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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The Deaf Dumb and Blind Kid: Q&A With Young Tommy

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

If you’ve seen The Who’s Tommy here at ZACH Theatre you already know- the cast is, without exception, incredible. One of the standout roles in this action-packed and very emotional show is that of Young Tommy, played alternately by 10-year-old Will Sendera and 9-year-old Diego Rodriguez. While they may be young, each are stage veterans and posses a skill set and talent level that rivals many actors twice their age. Currently, Will Sendera is tied with Meredith McCall for “appearing in the most shows at the Topfer Theatre” and Diego was adored by holiday audiences in his role as the hysterical little brother in this season’s A Christmas Story. We caught up for a Q&A with the boys and their families to learn more about their experience staring in The Who’s Tommy:

How long have you been involved in acting and with ZACH Theatre?

Will Sendera: I took my first dance class when I was 5 and my first acting class when I was 7.  I really liked being on stage.  I took some more classes and then was in a show called 50 Years of Broadway in the ZACH’s Performing Arts School.  My first professional show was in ZACH’s production of Ragtime when I was 8.  Now I am 10 and I am tied for the most number of times performing at the ZACH Topfer Theatre!

Diego Rodriguez: I have been acting since I was 5, so for about 4 years now. I’ve been at ZACH since October preparing for A Christmas Story. Tommy is my second production at ZACH.

Michael Valentine and Will Sendera

What has your experience been like preparing for this show, both for you two boys and for the parents?

Will Sendera: Rehearsals are long but really fun!  There are really nice people in the cast and crew and I love meeting new people and making new friends.  It makes everything that you do at rehearsal fun even though it is hard work.

Will’s Mother, Heather Sendera: Will loves being at the ZACH!  He grumbles every once in awhile when he is missing something fun with his friends but when he is there, we struggle to get him to leave.  It is always us standing by the door while he talks to one last person.  Even the late nights are fun for him…he loves being able to stay up late and thinks it is fun to tell his friends that he didn’t get home until midnight…every 10 year old boy’s dream!  We were a bit worried about the dramatic content in the show but the creative team was incredible about communicating with us beginning immediately after he was cast.  And they have handled every aspect of it with grace, respect and care for the young actors.

Diego Rodriguez: The experience has been very hard and very fun and kinda of confusing at times because there is so much going on at once. Say in “Acid Queen” or “Pinball Wizard,” for example, there are so many people on stage doing different things, different dancing. The fun part is that the whole play is just a good play. I’m going to say that – I love the play. There’s so much action on stage, there really is. When we do the part in the first act with the shrinking door and the doctors, I get to eat dove chocolate from an ice cream sample thing.  One of my favorite parts is Cousin Kevin because it’s fun to be a human jump rope, and I love the trash can part, that can never not be fun for a kid. It never gets old. I like that he’s supposed to also be the Cheshire Cat. It’s exciting – it’s like being a stunt-man.

Diego’s Mother, Kate Rodriguez: We live in Georgetown so it’s a bit of a haul to come to Austin every day and it’s a ton of work but he LOVES it. To be 9 and have a true passion is amazing. My daughter acts as well. He loves the people and the process and I can say that as his Mom, some of the content in the show is very adult. We talk with our kids about the show themes and the Uncle Ernie scene in kid-appropriate language. We watched the rehearsals and my mind was placed at ease. The cast and crew have bent over backwards to make the boys comfortable and I can see why he loves it. It’s a huge time sacrifice, but this is what he loves and anything good takes a lot of work. It’s been a great experience.

Diego’s Father, Art Rodriguez: Initially we were both concerned with the content and his participation, but the ZACH staff, Victoria (Victoria Coady, Production Stage Manager) and Dave (Dave Steakley, Producing Artistic Director) and Lisa (Lisa Goering, Stage Manager) and everyone told us from the get-go that this would not be an overtly sexualized version of events for Young Tommy. It’s all tactfully done and they created a very safe environment for Diego and that provided Kate and I with a lot of comfort in the way they handled the material.

Diego Rodriguez, Michael Valentine and Will Sendera

What’s your relationship like with the cast and creative team?

Diego Rodriguez: It is just probably one of the best things in my life. Everyone is so nice and treats me great. I have to say that for my Mom and Dad too – I think they both agree. They are nice and they will do anything to keep me comfortable so I won’t have anything to worry about when I’m doing the acting. Whenever you get to know a cast it makes them easier to work with – I’ve learned that from past shows, so this is easier than I thought it would be because I knew everyone so well.  It is weird to be the only child on set with so many adults. We have different personalities because of our ages and I don’t know what adults do to kill time. We made The Candy Club – I’m the president and Mr. Michael, (Michael Valentine who plays the Adult Tommy) is the Vice President. We bring in candy, we discuss candy and we bring some for everyone to share.

Kate Rodrigues: The cast and creative team are wonderful with him. There is no other classroom with such incredible inter-generational learning opportunities.

Will Sendera: I knew a lot of the creative team and crew before we started so it was nice to work with them again.  The cast is so enthusiastic and everything that they do is so cool.  I love to see how much hard work they put into all of this.  They are all really fun people but really hard workers.  Backstage the cast talks and acts silly and plays games.  It is fun in the green room but sometimes I’m there alone because everyone else is onstage and then it is lonely but I listen to them on the speakers.

Heather Sendera: This is Will’s 4th mainstage show at ZACH and he has been part of the education department for almost 3 years now so he knows lots of people on the creative team and behind the scenes.  He thinks of all of these amazing people as his friends and the ZACH really is his second home. And the cast has been just fabulous with both of the young Tommys…they have so much fun with everyone and the cast is very sweet and protective of them.  We are moving to Pittsburgh at the close of the show and it is going to be very hard for us to leave the amazing team at the ZACH!

For the boys – What is your dream role? Is it a specific character or show? Something with singing and dancing?

Will Sendera: I really wanted to be Chip in Beauty and the Beast.  That was one of the first shows I saw and I couldn’t believe how lucky he was to be on stage and he was only 8.  That was what really made me want to take more classes and learn more about acting.  But now I might be too old to play Chip!  So maybe I could be Tommy someday and then I would have been both Young Tommy and Adult Tommy!

Diego Rodriguez: I would like to be in the show Newsies and be Jack Kelly because I think that would be an interesting role. I don’t know why – maybe the dancing and that it’s so athletic and I want to do that when I grow up.

Michael Valentine, Diego Rodriguez and Will Sendera

What’s your favorite part of the show?

Will Sendera: It is either the scene where Cousin Kevin beats me up or any of the scenes where the cast does acrobatics. There are so many cool tricks in the show.  The cast is really amazing!

Heather Sendera: I love it all!  The show really draws you in and the interaction between the cast and the audience is perfect.  I love watching the reactions of the audience because so many people know the Tommy album and to see them get into the music while watching the onstage action is just fantastic. And, emotionally I love the end of the show because you really see the story come full circle.

Diego Rodriguez: My favorite part is probably Cousin Kevin, when he rolls me in the trash can.  That really is fun.

Kate Rodriguez:  There are so many. There is one scene I love, whether in rehearsal, with Will or with Diego. Right before Cousin Kevin, when Adult Tommy, comes up behind Young Tommy and sings “See Me, Feel Me,” and Diego puts his little head on Michael’s his chest, I can see any child in that chair and really connect to that. It’s a very heartfelt moment, to see that connection between the Adult Tommy and the Young Tommy.

Art Rodriguez: I enjoy the finale – the young boy being a man, the forgiveness. It’s inspirational.

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The Director’s Notes: The Who’s Tommy

July 14th, 2014 No comments

At ZACH Theatre, each show’s playbill includes a note from the production’s Director.  The notes often offer insight in to the Director’s inspiration for their directorial approach on the production, or perhaps some historical context.  All of which can assist you in your enjoyment of the show you’re about to see.. Starting with The Who’s Tommy, you’ll be able to read the Director’s Notes here in our blog as well.

Dave Steakley is the Director of The Who’s Tommy, and ZACH’s Producing Artistic Director. Shares his unique vision for our production which is partly inspired by his own life …

TOMMY has lent itself to differing interpretations by directors since it was first created by The Who as a rock opera concept album in 1969.  From the original Tommy concerts, to Ken Russell’s trippy mid-70’s film, to renegade college campus and nightclub productions, to the stark post-modern early-90’s Broadway musical, the framework narrative and substantial instrumental passages have created the opportunity for multiple directorial visions of how to tell the story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy who rises to international fame once discovered as a pinball playing savant.

I first directed Tommy at ZACH 16 years ago and my concept was, and is, that when Tommy witnesses a life-altering event as a child, it sends him reeling inward on an amazing journey down the rabbit hole of his imagination on an Alice In Wonderland-inspired voyage.  This escape into a favorite childhood story is inspired in part by my own experience of coming home from first grade and witnessing my mother have a heart attack and die.  I was a very shy 6 year old who retreated into the story of Mary Poppins, which was the last movie experience I remember having with my mother.  I loved that film and over a period of months my Mom bought me the Disney album, an illustrated copy of the book, and a Mary Poppins umbrella, which also had on it an image of Alice in Wonderland.  My world turned upside down and the fantasy of Mary Poppins coming to the rescue with a spoonful of sugar helped me navigate what I could not understand.

I chose Alice in Wonderland for young Tommy to disappear into because it was written by Lewis Carroll, a British author, whom I thought resonated with Who composer Pete Townsend, and whose story was immortalized by another 60’s band Jefferson’s Airplane in their song “White Rabbit.”  As I dug into Alice, I found strong parallels between the characters in it and Tommy, which made it even more compelling to me as means to handle some of the dark themes of Tommy’s life.

So why return to Tommy now?  I love this music, it is the most fun I’ve ever had in the theatre, and I think it delivers an emotional experience that facilitates transformation, forgiveness and self-realization.   My initial foray with my terrific collaborators Michael Raiford (scenic design) and Leslie Bonnell (costume design) on Tommy was so satisfying, and yet I’ve always had this nagging voice in the back of my mind because at that time I was not able to achieve the complete vision I had for the piece with the resources available.  The Topfer Theatre creates a new opportunity for me to finally bring you the version I’ve been living with in my head for the past decade, with the extraordinary and imaginative collaboration of our entire production design team, and the amazing work of our choreographer Robin Lewis, who I am delighted to welcome back to ZACH!  This version of Tommy is highly interactive, just as it was on the Kleberg Stage, and I want to bring that kind of experience where we use the entire theatre and audience space to the Topfer.  You won’t see this version of Tommy anywhere else because it is theatre made of, by and for Austin.

Have a wonderful trip!

Dave Steakley, Director of The Who’s Tommy

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3 Months to Spike!

July 14th, 2014 No comments

Those who came to enjoy our recent production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike are familiar with Spike’s “body of work,” – an accomplishment that took three months of training for actor Michael Glavan. The rigors of the role have even been documented in the New York Times. Below, Michael tells us about his work with Castle Hill Fitness Trainer Erin Truslow, and Erin describes Michael’s journey to that fantastic Spike physique.

What was it like for Michael Glavans?

Erin has been hugely instrumental in my process for this production at ZACH Theatre.  I was cast in the role of Spike who prides himself chiefly on his looks.  With Erin’s intense workouts, I was able to get my body in shape, which helped me gain better access into the character.  I have never been anywhere near this level of fitness in my life.    She gave me a confidence I’ve never had in myself; and in this role particularly, such confidence is imperative.  Erin worked with me from abroad when I was living in NYC – emailing back and forth with progress and new workout routines.  Upon arriving in Austin, we have had regular training sessions where she coaches, corrects, and facilitates workout programs that she has taken the time to design herself.  On off days – she recommends classes at Castle Hill Fitness.  It has been a real blessing getting to work with Erin.

And what was it like for Erin Trunslow?

Over the past 3 months I have been watching the physical changes in Michael Glavan as he prepared for his role as Spike in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at ZACH Theater.  He has been amazing to work with.  He did everything I asked and more, from watching his diet, to adding in extra cardio on the weekends.  The combination of Cardiovascular work with both light weight, high reps and heavy weights with low reps was exactly what he needed to make his body perfect for the part of Spike.

When I was first introduced to Michael via email, I had him send some “before” pictures so I could see what I had to work with. At first I was not sure of how much muscle I could put on him in a safe way without having him get puffy.  We had a good base, but needed to really work the Chest, Back, and Core for the stage. Fortunately, with this strong work ethic we were able to watch the weight, but get enough protein in without adding too much water weight and puff.

I remember Michael mentioned that he was totally new to lifting weights and really didn’t know what to do.  So I sent him a very detailed set of workouts to get him ready for the types of workouts we’d be doing here in Austin.  Having Michael start his program early was necessary, but difficult as I was not able to see his form or monitor his weight choices.  Once he got to Austin I was able to turn up the heat and dial in some of his form.

It is really incredible to see just how strong he is now and how much more weight he can lift.  We also added in some “boot camp” type classes twice a week and the occasional yoga class to help him stretch out and recover faster from the harder and heavier workouts.  For fun on the weekends I would have him do a long run and get in a Kayak or Stand Up Paddle on the lake for his active recovery.  I knew he would have fun doing those activities, but I also knew want an incredible core workout they would be.

I am going to miss working with Michael now that he is going on to other parts and plays. But I know that he has learned a lot and can keep this new body going for a long time.

I just want to thank Michael for being on time for every workout and coming with a “can do” attitude. For proving to me that if you do everything I ask, it really does work and huge changes can be made in a short period of time. And for being awesome to work with, it’s been a fun 3 months.

Keep up the good work!

Erin Truslow – CPT, USAT & USAC
Master Personal Trainer & Coach

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One Set, Many Stages

June 4th, 2014 No comments

The work you see on stage at ZACH Theatre sometimes acquires a unique career of its own, traveling to other theatres around the country. Such is the case of the spectacular set created for ZACH’s production of Les Misérables and designed by ZACH’s Award-Winning Set Designer Cliff Simon.

The design and creation of the set and properties was a co-production of ZACH Theatre and McCoy Rigby Entertainment, one of the world’s premier theatrical production companies headed by Executive Producers Tom McCoy and Cathy Rigby.  Recently, ZACH’s set was featured in the Stage Scene LA’s review of Les Mis at La Mirada Theatre. You can view a short video of their lead performing in front of the set here.

What’s next for this incredible piece of artistry? The set is scheduled to move on to Anchorage Alaska where it will be on stage at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts!

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