actors finally get a sense of what the real set feels
like, and there are all kinds of props and set pieces that they can actually
handle instead of just miming like they did in the rehearsal hall. And there's just the magic of moving into
the space you'll be performing in that gives every actor a bit of a thrill, no
matter how many shows you've done.
This was a great example of questioning ones
pre-conceived ideas about one's work. I take it for granted that one should
learn the lines in a script exactly as written, but for someone totally new to
the theatre, this might not be self-evident.
Musicians improvise all the time, as do dancers - why not actors?
My first idea was to not only help Winnie get a clear image
of Kay, but to also encourage her to make the "character" of Winnie clearer as
well. Winnie is naturally an incredibly warm, open, friendly and relaxed
presence - exactly the opposite of the Kay we wanted to create. So I told her
that one way we could increase the contrast with Kay would be up the "Winnie"
energy. We played with that a little
and it seemed like that was going to help.
Since I don't attend every rehearsal, Jim's been keeping me
updated on what's going on with the process, especially in terms of what's
happening with each actor. Generally, I
just serve as a sounding board - it's a way for Jim to process the work, and on
occasion, I can offer some perspective, either because I've worked with that
actor before, or maybe I can suggest another approach that he might not have
As I mentioned in my last entry, Jim has a very gentle
approach to directing, which is at odds with what is often the public
perception of the directorial persona.
I think there's still an image out there of the
dictatorial director, the guy who gets a thrill out of telling other people
what to do, and when they don't obey him, he throws fits until they are scared
into submission. This is a bit of a
caricature, to be sure, but I have worked with directors whose behavior wasn't
to far from that.
As I've said, the director's role is one of the hardest to
define. No two directors are the same in how they approach a play, and
directors often approach different plays in different ways, depending on the
type of play, available time, and experience level of the actors.
Some directors come into rehearsal with a very clear
picture in their mind about how the play will look when she's finished. She has the blocking all planned out ahead
of time, very specific ideas about the actors' performances and the various
design elements. In the extreme, this
can be an unsatisfying experience for the other artists because the director is
barely engaging their creativity. Everyone becomes puppets for the director to
control. On the other hand, if this approach is done with a certain
sensitivity, it can result in the realization of a very strong, clear singular
vision. You know this director's work
when you see it.
That's a little what the first few days of rehearsal can
feel like, especially to me when I'm not actually directing, but just
observing. It's like slogging through ankle-deep mud. Up a hill. In the
rain. But not as interesting.
I don't mean to say Jim and the actors aren't getting a lot
of very important work done, but from the outside, a rehearsal can be a fairly
boring process to watch during the first few days. Here's what happens:
The first day of rehearsal of the first show of the season - even though I've been working on this show (Well) and thinking about this show for months, this first day, when all the actors are together for the first time, this feels like the "real" work starting up again. And it's one of my favorite parts of making theatre.
At least, that's how the saying goes (with
varying percentages). While it's impossible to truly quantify the value of
casting, it's safe to say that choosing actors is one of the director's most
The job of a theatrical director is probably the
most mysterious and hard to define of any role in the theatre. You can hear the playwright's words and you
can watch the actors' performance and you can see the sets and costumes and
lights and props that have all been designed and created by various artists and
technicians, but when you go to a play, which part of the production can you
directly attribute to the director?
Aside from giving a great audition, Winnie did something very smart. A few days after the audition, I received a lovely, hand calligraphied note, addressed to me and my wife thanking us for the audition. Nice touch – very classy, very professional.
No, I haven't overthrown the petty dictator of an oil-rich
Middle Eastern country. I've finished casting Well. (I know, I know, we
all have our own ambitions.)
As you may remember, I had cast three of the four ensemble
roles in Well and I was still looking to cast the African-American
woman's role. I had auditioned one woman so far, but I wasn't sure she was
right and I wanted to explore a few other options. However, rehearsals start in
four weeks, so time was getting tight.
Maybe it's just the perfectionist in me (not a particularly
useful quality, since in the arts, where perfection is impossible, I'm pretty
much doomed to failure on that front), but I find the process of assembling a
season of four plays to be pretty much excruciating.
Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it is
hard. Really! Okay, enough whining. Here are a few of the things I have to
consider when choosing a play:
There are some roles in theatre that can be played by a wide range of physical types or ages. There are plenty of roles where race isn’t an issue. Even gender can sometimes be switched.
But other roles just don’t have much flexibility when it comes to casting. Think of Nick in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Because of what other characters say about the character, the actor really has to be (or seem to be) in his twenties, he has to be blonde, he has to be quite handsome, and he has to be built like a football player. As good an actor as, say, Dustin Hoffman may be, he will never be cast in that role (even when he was a young man).
Interestingly, the easiest role to cast in Well is the African-American man.
Essentially, there’s only one choice. His name is Edgar Davis . Now the fact that he’s a black man in his 40’s might be enough, but fortunately for me, he’s got a few other things going for him. Like the fact that he’s a great actor. And he’s very, very funny. And he’s worked with us before (he was in last season’s production of Inspecting Carol- he was hilarious). And while he lives in Hardwick, which is a bit of a haul, he has a pretty flexible schedule and so he’s pretty much available whenever I need him to be.
It's about 6 weeks till rehearsal starts and I
still haven't completed casting for Well . Now, there's no cause for panic at this point; I mean, there have
been shows where I wasn't able to finish casting until after rehearsals had
started, so there's still time. Let's just say I'm getting...curious about how
I'll solve this particular problem.
The next morning at around 10 o'clock I get a call from
Jim. He has decided to go with Lisa
1! He tells me that he had thought
about it and decided that her audition was so strong, it just made sense to go
with her. Also, it turns out that she
is friends with Dee, so Jim called Dee to get her take. Dee assured Jim that she was an incredible
actor and could do anything we asked of her.
So that's it, right?
We have our New York actors cast.
Jim and I were ready for dinner - and a
drink. After six hours of auditioning,
even though we mostly just sat and watched others work, we were exhausted. But of course we hadn't just sat and
watched. Every moment we were watching,
we were also evaluating, comparing, working to stay engaged and attentive, and
Jim always had to find something to say to each actor in an attempt to get the
best possible performance out of them.
Truth be told, as good as the first callback pairing was,
while "Lisa 1" definitely gave us exactly what we were looking for, "Ann 1"
wasn't quite right. Something about her voice bothered me, and she wasn't quite
able to make the adjustment Jim had asked for.
She would be fine if we had no better choice, but we were glad we had a
few others to see.
The whole audition process is really a bit
absurd. Imagine you went to a job
interview where, at your first meeting, your prospective employer asked you to
give a demonstration of you doing your job, working with a complete stranger (that's
the reader, Dee), in front of an audience. And then, once you've taken your
best shot for 2 or 3 minutes, the employer asks you to try it again, only this
time do it a completely different way.
Thank godness for JetBlue. Because of their new schedule, I can leave Vermont at 7:30 a.m.,
get to New York in time for auditions to start at 11:00, see actors till 5:00, meet
with my director and designer over dinner (that's another story) and catch the
10:55 flight home that night. It's a
long day, but it's efficient.
As I said, casting is one of the most important decisions I
(and the director) make, and I'm always a bit nervous about the process. Out of
the thousands of actors in NYC, will we find the right type? Will they be willing to come to Vermont for
the salary we can offer? Will they be a sane human being? And how will we find
just the right fit? (BTW, I use the term actor for both men and women.)
Welcome to a new feature on the Vermont Stage website, the
Director's Blog. From time to time,
you'll find postings here describing the behind-the-scenes process of creating
live theatre. Usually, the postings will be by yours truly (Mark Nash, VSC
Artistic Director) but on occasion we'll have another director or an actor or a
designer post a guest blog. Enjoy!
Where Do Actors Come From?
Well, you see, when a man and a woman love each other very