Mary Poppins Monday: P.L. Travers and Mary Poppins

A new production is getting underway– Mary Poppins– and that means a brand-new blog series highlighting the various aspects of the show!

PL Travers, wrote Mary Poppins series of booksThis week, we would like to take a look at the woman behind Mary Poppins– author P.L.  Travers. For our study guide, Dramaturg Robert Neblett provided an in-depth look at this legendary woman and her legacy, just in time for our Mary Poppins production set to take stage this week!

Early Life

Born Helen Lyndon Goff in 1899 in Australia, P. L. Travers had a colorful life before ever being approached by Roy and Walt Disney to make a film version of her Mary Poppins books in the mid-1940s.

After her alcoholic father, a bank manager, died of tuberculosis in 1905, her mother and sisters moved to Bowral, New South Wales. While attending boarding school, she began writing poetry and pursued a career as an actress. After she moved to England in 1924, she assumed the pen name P. L. Travers and started creating the characters who would soon populate her children’s books.

In her youth, she lived a globetrotting life, studying poetry with the leaders of the new Irish national literature movement and even working in the United States studying Native American mythology and folklore.


Upon the 1934 publication of Mary Poppins, Travers became an international success, following up the original volume with seven sequels over the next 50 years. While she wrote many other children’s books and nonfiction works, none achieved the success that her Mary Poppins books did.

Mary Poppins author DL Travers with Walt Disney and Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews, Walt Disney and P.L. Travers

Beginning as early as 1938 Walt Disney pursued the rights for a film adaptation of Travers’ Mary Poppins stories. She refused him for nearly 20 years, finally agreeing to meet with him and the film’s collaborators in California in 1961 as a “consultant” on the film, largely because she was in danger of financial ruin. These encounters are dramatized in the 2013 film “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Her main objections to the film version were that she felt Mary Poppins’ character had been “softened” too much, she did not like the music composed by the Sherman Brothers for the film and was absolutely opposed to any use of animation in the telling of her story. Ultimately, Disney overrode her objections once he purchased the rights from her, claiming final cut privilege.

The tension between Travers and Disney was so strong by the time of the world premiere of the film that Disney did not even invite her to the event. She had to ask to be added to the guest list. She was supposedly so angered by the final version of the film that she wept openly during the screening. Even though the film secured her financial future and reinvigorated her fame for the rest of her life, she always regretted her decision to sell her beloved character to Disney. When asked for permission to create a sequel to Mary Poppins, she refused and would not change her mind.

Who is Mary Poppins, exactly?

The character of Mary Poppins, as written by Travers, is often cold, intimidating, stubborn and unsympathetic. Her hardness is intended to cut through the nonsense attempted by the Banks children, in an attempt to civilize their uncouth ways. However, she does take the children on a number of magical adventures in which they are exposed to compassionate, open-hearted friends, relatives and associates of Mary Poppins, all of whom seem to be as ancient and timeless as she is.

Mary Poppins’ true identity is never disclosed, although there are intimations through the books that she may be a shooting star or a “fairy tale come true.” She is referred to as “The Great Exception,” meaning that she has retained the memory of being an infant and possesses special abilities that humans lose as they grow older, including being able to talk to animals. She also remembers the eternal world from which we are born into existence on Earth.

Pulled from the Mary Poppins study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Check back every Monday to uncover a new aspect of this magical production and get your tickets to our biggest show ever by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visiting!

Mary Poppins Monday: Did You Know?

Elizabeth DeRose (Mary Poppins) and Brian Letendre (Bert). Photo by John David Pittman.

Elizabeth DeRose (Mary Poppins) and Brian Letendre (Bert). Photo by John David Pittman.

A new production is getting underway– Mary Poppins– and that means a brand-new blog series highlighting the various aspects of the show!

To keep things rolling, we wanted to highlight some things you may not know about the original “Mary Poppins” film and books. Here are some interesting facts, courtesy of our Dramaturg Robert Neblett:



  • Mary Poppins was the first film the Walt Disney Company ever released on DVD format.
  • The word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.
  • Julie Andrews was left hanging in mid-air during one particularly long camera set up. The stagehands unwittingly lowered her wire harness rather rapidly. “Is she down yet?” called a grip. “You bloody well better believe she is!” fumed Andrews. [From]
  • The opening shot of Mary Poppins sitting on a cloud contains a gag originally used in Disney’s “Dumbo.” While Poppins checks her make-up, her carpetbag slides “through” the cloud. She catches it repeatedly just before it falls to oblivion. The stork delivering Dumbo does the same thing with his bundle. [From]
  • Many of the nannies seeking an interview to replace Katie Nanna at the beginning of the film are men in drag.
  • The child actors who play Jane and Michael were not told that Dick Van Dyke would also be playing Mr. Dawes, Sr., in the bank scenes.

    Julie Andrews & Audrey Hepburn

    Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews

  • Van Dyke suggested to Walt Disney that he double in the role of Mr. Dawes, Sr. He even offered to play the role for free. Disney made him audition for the role, and when Van Dyke was cast, also made him make a financial donation to the CalArts film school.
  • Julie Andrews was hesitant to accept the role of Mary Poppins, hoping that she would be asked to recreate her stage performance as Eliza Doolittle in the film adaptation of the musical My Fair Lady, which cast Audrey Hepburn as the Cockney flower girl instead. Andrews went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role as Mary Poppins in a year that saw the two films competing for Oscars.
  • Interestingly enough, though she was not asked to play Eliza Doolittle, her performance in Mary Poppins is what convinced the producers of The Sound of Music (1965) to cast her as Maria von Trapp, another singing governess (with decidedly fewer magic powers).


  • In the books, Jane and Michael have three additional siblings: the twins, John and Barbara, and youngest sister Annabel, who is born in the middle of the second book, Mary Poppins Comes Back. While Jane and Michael are the primary characters in the books, the other children do accompany M

    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    ary Poppins on adventures as well.

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was written in 1943 to compete with the publication of the third Mary Poppins book, Mary Poppins Opens the Door.
  • The illustrator of the Mary Poppins books, Mary T. Shepard, was the daughter of E. H. Shepard, the famous illustrator of the Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows books.
  • In 1981, the “Bad Tuesday” chapter of Mary Poppins was edited by Travers to alter some negative ethnic stereotypes that were deemed offensive in the latter 20th century. These characters were replaced by animals from around the world.
  • Emma Thompson, who stars as P. L. Travers in the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks, also appears as a magical, Mary Poppins-esque governess in the Nanny McPhee series of films, based upon the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand.

Pulled from the Mary Poppins study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Check back every Monday to uncover a new aspect of this magical production and get your tickets to our biggest show ever by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visiting!

Mary Poppins Monday: Extraordinary Lobby Decorations

photo 3A new production is getting underway– Mary Poppins– and that means a brand-new blog series highlighting the various aspects of the show!

To kick off our first Mary Poppins Monday blog post, we wanted to showcase the first thing fans will see when visiting Arkansas Repertory Theatre: the lobby!

This spring when patrons take a step in the lobby, they will be transported to a whimsical land fit for Mary Poppins and her proper ways.

From colorful kites and puffs of cotton emulating clouds to delicate arrangements and intricate cutouts of London-town and Mary Poppins, herself, patrons will be singing a “Spoonful of Sugar” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” upon their arrival!

Decorations were created by the theatre’s Stagehands group, whose mission is to welcome and provide hospitality to The Rep’s visiting actors, directors and technical crew. With her vast interior design experience, Penny Beebe led the colorful project that has taken over the 5

“[The Stagehands and I] discussed the music itself and the various scenes within the movie and the musical,” she said, “and decided to focus on the main character Mary Poppins. [We] thought it would be really special if we could somehow make her fly in and amongst some big, billowy clouds.”

To create Mary Poppins’ silhouette, Beebe looked at various photos and decided on one that was “practically perfect in every way.” She first enlarged her picture with an old-fashioned overhead projector that teachers used to use to teach their lessons and she blew her up on a wall and got the outline.

photo 4“From there, it needed to be transferred to foam board. The problem was she didn’t fit on just one piece. It took five pieces of foam board to create Mary Poppins as she was about nine feet in length– from the top of her umbrella to the end of her carpet bag,” Beebe said.

And it wasn’t that easy to install– it took three people on two tall ladders to get her into place!

As for the fluffy clouds you seeing hanging overhead, Beebe used five paper honeycomb balls–the kind that fan out use for decoration for parties– and tied them all together as the basis for the cloud. She then hot glued stuffing in the holes, creating a cloud-like appearance.

Additionally, the creative group loved the idea of hanging various sizes and colors of kites from the ceiling and wrapping the room with the letters and actual word of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

photoAnd if you look on the outside windows, you might notice the outline of a chimney or two– think “Chim Chim Cher-ee”!

“We chatted about Bert and the chimney sweep scene and that inspired us with the idea of creating a silhouette of that particular scene,” Beebe said, “one we could display on the windows in the lobby so that it could be seen from both the interior and exterior of the building as well.”

Kite strings, parasols and centerpieces for each table (with clear vases held in sugar cubes) rounded out the gorgeous decorations for the lobby.

photo 1“We are all excited about Mary Poppins! Here’s to a another successful event!” Beebe said.

Mary Poppins will take The Rep stage from March 6 and will run through April 12. Get your tickets to this Disney musical by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or by visiting

Thank you our wonderful Stagehands group for their wonderful work on the decorations!

VOTE NOW! Help Name Special Loblolly Ice Cream for Mary Poppins

THEREP_MARYPOPPINS (no credits)-page-001Who doesn’t love Little Rock’s very own Loblolly Creamery? Well, you’re in for a treat!

This spring with our production of Mary Poppins taking The Rep MainStage in March, we have teamed up with the popular creamery to create a special ice cream for the whimsical production– sweet cream with brownie chunks. And guess what? We need your help naming it!

Starting Wednesday, Feb. 11, The Rep is launching its Mary Poppins Ice Cream Naming Contest, where we will be accepting entries for the special treat.

After we chose our top 5 favorite names, then, you, the fans, will vote for your favorite! The winner will receive a pint of the special flavor with their name on the carton and a pair of tickets to see Mary Poppins!

Here is how the contest will work:

IMG_21211. Submit your awesome ice cream name from 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15.  Enter HERE! Bonus points if you include “Rep” somewhere in the name! Special note: Due to copyright, the use of “Mary Poppins” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” cannot be considered for the top five. Sorry! SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW CLOSED!

2. Our top five favorite names will be selected and fans will be allowed to vote for their favorite on our Facebook page from 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 16 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18. The name with the most ‘Likes’ at the end of the voting period will be the winner! Vote for your favorite HERE!

3. The winner will receive a pint of the special flavor with their name on the carton and a pair of tickets to see Mary Poppins!

The special ice cream will be sold at Loblolly Creamery, located inside the Green Corner Store, 1423 Main St., Suite D, Little Rock, and at The Rep through the entire run of the show from March 6-April 12.

Don’t miss your chance to try this one-of-a-kind sweet treat celebrating our spring musical and get your tickets to Mary Poppins online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Vote for your favorite flavor name here!

Whipping Man Wednesday: Historical Background

THEREP_THE WHIPPINGMAN (no credits)-page-001With The Whipping Man in its last week on the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, we have short series called “Whipping Man Wednesday” every Wednesday throughout its run.

In closing, we are taking a look at the historical background of the show to better understand this thought-provoking story! For our study guide (available here!), Dramaturg Robert Neblett took a look at the context of the show and we thought it would be fitting to share it for our last post of the series.

Historical Background

The Whipping Man takes place in mid-April, 1865. This is a time of great potential and
even greater tension. The American Civil War has come to an abrupt end with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union military leader Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. On April 14 of that same year, President Lincoln is assassinated. While the War is over and Southern slaves have been legally emancipated, a long period known as the Reconstruction is about to begin in the United States, which will seek to unify the citizens and borders of a broken country. Prejudices, anger, and abuse remain, and corruption abounds during the period between 1863 and 1877.
Jewish Southerners and Jewish SlavesCivil War Jews
Historically, Jews accounted for only 1.25 percent of all slaveowners in the American South in the period leading up to the Civil War. Jewish Southerners seemed to possess many of the same attitudes toward slave ownership as their Gentile neighbors, but because the Jewish landowners did not possess the wealth of their Christian fellows, they were less likely to own and operate plantation estates, as the DeLeon family in The Whipping Man demonstrates.
The Civil War and Reconstruction in Arkansas
In the years leading up to the beginning of the American Civil War, the state of Arkansas
was resistant to the idea of secession, until April 1861 when President Lincoln called upon
the Unionist-allied state to supply military aid against Confederate troops in South Carolina. The state’s response was clear and secede from the Union in May 1861 with a 69-1
Union Occupation Little RockIn 1863, Union forces attacked several garrisons throughout the state, including the defenders of Arkansas Post, where almost 5,000 Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner as a result of their loss. Throughout the rest of the year, Union troops pushed the Confederate presence farther and farther south in the state, and in September 1863, Little Rock fell to Union control. In March 1864, Union forces suffered a defeat during the Red River Expedition and were forced back to Little Rock. By the end of the War, more than 10,000 Arkansans lost their lives, regardless of color or political affiliation.

Pulled from The Whipping Man study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Get your tickets now for this thought-provoking drama, running through Sunday, Feb. 8. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405. Also check out the full lineup of engagement events for the show here. We hope to see you here!

Closing Week of The Whipping Man: Engage with Us!

Ryan Barry as Caleb (from left), Damian Thompson and Michael A. Shepperd. Photo by Stephen Thornton.

Ryan Barry as Caleb (from left), Damian Thompson and Michael A. Shepperd. Photo by Stephen Thornton.

Can you believe it? It’s the last week of our latest production, The Whipping Man!

An extraordinary tale of loyalty, deceit and deliverance, The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez opened off-Broadway in 2011 to critical acclaim, winning the 2011 John Gassner New Play Award from the NY Outer Critics Circle and becoming one of the most produced plays in the country.

It’s a week definitely not to be missed here at Arkansas Repertory Theatre (and the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center)– there are special engagement and standing surround events almost every night this week.

Here is what you can take part in:

It’s in the Bag: Lunch ‘n Learn Series at Mosaic Templars
Tuesday, February 3 | 11:30 a.m.
Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 501 W. 9th St., Little Rock
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center’s quarterly lunchtime series will be a panel discussion, moderated by Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp, featuring The Whipping Man cast, alongside Jim Pfeifer, AIA.  After the discussion, tour MTCC’s new exhibit, “Freedom! Oh, Freedom! Arkansas’ People of African Descent and the Civil War: 1861-1866.” Bring your lunch and drinks will be provided. Free!

Girls Night Out with The Design Group
Tuesday, Feb. 3 | 5 p.m.
Sponsored by The Design Group, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Brown Sugar Bake Shop and Arkansas Black Hall of Fame
Mix and mingle in The Rep lobby with yummy treats and fabulous shopping from 5 – 7 p.m. and enjoy a special talk-back discussion immediately following the performance. Post-show discussion moderated by Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp, featuring the cast of The Whipping Man and Lottie Shackelford, former Mayor of Little Rock. The special Girls Night Out event is free and open to the public. Tickets to the performance are $35. Call the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 to get your tickets!

Talk-Back Series
Thursday, February 5 | 9:30 p.m.
Post-show discussions that explore the themes present in this production. Free!beerglasses

Live from Foster’s with Crossroads
Friday, February 6 | 6:30 p.m.
Get your evening started early with live pre-show music from Crossroads in Foster’s. Free!

The After-Party
Saturday, February 7 | 10:30 p.m.
Stick around after the show for drinks and look for members of the cast to make an appearance at The Rep’s lounge Foster’s. Free!

Get your tickets now for this thought-provoking drama. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405. Learn more about this incredible play with our study guide here. We hope to see you here!

Sign Interpreter Night for The Whipping Man Wednesday

IKcjgzqMcqn an effort to make Arkansas Repertory Theatre more accessible, we have a Sign Interpreter section for the deaf on the third Wednesday of every production run through the season.

Raphael James, an instructor in the Interpreter Education program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, will be positioned in front of the new section, located on the First Mezzanine. He will sign directly for those who need his services.

We are gearing up for our next sign interpretation night, which will be the The Whipping Man performance at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4. There are still seats available! Any open seats in the section will be released to the public at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, so get your seats now!


Here are the dates for the remainder of the season:

  • Mary Poppins: Wednesday, March 18, 2015
  • August: Osage County: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Contact the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 to reserve your seat at our upcoming interpreter nights and get more details at

Whipping Man Wednesday: All About the Cast

THEREP_THE WHIPPINGMAN (no credits)-page-001With The Whipping Man taking the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, we are penning a new short series called “Whipping Man Wednesday” every Wednesday throughout its run.

This week, we are taking a look at the incredible actors taking center stage in the show and where you may have seen them before their performances here.

Here they are:

Ryan Barry* (Caleb DeLeon)

After appearing in last year’s production of Clybourne Park here at The Rep, he has been in several Off-Broadway productions, including In the Summer Pavilion, The Last Seder, Treasure Island (Irondale), As Wide As I Can See and The Temp. Regionally, he has been in Travesties w/ Sam Waterston (Long Wharf); Lights Rise On Grace RyanBarryWhippingManHeadshot(*upcoming world
premiere Wooly Mammoth); Red (Merrimack Repertory Theatre);
Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Shakespeare and Company); Janice
Underwater (Premiere Stages); and American Buffalo and The Winter’s
Tale (Elm Shakespeare Company).  Watch CBS’ “Blue Bloods”? He had a role in the crime drama, along with “Manhattan Love Story” (ABC), “Unforgettable” (CBS) and “Hunting Season” (LOGO). Film-wise, he has been in “The Moor”, “In The Summer Pavilion” and “All Those Sunflowers”. Commercially, Ryan is the voice of several
major national brands.

DamianThompsonWhippingManHeadshotDamian Thompson* (John)

Damian is making his debut here at The Rep for The Whipping Man! Before starring in the current production, he has appeared Off-Broadway in The Anthem, Around the World in 80 Days, By The Dawn’s Early Light and Mad Woman
of Chaillot. Regionally, he has been featured in Fly (Ford’s Theatre); The Brother/Sister Plays (Portland Playhouse); Where I Come From (Kentucky Repertory); Merchant Of Venice, Twelfth Night and As You Like It (Colorado
Shakespeare); A Midsummer’s Night Dream (Pennsylvania Shakespeare); and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Acorn Theatre). You might have also seen in him the movie “English Vinglish” or on TV in “The Player,” “Story of A Gun,” among others.


Michael A. Shepperd* (Simon)
Currently the Co-Artistic Director
of Los Angeles’ multiple award-winning Celebration Theatre, his
producing, directing, and acting credits include: The Color Purple,
Four, The Women of Brewster Place, Take Me Out, Coffee Will Make You
Black, [title of show] and numerous others in his nine-year career at the theatre. He has also been on Broadway/Off-Broadway/National Tours, including:
Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan (Starkey); Little Shop of Horrors (Audrey Two);
Caroline, or Change (Bus/Dryer); 5 Guys named Moe (Big Moe); and
Choir Boy (Headmaster).

Get your tickets now for this thought-provoking drama. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405. Also check out the full lineup of engagement events for the show here. We hope to see you here!

Saints & Sinners: How to Use Online Bidding System BidPal

SSlogoHiResArkansas Repertory Theatre’s biggest event of the year, Saints & Sinners, is almost here!

In addition to magical entertainment that will take over the Statehouse Convention Center on Saturday, Jan .31, funds will be raised for The Rep through silent, super silent and live auctions.

For the silent and super silent, we are utilizing the easy online bidding system, BidPal, for patrons. With the site live now, head over to the BidPal page NOW and start your bidding! Here are some common questions about getting started:

How do I find items?

You can find items by pressing one of the four BLUE buttons on the Main Menu:

  • Enter Item Number
  • View All Items
  • View Categories
  • Items with No Bids

How do I bid on an item?Devices

You can bid from anywhere, any time! Find the item you are interested in by pressing one of the four BLUE buttons listed above. Find the item and press “Submit Bid.”

Where are the items I bid on?

The items you bid on are listed “View My Items.” The icons are as follows:

  • Checkmark: You are the high bidder
  • Exclamation Point: You have been outbid
  • X: Item has been sold

Can BidPal automatically bid for me?

Once you have submitted a bid, you will be prompted to enter a max bid. Upon doing so, BidPal will automatically bid on your behalf, by increment, whenever you are outbid, to your max bid amount. NOTE: ONLY THE CURRENT HIGH BIDDERR CAN ENTER A MAX BID.

Was I outbid?

If you see a flashing OUTBID message, tap it or press “View My Items” to see what you were outbid on!

Here is some more information about the silent auction at Saints & Sinners:

  • At the event, the silent auction will begin at 6 p.m. and will close by 8:30 p.m. All items in the silent auction have an item number affixed or nearby. Enter the item number into your smartphone to bid on the item. Each incremental bid amount is displayed on BidPal and constitutes a valid bid.
  • An announcement will be made at the time the auction closes. At closing, the highest bid that meets the minimum-increase rule constitutes the winning bid. Payments may be made immediately through BidPal using Discover card or paid for at the cashier’s table starting at 9 p.m. Payments can be made using check, Visa, MasterCard or American Express.
  • Items may be claimed once payment is complete. Pickup of silent auction items closes during live auction and will reopen once the live auction is completed.
  • All items must be taken home on the night of the auction unless other arrangements have been made with The Rep.

Questions before the event? Call Ronda Lewis at (501) 378-0445 ext. 203! For help during the event on Saturday, Jan. 31, volunteers will be on hand to answer questions.

Get more information and purchase your tickets to Saints & Sinners by clicking here.

Whipping Man Wednesday: Q&A with Director Gilbert McCauley

With The Whipping Man taking the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, starting today, we are penning a new short series called “Whipping Man Wednesday” every Wednesday throughout its run.
Director Gilbert McCauley at the Clinton School Panel Discussion for Gee's Bend during the 2012-2013 MainStage Season.

Director Gilbert McCauley, from left, at the Clinton School Panel Discussion for Gee’s Bend during the 2012-2013 MainStage Season.

Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett had a chance to talk with Director Gilbert McCauley, an associate professor in the Department of Theater at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is returning to The Rep after directing several plays, including The Piano Lesson, A Soldier’s Play, Fences, Frost/Nixon, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder and Gee’s Bend.

Read on to see what he had to say about The Whipping Man, his process as a director and more!

Q: As a director, what attracts you to a play like The Whipping Man?
A: I like the subject matter. The Civil War changed the United States as a whole as well as future generations of the people in those United States. 
Q: What is its central message, if you were to pare it down to just one?
A: Im not sure I can.  But it has to do the understanding that freedom is not something that is given to us, it its something we must constantly strive to realize and maintain.
Q: Does this play have a personal relevance for you?
A: I think that for me personally, at this phase of my life, the notion of freedom is tied up with the notion realizing the fullness of who I am and recognizing the things that get in the way of that. And even more importantly, doing something about it.
Q: How would you describe the role of the director in the contemporary American theatre?
A: Every director goes about it in their own way, but I think the role has to do with establishing a creative environment that brings out the best in the all of the artists involved to make the work as significant and powerful as possible for the audience or community that experiences it.
Q: How do you prepare to approach the process of directing a play like this? What do you bring with you to the first rehearsal in terms of historical research and goals for the staging and building actor/character relationships?

Ryan Barry as Caleb DeLeon in The Whipping Man. Photo by John David Pittman.

Ryan Barry as Caleb DeLeon in The Whipping Man. Photo by John David Pittman.

A: For this production it was most important for me to feel I had a good grip on the historical research to understand more clearly the world of the play. I shared a good deal of what I had found with the actors when we started but I also made it clear that the exploration would be ongoing and that the purpose of the research was to illuminate the world of the play, their characters and what was going on between them. 

Q: Can you describe your collaborative process of working with the designers in preparation for this production?

A: It mostly consisted of sharing ideas and images with each other and having really focused conversations about the action of the play and how what we understood collectively could be communicated through things like, the set, costume, and lights, etc.

Q: This is a very intimate drama, with only three characters onstage in deeply emotionally charged situations. As a director, how do you approach the rehearsal process with the actors differently than you might with a larger production? 

A: I like for everyone in the rehearsal room to do personal source work on the issues explored in the play (i.e., whipping, slavery and freedom).  With a small cast like this it allows us to go deeper and find richer connections to the work.

Q: With the current state of race relations in the country, in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, how do you feel the themes of The Whipping Man resonate with audiences in 2015? 

A: I think audiences will recognize parallels between he brutality and inhumanity that it took to keep people in their place during slavery (which the character of the whipping man represents) and present day methods used to control and punish people of color, especially African-Americans.

Q: How do you think this drama will speak specifically to Little Rock audiences?

A: Because Arkansas was so divided in its opinions about the Civil War and because of Little Rocks importance in the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s, I think the play will a lot of resonance for audiences here.

Q: What do you hope area students will take from the experience of seeing The Whipping Man?

A: The importance of asking the difficult questions and having the fierce conversations that it takes to fully realize ourselves and live productively with others.

Q: The plays action centers upon reversals of fortune for each of the characters, often in surprising ways that unveil deep, dark secrets. How do these changes of identity illuminate the play and inform the way the characters interact with one another, to push the drama forward?

A: In the play the reversals of fortune also have to do with the reversal of power.  When the power dynamics of a relationship change it usually takes time for those involved to fully understand and adjust to the change, as well figure out new possibilities the change has opened up.  I think that is very true for The Whipping Man.

Q: Jewish identity and ritual lie at the heart of the play. Many of the audience members in central Arkansas may not be familiar with the traditions surrounding Passover and the Seder. Is this an obstacle in understanding the culture of the play and its characters? If so, is there a way to overcome such an obstacle in the staging of the drama? 

A: Because the Seder that is performed in the play is traditionally meant to be an interactive celebration of freedom, and because it is explained as such in the play, I think audiences will be drawn into the play and the ritual itself even more. 

Q: The use of music has been integral to the struggle for Civil Rights in America, from the Civil War through the 50s and 60s, to the present. In the midst of the Passover Seder scene, rather than reciting/singing in Hebrew, the character of Simon sings the classic Negro (Christian) spiritual, Go Down, Moses. How does this cross-cultural insertion inform that key moment of the play?

A: I think it points out a deeply held value for liberation and the constant struggle to maintain it that both cultures share. In fact, in our research we discovered that the songs use in Civil War in many ways mirrors its use in our play. The son also began to show up in some versions of the Passover Haggadah (the Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder) as early as 1941.

Q: Do you think audiences will be surprised to learn not only of the Jewish slave-owners in the South during the Civil War, but also the appropriated Jewish identity of the slave characters? How does this play expand our knowledge and challenge our assumptions of Civil War narratives, particularly in the South? 

A: Some audience will be surprised to know that Jews owned slaves during that time. And, while the notion that the enslaved took on the values and religion of their owners may not be a novel one, seeing that assimilation through a different lens may expand audiences understanding of slaverys impact on the lives of the enslaved.

Q: What is unique about working with the Arkansas Rep on a production like The Whipping Man?

A: The artistic leadership and the production team at The Rep are really committed to artistic excellence and it shows in the attention to detail and how things are presented.  That is extremely important when you are dealing with a text that has the historical, cross-cultural, theatrical and creative demands that this one does. 

Pulled from The Whipping Man study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

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