Stage & Music Direction
University of South Dakota
This show is special to me for many reasons. It was the first musical I saw on Broadway, the first book of musical selections I owned, and I sang “A Heart Full of Love” at my first voice recital. Needless to say, as soon as the rights became available, I was going to direct it. In this case, I ended up wearing three hats - those of stage director, music director, and orchestra conductor. I wouldn’t generally recommend this as the workload was voluminous, but when the material is as good as this it is worth the extra time and effort.
My research began with reading the full novel by Victor Hugo, which was so vital to see the big picture that Hugo was writing about. I also researched 18th century France’s class caste system, penal system, education system, child work and welfare laws, and of course the student revolution of 1832. As musical director, I listened to the romantic operas of the 19th century, as well as the lush rock opera sounds of musical groups like Queen, The Who, and Styx for reference and inspiration. This musical was one of the first to marry opera and rock, and I wanted to bring these traditions into my musical direction. As rehearsals started, we focused initially on music, with a particular focus on style, tone, intonation, and creating our own vocal aesthetic that would carry throughout the production. With such an iconic and well-known show, audiences come in with high musical expectations and we were not about to disappoint them. This early stage was also a time for table work on historical and social context, character, and developing relationships. I expect every actor to create full back stories and family trees, regardless of the size of their role, and these early rehearsals are where those seeds are planted.
For me, the combination of stage and musical direction is very natural, as acting and communication of the text and the melody are intrinsic elements of my voice studio teaching, right along with vocal technique and style. Directing from both points of view simultaneously allows me to observe what is happening on stage visually and aurally and make real-time adjustments in one or both areas as needed. During rehearsals, I employed Lessac Kinesensics extensively, from constant awareness of tonal and structural NRG to physical character development using the different body NRGs. I also utilized Bogart’s Viewpoints quite a bit, particularly exercises with time and space in moments of heightened conflict.
When we got to the point of bringing in the orchestra, which I conducted, I video-recorded each rehearsal and watched it in its entirety prior to the next rehearsal so I could give the actors and production team notes. At the same time, I found that being in the pit and sharing the immediate, visceral excitement of live performance with the cast every night allowed me to communicate and ,evolve with them, through my conducting, in ways that a stage director never gets to enjoy. This production was nearly sold out for the entire run, and audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I hope that I have the opportunity to revisit this beautiful show again and again, as a director or an actor.
Photos by Raimondo Genna and Callie Hisek. Used with permission.
Scenic Design by Victor E. Shonk
Costume Design by Linda Wigley Scribner
Lighting Design by Anthony Pellecchia
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Black Hills Playhouse
Sharp, clear, heightened, yet truthful physical comedy was at the top of the list of my goals for my stage direction of Forum. I used the 1960’s/70’s sketch comedy shows like Laugh In and The Carol Burnett Show as references, and almost immediately once rehearsals started began working with the cast to ,explore the physical characteristics and extremes of their characters, utilizing different dialects of Lessac body NRGs (potency, radiancy, buoyancy) in conjunction with Viewpointing exercises in order to identify those traits that best define their characters. I was also very fortunate to be directing Broadway veteran Eric Johnson (Chess, Aspects of Love) in the role of Pseudolus, and I was able to draw on his experience and comic timing when directing scenes with him and younger members of the company.
As music director, I wanted the cast to focus in particular on clarity and precision of their use of text, as ,many of the songs have elements of patter and carry comedic elements that are dependent upon the ,delivery of the line. We regularly vocalized with Lessac consonant NRG warm-ups, and the beauty of this work is that it carries seamlessly back and forth from sung text to spoken text, so I was able to use the same coaching shorthand whether I was music or stage directing.
Photos by Sage Studios. Used with permission.
Scenic Design by Kathy Voecks; Costume Design by Amber Marissa Cook; Lighting Design by Robert Fitzsimmons
University of South Dakota