Little Mermaid Monday: Q&A with Aerial Director Joshua Dean

Flying 1We are in the second week of our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid. One thing is for sure: this is going to be a musical that you’ve never seen before.

To create the movement you’ll see in this underwater adventure, Choreographer Adam Cates enlisted the help of 2 Ring Circus, a theatrical circus group out of New York City, to add aerial and groundwork circus acts. Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett interviewed aerial director Joshua Dean, who, alongside Ben Franklin and Lani Corson, will be a part of the ensemble in the show.

Find out what he had to say about how they got involved in the show, what magical elements you’ll see and more:

Q: Tell us a little about 2 Ring Circus.

A: 2 Ring Circus is a company of four friends who came together to create their own brand of circus. We all came from musical theater or dance backgrounds before becoming circus artists. Now, we try to combine the theatricality of those genres with the excitement of the circus to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

Q: How did you first become involved with this type of movement/aerial work?

A: I was asked by director Donna Drake to choreograph and perform aerial fabric in a show that she was directing. I began taking classes at once and it all grew from there. I spent several years working to become a professional aerialist and then began to teach. As a teacher, I began to train my friends and future company members.

Q: If a student were interested in “learning to fly,” what would you suggest they need to do to prepare and train for a career in this unique field?

A: Train, train, train. This is field that takes a lot of discipline. It is very dangerous and without Flying 2that discipline, you could get injured by an accident or fall. I do believe that anyone can do this. It just takes the drive and patience. It will take a while to build the strength and any type of conditioning can help.

Q: Is this the first time you have ever worked with the Arkansas Rep? Have you worked with any of the other members of The Little Mermaid’s artistic team?

A: This is my first time working at The Rep. Ben, Lani and I are all very excited to create the circus elements for the show. Ben has worked with our amazing director, Melissa, before. Ben and myself have done several shows with Adam, our choreographer.

Q: What attracts you to a project like The Little Mermaid?

A: As a company, we love to combine theatre with circus. Two of our original production show creations have a very theatrical feel. We like the challenge of making circus elements integral to the plot and finding apparatus and movement that can help forward the story without distracting unnecessarily.

Q: How is this kind of specific movement/aerial work integral to a musical like The Little Mermaid?

A: This show has the potential for lots of magic and spectacle. We are using circus elements to make the life under the sea even more exciting. This includes the various sea creatures floating around under the ocean and the drowning prince being rescued to a mermaid floating on an anchor. These are just a few examples of how you will see circus integrated in the show.

Q: The Little Mermaid is not technically a Christmas story. How do you think this piece, with its memorable music and the special performance aspects you will be contributing, will contribute to the holiday spirit in Little Rock this year?

A: The holiday season is about the joy and wonder of it all and I believe The Little Mermaid checks those boxes perfectly.

Q: What is your favorite moment in the show a) from a choreographic standpoint and b) from an emotional perspective?

A: My favorite moment to create in the show will be the transformation. It is the moment when Ariel first gets her legs. It is going to be quite tricky to get it all right, but that is what will make it worth it. In that instance, it will take every department: costumes, direction, choreography, lights, tech crew pulling lines, etc. Trying to make everything work as we have conceived it is the fun moment for me. It will take a lot of tries, but I am certain it will be worth it.

Q: What do you hope audiences will take with them from this production?

A: The joy of theatre. It is my passion and I am so blessed to be part of it. I hope we can inspire people not only to want to do this, but to want to come back and see another show. Without an audience, we do not have an art.

Q: What is the first instance of theatrical magic you remember? How has that moment shaped you as an artist?

A: The first time I saw a scrim, my mind was blown. I remember seeing a tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories brought to the stage on a school trip. When I was looking at a painted drop of a house and then saw an actor appear through it clear as day, I could not believe my eyes. I did not understand it, but I wanted to know more.

For more information about 2 Ring Circus, visit their official website here.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Spelling Bee Thursday: Q&A with Ethan Paulini

Ethan Paulini as Leaf Coneybear. Photo by John David Pittman.

Ethan Paulini as Leaf Coneybear. Photo by John David Pittman.

Can you spell F-U-N?

To highlight all of the cool (and funny) things about our upcoming show The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, we have launched a week blog series called Spelling Bee Thursday!

Our dramaturg, Robert Neblett, had a chance to talk with Ethan Paulini on his role as the cute and socially awkward Leaf Coneybear, his incredible involvement with Arkansas Repertory Theatre, what patrons can expect from the interactive show and tons more.

Here is what he had to say!

Q: You’ve had a busy year with The Rep. Can you talk to us about your growing relationship with the company and your activities in Little Rock over the past few months?

A: I started working at the Rep in 2007 and The Bee will mark my seventh production. Recently, I have come even more frequently because I directed the SMTI Select program in a production of Carole King’s musical Really Rosie in the brand new Education Annex. As an artist, beyond looking for a community, you also really seek an artistic home. I have found that here. To watch this organization grow and evolve and for me to be able to go on that ride to some extent is so rewarding. I am so grateful to Bob, Nicole, Mike and everyone at The Rep for their continued support and trust. From being able to play incredible roles like Buddy in Elf to becoming a staff member of SMTI, I take great responsibility and pride in the challenges The Rep presents to me. In addition, the patrons and community of Little Rock has been so welcoming that central Arkansas has really become my second home. I strive to do the best work here because both the supportive staff and the astute patrons deserve that. I look forward to watching the organization continue to thrive and hope to continue to be a part of that.

Q: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a unique work of musical theatre, combining improvisation and audience participation with a wickedly funny script and score. What can Rep audiences expect when they walk into the theatre?

A: At the risk of sounding cliche, audiences should expect the unexpected. The fun of this show is that it is never the same twice. We, as actors, are at the mercy of what the audience gives us. Their experience is almost entirely up to them and how they participate. While the improv is very structured and well thought out, it is impossible to know who and what will be joining us onstage. The results are deliciously unpredictable. If we as actors really respond to that, it is quite clear to the audience that it is not planned. The shared experience between us and the audience is indescribable. That is ultimately the thrill of live theatre– that sense that anything can happen. This is a show that takes that idea, turns it on it’s head and multiples it by a thousand.EthanPauliniPutnamHeadshot

Q: Tell us about your character, Leaf Coneybear, and his journey in the show.

A: Leaf marches to the beat of his own drum. He didn’t actually win his qualifying bee and instead is here as an alternate. He is just thrilled to be there and is probably the least competitive and most surprised by whatever success he achieves. He is the product of homeschooling and has many brothers and sisters who he feels inferior to in the intelligence department. The biggest thing Leaf gains is real confidence that while he may have issues learning from a book, he in fact is and always has been quite smart. Because of his inability to connect with people, he could be called a bit misunderstood but this experience really helps him come out of his own shell.

Q: How did you prepare for this role?

A: I played this role previously in Northern Stage’s production. It has been a few years, so I had to revisit his storyline, his mannerisms and his relationships to the world of this play. Of course as I have already mentioned, this show is never the same twice, even when doing the same production. So to prepare for this go-around, I really am just approaching this with an openness toward what these new actors and creative team will bring to it. The advantage is that many of these actors and creative team are near and dear and frequent collaborators. If ever there was a show that called for a sense of playfulness, this is it, so I just am gearing up for a few weeks of playing with friends new and old in pursuit of an authentic and earnest production.

Q: Do you feel Leaf exists along the autism spectrum or is just socially awkward? How does this impact your portrayal of the character?

A: I do think he probably exists on the spectrum but that’s just one more clue I gather about this character. Whether clues exist in the text or you infer them based on your own human experience, they all come together to create a vivid and alive character. When I was growing up, Autism was not as common a diagnosis, so I am sure I have had many peers who have existed on the spectrum. For me, the decision as an actor to accept that information is no different than information that exists such as his relationship to his family, or that he likes apple juice, or tosses his hair. It is just one more piece of the portrait you hope to put together when creating an alive, vivid character.

Q: You also play another role in the show. Tell us about this character and how you alternate between roles in the course of the performance.

A: I also play Carl Grubinierre, one of Logan’s adoptive fathers. He appears twice. Once during Logan’s song “Woe is Me” and then again in a very pivotal scene toward the end. Carl is educated, a bit fussy, mature and fiercely competitive. I think he is kind of the opposite of Leaf’s go-with-the-flow attitude. A lot of the work I get to do is about creating very broad but distinct characters, so I really relish the opportunity to find the differences between the characters but also not shy away from the parts of my own personality that can act as a sort of through line. It hopefully allows for some cohesion in the performance for the audience.

Q: The characters in the musical are misfits and outsiders, but in the competitive world of the spelling bee, they have found a place in which they excel, in which they belong. What does this aspect of the show have to say about our lives and a search for community?

A: Ultimately, I think as humans we strive to be a part of something. It validates us, bears witness to our lives and allows us to share experiences. This is easier said than done sometimes. I think this show really celebrates that idea of embracing who you are and accepting everyone. There is also comfort in realizing that everyone has insecurities and personal struggles. Despite the competition that these kids face from each other, ultimately they find support and a place to belong and be themselves at the Bee.

Q: What advice would you give to students in the Little Rock area who are interested in building a career in musical theatre?

A: It’s the same advice I would give to anyone hoping to pursue a career as an artist: STUDY, STUDY, STUDY. To be a successful artist, you have to be willing to constantly evolve. The advantage an aspiring artist in Little Rock possesses is access to professionals and resources. The Rep and the resident artists here are as good as anyone I have worked with anywhere. Learn from them and take advantage of their expertise. The SMTI program is so wonderful and unique. No matter how serious a student may be about pursuing this as a career, there is an immeasurable amount of benefit that can come from participating in that program.

Q: Did you ever participate in spelling bees as a child? Do you have any anecdotes that you would like to share.

A: I’ve never been in a Spelling Bee, but in seventh grade, I was the Massachusetts State Geography Bee Champion and I went to nationals in Washington, D.C. The Bee was hosted by Alex Trebek. I didn’t get too terribly far. I think I came in 40th or 41st out of 52.

Q: Spelling Bee is a hilarious show, yet I am always surprised by how moved I am by this show and its characters. Can you talk about the emotional impact of the musical? Is there a particular moment in the play that speaks to you?

A: Well, ‘The I Love You Song’ breaks my heart every time. But I think when the audience catches their breath from laughing, they realize these are earnest, sweet and unique characters who all face both struggles and triumphs equally. I also think watching characters have personal discoveries and change is what makes for a great musical and these characters do that. Not one person in this show is the same at the beginning as they are at the end. It’s a snapshot of the growing process and I think that can be very poignant.

See Ethan in action by booking your tickets when the musical takes center stage Oct. 16-Nov. 8– call the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visit TheRep.org.

Macbeth Monday: Q&A with Lighting Designer Dan Kimble

Michael Stewart as Macbeth in The Rep's production of Macbeth. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

Michael Stewart as Macbeth in The Rep’s production of Macbeth. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

To highlight all of the cool aspects of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we have launched a week blog series called Macbeth Mondays!

In the final week, we are highlighting the incredible lighting elements of the Shakespeare tragedy with some insight from Lighting Designer Dan Kimble. Find out his approach for the production, how the set affects the design, the cool effects created just for the show, plus more.

Here is what he had to say:

Q: What piqued your interest in lighting design?

A: I was first exposed to theatre in high school. I was in shows like Oklahoma! and The Music Man, but I was most interested in how the lighting worked. I was fascinated by everything that went into lighting a show: the color options, power requirements, angle and placement, the followspots, etc. I started college without knowing what major I wanted to pursue. Fortunately, I had to take a theatre class as part of the general education requirements for all majors. In that class, the students had to work on tech crew for one of the university’s mainstage shows. I asked to be a followspot operator for Annie Get Your Gun and loved doing it. After talking with the professor of the class and learning that people had full careers being lighting designers, I was hooked.

Q: How do you approach the lighting design for a play like Macbeth?

A: Most of Shakespeare’s plays can be (and frequently are) interpreted in a variety of ways; the creative license can be very broad. The first step is to read the script and understand what the text is giving you. Any questions moving forward can usually be answered by referring to the script, especially with Shakespeare. After thinking about what preliminary concepts I want for the lighting, the next step is beginning a dialogue with the director and the other members of the creative team. Director Bob Hupp was great with knowing the themes he wanted to convey while allowing me to focus on the story I wanted to tell with the lighting. Studying the work of the other designers (scenic, props, costumes, music, and sound) also helped inform my approach because it was crucial that I support their concepts while also helping it all come together.

Q: How does the set affect your design?

Kurt Benjamin Smith as Malcolm in The Rep's production of Macbeth. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

Kurt Benjamin Smith as Malcolm in The Rep’s production of Macbeth. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

A: No other design element affects the lighting of a show more than the set. Lighting a show is 50 percent lighting the actors and 50 percent lighting the set. Scenic design, though self-sustaining, can give me great surfaces, structures and details to use to create environments and tell my story, much like in Macbeth. However, it can also create physical challenges when I am trying to figure out where to put lighting fixtures to achieve the looks that I want. Sometimes, a wall or some other scenic element can be between me and the ideal lighting angle. But, as part of a creative team, those challenges are discussed and solved in a way that supports the show and its overall aesthetic.

Q: In addition to the lights, there will special effects in the show. What will patrons be able to expect?

A: Without giving anything away, expect to see some things that you haven’t seen on our stage before. We incorporated a new design element into Macbeth, and I believe it is quite successful and helps particular scenes have a eerie and creepy feel (hint, hint).

Q: What do you enjoy most about creating the design for theatre?

A: I enjoy helping to create the moments that only a live performance can give you. The goosebumps, the awe and the surprise. Sure, more can be accomplished in a movie, but as an audience member, you are not an active member of that viewing. As a patron of The Rep, you are as much a part of those moments on stage as the actors, designers and technicians are. No two performances are the same; each show is singular and unique. It’s just part of what makes theatre so great.

See the cool lighting yourself by booking your tickets before the show ends this Sunday, Sept. 27– call the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visit TheRep.org.

And learn everything else you need to before seeing the drama by checking out our study guide here!

Member Q&A: Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp

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Bob Hupp

At the helm of Arkansas Repertory Theatre and its artistic vision is Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp.

In his sixteenth season, Hupp has directed such plays as Red, Death Of A Salesman, Henry V, To Kill a Mockingbird, The 39 Steps, Hamlet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Les Misérables and last season’s Wait Until Dark and August: Osage County.

Just in time for The Rep’s landmark 40th Anniversary Season, Leighanne Alford, The Rep’s Member Concierge, had a chance to talk with Hupp about his transition from New York City to Little Rock, what he loves most about the Capital City, he how casts for shows, the process for selecting productions and more.

Here is what he had to say:

Q: Being originally from Delaware and spending most of your time in New York City and the Northeast, what made you decide to accept a job in Little Rock, Ark. and move down South?

A: Southern Delaware, where I grew up, is like Arkansas with beaches: rural, lots of chickens, soybeans and watermelons and very warm and welcoming people. We came here so that I could work in one place and not travel around so much. And we came here because it seemed like a good place to raise our kids, which proved to be abundantly true. There aren’t very many jobs in the United States like mine and the competition for these limited jobs is fierce, so I feel very fortunate to be here.

Q: What surprised you most about your move to Little Rock?

A: The wealth of cultural amenities and opportunities here. This is quite unusual for a city of our size.

Q: How many times do you read through a script for a production in which you’ll be directing? And, how many times does that script change throughout your process?

A: It depends on the script. For a contemporary play, like August Osage County, it doesn’t change at all. For Shakespeare, it might change considerably: I will make cuts to clarify and streamline the story and I might change the order of scenes as I did in Hamlet. With Shakespeare, I spend months with the text: researching different versions and interpretations, comparing differing ideas about punctuation, word usage etc. For a comedy like The 39 Steps, my work is more focused on the visual realization of the script and creating the staging and physical humor. But at the end of the day, it all gets thrown out the window when the actors arrive and bring their talent and insight to the equation.

Q: What is your formula or process for selecting productions and their sequence in a season?

A: There’s no one formula or method. I want our seasons to be eclectic and represent a broad range of great plays and musicals. I often want to include a classic, American or otherwise, because that’s my core interest. I also want to see and study new plays that I think will entertain and engage our audience.  For the musicals, we have to see what rights are available or about to become available. There’s lots of input from staff, guest directors and peers, too. I look at what other theatres are doing, as well. I travel to see work as much as I can. Ultimately it is a dynamic balance between art and finance. In a good season, the two sides of this scale are not mutually exclusive.

Q: How do you work with our Casting Associate Peter Mensky and the director of a show on selecting the best person for a role?

A: Peter’s work is central to the casting process. He handles all the logistics of casting, both locally and nationally, and he makes all of our employment offers, travel arrangements, etc. Peter sorts through the thousands of resumes we receive and makes recommendations to me and our guest directors. He is definitely my valued ally in the casting process. Peter and I go back to my days of teaching college, so we’ve developed a shorthand for communication and I trust his instincts and judgment.

Q: What is your favorite production you’ve directed at The Rep and why?

A: I don’t know. It’s usually the one I’ve most recently directed. I have great fondness for The Grapes of Wrath because it was the first play I directed in Little Rock, my first work with Mike Nichols and because it was such an epic American story.

Q: Do you have any superstitions or traditions for the shows you direct personally? (i.e. ‘lucky’ pair of socks on opening, a specific routine during tech or opening week?)

A: I’ve worn the same black hoodie for the start of tech rehearsals since the late ’80s. The shirt has some holes in it, and it’s not as loose as it once was, but that shirt and I are old friends.

Q: What is your favorite book in your office?

A: I have a lot of books in my office, mostly scripts. No real favorites, just the books I’ve collected over the years. Like anyone who’s worked in the same profession for a long time, I have photos and memorabilia in my office that mean a lot to me because I associate these things with the people I’ve worked with and care about.

Q: What is your favorite place to eat in Little Rock or favorite southern dish you’ve found since living here the past 16 years?

A: I can’t pick a favorite. There are so many! I am thrilled to see so many new restaurants opening on Main Street in close proximity to The Rep. Now you can walk to great places like Bruno’s and Samantha’s on a meal break or before a performance. That’s a game-changer for those of us who work the night shift.

 If you enjoy what you’ve seen on The Rep stage,  take the next step and join us as a Member. For more information on becoming a Member, call Member Concierge Leighanne Alford at (501) 378-0445, ext. 211, or visit lalford@therep.org.

Q&A with SMTI Production Coordinator Katherine Tanner

FullSizeRenderCan you believe it has been 10 years since the Summer Musical Theatre Intensive got its incredible start within the confines of Arkansas Repertory Theatre?

Under the direction of Nicole Capri, the program has helped craft top-notch young artists in central Arkansas who have gone to big things in the entertainment world.

One person who actually saw the beginning of the program and has returned for the big 10th anniversary is production coordinator Katherine Tanner.

See what she had to say about her involvement with the program, how it’s evolved since its inception and more:

Q: What is your theatre training and experience?

A: As a young theatre educator, I have found that people (and not productions) are the most important aspect of my career. Real people are who I have studied and who I present when working on a production. I am an ongoing student of theatre and will never claim that ‘I’ve arrived’ or know all there is to know.

I was a ‘transferholic’ in college and because of it, have had a one-of-a-kind education.  I started at OBU, went to Columbia College Chicago and finally graduated from California State University Northridge, where I focused in directing.

In those areas, I was always able to work in the theatre departments and scene shops learning all I could in every aspect of theatre. I was mentored by many inspiring people in the last 10 years, including Susan Nichols, Fred Boosey, Scott Holsclaw, Eric Phillips (OBU), Sheldon Patinkin (co-founder of The Second City), Susan Padveen (CCC), Nicole Capri, Larry Biederman (CSUN) and Melissa Chalsma (co-founder of independent Shakespeare Co.) to name a few I greatly admire.  It is through their encouragement that I have skills that vary from welding steel to directing and most things in between.

Q: Can you give a brief history of your involvement with SMTI?

A: When SMTI began in 2005, there were only four women running the program and I was one of them.  I was titled the ‘Assistant Stage Manager,’ however, I was responsible for pulling props, running rehearsals, cleaning bathrooms, taking out trash, putting mics on the cast, tracking and mixing the mics from the sound console. In 2006, I was the Stage Manager with two peer interns and cast.  Let’s just say, it was as challenging as the prior year and then some.

Q: How do you think SMTI has evolved over the years?

A: The support from designers, choreographers, musical directors and directors has intensified the SMTI program, making it professional quality theatre entertainment.  It no long feels like a camp for kids–it’s a ‘coming-out’ celebration of the state’s young artists.

Q: What are you most excited about being a part of the 10th Anniversary of SMTI?

A: I am most excited to be back to celebrate the milestone– how far SMTI has come.

Q: Why is SMTI so important for local young artists?

A: This program rivals those nationally known and it’s in their backyard.  This program provides a network and support system for the young artists as they go off to college and into the professional world.

Don’t miss all of the incredible this summer when SMTI productions take flight in our new education space and on The Rep MainStage. Here is a lineup of productions not to miss this summer:

Senior SMTI: Once on This Island

  • 7 p.m. Thursday, July 23
  • 7 p.m. Friday, July 24
  • 1 p.m. Saturday, July 25
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, July 25

SMTI Select II: Really Rosie

  • 7 p.m. Friday, July 31
  • 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1

Junior SMTI: Once in This Island

  • 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6
  • 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7
  • 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8

Get more information about tickets for these shows by calling the Box Office at  (501) 378-0405!

Q&A with SMTI Select Director Ethan Paulini

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Ethan Paulini as Buddy in Elf. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

Arkansas Repertory Theatre ended its 39th MainStage June 21 with the incredible production of August: Osage County and will resume in September with the first show of its landmark 40th Season with William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

But, just because there is a break in our seasons doesn’t mean the theatre takes a break. In fact, hundreds of young artists will be taking center stage through the summer for our annual Summer Musical Theatre Intensive sessions. The youngest of these artists will be learning from one of The Rep’s best returning actors, Ethan Paulini (Elf, Avenue Q, The Full Monty), for two SMTI Select sessions from July 6-18 and July 20-Aug. 1.

We had the chance to talk to Paulini about his return to Little Rock, what he loves most about coaching, his favorite Rep production and more. Here is what he had to say:

Q: What is your theatre training?

A: I grew up training at the Harwich Junior Theatre (HJT). I received a degree in Acting from Emerson College in Boston and I currently study voice with Larson Award Winner Marisa Michelson.
Q: You were most recently the lead in our show Elf and have been in several shows at The Rep. What keeps you coming back?

A: Arkansas Rep is one of the most welcoming and artistically supportive places I have ever worked. The directors, designers and actors I get to work with are fantastic. I always feel challenged. The audiences are curious and smart. Ultimately, it feels like home and home is made up of people.

Q: What will you be instructing the SMTI Select students on?

A: We will work on many aspects of performing. From presenting a successful audition to storytelling, voice, speech and movement. The students will participate in exercises that challenge their imagination and sharpen their actor toolbox. I will help them learn how to create their own process, from rehearsing to maintaining a performance. We will also be working on presenting the musical Really Rosie. It is a wonderful collection of musical vignettes by Carole King.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a theatre coach to young artists?

A: Growth. Theatre is not an exact science. There is no right or wrong, so I love watching each artist, regardless of age, bring themselves to the work. Oftentimes through that exploration, they discover a lot about themselves, both artistically and personally.

Q: Why is the SMTI program so important for young artists in central Arkansas?

A: Young artists in central Arkansas are so lucky to have Nicole Capri and the SMTI program. Not only does it create talented, exciting artists but also provides an important creative outlet to so many young people. Theatre training fosters discipline, creative thinking, builds self esteem and develops a community that can be an important support system both on and off stage.

Q: What is your favorite production you’ve been in at The Rep and why?

A: I love them all for different reasons, but I think the most recent show, Elf, was especially special. The reaction was so overwhelming. I got to spend the holidays doing what I love with people that I love. I also have two young nephews and a niece and it was the perfect way to share with them and create a wonderful holiday memory.


Sidenote with Ethan

Favorite place to eat in Little Rock: So many places! I think Little Rock is a GREAT food city. My dad runs restaurants, so I have grown into a bit of a foodie. If I only had time for one meal in Little Rock, though, it would probably be Whole Hog Cafe. I am from the northeast, so BBQ is really a special cuisine. I even ship their sauces home with me when I come to The Rep so I have a little taste of Little Rock in New York.

What you’re doing when you’re not on stage: I actually love going to see theatre and movies, spending time with friends and traveling. Performing takes lot of energy and stamina so I make sure to take time to rest and work out regularly. I also have multiple writing projects in the works so I steal time to work on those when I can. I am a huge baseball fan (Go Red Sox!) and I have an unnatural obsession with the TV show “The Golden Girls.”

Favorite musical right now: I saw the new Kander and Ebb musical The Visit four times during it’s recent Broadway run. They were responsible for such classic musicals as Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Chicago. Fred Ebb passed away several years ago so this will be their final new show to make it to Broadway. It was dark, smart, chilling and the music was incredible.

Total shows you’ve been in at The Rep: six shows: The Full Monty, The Who’s Tommy, White Christmas, Avenue Q, Compleat Wks of WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED) and Elf.

Don’t miss SMTI Select in action when their production Really Rosie takes The Rep stage at 7 p.m. Friday, July 17 and 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 18 (first session) and 7 p.m. Friday, July 31 and 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 (second session). Tickets are $10 and can be booked online at TheRep.org or at (501) 378-0405.

 

August Tuesday: Q&A with Dialect Coach Stacy Pendergraft

Our final show of the 2014-2015 MainStage Season is upon us!

August: Osage County, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that is finally taking The Rep stage, will open June 5. And to highlight this critically acclaimed play, we are starting a brand-new blog series throughout the run, showcasing the various aspects of the show.

In the second installment, I was able to talk with the show’s Dialect Coach Stacy Pendergraft on her approach with character dialects for a show like August: Osage County, her actual connection to the play, how she has helped provide more context to the play, plus more.

Here’s what she had to say:

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Stacy Pendergraft

Q: What is your background in theatre?

A: I am an associate professor of theatre at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I am the primary professor in the performance and directing track and have just finished my 13th year on faculty there. I came to Little Rock from American Stage in St. Petersburg Florida, where I was the Artistic Associate and Director of Education. I also acted, directed and developed new children’s works for their touring program.

Q: What piqued your interest in theatre and voice coaching?

A: Oh, I’m a lifelong theatre rat. It just so happened that my very small rural Oklahoman town had a vibrant community theatre and my high school had amazingly devoted and highly skilled theatre and music teachers. Also, even though my hometown is small, it is a college town with a strong focus on its performing arts programs. So, my exposure came early and deep both in theatre and music. I suppose my music background developed a real appreciation for diction and placement of speech and singing sounds. In my university training, I gained more specific knowledge about the vocal apparatus and this led to more specific training in voice, phonetics and dialects. So voice and dialect work became a sub-specialty in all of my subsequent professional and educational gigs.

Q: How do you approach being a dialect coach for a play like August: Osage County? Do you observe the rehearsals and work with actors individually on their character dialects?

A: What’s incredibly rewarding about this particular process is that Bob and I are defining a way of working together. It’s not always common to have a dialect coach, and so I am glad to be able to contribute to this production and this particular ensemble. When a dialect or voice coach works with actors, she has to know that any feedback has to take into account each particular actor’s way of working and be sensitive to the way an actor wants to incorporate voice work into their character development. I want to be in-tune with their rehearsal goals and not be an intrusion. So knowing the right way and right time to offer feedback is paramount. This cast has from day one, placed great trust in me, and it is not a charge that I take lightly. They are the ones in front of an audience each night and are the ones the audience will be listening to, and I want to guide them to the most authentic choices possible.

For our production, I started by giving a one-hour dramaturgical presentation the first day of rehearsal on Oklahoma and its dialect. And I should say that like any geographical region, there is not necessarily ‘one sound.’ Rural/urban influences, socioeconomic status, educational level, not to mention the psychology of the human being, all impact the way we sound and the way characters sound, too. I gave the actors a packet of listening resources and basic sound substitutions to help them begin their work. I sit in on rehearsals, tuning my ear to the actors and helping them find the music of the dialect on a day-by-day basis. I am available for individual coaching and questions as needed by the actors. It’s become a rather fluid process.

Q: What is your connection to the writer of this play in particular?

A: I am a native Oklahoman and grew up in roughly the same part of the state that Tracy Letts was raised. He was raised in Durant and I was raised in Ada. Both towns are small Oklahoma college towns. My mother actually went to college for a while at Southeast Oklahoma State University where Tracy’s mom and dad (Billie and Dennis Letts) taught. I also went to college at the University of Tulsa, which factors into the story of Bill and Barbara, characters in the play.

Q: How do you think your background in Oklahoma will help the actors as they prepare for their roles in the show?

A: Researching both the place and sound of Oklahoma, I’ve had to really rediscover my own sound and the place from where I come. I’ve discovered things about Oklahoma that relate to the play that have brought me to a new place of understanding. I think I can answer some specific questions about the play’s given circumstances and the rhythms and nuances of the language that are perhaps not as obvious if you’re not from Oklahoma.

Q: Why should patrons see this production on our stage?

A: August: Osage County is an American play that speaks to me on the same level as Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams. Along with Angels in America and Clybourne Park, it is, for me, one of the three most important plays written about the fabric of American life in the past 50 years. The characters are epic in scale, richly imagined and full in their powers of expression. The language of the play offers the kind of text actors spend their careers pursuing. And finally, the cast assembled for this production is one that you will remember for a long, long time. They are passionate about this play, and what they are creating with Bob and the rest of the production team at The Rep is not to be missed.

Check back every Tuesday throughout the run of the show (June 5-21) to get a glimpse into a new aspect of the show and get your tickets for the show by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visiting TheRep.org.

Project Élan: Q&A with Creator/Director Nicole Capri

Photo courtesy of Sync Weekly

Photo courtesy of Sync Weekly

Before the 39th MainStage Season comes to an end, The Rep is excited to showcase a world premiere show– young artist production Project Elan.

Taking stage from May 5-16, Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical that seeks to shed light on the individual and universal needs of the millennial generation. Digital and uniquely undefinable, this generation seeks to find answers in an unpredictable world. And although they may appear to be an age overrun by technology and isolation, their dreams are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

I recently had the chance to talk with creator and director Nicole Capri, The Rep Resident Director and Director of Education, about the inspiration behind the show, what it’s about, songs to look out for and more! Here is what she had to say:

Q: What is Project Élan about?

A: Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical about the millennial generation – how they connect and relate to each other, their relationships, their hopes, their dreams, their fears and how technology has changed the way they interact with the world and the people around them.

Philosophers have predicted and many people now fear that today’s youth are being overrun by technology and isolation, but the dreams they have are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

The writers of Project Élan hope to shed light on the individual and universal needs of a uniquely undefinable generation, and a growing digital industry that impacts all of us.

Q: What gave you the inspiration to create Project Élan?

A: I’ve wanted to create an original musical for years, but I wanted to have something significant to say and I knew I needed the right creative team of collaborators to make it happen.

A few years ago, I had been journaling for several months about technology and how it was affecting the young artists I work with. As an acting coach and director, my job is to teach young artists how to authentically communicate and connect with their audience – and more importantly – with each other. Over the years (as technology has boomed and everyone now has a cellphone in their hand), I have found my job to be more difficult. We’re all so over-committed– attention spans are so much shorter and I’ve often wondered if the ability to connect face-to-face would one day become a lost art form.

Without disparaging the growth or the use of technology, I wanted to pose several questions:

  • With so much connectivity around us, are we now entering a dark age of genuine, authentic relationships?
  • Are we allowing technology to cause us to withdraw from the people around us and those that we love the most?
  • or… Is our world simply projectelanbeing redefined?

The word ‘élan’ means – to live with passion and reckless abandon, to live in the moment and to live each day as if it were our last. I wondered if I was living my own life just trying to get through the next project or scratch the next thing off my ‘TO DO’ list. I felt as though I was living a life where I was ‘glorifying the idea of being busy.’ I was tired… and I wanted more ‘life in my life.’ Something had to change.

I finally felt like I had something significant to say.

While in New York City auditioning actors for The Rep’s production of White Christmas, my music director, Mark Binns, and I went to see the musical Once on Broadway. We both looked at each other at the end of the show and said almost simultaneously, ‘We need to write a musical.’ It was kismet. That was in the fall of 2011.

Q: How long have you been working on this original show?

A: Our team of song writers began working together in the fall of 2012. The writers are from all over the country now, so we gathered together for the first time for a week in the home of Susan and Herren Hickingbotham’s. We felt like a band of gypsy artists, sprawled out all over their living room, singing and writing and occasionally taking naps. They fed us and would come down and encourage us and listen to our latest lyrics and creations. They were definitely our biggest supporters throughout this whole project – tangibly and spiritually.

We’ve rarely all gotten to be together in the same place since then… we’ve done a lot of writing over the phone and via Skype. We had a week together in Nashville before Bobby and Charity moved to Los Angeles. Conly and I have had long coffee-shop talks when I go to cast in NYC. And we camped out again for another week at the Hickingbothams on the home-stretch finishing the final touches of the latest script. The songs and storylines have changed and evolved over time and the way we collaborate and interact has become stronger and more exciting. When we first began over two years ago… we were trying to figure out how we all work, dream and create. Now that we understand eachother’s creative rhythms better, it’s been easier to focus more on fine-tuning the storyline and streamlining the rough edges of the show. The final puzzle piece of the show is our project/stage manager, Beth Thiemann. Without her, none of this would have been possible.

Q: What will be patrons be able to expect from the show?

A: We hope that our audiences will leave our show asking questions.

We hope that our audiences will leave our show with a renewed desire to spend tangible, touchable time with the people that they love.

We hope that our audiences will leave our show with hope.

When we work-shopped the original idea for Project Elan two summers ago, one parent remarked that she ‘felt like she got a window into her kids world.’ Interestingly… during the rehearsal process, so many of the cast members said they felt that they understood their parent’s generation so much more after participating in the creation of the piece.

Maybe there is a type of ‘generation connector’ in Project Elan? Or even just a reminder that life is too short to continue trying to live it as fast as possible.

If nothing else, we hope that our audiences will feel that we have moved them and enriched their lives in some small way.

Q: Song that patrons should look out for?

A: The show has such a diverse musical score with original songs from almost every genre of music. This is not your typical ‘Broadway book musical.’ The music you will hear will be more like what you would find on the radio – contemporary-alternative, acoustic-folk, urban-rock, indie-pop, Nashville-sound and progressive-Broadway.

Those who saw the original workshop will also hear two brand-new pieces and some big changes to familiar songs.

I’ve been asked several times what my favorite songs are from the show… it’s hard to decide and it changes daily. They’re all so different, but the one that haunts me most and gives me the most hope is one written by Conly Basham. The title is ‘Morning Song’ and it sounds like something you might hear on a soundtrack from ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Some of the lyrics are:

SOMETIMES WE LAUGH, WE FLY WE DANCE.

A CHANCE FOR EACH – FOR EACH, A CHANCE

STILL MOONS WILL GLARE AND NIGHTTIME CRAWL.

STEP OUT OF DARKNESS INTO ALL

THE LIGHT OF MORNING

Q: What was the best part of the writing process for the musical?

A:

  1. Creating a beautiful piece with my favorite collaborators in the world who amaze me with their talents every single day
  2. Creating a piece from scratch with young artists who shared their lives and their hearts to create the book of the show
  3. Watching a show that was only a glimmer of an idea several years ago come to life in front of a live audience
  4. (always my answer) Watching my parents watch one of my shows.

And finally… on the front page of my journal in 2006… I wrote ‘What will be my legacy? How will they remember me?’ I always thought that would make great lyrics to a song. I shared that with Binns and he turned those two sentences into the opening number of the show. It always amazes me how one small idea can come to life in a way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. That is the art of synergy and collaboration, and that is the rarity of working with artists who are not only amazingly talented, but people who understand your heart, your passion and your vision. Two sentences scribbled on the front of a notebook almost 10 years ago became a fully orchestrated number for 60-plus people. All I had to do was share that one idea with the right person. It’s an amazing thing if you think about it.

How did you select the writers of the show?

A: Conly Basham and I have been saying for almost 10 years that we should write a show together. She was the one who introduced me to Mark Binns four years ago. They have such a positive and uniquely indescribable chemistry. I’ve never seen two people create so seamlessly together. I knew that anyone else we added to the mix needed to be a positive energy force, but we also wanted interesting diversity. Other elements that were really important to us were people who understood the mission and honor code we try to instill in the young people we teach, and interestingly… we all share a love for Christ. It wasn’t really planned that way, but it is a powerful and prayerful group of people to collaborate with.

It almost seemed effortless in choosing the other members of our team; Bobby Banister who now lives in LA and is doing a ton of producing and writing, Charity Vance who was an SMTI alum who got her big break on ‘American Idol,’ Jimmy Landfair (who became involved in the program through his younger sister Julia) who is writing and touring out of Nashville, Robert Frost was another SMTI alumni who is an amazing writer/composer who is now the music director at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre and Sam Clark – an SMTI alumni and local singer/songwriter. We call Sam the ‘normal one’ in our group. Sam is an engineer by day and we all secretly hope that he will be the one to support us one day.

It’s a great group of people. There are times when everything works and clicks and obviously there are times when we don’t agree, but ultimately… we are all committed to the project and the message which we believe is a message of hope.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

A:This is the show you won’t want to miss. This is the game-changer for The Rep and for this program.

Seats are $30 and $25 for season subscribers. Get your tickets by clicking here or calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405! Get more information on the blog here.

Mary Poppins Monday: Q&A with Set Designer Ken Goldstein

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

Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett had a chance to talk with set designer Ken Goldstein– the man behind the fabulous set– about his design process, inspiration behind the Mary Poppins set, challenges, plus tons more!

Here is what he had to say:

Q: What attracts you to a piece of theatre like Mary Poppins?

A: Simply, I love telling stories. The story of Mary and the children has always been interesting to me, but the story and evolution of Mr. Banks has always warmed my heart!

By Stephen Thornton

By Stephen Thornton

Q: Where do you begin when you approach the design process for a show like Mary Poppins, especially when you have to confront the fact that audiences who grew up with the film have very specific expectations?  

A: I always start with the text no matter what I am designing. In terms of preconceived notions or expectations that come with a piece like MP, or anything that is present in our culture it becomes a bit more complicated. We will never recreate the movie…so while I try to respect the source material, I try to create a world where the audience is willing to put expectations aside…to hop on board with “our” Mary Poppins.

Q: How do you balance your own creative vision with the influence of the source material?

A: I think it is important to nod in the direction of the source, but truly, I try to take a fresh look at the story, at the characters, the environment, and the atmosphere of the world of the play, and serve that.

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By Stephen Thornton

Q: Did you use any specific visual resources in creating the scenery for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre production?

A: I always do a lot of visual research—knowing the practical reality of our production, much of my research focused on the rhythm of Victorian and Edwardian city-scapes.

Q: Did you create a design statement that guided you through the process of creating the scenery for Mary Poppins? What was it?

A: ‘Design Statement’ is too formal to reflect my process. When I work in my studio, and the foundation of what I teach my students as the through line of the design process is one central question: What are you trying to do? In this case, my answer is to create a space that while fundamentally serving the action of each scene, allows the atmosphere and characters of this story come to life on stage and in the imagination of the audience.

Q: This is a fairly large show with many different locations. What is it like designing for a theatre space as intimate as The Reps, both in general and for this play in particular?

A: The intimacy is an advantage! I love feeling the breath of the characters on stage when I go to the theatre, and so the scale of the theatre at the Rep is a bonus! The challenge is the structure of the piece. It was created with a particular type of theatre in mind—the music, scenes, the transitions between locations are built in the text and typically dictate the kind of space you would create to stage this musical. Here, I designed a scheme—a theatre in the theatre—to facilitate the movement through the piece. The biggest challenge is the part of the theatre we aren’t seeing!

Q: Unlike a realistic play like this seasons Wait Until Dark or The Whipping Man, part of designing the set for a musical like Mary Poppins is creating moments of visual magic that leap off of the stage. Do you work with special effects coordinators to build these moments? How do you balance the practical concerns of the physical world of the play with the magical needs of the shows fantasy?

A: In this case there is a company serving some of the magical moments, but as a set designer, I am always counting on the collaboration with the director, lighting designers, costume designers, sound designers…and the work of the carpenters, painters, prop master, and technical direction to make my work come to life—and we all still relay on the actors to inhabit the space. So in this case there is an additional collaborator, but I don’t think that makes it more complicated then usual. That said, there is a practical reality to serving the SFX. It would be short sighted not to work to meet the requirements the expert needs.

Q: As a designer, what is the most challenging moment in the play and why?

A: In a practical way, the most complicated is the transition to the rooftops…but artistically, the biggest challenge is finding a vocabulary that serves the story when you only have relatively small units to use to define each scene.

Q: What do you think will surprise audiences about The Rep’s production of Mary Poppins, and why?

A: I hope the production excites the audience’s imagination…I think imagination leads to surprises.

Q: Whats the most impossible piece of theatre magic you have ever had to design, and how did you accomplish it?

A: It wasn’t a piece…it was a full production. A number of years ago, with Director Donna Drake, and Lighting Designer Annmarie Duggan, I designed Annie. The challenge was capturing an entire environment from the point of view of a bright-eyed child. I tried to make the entire city as exciting as a good book…with discoveries around each corner, and visually capture the scale and perspective of the city from Annie’s eyes. Each piece was drawn from a low perspective…and each unit came from an unexpected place or on in an unexpected way. Donna asked if I could turn a skyscraper in to a staircase. We did!

Q: Did you have a Mary Poppins in your life when you were a child? How did that person influence the adult you are today?

A: To me, Mary encourages imagination—for me, that would be my mother. Cliché perhaps, but growing up with an elementary school teacher as a mother, you can’t help but grow up in a supportive and creative environment.

A: What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in theatrical design?

A: Aside from coming to school at The State University of New Paltz, where I teach…pay attention to how environments effect people and how people influence environments.

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 TheRep.org!

Mary Poppins Monday: Q&A with Elizabeth DeRosa

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Elizabeth DeRosa (Mary Poppins). 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!

Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett had a chance to talk with Elizabeth DeRosa, who will be playing Mary Poppins on The Rep stage, about her preparation on her role, the importance of the story and the magic that Mary Poppins brings to all of our lives.

Here is what she had to say:

Q: How did you feel when you heard that you would be playing Mary Poppins in this production in Little Rock?

A: Well, I was excited, of course! I had heard lovely things about Arkansas Repertory Theatre. I couldn’t wait to meet The Rep family and get started. Mary Poppins is an iconic, demanding, vocally challenging, thrilling and wonderful role! She is a confident and other worldly woman who will not be ignored. She commands respect. She is loved and feared. She is one of the greatest female roles ever written for musical theatre and I am honored to be introducing my version of this character to the Mid-South!

Q: How do you approach an iconic role like this, which many audience members may not only be familiar with but have a deep emotional attachment for, based on Julie Andrews cinematic portrayal? As an actor, do you start from scratch and create your own character or are there moments of homage to Andrews performance in how you bring Mary Poppins to life?

A: I think, as actors, we are always beginning with a fresh palate. If I have learned anything in my 10 years working professionally, its that when I do get cast, it is for being MYSELF playing a role, my purely unique version of it. I think this holds true whether a role is iconic or brand new. It is one thing to honor a legendary actor’s portrayal and to layer that as a basis of who a character is, but if I simply parroted Julie Andrews’ performance I wouldn’t come across as genuine and authentic, i.e., as Mary Poppins!

Q: In the books by P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins can be described as more stern and aloof and less likable than the on-screen version presented by Julie Andrews. Does your portrayal of Mary Poppins borrow any of the original creation from the books?

A: I love P. L. Travers’ books. I have read all of them multiple times. The woman and her books are absolutely one of a kind! (Have you read her bio? Its awesome.) When Disney Theatricals and Cameron Mackintosh decided to create the stage version of the musical, P. L. Travers played a more vital role. This is why “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the park in “Jolly Holiday,” Miss Andrew, etc., are more closely matching the scenes/lessons from the books. Well, P. L. Travers changed the course of my life (obviously a multitude of other’s lives as well). So, I can tell you for this reason, with absolute certainty, not to mention she is brilliant, that my portrayal of Mary Poppins honors her creation. (Which is a British sensibility that can be lost in translation, if not approached delicately.) That said, of course we have the Disney movie that everyone knows and loves. So, I am also very aware of what an audience is expecting and hoping to see! (This isn’t all about me???) Lastly, I must also honor my director’s vision and cannot wait to find out what Donna’s is…then blend this all together for the Rep!

Q: What would you say to prepare audience members for this production? There are many moments and songs from the film that do not transfer to the stage version, as well as many added plot points (especially in the second act) that may seem unfamiliar. Should they leave their expectations at the door, particularly since this is a live play and not a movie?

A: I think you answered this question in the question! Yes, come for what you love and what you want your family to experience, a live production of a kid friendly musical…not to see the movie. You won’t see the movie, but, your family will be thrilled by our story telling. I can promise you that! Children need not be familiarized (although that CAN be more fun for them sometimes.) Children will watch and listen and be mesmerized by this story. Adults will be amazed at how closely they may identify with it! It is poignant and gripping for all ages.

Q: Describe an average day of rehearsal for this production.

A: An average day of rehearsal will include working with Helen Gregory, our musical director, to learn music. We may then move on to choreography with Rhonda Miller. The ensemble will often stay with Rhonda to learn the intricate dance steps and shapes of a large production number, i.e., “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Step in Time.” During which time, the principal characters of our story will do scene work, learning blocking with Donna. The Rep has two rehearsal spaces which makes this possible! Each day a few actors will have costume and wig fittings sprinkled throughout the schedule as well. We work quickly and efficiently. Actors are responsible for writing down what we’ve learned and making sure it is in our bodies the next time we approach that part of the play in rehearsal. It’s a very large musical and we must always be moving forward!

Q: How do you strive to become practically perfect in every way, both onstage in this role and in your everyday life?

A: In my personal life I am always striving to be a kind, honest, loving and generous person with a positive outlook. I am also a healthy and fit person. I honor my body, mind and spirit by eating healthily and exercising daily. I treasure my life and the people in it as the gifts that they are. I know how to have fun and when are the appropriate times to do so. On stage I listen, watch and do. I am laser focused, knowing that we often have a limited amount of time to learn each section. I do my very best to immediately catch the choreography. Then I go home and drill it to perfection, so it is “in” my body. I always memorize exactly what the author wrote, never paraphrasing. I am kind to the children & cast as we work, but also serious and always lead by example.

Q: Is there any moment of the musical that means more to you on a personal level than any others?

A: I adore “Feed The Birds.” The song itself is stunningly crafted and beautiful. Apparently it was Walt Disney’s favorite song and he would ask the Sherman brothers to play it for him frequently! This moment/lesson in the show means so much to me when I play the role of Mary. The respect and care with which she treats all beings on Earth is a something I often have to remind myself to employ. We are all equal, valuable and worthy…if we can only remember to pause and see the beauty in everything, we would all be that much more peaceful and content.

Q: What is the most difficult moment to play in the show?

Madison Stolzer (Michael) and Elizabeth DeRosa (Mary Poppins). Photo by John David Pittman.

Madison Stolzer (Michael) and Elizabeth DeRosa (Mary Poppins). Photo by John David Pittman.

A: The most physically difficult moment to play in the show is “Step in Time. It’s a very long song, with intense choreography and staging. The cast must always be in sync as production numbers like this, with large set pieces and difficult choreography can be dangerous if not approached with caution and focus. The most difficult moment to play in the show, as an actor, is probably the relationship between Mary & Bert. What they have….what they are…what they could be…what they can’t be… And of course the answers to these questions are different depending on the director as well as the two actors playing Mary & Bert. It’s the “juiciest” part of playing Mary Poppins and I look forward to figuring this out for our production.

Q: This is a story about magic, the magic of the imagination, the magic of a kind gesture, the magic of dreams. Does that magic share anything in common with the magic of the live theatre?

A: I think this is a very personal question. For a woman who grew up loving theatre and great performances, the magic definitely translates for me. Then, I’ve always believed the theatre is a magical place. When I walk in, I am taken over by a sense of mystery, wonder and awe about what is happening, what could happen and what is about to happen!

Q: Without giving away any of the behind the scenes magic, describe the sensation of being given the opportunity to fly as Mary Poppins.

A: Flying as Mary is the most relaxed and peaceful moment of the show for me. There is no singing, no dancing, no changing costumes, just flying! It’s wonderful. I like the sensation of flying and the power I feel as I arrive and leave. This sense of strength and supernatural magic is very engaging for me as an actor. It helps me to realize and “wear” my role while giving the audience a visual of just how enchanted the character of Mary Poppins truly is.

Q: Did you have a Mary Poppins in your life? Who was it and what was their impact on who you have become as an adult?

A: I didn’t have a Mary Poppins in my life. I never had a nanny and my only babysitter was my Grandmother, from time to time. My example of how to be a grown up came from my amazing parents. They were there at every twist and turn, guiding me, supporting me, cherishing me, believing in me and loving me. I actually became a Mary Poppins! I started babysitting in my neighborhood at age 12. I babysat on the weekends, on & off, all through out middle school and high school. After graduating from college and moving to the city to “pound the pavement,” I became a nanny! I stayed with the first family I worked for, for 2 & a half years. I auditioned and did a few theatre jobs here and there. But I was with them for the entire beginning of my career. That job supported me while I was laying the foundation for my acting career! I absolutely fell in love with the children (a boy & girl). We all got very close and although we knew it was inevitable, it was still very difficult to say goodbye. After I came back to the city from doing a National Tour, I was with another family. I had to say goodbye to this little boy, after 9 months, to go do Mary Poppins on Broadway. As I began to learn the role of Mary, I was so touched by these little faces from my past. They are always there in my mind, giving an authenticity to my performance that is invaluable and that I could never repay them for. When I began to go on for the role of Mary on Broadway ALL of the children I had babysat for, and many of their friends and families, came to see me. I am speechless to this day about how that made me feel. I also have 7 nieces and nephews who I am with as often as possible and love very deeply. It’s all so appropriate. Sometimes I like to think, I truly am Mary Poppins. As a caregiver I am never too stern, but I suffer no nonsense. I am honest and kind. I am clean, sensible and full of energy. Of course, I also play all sorts of games!

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 TheRep.org!