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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May 13th, 2014 No comments

Pictured: Rommel Sulit. Photo by Kirk Tuck.

To the delight of families and school children across Austin a fresh new interpretation of Pinocchio is playing at ZACH Theatre through May 24th. From script to stage, this brilliant show was developed under the guidance of Director, Nat Miller, who shares his thoughts with us below.

Five years ago, I went to my very first Children’s Theatre Festival in Cleveland, OH, and it completely changed the way I think about theatre for young audiences.  The work coming out of Denmark, England, Australia, Iceland, and Scotland, is not just great theatre for kids, it’s great theatre in general.  It’s funny, poignant, beautiful, and moving.  I was so inspired, as a theatre artist, to do work with this kind of emotional depth, risk taking, and creativity. That’s our goal with the ZACH Family Series, and I feel that Pinocchio is a wonderful example of what we’re capable of.

Last year, as I was researching interesting fairy tales, I came upon Pinocchio and was fascinated with why this old man would want to make a boy out of wood.  I thought, “Why doesn’t he have a son of his own?  Who is Geppetto?” This question became really intriguing to me and after brainstorming with Andrew Windler, our playwright, we decided that Geppetto does not have a son because he is a shut in and has never ventured out into the world.  He makes puppets, clocks, and toys, and lives in the world of his imagination.

I was inspired by the image of Pinocchio turning into a real boy and leading Geppetto out into the world. This was an opportunity to position the child as the one who is wise and helps bring about change for the adult.

From there, we decided that the adventure and action of the story would all take place in Geppetto’s workshop.  The whole story takes place inside of his mind- going on imaginary adventures is how Geppetto deals with his fears.  Our interpretation of the story is new.

It has been such an honor to work on this play and hear feedback from teachers, parents, and children. I love to hear about the emotional impact our work has on them.

We still have a lot of catching up to with international work, but it is incredibly rewarding to create work that stretches our perception of theatre for young audiences.

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Straight from the Fish’s Mouth!

April 23rd, 2014 No comments

Photo by Kirk Tuck

A fantastic peek into the world of Cassadie Petersen, the actress and puppeteer behind the bossy Fish of The Cat In The Hat here at ZACH Theatre:

I distinctly remember reading books as a child and feeling like the worlds in the stories became my worlds too. I imagined the characters would play ‘pretend’ with me, I dreamed of my bedroom transforming into the places in my books and I would lay in bed at night wishing that my favorite stories would come to life.

When I was cast as the ‘Fish’ in The Cat in the Hat as part of the Family Series at Zach Theatre, I was overjoyed by the amazing opportunity to bring the famous storybook to the stage in the way I had dreamed of as a child. However, as an actor and Dr. Seuss fan, I was also a little nervous about whether I could truly make the Fish ‘come to life’ for the thousands of young people seeing the show. Our director, Nat Miller had the unique and wonderful idea to keep me visible as an extension of the Fish, as both a performer and character in the story. This way the audience can see both of us (myself and the Fish) reacting to the Cat’s crazy antics throughout the show. It definitely took a lot of practice to match all of my expressions, breath and movement with the puppet but it is wonderfully challenging and fun and I think it makes for a funnier and more dynamic character!

The Fish is really the only authority figure of sorts in The Cat in the Hat but he spends most of the show stuck in a teapot unable to stop the Things from causing a ruckus, which makes him a great foil to the kooky Cat. It is the contrast between the uptight and anxious Fish and the freewheeling, clowning Cat that creates a lot of the humor in the show. As a young female, the uniqueness of this role is not lost on me and I really treasure it; there is often a tendency for younger actresses to get typecast in theater and playing the gender-neutral, quirky, sometimes bossy and always loud Fish has broadened me as a performer and is more fun than I can even say!

My favorite part of the whole process has definitely been the reactions children have to the show. In this age of immediacy, media-overload and literal storytelling, it is so important that children are exposed to the magic of live theater and are given chances to suspend their disbelief and engage in the world of a play. Theater (and puppetry especially) is a wonderful tool for strengthening the imaginations of children while encouraging them to observe and think critically. When the actors meet the audience after shows, I am always excited to see how children react to the Fish because often they don’t know whether to look at me or the puppet! Although most of the children can recognize that it isn’t an actual fish, most still respond to it as though it is very much alive and talk to it directly. I love when they look right past me and only at the puppet because it means this character is no longer something on the page to these children but rather a dream brought to life. A few weeks ago, a child who had just seen the show came up to me in the lobby and said hello to the Fish. Then she looked at me and asked me ‘how do you and the Fish talk at the same time?’ I smiled and told her that the Fish and I have a very special connection, and we truly do!

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National Alliance for Musical Theatre Spring Conference at ZACH

April 3rd, 2014 No comments

This weekend, ZACH Theatre is honored to host the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Spring Conference here in Austin. NAMT is a phenomenal organization uniting the very best musical theatre organizations from around the country.  We’re excited to show off our spectacularly creative city, to introduce our colleagues to our beautiful Topfer Theatre, and to share The Gospel At Colonus. Most of all, we look forward to learning from one another over the course of the next three days.

Our keynote presenter, SXSW Interactive founder Hugh Forrest, is a wonderful embodiment of the innovative spirit Austin is known for. Local food trailers Hey Cupcake, NutterBuster BBQ and Lamberts Foodapalooza will be on site to give our guests a taste of our city, and you can’t beat the view on a sunset cruise around Lady Bird Lake. Our guests will also be treated to a special reception and performance of The Gospel At Colonus in our new theatre, something we’re very proud to share.

While there will be no shortage of entertainment through the conference, it’s all balanced by a robust schedule of educational presentations and breakout sessions with leaders in our industry. This is a time when we can learn from each other’s challenges, celebrate and share in each other’s success stories and grow as individual arts managers and as organizations. It’s a whirlwind three-day schedule and we can’t wait to join our colleges this weekend for what’s sure to be an inspiring Spring Conference!

You’re welcome to follow along in the online social media conversations using #NAMTSC14.

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Chat with Court Watson, Scenic & Costume Designer

March 26th, 2014 No comments

As we look forward to The Gospel At Colonus, we caught up with Court Watson, Scenic & Costume Designer, to learn more about his approach to this epic musical:

Artistic Director, and Gospel Director, Dave Steakley first approached me about designing Gospel late last summer. For us, the show is about “coming home.” Oedipus is at the end of a long and tragic life and is looking for rest. The ZACH has a history with the show, having first performed it eighteen years ago. With the Topfer Theatre as the ZACH’s new home, the show itself is coming home. When we sat down for our first design meeting, neither of us knew what the show would “look like,” but we knew what it “felt like.” The soaring score of evangelical pentecostal gospel music in the show and the “meeting tent” outside of the theatre inspired us to look for a logical place where the show could happen. In fact, we found a stunning photograph by an Austin photographer of an abandoned revival tent and a stormy sky. It seemed to make perfect sense, and to our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has taken this approach to the show. It seems like a perfect fit to us.

We wanted the show to feel “at home” in the venue itself and within the city of Austin. The curvature of the set and the chorus risers reflect the audience seating, as do the lanterns strung over the stage and the audience, inviting the audience to feel as if they are seated within the tent throughout the show. Upstage of everything is a sweeping Texas sky that can be sublimely beautiful or haunting and dangerous when painted with Michelle Habeck’s glorious lighting.

I always create a scenic model of the set. This allows everyone to make sure the space is going to look the way we are all visualizing it before beginning actual construction and painting. The model is also a valuable tool for the Director and Choreographer, the brilliant Christa Oliver, to “pre-stage” the show before rehearsals begin. The carpenters and painters then use the model as a guide, along with technical drafting to construct everything onstage. For this show, we have been immeasurably helped by Production Manager Paul Flint and Technical Director Alexis Tucker; they have figured out a complicated rigging system to allow the fabric walls of the tent to “dissolve” before our eyes. Aaron Bell has lovingly carved dozens of limestone boulders and carved an entire hillside for our choir.

We have worked to keep the set in a subdued world of color, allowing the costumes to “pop.” For me, it is always important that the audience be able to follow the narrative of the story, and being able to focus on the actors always helps this. The structure of Gospel created two Ismenes and two Antigones, using a convention of ancient Greek drama. We have our two Singers in dresses and our two Evangelists in church suits and church hats, or “crowns.” The Antigones are in matching yellow and the Isemenes in blue. (Color also plays a part in the resurrection theme running throughout the show, but I don’t want to give away the surprise!) We have nearly fifty people onstage, including the band and choir, and they are all costumed. Blair Hurry is our Costume Shop Manager and has worked tirelessly to coordinate ordering hundreds of costume elements and helped fit our cast so they all look their very best. We have even worked with Sound Designer Craig Brock to build cordless body microphones into the ladies’ hats, a first for ZACH!

At the end of the day, we are a community of skilled artists and craftspeople working together to create a living, breathing community onstage. This show, maybe more that others, asks us to invite the audience to be part of that community. I, for one, am very excited to be part of it!

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March 4th, 2014 No comments

2014 RED, HOT & SOUL

“When Bobbi Topfer came to town, she raised the bar for the whole philanthropic community.”

Armando Zambrano, Gala Co-chair of Red, Hot & Soul

Recently we had a chance to chat with the Gala Co-chairs of this May’s Red, Hot & Soul, Bobbi Topfer and Armando Zambrano. We’re in the beautiful Serra Skyline lounge in the Topfer Theatre, a modern space with a spectacular view of Lady Bird Lake and the Austin skyline. It’s late afternoon and Bobbi and Armando arrive chatting and laughing in the easy way close friends do. While each is a fundraising powerhouse in their own right, they’ve partnered together on numerous events. This year, Red, Hot & Soul Gala presents “THE GREAT ZACHSBY,” honoring James C. Armstrong as the Cornerstone of the Arts in Austin, for his incredible generosity and leadership. The event will be nothing short of spectacular.

“My friends will tell you, ‘She gets it done! She makes things happen!’ I’m proud to know that the reputation I have in the community is as a person who will jump in and get my hands dirty” says Bobbi Topfer. “I commit wholeheartedly to the causes I care about, and I truly believe that it’s my duty and joy in life to give back. We give back not just financially but with our creative vision and advocacy – when I’m involved in a project I ensure that it’s a success. I’m interested and involved in every intimate detail.“ says Topfer.

“THE GREAT ZACHSBY” theme name was coined by Armando Zambrano after a conversation about the goals for the Gala. “We wanted something exciting, entertaining and hopeful” says Zambrano. “We want something that speaks to the incredibly high quality of the work at ZACH Theatre while acknowledging the history of the organization, the bold creative vision of the work here and the beautiful escapism of live theatre.”

At the Red, Hot & Soul Gala, “you can expect to enter our space and be enveloped in a sense of love and excitement and entertainment” says Topfer. “Right when you join us you know that what we are supporting is worthwhile and that what we do at ZACH Theatre is worthy of Austin’s full support.”  In every event Bobbi Topfer produces, guests can expect an all-encompassing experience, touching each of their senses. “For THE GREAT ZACHSBY, I envision sheer entertainment, joy and optimism – I strive to inspire passion in my guests, the kind of passion the ZACH Theatre inspires in me.” says Topfer. “Out of all the organizations that I support here in Austin, ZACH Theatre truly has my heart.”

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Introducing Z-Lounge Pre- and Post-Show Entertainment!

January 30th, 2014 No comments
Kenny Williams

January 29-February 1: Kenny Williams (Star of ZACH's DREAMGIRLS and Broadway's THE LION KING!)

Come early! Stay late! Join us for pre- and post-show musical entertainment in the Topfer Theatre’s Main Lounge and Skyline Lounge. Enjoy snacks and Happy Hour drink specials from our full bar in the Topfer Theatre.

Pre-show: Topfer Theater Main Lounge
Wednesday-Saturday 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.
Happy Hour drink specials (6-7 p.m.):

$2 off Well Liquor and Specialty Cocktails
$2 off House Wines
$1 off Select Beers

Post-show: Topfer Skyline Lounge

(More info.)

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A special thank-you note helps us appreciate theatre through new eyes

January 10th, 2014 No comments

Almost every day of the week, busloads of school children visit ZACH Theatre and experience live performance first hand. Seven year-old Summer Walberg’s visit was a little different- as a blind student at Summit Elementary, Summer saw the theatre from a perspective all her own.

A few days before her class’s field trip, Summer met up with Kate Shaw-Nappi, Education Associate at ZACH to explore the theatre and the set of Holiday Heroes by hand. Feeling the props and set, the guitar cases and the layout of the room, Summer was already familiar with the theater when she arrived with her classmates to experience a sing-along performance of Holiday Heroes.

The thoughtful and impressive thank-you note, written in both brail and text with the help of her teacher, Marjie, meant a lot to us here at Zach Theatre. “The best part is when the actors sang,” says Summer in her letter.

Summer’s sweet note is a wonderful reminder that theatre can be experienced in many different ways. Everyone brings their own fresh perspective. Thank you Summer, for visiting us!

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Small businesses with big ideas

December 10th, 2013 No comments

We’re feeling very inspired at the moment and thank Dell for their support and this wonderful video! Small businesses certainly can have big ideas! Thanks for helping us keep the art of story-telling alive.

Click here to view “Meet the Folks at ZACH Theatre, Austin’s longest running theatre company.”

Something special happened during a performance of A Christmas Story

December 5th, 2013 No comments

This past weekend something special happened during a performance of A Christmas Story here at ZACH Theatre.

Toward the end of the play, actor Marco Perella’s character Ralph says, “It was a good Christmas because we had love; we had each other. And in the final accounting, that’s what it’s all about after all.” A woman in the packed Topfer audience spontaneously shouted “AMEN!” which inspired other audience members to affirm this sentiment out loud, while others clapped. I love it when theatre unexpectedly turns into church. And when I say that I mean the communal experience of gathering together for a shared experience in which we are lifted up in some way. I’ve sat in enough theatre audiences across the country to know how special this is, and it doesn’t happen in many places.

It is a great reminder for me this week of how thankful I am for Austin audiences and their spirit! Lots of our audience members this week are telling the house managers at our theaters how thankful they are for us putting them in the holiday spirit at This Wonderful Life with Martin Burke’s delightful performance, as well as at A Christmas Story. Many said they came in feeling a bit tired from Thanksgiving or not ready for Christmas to be here, and they find themselves leaving ZACH in the spirit of the holiday season. As people who make theatre we value the experience of transformation, and this past week it was so gratifying to see so many folks in our lobbies smiling ear to ear, hugging loved ones, and laughing after the performances — the persons who had walked in the door were transformed.

At ZACH we revisit our mission, vision and core values on a regular basis to make sure we are in alignment and to see if we feel like anything needs tweaking based our continued maturation and growth as an arts organization. Our mission currently is: ZACH creates intimate theatre that ignites the imagination, lifts the spirit, and engages our community. In a recent staff meeting we discussed each part of our statement for about two hours with a very lively and passionate conversation. This idea of “lifting the spirit” in particular had a lot of dialogue around it. This week it has been an especially gratifying experience to hear these words being reflected back to us by the audiences at the performances. We love this community and the ways in which we get to participate in it and contribute to it. We are lifted by the experience of what I believe to be the finest audience in America. Amen, indeed!

-Dave Steakley