From The Desk Of Bob Cratchit: A Q&A With Actor Paul Sanchez 

December 16th, 2014 No comments

Earlier this month we had an opportunity to chat with A Christmas Carol actor Paul Sanchez regarding his character, Bob Cratchit. Paul and the rest of the cast had a hand in shaping their characters, inspiring the script with traditions and touches from their own personal lives and holiday customs.

 

The result of their contributions is the heartwarming family scenes audiences applaud each evening on our stage. Here is an excerpt from our conversation. Knowing the background for a character or scene makes it all the more impactful.

 

Q: How did these character’s come about? What inspiration did you bring to your part?

 

PS: I had worked with Dave before, and he approached me after The Who’s Tommy. He let me know he had been working on this show for years and there were some songs that, after working with me, he envisioned me singing. Once we had the process rolling in rehearsal, there were lots of questions asked of me regarding my own experience with Christmas at home growing up. I had a lot of input into my character. I’m very proud of the direction my Bruno Mars song took, “You Can Count on Me.” The way Dave was writing it, he suggested putting in some Spanish lyrics. I suggested that we change the style and rather than include Spanish words we use Spanish-inspired guitar. So I brought a lot of that style to the table.

 

Q: A Christmas Carol uses some archetypal characters to tell the story. There’s a poor family who are rich in love, a rich man who’s poor in soul, etc. Tell us about the Cratchits and what that family represents.

 

Photo by KirkTuck.com

PS: In A Christmas Carol, the Cratchits are a poor family. I know Dave wanted the heart and soul of the show to come from the Cratchits. I understand, being a Hispanic man and an actor, there are some type-castings I’ve experienced—the mafia, drug dealers, thugs etc. But I’ve never seen the loving family aspect as a stereotype, and being asked to represent a family like this, I was honored. I was honored to be asked to represent a loving family. I think it’s wonderful to see a Hispanic family depicted in this loving way and as the center of a show. I felt it was an honor. I didn’t want it over the top. I didn’t want a Virgin Mary in our tiny house or other stereotypes.

 

Alejandra (Mrs. Cratchit) and the rest of us, we all sat down outside of rehearsal and discussed what of our own life we wanted to bring to these scenes. There are two big scenes we put a lot of heart into. Losing a loved one, celebrating the loss the way we do in our culture, and good times, celebrating those the way we do in our culture.

 

Q: Are there any other moments inspired by your own life?

 

PS: Dave also asked what it was like to be together at the holidays. For me it was about food. It was about tamales, tortillas. We definitely wanted to add the tamales to the scene. We also wanted to add in Spanish words that weren’t in the script. For example, prayers were a big part for me. Saying “manos” before holding hands at the prayer. “Con permiso, Mr. Scrooge” is something I added. Those little touches. We wanted it to be subtle and heartfelt. I had a lot of input into the character. We all did.

 

Each evening, the cast is in the lobby after each show, ready for some holiday cheer and conversation. Come meet Paul. Come meet the entire Cratchit family and witness the love and care that we all share this magical time of year!

 

 

ZACH Theatre’s Promise to Austin’s Students

December 13th, 2014 No comments

By Nat Miller, ZACH Theatre Education Director

As I approach the holidays and the end of our three month run of A Year With Frog and Toad, I have a lot to be thankful for.  I am thankful to work for an organization that while opening a new theatre found time to allow our Education program to grow a Theatre for Families series that is of the same quality as our Mainstage productions.  I am thankful that we are able to make a promise to all schools that all students will have access to the arts regardless of their economic status, and we are able to keep that promise.  Over 13,000 students saw A Year With Frog and Toad, over 60% were from low income schools who came for little to no cost.  We have gotten so many quotes from teachers about the production and the value of the arts in their classroom, but here are a few that stand out:

·       “The show made strong connections with the books and allowed the students to use their imaginations as well as be completely entertained by the performance!”

·       My students really connected to the performers and came away with a strong understanding of the friendship between Frog and Toad. Thanks so much!”

·       “Many of my students have never crossed the river, let alone see the play.  Thank you for giving them a cultural experience they will never forget!”

Sciencedaily.com recently published by a study done by researchers at the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform that states that “field trips to live theater enhance literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy among students.”  (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141016165953.htm).

This comes to no surprise to us in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences.  At ZACH Theatre we see every day how theatre inspires and transforms young people in central Texas.  What makes theater such a strong learning tool is that it asks students to enter imaginatively into the lives of others so we may understand their motivations.  In a world given increasingly to tensions by people of diverse backgrounds, the value of being able to understand and feel for others as human beings cannot be overestimated.  To emotionally, imaginatively, and intellectually experience what it means to be human is an invaluable experience.  Fewer subjects have more potential to reach this goal than theater, because humanity is the core of its content.

In our vision statement, led by our Artistic Director, Dave Steakley, ZACH aims to be a meeting tent where theatre connects and transforms a diverse, energized community.  I couldn’t be more thankful to be a part of this vision that brings young people of all backgrounds to our theatre, that holds onto its promise of making theatre affordable for all students, and that inspires the next generation to keep this ancient form of storytelling alive.

I leave you with one last example of how theatre can inspire a young person to be more empathetic.  In A Year With Frog and Toad, the character of Toad is very sad because he never gets letters in the mail.  After seeing the play one 1st grade student wrote him a letter from his seat in the audience.  He went up to the actor playing toad and said, “I know you never get any mail.  I wrote you a letter.  I hope that makes you feel better.”

Q&A With A Christmas Carol Director, Dave Steakley

December 5th, 2014 No comments

Q: What was your inspiration for your adaptation of A Christmas Carol?

 

A: I wrote and directed Rockin’ Christmas Party, a musical review with just enough script to hold the songs together, and it became a big Austin holiday tradition for so many people — I did it for 10 years at the Paramount for a four week run each year and then we moved it to ZACH’s Kleberg stage where it ran for another 7 years.  It was fun for the audience and I would change up sections of the show each year to keep it fresh, but around the 15th year it stopped being fun for me creatively.  I hated to end a show that so many people came to each year, but I needed to let it go so I could embrace other projects artistically.  I began to think about what else I could create for ZACH for the holidays and that’s when my attention turned more seriously toward A Christmas Carol and how I might approach it.

 

Initially, I had sketched out a plot where Scrooge was a contemporary African American woman who was a media mogul a la Oprah Winfrey as a vehicle for actress Janis Stinson with whom I’ve worked a lot.  About a year after I started work on that a TV movie version starring Vanessa Williams came out and while it was not the same plot, it was similar enough that I felt like it would look like I was copying the movie, so I abandoned that writing, although three of the songs I had in that version are in the current show.

 

I like the form of Baz Luhrmann’s film Moulin Rouge where he used music from multiple eras and genres, re-orchestrated to tell the story of bohemian Parisians in the early 1900’s.  I like the aesthetic of anachronistic elements colliding in a story, so the juxtaposition of contemporary music and a period setting and costumes appeals to me very much.  For me it allows an accessible way into a story for a contemporary audience.  The holiday party that Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, throws at his home is usually depicted with the partygoers being male/female couples playing a word association parlor game where Scrooge gets described as a bear and other animals to suggest his disagreeable nature.  Fred is a newlywed in his 20’s, and if I think about a party involving some twenty-somethings and their best friends today it is going to be a more fun, raucous party with music, drinking, dancing and maybe some karaoke.  Also their friends are going to include people of multiple ethnicities and sexual orientations, including people who are single.   So I wanted to take this fancy party in gowns and tuxedo tails and make it feel a little closer to what it feels like to be mid-twenties now.  This same idea is applied throughout the show. It is no secret that I am a big fan of gospel and soul music and great vocalists.  So the Christmas carols we sing have arrangements that are soulful, sometimes doo wop or honky tonk-inspired, and sometimes with a full gospel church approach.

 

For the Fezziwig Party, Allen Robertson (Musical Director & Arranger) and I wanted the arrangements to have an older, acoustic piano feeling since it is in the “past” in the story.  Consequently, some contemporary songs by the Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber and Ace of Base have been given arrangements with instrumentation to help suggest another time that’s nostalgic.  I also made the decision to make the Fezziwigs a Jewish family celebrating Hanukkah — we have families in our community who celebrate this holiday season in many ways, and I didn’t want the only representation onstage to be only of the Christian tradition.

 

The holidays make some people depressed, and sometimes this has to do with family relationships, and sometimes it is about being reminded of a romantic relationship that ended in the past, like Scrooge, or one that isn’t going well in the present.  I wanted to represent this voice of loneliness and feeling blue in my play as well, so the end of Act One is when Scrooge’s fiancé Belle ends their engagement.  The Ghost of Christmas Past encourages Scrooge to not give up on love even though he’s been “bucked off of the horse,” and that love is worth the risk for the many ways it enhances your life.

 

Q: How long have you been working on this script?

 

A: I have been jotting down notes for the past ten years that I kept in a file on my laptop.  In earnest I began work on it about two years ago, and the past seven months have been the most intense part of the writing process and song selection.  Throughout rehearsals and the preview period I have been doing some rewrites and changing staging and musical moments.  I knew this would be a large undertaking, but I’ve got to say during technical rehearsals it seemed even larger than I had imagined it because it has all the requirements of a large musical, with a very large sound effects soundscape, and the requirement to create stage magic for our ghosts.  What is on stage matches what was in my head all these years I’ve been thinking about this, and you can’t always say that when you get to the finished production.  I feel very fortunate to have worked with such terrific designers and collaborators on this project.

 

Q: Why did you choose a nontraditional casting?

 

A: I approach all casting at ZACH as multi-cultural, unless a particular musical like Hairspray or a play like All The Way calls for specific casting because the play is about race relationships, or race figures into the historical plot.  I think the experience for all of us is enhanced by seeing a world which is diverse and varied on stage.  I think contemporary audiences, especially those coming to ZACH, expect us to have actors on stage who are representative of many facets of our community.  At regional theaters across the country, A Christmas Carol often becomes the time in which you will see diversity in casting choices, and at ZACH we take this to heart as a regular casting practice.

 

Q: How did you determine which characters and scenes should represent each of the different cultures included in the story?  Were the cast members involved in any direct changes to the script/story/etc? 

 

A: Throughout the play the music came first, I wasn’t thinking about race or culture, I was looking for music where the lyrics matched the emotional content of the character’s journey or told the story of the scene we were in.  Once I had the music roughly in place some trends began to emerge for me and there were some actors I wanted to pre-cast in roles.  Working with Michael Valentine this summer as Tommy I decided to cast him as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew because Michael has a wonderful contemporary R&B white soul pop quality that is crystal clear and I knew would lend itself nicely to the party I wanted to create around Fred.

 

I had selected the songs “For The Love of Money” and a sparse dark arrangement of “If You Could Read My Mind” for Marley, Scrooge’s business partner, and to me there was only one voice I knew that would be really outstanding on this material and that was Roderick Sanford.  I didn’t start out at the beginning of this process thinking I want Marley to be African American — it just so happened that the best candidate for the role as it began to form, was a black actor.  The same for the Charitable Gentleman, the successful businessman who collects contributions for the needy at the beginning of the play — I knew I wanted this role to double with the Ghost of Christmas Past and Kenny Williams, who I’ve worked with a lot, came to mind for me because he has such a strong nostalgic, crooner quality I wanted for the ghost representing the “past”.  That he is African American was inconsequential to me; Kenny has been one of my closest friends for over 20 years and I wrote the Ghost as an exaggerated extension of his own personality and things I have heard him say over the years.  Kenny is also good friends with Billy Porter who won the Tony Award for Kinky Boots, and I told Kenny six months ago, “If you and Billy had a baby it would be the Ghost of Christmas Past in this production.”  From day one of this rehearsal process Kenny has known exactly who this character was and delivered “him” in the room.

 

I knew I wanted the Fezziwig family to be Jewish, because I wanted to include other family traditions.  In the novel Mr. Fezziwig is a fantastic businessman, who is generous and kind and has a warm sense of family that is very inclusive of everyone who works for him.

 

For me the story of the Cratchits is the most important part of the play because it becomes the demonstration to Scrooge of what a loving family is and how a life is well lived.  That there is no focus on material things because the family is focused on the riches they enjoy from each other in their close relationships.  Robert, a good friend of mine, is always relating to me stories about his family at the holidays and the closeness of the relationships he has with his parents, grandparents and siblings.  There is a strong sense of tradition in the way they celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, that isn’t really a part of my family anymore.  The bond of love in Robert’s family is very strong and the sense of connection they experience is so attractive.  Robert is Mexican American and this sparked the idea for me that the Cratchit family could be a Hispanic family that would be reflective of Austin in that a large percentage of our city is comprised of Latino/Latina families.  Based on my friendship with Robert, and subsequent interviews I did with some ZACH staff members and other friends who have a Mexican American heritage, I began incorporating the traditions and terms of endearment they related to me as the framework for these scenes.

 

Having worked with Paul Sanchez and knowing that he is a great father in real life, I wanted to have him play Bob Cratchit and then I built the family off of casting him.  I knew Paul played guitar at home with his kids and I liked this as the idea of how we would incorporate music into the Cratchit household, so that it was acoustic and simple, and subsequently more honest and direct than perhaps other parts of the play.

 

I did not originally have a song in the show for Marta, the oldest daughter of the Cratchits but upon meeting Marianel Marquez I knew I had to create a moment for her because she sings with an honesty and power that is something very special.  Alejandra McGuire who plays Mrs. Cratchit grew up in Mexico City and when I did the bilingual Jesucristo Superstar at ZACH, Alejandra and her niece did the Spanish translation of the lyrics for our production that was approved by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

On the first day of rehearsal, I told the actors who were cast in the Cratchit family that what I had written was only a blueprint for their scenes and that I needed their full participation in shaping these scenes so they would feel authentic to their experience.  What was said in Spanish and how it was said I left entirely up to the actors and we incorporated all of their changes.  Every single Hispanic friend and actor I interviewed for this section of the show expressed the same common traditions they felt should be incorporated into the scene — a manger scene, tamales, poncho Navideño, prayer, oranges and nuts in the stockings for the kids.  We incorporated all of these elements into the Cratchit scene as part of the fabric of the family without calling any special attention to it, just as we don’t call any special attention to the menorah in the Fezziwig scene, it’s just part of the family.

 

In the Cratchit scenes we are doing a Bruno Mars song and a Beyonce song because the emotional content of those songs matched what I needed to convey in those moments, and Paul suggested he play “Count On Me” in a Spanish guitar style and that he float the melody in his tenor in a way that might be more evocative of music he would sing with his family in Mexico.  Allen and I were completely open to this and let him run with it because having ownership of it was the most important thing to me.  In the Fred Party scene are two songs associated with Latino artists, Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull, simply because these songs worked best lyrically in the story I was developing, not because they were Latino artists.  There are other Hispanic actors in the cast playing affluent party guests at Fred’s party who are friends with he and his wife Gwen.

 

Scrooge’s housekeeper/cook Mrs. Dilbert is a very small part of Charles Dicken’s novel — I was interested in expanding her role and having this actress also play the Ghost of Christmas Present, who is responsible for showing Scrooge the things as they truly are.  I saw women of various races for this role and there were Caucasian women who made the character work in auditions by playing it in a style that was kind of like a character from Designing Women, it worked and was funny.  Musically I selected songs that are for a soprano and have a soulful, soaring gospel quality with songs by Earth Wind and Fire, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and gospel versions of Christmas carols.  The two actresses who delivered these songs with the most conviction and authenticity and had the best reading of the scenes were Jacqui Cross and Amma Osei, both of whom are African American and are sharing the role of Mrs. Dilbert.  So I was willing to cast this role with any race, but I was not willing to compromise the integrity of the music with any interpretations that felt false.  We incorporated ad libs that each actress had, and the gospel moments in the show are “a call and response” between singer and choir, so this needs to be open to the vocal instincts and inspiration of the singer.  Jacqui and Amma interpret these moments differently, as they should, because it is about inspiration in the moment.  It’s up to the discretion of the actress and her instincts, and these are intended to be different from night to night based on what is happening in the room with the audience in that particular show.

 

Q: If there’s one message you hope the audience takes home with them, what would that be?

 

A: I love the line in Dickens’ story, and I am paraphrasing, where he says that some people laughed to see the changes in Scrooge, but he let them laugh, because now his own heart laughed and that was enough of him.  We can’t be completely responsible for the ways that we are perceived or who people think we are, but we must be accountable to ourselves and to our own hearts.  Scrooge doesn’t care if people are questioning his motivations for the change he has made in his life, he cares about realizing that change for himself to become the person he always intended to be.  I put Aloe Blacc’s song “Love Is The Answer” in this show because as corny or simplistic as that seems, I truly believe that sentiment.  It is how I was raised and I subscribe to the notion of love thy neighbor as thyself.  A Christmas Carol celebrates family, romantic relationships, friendship and the ways we can be good stewards and builders of community regardless of race, gender, religion or lack thereof, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, or anything else we use to draw divisions between people in a community.  With all the work I am involved in I want to foster community and learn from other people who are different from me — it builds understanding and helps open our minds and hearts to new perspectives that make living better.

 

Q: You know these characters well, if Scrooge could give us all once piece of advice, what would it be?

 

A: To live each day with Christmas in your heart and make each moment count.

 

The ZACH & IKEA Creative Spaces Challenge

November 14th, 2014 No comments

The ZACH & IKEA Creative Spaces Challenge

The ZACH & IKEA Creative Spaces Challenge kicks off on Monday, shining a spotlight on the rapid growth of the oldest theatre company in Texas. Interior designers, stagers, and organizers are challenged to use their creative imagination and an IKEA budget to help our big, dynamic team do even more in our small office space.

This Challenge is an opportunity for ZACH’s team to work with innovative problem solvers in the community to optimize our space. Five staffers at ZACH banned together to create the challenge; Chad Dike, Performing Arts School Manager; Merrill Jones, Director of Human Resources; Rona Ebert, Art Director; Renelle Bedell, Executive Assistant; and Lauren Lovell (me), Public Relations Manager.

Throughout the Challenge we’ll be posting blogs and videos with our friends at CITYGRAM Austin digital magazine to showcase the creative ideas in action. The close of this challenge coincides with our staging of the Broadway hit, Peter and the Starcatcher, the Peter Pan prequel about the limitless possibilities of imagination – the perfect theme for our design challenge!

Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and as new Austinites become new audience members, our artistic community is growing as well. ZACH Theatre is one non-profit arts organization benefitting from this surge in growth, and I’m fortunate enough to be its manager of Public Relations.

What do we do here? I would say we engage our community through the production of really fresh and thought provoking live theatre, and through our inspiring educational opportunities for children. ZACH produces beautiful theatre and takes special care to give us shows with current relevance and diverse appeal. The challenge posed by our immense growth is a physical one – our staff has gotten larger but our office space has not. We need a smarter, more strategic way to use our limited administrative space.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop and can’t wait to meet the Creative Spaces Challenge contestants!


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Toad Gets A Letter!

October 28th, 2014 No comments

Meaningful Mail From An Adoring Young Fan

By Logan Fox

I think we all remember growing up and learning some of our first life lessons with Frog and Toad. Arnold Lobel has a magnificent way of phrasing the simplistic lessons that are valuable for a child’s development and a kind reminder for the rest of us – be true to yourself, sharing, nurture your friendships, and be kind.

A Year with Frog and Toad has kicked off our Family Series this October. This musical brings the books to life in such a manner that will have the children dancing in their seats.

We were lucky enough to get an email from an enduring fan that had the rewarding experience of taking a couple of children to their first live theatrical performance.

Atha ,the nine year old, “asked if we could have cookies after dinner so we could sing the cookie song. We ended up singing the same tune with words about eggs.” Walter, who is three, “kept saying “aghk! clover.” Genny almost eight, “handed me some ‘seeds’ and waited for me to start singing. They all loved the spinning houses and falling things, too. This was the first play they ever saw, and I fear they now have unreasonably high expectations of the theater.”

“These kids (and the rest of our family here in town) are going through a very difficult period. Seeing them fixated on the show (and these are not the sort of kids who usually sit still, but they were FIXATED on the stage and the actors) and then seeing them take that joy with them out into the world made me so happy.”

“Live theatre is incredibly beneficial for young children. Not only does it provide a brief and entertaining escape from situational hardship it also teaches empathy, tolerance, vocabulary and myriad of other good things. We are really proud of the work we do here,” said the Director of A Year with Frog and Toad, Nat Miller, Director of Education.

A Year with Frog and Toad will put a smile on a child’s face and that smile can brighten the whole community.

 

Abe Reybold’s Director’s Notes for THE KING AND I

September 26th, 2014 No comments

The pitch was to musicalize Margaret Landon’s popular novel Anna and the King of Siam. Cole Porter turned the idea down flat. So, British star Gertrude Lawrence switched gears and approached Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein about writing it as a vehicle for her. It wasn’t until they screened the 1946 movie version that the partners, at the height of their collaborative powers, agreed to create their own unique version of the story. Langdon’s original novel was a series of essays about life behind the Royal Palace walls and contained a large amount of exaggerated intrigue and embellished truths. As with the movie, it was used more for inspiration than a literal adaptation. The creation by Rodgers and Hammerstein is how the world pictures Anna Leonowens even as her real life is scrutinized and demystified.

The novel did provide one specific chapter of a slave writing about Abraham Lincoln that intrigued Hammerstein. Not ones to shy away from challenging subject material, this influenced their plot and evolved into one of the milestones of musical theatre history; “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet. Many of the best musicals deal with a clash of two worlds and “Mrs. Anna” is up against quite a powerful and exotic world. Without sacrificing a threatening undercurrent of colonialism, the team added humor, an abundance of romance, Hammerstein’s insightful, character driven lyrics and Rodgers beautiful soaring melodies. I love Cole Porter but I can’t imagine THE KING AND I any other way.

I owe great thanks to Dave Steakley for holding to his vision and hope of an authentic company of actors for this play. We had immeasurable help with local casting and as you read the “Thank You” section within, you’ll see just how many people guided our way. I am grateful to be working with an enormously talented, kind and dedicated cast, crew and design team. Greg Zane, our masterful choreographer, and Allen Robertson, our gifted musical director, have brought a wealth of knowledge, generosity and passion to this piece and helped fill the rehearsal room with positivity. Our young actors Parents are true heroes and as you’ll see, these “children of Siam” are something wonderful.

Being involved with work that evokes so many heartfelt reactions is a thrill. Since announcing THE KING AND I earlier this year, ZACH staff, volunteers and patrons alike have shared their excitement and their memories of this classic musical. The power that one person has to affect so many reverberates throughout. I hope you are affected by the celebration of love that is THE KING AND I and that your experience at ZACH honors the gift that Rodgers and Hammerstein gave us all.

Abe Reybold, Director of THE KING AND I

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Sarah Richardson’s Director’s Notes for MAID MARIAN IN A STOLEN CAR

September 2nd, 2014 1 comment

When I talk to people who just happen to belong to that segment of the population sane and rational enough to have not chosen a career in the theatre, I’m always a bit surprised by what they think motivates those of us that have — The applause!  The accolades! Well sure, applause is super nice. But for an actor, the percentage of time spent in your career actually receiving applause constitutes somewhere on the order of 0.000000000003%.  And if you are not an actor that figure plummets to a clean 0.0%.  As far as accolades go, my keepsake box certainly has a lot more lousy reviews than raves in it — and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard.  So why the heck do we do it?

Answering this question is part of what has motivated Jaston to excavate the archives of his explosively creative brain to recount the wild and unexpected story of how a West Texas boy found himself downstage center on some of most illustrious stages across the globe, soaking in more than his fair share of that elusive applause over a career that has already spanned more than 40 years and shows no sign of slowing down.  Along the way, you’ll get a chance to meet some of the colorful, outrageous, and downright nutso people that have populated Jaston’s singular life in the theatre.  For Jaston — and for all us who call the theatre our home — making and performing plays has always been about so much more than the applause.  When we have found ourselves broken and scared and lost, the theatre has been our home, and our church — a place to rest our weary heads, a shelter from the storm, a loving family when our own families were falling short.  As everyone is always saying, it’s tough to make a living in the theatre.  But in the end it ain’t about making a living — it’s about making a LIFE.  And boy, what a life Jaston has lived.  I hope you enjoy this rare opportunity to sneak backstage and be among the first to hear some never before told stories of how it all began.

– Sarah Richardson, Director of MAID MARIAN IN A STOLEN CAR

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Q&A With Director Sarah Richardson

August 29th, 2014 No comments

Jaston Williams & Sarah Richardson

Q&A With Director Sarah Richardson – On Rude Mechanicals, ZACH Theatre & A WORLD PREMIERE With Jaston Williams.

If you’re a fan of theatre in Austin you’ve certainly seen or at least heard of Jaston Williams, and of Rude Mechanicals.  This week, we had a chat with Rude Mechanicals Founder, Sarah Richarson who directs Jaston Williams in the World Premiere of his one-man storytelling play, MAID MARIAN IN A STOLEN CAR.

ZACH Blogger:  How did you find your way to directing?
Sarah Richardson: I’ve done all kinds of different things in my theatre career. I’ve been an actor, director, producer; I’ve done book keeping and costumes. I’m part of a theatre here in town called Rude Mechanicals and we’ve always created our work from scratch, so the line between acting and directing has always been a little blurred in our world. I’ve never considered myself to be exclusively a director, but I’ve certainly sought out opportunities to wear that hat from time to time. As an actor and I was always told by Directors to “quit directing.” I guess I’ve always had ideas about how a show should go.

ZACH Blogger:  Tell us about meeting and getting to know Jaston Williams.
Sarah Richardson: I started going to see GREATER TUNA performances when I was very young and I have very fond memories of seeing him perform at the Paramount. The first time I actually met him was 13 years ago when we did THE LARAMIE PROJECT. Jaston and I met again when we did the remount of that project at ZACH a few years ago. Jaston had seen some of my work here, unbeknownst to me, and reached out to invite me to work with him on this new play. Even though we had worked together on LARAMIE, I think we didn’t really get to know each other deeply until we started working on this project.

ZACH Blogger:  This is a brand new show, what is it like directing a show that’s still in development?
Sarah Richardson: I do come from a background of creating new work but usually, in that process, I’m an actor. I know what it’s like to work from a script that hasn’t been written yet. It’s a little bit different from the director’s side. The tricky part is “Where do you start?” You don’t know how it begins or ends. We started in the middle, with what we had- it was a matter of reading his stories and putting him on his feet and seeing what happens. You can discover that something unimportant on the page is very compelling as you act it out. We’re still cutting and rewriting and probably will continue to do so through the final performance.

ZACH Blogger:  In this show about life in the theatre world, are there moments or stories that you can relate to personally?
Sarah Richardson: I think while it’s true to say that this play is about the theatre world, its really much more personal than that. I wrote something about this in my Directors’ Notes as well- the thing that’s unique about theatre, especially in the United States, is that it’s incredibly hard to make a living- so what draws people to it is not just a paycheck, but the sense of a second family and a real community. In Jaston’s life, he has met some of the craziest and wildest people imaginable, and these people found a home in the theatre. I really responded to that, it’s always been much more than a job for me. It’s very much about the sense of community and alternative family. I think Jaston can relate to that and shares it beautifully.

ZACH Theatre:  What will audiences take away from this show?
Sarah Richardson: For Tuna fans, I think it will be a real treat to hear about how Jaston and Joe Sears met and learn some of the the backstory of how they created Greater Tuna together.  But this performance is about much more than Tuna.  it’s also a very personal look into Jaston’s life and the experiences and people that have shaped him. Jaston has a unique spiritual perspective and I think that audiences will find the story of his life in the theatre unexpected and inspirational.

To purchase tickets to see Jaston and Sarah’s story on stage, click here.

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Meet the woman who “painted the roses red”- Video Designer, Stephanie Busing

August 7th, 2014 No comments

Have you ever met a Video Designer? The Who’s Tommy, at ZACH Theatre, is a prime example of wonderfully clever video projection used to aid a story on stage. Here, Video Designer Stephanie Busing tells us about her process and inspiration:

1.  How does the role of a projection designer work with the set and lighting designers? (moving projections change the ambiance of the set, or have meaning in some way etc., or fill the gaps where you can’t express something with a prop or lights, things like that)

Projections can serve many roles in theatre: as scenery, lighting, or as performer (in the instances where an actor is featured in the projections or the projections are describing narrative with text or imagery). The projections in Tommy served as all three:

As lighting at the top of Act 2 when Tommy and ensemble members were silhouetted by the light of video behind them.

As scenery and prop, when Tommy plays pinball for the first time and video of the inside of the pinball machine towers above him, a big pinball zipping around inside the machine.

As character, when a troupe of silhouettes distort Young Tommy’s reality as he falls deeper into the rabbit hole of deaf, dumb, and blindness.

Integrating the projections into The Who’s Tommy involved being part of the design process from the very beginning and being in communication with the director, Dave Steakley, about what was to be received by an audience in each scene on stage. I collaborated with the other designers of the show in order to integrate the video into the full design aesthetic.  I took photos of various props in order to extend their presence on stage into the projections.

An example of this was four flower umbrellas that are spun by dancers on stage while images of the flowers spin behind them on the projection screen. I am not sure which happened first: my animating the flowers to spin or choreographer Robin Lewis having the dancers spin the umbrellas in unison with the animated imagery. Such overlapping in process, in my experience, is quite common in theatre and is indicative of good collaboration.

2. What inspired you for this show and what is your favorite element?

The correlation of the two stories, The Who’s Tommy and Alice in Wonderland, was the most inspiring part of this production for me. While initially it seemed a hearty challenge to link the two, Dave Steakley’s vision was very clear and helped guide the team to portray a solid correlation between these two very big stories. Setting Tommy’s fantasy world squarely in Wonderland narrowed the concept down and necessitated bold, whimsical, and succinct design choices.

I especially enjoyed filming roses being painted red for the Acid Queen turned Red Queen scene in Act 1. I carefully transported ten white roses from a florist to my studio/living room, set-up a green-screen back-drop, and filmed the roses for a few hours as I dripped and brushed red paint over their petals.

3. How does someone become a projection designer?

My background is in scenic painting and scene design. I love the immediacy of paint and how forgiving it is and I decided to study scene design during my undergraduate studies because it allowed for control over the color and textures being reproduced by scenic artists on stage.  I grew to love the power of storytelling and what design could add to narrative. And in time, I developed an interest in how projection design could be used in conjunction with scenery to extend physical space and to add movement and flexibility to backdrops. That wonderful flexibility and forgiveness of paint I also found in projections. Once a piece of scenery is built it is difficult to change its form, but if you have a moon in a starry sky projection and you want that moon to move two feet to the right, it is relatively easy to do that.

I think every projection designer has their own origin tale, rooted in prior interest or some interesting story about being brought on to a project to design lighting, sound, or scenery and being fatefully asked to design projections, too. And the skills that projection designers accrue typically have to do with what interested them in projections in the first place. I, for example, am particularly interested in animating digital paintings and collages.

While there are several skills and computer programs that are important to learn in order to build and program content, the most important part of being a projection designer, in my opinion, is understanding how projections can serve a production. Can they describe space? Can they show passage of time? Can they help support a character, giving context for their actions on stage? In a time where the horizontal screen can distract us from most of what we experience in reality, it is important to determine what information is most pertinent and deserving of that screen when it is incorporated into a live performance.

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Thriving Imaginations At ZACH Summer Camps By Cassadie Petersen

July 31st, 2014 No comments

Cassadie Petersen

Summer is half-way over and by now, you’ve probably had your fair share of trips to the pool, outdoor bbq gatherings and maybe even a watermelon seed-spitting contest or two…But what about indulging in that which is at its most rampant, magical and free in the summertime? Your imagination! At ZACH Theatre’s camps, creativity is in full swing this summer and we’re celebrating with wizards, dragons, Shakespeare, Broadway and more!

This summer, I have traveled to a far away magical circus with a group of amazing ‘Imagination Exploration’ campers, seen a rock band and a pop band join forces in their very own rock opera during a phenomenal week of ‘Create-A-Play’ camp and helped a band of fairies and magical forest creatures help lull Queen Titania into a magical ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as part of a ‘Shakespeare Intensive.’ And those were only a few of the weeks I have taught this summer!

Although my official title at ZACH this summer is one of a teacher, I feel like ‘guide’ would be better suited to the role I have played in these amazing week-long camps. I am always overjoyed to introduce the campers to specific skills that make them stronger performers,such as movement for the stage, techniques for warming up and projecting their voices or analyzing Shakespearean text. However, it is when I hand over the reigns to them to develop and create their own work that I truly see these campers delightfully take charge and begin to employ their new theatrical skill sets.  I have been consistently in awe of the freedom of creativity and brainstorming that I have witnessed in camps this summer, from creating entire plays about singing pickles to imagining deep sea worlds and spending the week exploring them.

In our ‘Imagination Exploration’ camps, the focus of the week is not to have a performance by week’s end but rather to invite our campers into a themed-week where they spend their days devising a world of their own imagination and a character within that world. They then solve problems and challenges throughout the week that require theater skills, fun risk-taking and most importantly, stretching their imagination! In a week ‘Under the Bigtop’ I had a group of ‘circus wizards’ develop their own wizard-characters and magical powers and by Friday they had used them to brake a sneaky sorceress’s curse which mixed up all the circus acts! During our final class, parents and friends were invited to watch them undo the final part of the curse and transform from their wizard selves into the circus acts! Seeing the campers in awe of the journey they had traveled  and what they had accomplished made us all feel truly magical indeed.

The focus on teamwork, creative problem-solving and being open to your own outrageous ideas and the ideas of others is at the heart of every week-long ZACH summer camp. In our rock-star themed week of ‘Create-A-Play’ I watched multiple groups of campers write and perform their very own rock musicals (with original songs!) over the course of just one week. The shows ranged from stories about a pickle-hungry girl to an overzealous pop star and her DJ panda sidekick to a battle of the bands that involved witches and wizards and every story was a completely collaborative effort. Although the performances were stellar, I was most blown away by the ‘devising sessions’ in which the campers developed their stories and turned them into scripts and songs with the help of their teachers and a professional musician.  The students built upon each others’ ideas, were supportive, took storytelling risks and improvised scenarios to write dialogue. This process of developing original work, which often takes months for theater professionals, was accomplished in just one week because of the remarkable teamwork these campers exhibited.

With so many campers and teachers indulging their imaginations all summer long, the energy that develops around ZACH theatre during camp is truly contagious. Teachers are humming along to songs the campers have created, professional staff can’t help but comment on how much fun everyone seems to be having and sometimes campers show up in homespun costumes for the day much to the delight of their fellow campers because they ‘felt like it.’ While watching a Friday sharing of one the rock musicals, a camper who’s rock star alter ego was named ‘Heavy Metal Jimmy Hendrix, Jr.’ leaned over and whispered to me in his thick, faux-English accent. ‘When do you think I should come back?’ ‘To camp, you mean?’ I whispered back to him, inquisitively. He nodded intently. ‘When would you like to come back?’ I asked. He took a moment to thoroughly consider it. ‘As soon as possible, I think,’ he whispered confidently. ‘As soon as possible.’

Cassadie Petersen is a regular teacher here at ZACH during our Summer Camp season and a familiar face to those of you who saw The Cat In The Hat. You can read about her experience as “the fish” of The Cat In The Hat here.

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