WCT General News

The Seafarer: Director’s Blog #1, Auditions

The next production at WCT, Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, opens Thanksgiving weekend and runs three weekends—appropriately, since the play is set on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
.   One of the most suspenseful and important phases of the production is now behind us: auditions.
.   I’ve auditioned for roles myself, and I find them harrowing. Surely that’s partly because I audition rarely, take roles rarely, and therefore feel somewhat awkward on a stage. I look around and see actors more experienced, more at ease, and more likely to get cast than I, and lose my nerve. I also have some vision alignment problems that mean I have to keep my nose directly in a script to see it, and I know the director would occasionally like to see my face…. Well, because of my own “issues” as an auditioner, as a director I do try to put auditioners at ease, and give them the same chance at a role I would like to be given if I were in their place. And then sometimes I wonder if the auditioners are more relaxed than I am.
.   There’s so much riding on the audition. WHO plays a role has so much influence on HOW it can be played. This is true both for the individual role and for the overall ensemble and the world they can create. I always tell auditioners that I cast to ensemble: that is, how good an actor is individually and “qua actor,” so to speak, is only part of what I’m trying to find out in an audition. How good he or she is for the role, how compatible his or her potential is with my own vision for the play, and how well he or she will complement the rest of the cast and the development of the scenes—these are crucial considerations. Actors tend to feel that if they don’t get a role it’s because the director thought somebody else was a better actor. While that may be so, much more significant is whether somebody else seems better for the role and a better fit with the other actors being chosen for the cast.
.    I directed the Connecticut première of McPherson’s The Weir, and I think he really speaks to me. I have since directed staged readings of several other of his plays, including The Seafarer. I saw the production of this play directed by McPherson himself in New York, but I also see this play very clearly in my own mind, and the members of the staged-reading cast confirmed my love for it and my ideas about its direction.
.   So when I went into auditions for the production of this play, I was hoping to see some of the actors who had been in the reading. For this play I didn’t pre-cast anyone, but I did make sure that people I was interested in would be auditioning, and I also had some possible choices “pencilled in.” David Brubaker, my brilliant and beloved director back in college, said often that a director who had no casting possibilities in mind had no business choosing a play to begin with, and I agree with him. I was interested in all the actors who auditioned, and their potential for this play, and I did my best to give everyone a fair hearing; but for several of the roles, new auditioners did have candidates to “beat.”
.    Most of the actors who auditioned came prepared for the evening, having read all or part of the play, having seen a production of it possibly, having read the audition notice carefully. One of the auditioners had decided only at the last minute to come, though, and since he had not prepared the required Irish accent he chose not to try it. That was a shame, because accents are necessary for this play, and I couldn’t make a casting decision based on the possibility that he could do a good one. Note to anyone auditioning for anyone: come ready to do what the audition announcement has suggested is necessary.
.   In the end, I wound up casting three of the five actors who had been in the staged reading of the play with me. To say the other two were also actors I’d worked with before would be somewhat misleading, because most of the auditioners were actors I’d worked with before. Actually three of the actors cast had been in my production of The Weir back in 2001, as well. For a play this intimate, this demanding, and this substantial, I was unlikely to cast someone whose work I didn’t know. I did that once many years ago and nearly destroyed the show: in fact, I had to dismiss the actor from the cast just two days before we opened because he was nowhere near ready to do the part in front of an audience and, in the lead role as he was, would have brought the entire play crashing down. (Another actor went on with a script and was infinitely better. I wish I had had the courage to make the change sooner, for the sake of the other actors who had gamely been trying to develop their scenes with no help from the lead.)
.   The offer of a role is the beginning of an adventure that has to be buoyed by mutual courage, mutual work, and mutual trust. I’m confident that I have a cast where that will be the case.
.   We’ve had the read-through that begins the rehearsal process, and I enjoyed the camaraderie among the actors, the wonderful interplay of their voices, and McPherson’s natural, funny, painful, beautiful dialogue. I can’t wait to start rehearsals in earnest.

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“Moonlight and Magnolias” – a little background

"Moonlight and Magnolias"

Cast (missing Cindy Hartog), Director and Stage Manager – "Moonlight and Magnolias"

Just in case you missed the excellent article in “The Prompter” – a little background information for “Moonlight and Magnolias”:

From its inception, the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s epic Civil War novel, “Gone With The Wind,” was a monumental undertaking – the biggest, most expensive production Hollywood had ever seen. But filming had hardly begun in the winter of 1939 when producer David O. Selznick suddenly fired the director, George Cukor, and shut production down. It seemed that Selznick was appalled at the initial scenes Cukor had shot. Those closest to the production blamed not the director but the script he was working with, which had been largely crafted (and repeatedly recrafted) by Selznick himself. A hyper-driven, insufferable micro-manager, Selznick meddled in every aspect of production, from the details of the costumes to the art direction and especially the screenplay, firing numerous screenwriters who could not come up with an adapation to his satisfaction, and often rewriting their work himself. (One of the writers he fired was F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose fragile confidence was so damaged by working with Selznick that he afterward entered a downward spiral of drinking and depression.)

Selznick replaced Cukor with Victor Fleming, who was in the middle of directing “The Wizard of Oz”; it was Fleming who had the nerve to tell Selznick that his script was no good (nobody had ever said that to the Boss before), which so surprised and rattled the producer that he called in his old friend Ben Hecht to do an emergency rewrite. Known sardonically as the “Shakespeare of Hollywood,” ex-newspaperman / prolific screenwriter Hecht (“The Front Page”) was working on a Marx Brothers film when he was suddenly called away: At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick and director Victor Fleming woke up Hecht to inform him he was on loan from MGM and they spirited him away to the studio to work on Gone with the Wind. It was costing Selznick $50,000 each day the film was on hold waiting for a final screenplay rewrite, and there was no time to waste. The episode that ensued behind closed doors is the basis for Ron Hutchinson’s uproarious comedy “Moonlight and Magnolias,” which opens WCT’s new season in September.

An engaging anecdotal account is described in an article in Atlantic Monthly, “The Making of Gone With The Wind,” by Gavin Lambert (March 1973)*, and by the writer himself in “Ben Hecht: A Biography,” quoted here: “[Hecht] said he hadn’t read the novel but Selznick and director Fleming could not wait for him to read it. They would act out scenes based on Sidney Howard’s original script which needed to be rewritten in a hurry. Hecht wrote, ‘After each scene had been performed and discussed, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue with their acting, kept hurrying me. We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us eat lunch, arguing that food would slow us up. He provided bananas and salted peanuts….’” For Irish playwright Hutchinson (who is himself a successful Hollywood screenwriter) the comic potential in such an arrangement was too much to pass up, as he said in an interview (Ron Hutchinson, A Celebration by David G. Anderson): “…it struck me, wow—this is classical farce. Can you imagine? All the elements are there. Three high-powered individuals lock themselves in a room existing on peanuts and bananas, and they are ever mindful that the clock is ticking, in a total pressure cooker situation.”

Selznick’s obsession with minute production details also resonated with Hutchinson’s experience: “The people in the industry are way too worried about the costuming, scenery, casting, and staging. They will have all this in place and then realize, hey—we have to do something with the script. This mess is total garbage. Unfortunately, the script has become a complete after-thought, and there are millions of dollars at stake.” Nevertheless, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” he admits, “was really more of a celebration to correct the image of film’s golden age writers, directors, and producers than an indictment of Hollywood…. Selznick had everything on the line: his fortune, reputation, and his marriage.” At the end of that week in 1939, Hecht emerged from the pressure cooker, took his hefty writing fee, gathered what strength he had and ran for a train to take him home to Chicago. He refused to take credit for the massive fourhour screenplay; credit eventually went to Sidney Howard, along with an Academy Award. The episode seemed to be something he wanted to forget. But what happened in Selznick’s office is, in Hutchinson’s imagination, an hilarious, thought-provoking Hollywood tale of men fighting themselves (and each other) not just for survival but for a chance at immortality. As the playwright says: “Is there an abundance of crazy, driven, slightly off kilter people out here? Yes, and they all want to leave their indelible imprint on the precious celluloid.”

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“Sabrina Fair” brings a smile to the audience – and cheers!

"Sabrina Fair' at Westport Community Theatre, June 3 – 19, 2011

Cast of "Sabrina Fair"

The news today is all good news about our current production, Sabrina Fair – an absolutely charming play with memorable performances from actors who are cast to perfection! The audiences for the first weekend of performances gave the most amazing feedback – in a nutshell, they loved it. And the actors. And the set. And did we mention the play? Tom Rushen is applauded for his excellent directorial eye.

Make no mistake about it, this is what we call an “ensemble” play as no matter the size of the role, every performance is excellent. We’ll start in this posting with three of the principal characters. Actors are always challenged when assuming roles that are widely identified with famous celebrities – it is inevitable that an audience member will remember a favorite film. And we’re proud to say that WCT has overcome that challenge three times this season with our productions of Enter Laughing, Angel Street (“Gaslight”) and now Sabrina Fair.

For Sabrina Fair, the challenge is even greater as it means two films etched into memory over five decades – and a very successful Broadway run. The character of Sabrina Fairchild was beloved, made memorable in film by Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s and then again in the 1990s by Julia Ormond – and yet on Broadway it was Margaret Sullavan’s performance that brought the attention of the world to a new play destined to be a hit.

We are so, so lucky to have Debra Hanusick create this wonderful role in the Westport Community Theatre production – audiences this first weekend have absolutely fallen in love with her. To quote an overused phrase, she has “made it her own” – she is beguiling and sweet, feisty and smart, impetuous and patient, in-depth and frivolous – and absolutely charming. If for no other reason, everyone should see this production to see Debra’s wonderful performance in her WCT debut.

Sabrina Fair, Westport Community Theatre, June 3 – 19, 2011

Sabrina Fairchild (Debra Hanusick) and Linus Larrabee (Jeff Pliskin) – sparks fly...

We are so pleased to have Jeff Pliskin return to WCT in the role of Linus Larrabee after a string of hit roles at Curtain Call Theatre in Stamford. His challenge was having no less than Humphrey Bogart and Harrison Ford precede him on film – and Jeff’s superb talent has brought Linus Larrabee to life so convincingly, so intelligently, so sophisticated, so debonair… Linus is a terribly complex role that requires the actor to assume a rich “inner life” and take the audience with him in this endearing story. Jeff has the audience from his first line to his last, and we heard audience members wishing there was more when the play ended. We  looked up the definition of “heartthrob”… and…

In this story there are two Larrabee brothers, Linus and David – and they are effectively polar opposites. David is somewhat of a ladies-man. He’s funny. Somewhat care-free. Maybe somewhat care-less… He’s sure of himself, in control and easily infatuated. We are very pleased to welcome Terry LaPolice to the WCT stage as David – an amazing actor who captures the heart and soul of David Larrabee, creating a different version of the character than William Holden or Greg Kinnear played. He shines in his scenes with Sabrina, goes head to head with Linus, is a sympathetic confidant of elder Larrabee family members – and is the epitome of the suave sophistication that the 1950s is so well known for. We looked up the definition of “playboy”… and…

"Sabrina Fair" at Westport Community Theatre, June 3 – 19, 2011

Sabrina Fairchild (Debra Hanusick) and David Larrabee (Terry LaPolice) – a childhood crush is revisited...

There is much more to follow this week – as previously mentioned, this is a cast of 14 equally talented actors. Based on the reaction to this first weekend, we encourage you to make your reservations early – performances are Thursday, June 9 at 8:00 PM (great after-work outing!), Fridays and Saturdays June 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 8:00 PM, and matinees Sundays June 12 and 19 at 2:00 PM. WCT Box Office is (203) 226-1983.

The cast includes Michelle Blau, Jessica Denes, Andrea Garmun, Debra Hanusick, Terry LaPolice, Manny Lieberman, Andrew Morris, Sue O’Hara, Jeff Pliskin, Brendan Quinn, Tara Reuter, Catherine Samose, Nik Shpilberg and Fred Tisch.

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“Cabaret 55” – Celebrate 55 Years of WCT, Friday May 20 at 7:00 PM!

Join us for a very special Gala Evening – “Cabaret 55” – celebrating Westport Community Theatre’s 55th anniversary! “Cabaret 55” will be held Friday, May 20 at 7:00 PM at the Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Avenue.

Tickets are $35, and include desserts by Westport’s leading restaurants, bakeries and confectioners – plus a ticket to the opening of our final production of the 2010 / 2011 season, Sabrina Fair.

We’ve assembled some of your favorite WCT performers – Priscilla Squiers (Master Class), Fred Tisch (Angel Street), Rosanne Nelson (Mixed Couples), Kimberly Lowden (The Women), Ruth Anne Baumgartner (Angel Street), Rob Pawlikowski (The Front Page), Marguerite Foster (Orson’s Shadow), Randye Kaye (Broadway Bound), Jessie Gilbert (Don’t Drink the Water), Linda Gilmore (Ice Glen) David Victor (Mixed Couples), Vic Terenzio (Don’t Drink the Water), Larry Greeley (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum), Joan Barere (The Best Man), John Fatteross (The Best Man) and others for a cabaret-style evening of songs and classic comedy sketches from the 1950s, the era when Westport Community Theatre first began! The evening will be hosted by Robert Watts as Emcee.

We promise no novelty songs (!), just a fabulous musical evening of classic standards, torch songs, and old favorites, with comedy sketches celebrating that marvelous 1950s era when radio gave way to a new-fangled development called television and launched the careers of Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Jackie Gleason, Neil Simon…

Music throughout the entire evening will be provided by Bob Lasprogato’s Uptown Jazz Combo – if you haven’t heard them before, get ready for a sweet evening of cool jazz and then some by some of Westport’s most popular musicians.

The format for the evening is Cabaret-style – in addition to the entertainment, we’ll provide desserts courtesy of Great Cakes, CakeSuite, The Wild Pear, Garelick and Herbs and Nothin’ But Premium Snack Bars, along with coffee, tea and bottled water. Guests are invited to bring supper or snacks; BYOB (sodas and wine only, please).

“Cabaret 55” is a true celebration of all things Westport and Westport Community Theatre’s 55 years of commitment to the community by providing outstanding theatre at affordable prices. We’ve partnered with local businesses to underwrite this fundraising event (including Fairfield County Bank and Mutual Security), and look forward to having you join us!

Space is limited, so we encourage you to make your reservation soon by phoning the Box Office at (203) 226-1983.

 

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Director Jessica Denes – “Mixed Couples,” opening April 8!

 

Mixed Couples

Director Jessica Denes (seated, left), cast and production staff of "Mixed Couples"

One of WCT’s favorite directors, Jessica Denes, has assembled some of Fairfield County’s most talented actors for her upcoming production of Mixed Couples, opening April 8. What makes this production special to Jessica is that she either performed with, or worked behind the scenes on the crew for, all five cast members – over 10 years ago, when she made her WCT debut in Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced, directed by Davina Porter.

Directing credits include one of WCT’s most memorable productions, Master Class, and Veronica’s Room. Last spring she brought the gripping and provocative Orange Flower Water to the ETC stage – audiences are still talking about this staged reading one year later. Directorial credits for Connecticut theaters include Love, Sex, and the I.R.S, The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild, and Confessions of a Dirty Blonde at Eastbound Theatre; Summer Brave, Time & Time Again, The Other Side of Friendship, and Her Majesty Miss Jones for Crystal Theatre Company; and productions of Delicious Death & Other Desserts, Not Now Darling, and A Night of Shakespeare.

Directing is only one of Jessica’s accomplishments as she is also an extremely talented actress. WCT audiences were treated to great performances in the recent ETC staged reading of Collected Stories, in the memorable role of Joan Plowright in Orson’s Shadow, and in the aforementioned A Murder Is Announced. Jessica also has appeared in Cactus Flower as Toni Simmons at the Town Players of New Canaan; as Emily in Our Town at the Wilton Playshop; in Li’L Abner as Daisy Mae and as Bella in Lost in Yonkers at Crystal Theatre Company; and in “Boeing, Boeing” as Bertha at Eastbound Theatre. Jessica is a member of the WCT Administrative Board.

Mixed Couples – ready for opening night!

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