Stage & Music Direction
Next to Normal
University of South Dakota
As stage director for Next to Normal, research and outreach went hand-in-hand as I prepared to work with two different casts on this challenging piece of dramatic realism that deals with mental illness, death of a child, drug abuse, and family dysfunction. Early in our rehearsal process, I arranged meetings for the cast with people living with mental illness, as well as psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors, in order to create a full context of the realities of these issues. We found that this process had a cathartic, freeing effect on our audiences, as many people chose to share their personal stories with us through public talk-back sessions we held after several shows. Everyone involved in the production was forever transformed through this process, and it allowed these two casts to bring clarity and depth of understanding to roles that they would not have otherwise had.
I mention two casts, and this is indeed accurate. To provide more opportunities for our students, and to showcase the talent we have in our program at USD, I cast two complete companies, which performed on alternating nights over the course of the two week run. This presented challenges and opportunities during the rehearsal process. We started the process with character development and relationship building, using Lessac Kinesensics, Bogart’s Viewpoints, and other approaches to bring each actor to a greater awareness of their own character and their place in the world of the play. We explored music together as well as in split cast modes, utilized multiple rehearsal locations, and approached staging the same way.
Throughout it all, I encouraged each actor and each cast to make their own discoveries and convictions about who their character was and what motivated them. It was quite illuminating to see the different choices each cast made, and I found it wonderfully challenging to bring these diverse choices into a staging framework that accommodated a single scenic and lighting design, yet allowed the actors a degree of freedom of movement. The end result was a production that succeeded on many levels, and was personally one of my most rewarding.
Photos by Raimondo Genna and Callie Hisek. Used with permission.
Scenic Design by Natalie Hining; Lighting Design by Anthony Pellecchia; Costume Design by Brooke Richmond
Black Hills Playhouse
Music directing The Secret Garden ten years after first stage/musical directing the show in graduate school was illuminating in many ways. I am a much more experienced musical director now, and was ,able to better coach modes of musical communication to the cast. In particular, I utilized elements of Lessac Kinesensic tonal, consonant and structural vocal NRGs to bring the cast, both in solo and ensemble moments, to a place of fuller, warmer vocal resonance and clarity of text. The lush musical score and classical musical style of this show lends itself well to the Lessac work, and the cast picked up the coaching quite well.
A particular challenge was the use of pre-recorded instrumental tracks for rehearsal and production, which limit expressive freedom and demand precision on attacks and cutoffs. This required me as the MD to instill in the performers early on the need to always listening for important musical cues in the orchestration, and required that I spent extra time before rehearsals ,listening to the tracks myself so that I knew what to cue the performers to listen for.
As the MD for Spamalot, I focused much more on text, vocal characterization, and timing that on tone and structure, as this is a show built on humor and comedy, not melody and emotion. The cast, made up of the same company performing The Secret Garden, understood the different expectations and stylistic demands, and shifted from one to the other quite easily.
Photos by Sage Studios. Used with permission.
Secret Garden Scenic Design by Kathy Voecks;
Lighting Design by Robert Fitzsimmons; Costume Design Amber Marissa Cook
Spamalot Scenic Design by Victor E. Shonk;
Lighting Design by Anthony Pellecchia; Costume Design by Sara Curran Ice