Interview with Adam Yuster, Assistant Director for MILL GIRLS

Adam Yuster1. Where are you from?

I’m from Highland Park.

 

2. How did you hear about TMTC?

I heard about TMTC a few years ago when my mom and I stopped in after grocery shopping at Sunset next door. Since then, I’ve participated as an actor in the past three YAP summer programs and loved it each time. This year I was looking to do something slightly different while still being involved with the program I had grown up with.

 

3. What should audiences take away from Mill Girls?

Mill Girls, at its heart, is a show about standing up for your beliefs. The historical counterparts of Mill Girls’ characters are some of our country’s most overlooked feminist leaders. They faced strong oppression from the men who ran the industry they worked in, but they chose to fight in the face of that oppression instead of cowering. It’s essentially a David and Goliath story in which the women used intelligence as their weapons instead of violence.

 

4. How do you spend your days before rehearsal?

Mostly doing homework and writing. I’m the head writer for next year’s STUNTS (Highland Park High School’s student written musical). I also take a media studies night class at Northwestern.

 

5. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your time at TMTC?

The main lesson I’ve learned is how much hard work goes into directing. I’ve previously taken a directing class at my high school, but participating as assistant director on a complete production is a different experience altogether. You really begin to notice all the little details that go into the making of a show.

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Dramaturgical Background for Saudade: dreams and longing

Broadway Lost & Found
Background on the Shop in ‘Dream Laurie’

New York City is home to a few very special shops that celebrate Broadway by selling sheet music and memorabilia. Unfortunately, these shops are now part of a dying breed. (Times Square is such a hot retail market that rents have jumped 42 percent in the past year, forcing out these corner shops!) Two casualties this year are Broadway New York and Broadway Baby - well-loved memorabilia stores that offered show posters, show magnets, key chains and scripts in the Times Square Marriott Marquis.

Broadway lovers and hopefuls took another hit with the closing of the Colony, an institution for tourists and industry professionals since 1948. When the Colony closed its doors to the public for the last time after September, on the corner of 49th and Broadway, a crowd of 100 people was there to cheer and say goodbye.

The shop that we see in Saudaude’s, ‘Dream Laurie,’ is a tribute to these gone-but-not-forgotten stores that brought us a little closer to our dreams.

 

Myths Transported
Background on the source material used in ‘Echo and Narcissus at the Barre’

Myths were the ancient world’s way of coping with the unknown; the myth of Echo and Narcissus was created to explain the aural phenomenon and the narcissus flower.  In the Greek version, Echo was a mountain nymph, who loved to talk.   When the philandering Zeus, ruler of the gods, would go off with one of the other nymphs, he bid Echo distract his jealous wife, Hera by telling her long and entertaining stories.  But when Hera found out, she cursed Echo to never speak of her own volition again; she could only repeat the last phrase that she heard.

One day, Echo came upon the beautiful Narcissus hunting in the forest – love at first sight!  But when Narcissus stopped by a pool of still water and, he saw his reflection for the first time, and fell in love with the beautiful face in the water.   He confessed his love to his reflection, and Echo repeated his words back, and there they stayed, withering away. The first narcissus flower bloomed in the place where he died.  Heartbroken, Echo faded away herself, leaving only the echo we know today.

In ‘Echo and Narcissus at the Barre,’ we see these curses enacted in a modern context that leaves the ballet dancer Narcissus obsessing over his image in the rehearsal room mirror, and Echo longing for the partner she’ll never attain.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

Background on Source Material for ‘Alice Underground’

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a well-known and well-loved story written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll for a little girl that was always searching for something. In chapter 1, “Down the Rabbit-Hole,” Alice is bored, looking for answers and adventure, when she notices a talking, clothed rabbit with a pocket watch run past. She follows it to a rabbit hole, where she suddenly slips and falls a long way, dropping into a curious hall with many locked doors. She then discovers a bottle on a table labelled “DRINK ME,” and a cake with “EAT ME” written on it. Both of these change her size, offering her different possibilities. In the midst of shrinking, Alice waxes philosophic, concerned what final size she will end up, and perhaps “going out altogether, like a candle.” As she continues her journey through Wonderland, she meets a cast of fantastical characters that challenge and help her move forward – the Cheshire cat, the Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and even the Red Queen.

In Saudade’s ‘Alice Underground,’ Alice is devastated, looking for answers over the death of a dear friend. She, too, falls down a rabbit hole, and goes on a grown-up journey of self-discovery. The characters we know are transformed into a Therapist Caterpillar and funky Mad Hatter, and they, too, challenge Alice and help her move on.

Interview with the creative team of Saudade: dreams and longing

Jessica Redish Head ShotJessica Redish (Conceiver/Director/Choreographer)

Q: Define Saudade in your own words; what does it mean to you personally?

The idea of longing for something that we can’t have, something that cannot return – something that possibly never existed.

 

Q: What was the original inspiration for Saudade? What was the point when you realized that this idea was going to become a fully staged production?

The idea came from an assignment I received (at Northwestern University) some years back, which stayed with me, and I felt the need to complete it. Now felt like the time to do so. I therefore had in mind for some time to tell a story – an entire evening – through movement and dance. I had specific shorter stories in mind that I knew I wanted to tell through movement – dances I knew I wanted to make. I listed them, formulated my thoughts and shared them with David Simpatico, our book writer – we had worked on a project previously and collaborated well. I shared with him my ideas for specific dances last summer and the first thing that came to mind for him it seems was the Alice in Wonderland story. We started there last summer. We found story points first, then decided on the music.

 

Q: Were there any particularly fun or exciting moments for you in the creative process? Any stumbling blocks?

Yes, dancing to some of my absolute favorite music and making dances to songs I’ve dreamed about making dances to for years has been a thrill. Some of this felt like a dare, and I dared myself to make that dance I’ve had in my head – now it had structure and a place, and a story.

That’s when choreography really locked in for me, I remember – I was very young and I knew I loved making dances, but putting narrative to dance and movement made everything make sense – all the steps and ideas and feelings and motion that evolved from the music – it all came together for me in the moment of story. It all just sort of locked into place. The movement had a place to go. I’m grateful that people respond so positively to the stories that are in my head and body. It’s a weird thing, to share what’s in your body and soul and put it out there. But that is our task. I put myself in all of my work, but especially this piece.

In terms of process itself, I respond to the bodies in front of me and use the body as architecture to tell stories. Every dance you see in this evening was built for that specific dancer – I chose them for not only their technical skill but for their skills as story tellers. Most of the action in this piece is inspired by subtext, actually – the thoughts that inspire the movement – David created the characters, scenarios and stories and gave us action prompts; from there I created movement based on text or text fodder – things the characters were saying or would be saying if they were speaking.

 

Q: How did you decide on the source material? Are there any sources you draw on that maybe aren’t as clear to audience members?

I took my ideas to David Simpatico, our book writer, and he suggested source material – Alice in Wonderland, the Echo and Narcissus myth and a story inspired by the original Dream Ballet. David is brilliant and gifted and I thank my lucky stars for his collaboration.

 

Q: What is the significance behind:

   Drug use

I believe for David the drugs play into the idea of excess in the third piece and, and a way of life in the second – a way to sustain, to detach, to stay thin in the name of the profession. (I will admit to knowing very little about actual drug use – caffeine is my drug of choice – (I was told to “just say no” and I’m probably one of two people who listened.) )

The color Red

The color red in the Alice (in Wonderland) piece for me was creativity, imagination, freedom – and, coincidentally, something over which the Red Queen feels she has ownership. The Red Queen is the adult world in the Alice story that tells us: “No, no you can’t try this, no you can’t enjoy your life, no you can’t be your whole creative self, there are restrictions and guidelines and rules and we must adhere to them.” One might say, in the adult brain, it’s one’s saboteur.

The three different Alices

This assignment was given to me during my time at Northwestern by Tony Nominee Lara Teeter who was quite helpful and generous in encouraging and cultivating my skills as a choreographer. He asked me, in the name of the William James philosophy, to create three dances, (for, as James says, we have three versions of the self) – the dance of the person others think we are, the dance of the person we think we are, and the dance of the person we actually are. I took this idea to David and he said this would fit well in the Alice story because she becomes so many sizes and loses herself, her identity is always shifting. This is how the three Alices formed.

 

Q: Are there any specific moments or characters that particularly resonate with you?

The work is very personal. My hope is these stories are universal, since they are based on source texts that have been recounted for many years – with my own personal edge as told through David’s book and story prompts.

 

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the production?

I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like a full production, it feels like a wonderfully strong draft of a burgeoning work, which was our goal and my intent. I hope people can see some of themselves in these stories, or respond to the images and movement in front of them and understand something new. I am interested in audience feedback for this stage of the piece, and have been receiving some wonderfully helpful information. I am grateful for the time and space to let this piece be born here.

 

 

previewpicDavid Simpatico (Story and Book)

Q: Define Saudade in your own words; what does it mean to you personally? How did you decide on the title?

Saudade found its name when I went looking for a word that would express a sense of longing and attachment for something that was no longer with us, hoping it for it to return but knowing that it probably will not; I typed in key words and phrases, and was introduced to a powerful, Portuguese word that embraces this exact idea: Saudade.

Taken personally, I think it is a word that has resonance in various elements of our lives. To yearn is a human impulse, played out in a million different variations every day in every person. I think we all connect to moments of wanting, of frustration, of need, of definition beyond our satisfaction or resignation. For me, Saudade is about the celebration of longing, the thrill of the possible, and the joyful resolution of the two.

 

Q: What inspired you to work on the show? How did the creative process work for you on this piece?

Jessica had commissioned an earlier piece of mine, and contacted me about an idea she’d had about an evening of dance theatre. She’d recently suffered the loss of a dear friend. She spoke about the emotional intensity [of grief and trying to mourn the loss]. I started to hear words pop out a bit and I saw a funeral with people grieving and one woman inconsolable and then a white rabbit holding a pocket watch scampered across and leapt into the open grave. The inconsolable girl jumped into the grave as well, and I knew I had a story. And I knew I wanted to explore the paradigm of Alice in Wonderland, because I think it presents a brilliant inversion of the hero’s journey, with Alice misled and accosted by one magical creature after another. The story laid itself out for me by the middle of the phone call, and we were both very excited.

I let Jessica sit with all the ideas that were tossed around for a few months, and then we decided to present it in a full evening, as the second half of a dance theatre piece, with two smaller pieces in act one. I was overwhelmed with the sense of longing we described in the notes for what would become Alice Underground, and wanted to bolster and explore those themes and ideas. We talked a lot about the pain of not having what you want most, and I saw Echo and Narcissus run by in my mind .We talked about the discipline and excess of the world of ballet, the brutal pain demanded of a brutally beautiful art form. I saw a ballet class, with a long wooden barre. And a wall length mirror. So I put Echo and Narcissus in the dance class; hilarity ensues.

Dream Laurie was an idea I’ve always wanted to explore, the dream ballet. I love the idea of taking an essential moment at the heart of an essential piece of musical theatre, like Oklahoma!, and going inside it to tell a different story. I think there is a Dream Laurie in all of us, just waiting for the right moment to emerge.

 

Q:  Were there any particularly fun/exciting moments for you in the process of writing the show? Were there any stumbling blocks?

The whole research and development period was a lot of fun, with many phone calls back and forth between Jessica and me, putting elements together to explore the themes of yearning and need and expression and investigation. And how we could use the conceit of the dance to tell these stories. Also, Jessica and I got together a few times in New York City, honing the piece together by walking through it, and choosing music for a wide musical backdrop. I loved being Skyped into rehearsals once the piece got on its feet, a real treat to be able to watch and give notes from 900 miles away, sitting in my office at home! Technology allowed us to keep the collaboration tight and current. The only thing that could have been improved was the amount of time I got to spend in the same room with the director, designers and cast, I only spent two rehearsals, but we made the most of my time in Highland Park.

 

Q:  Are there any specific moments or characters that resonate with you? Why/how?

I love the character of Laurie, who I feel represents the yearning inside of us all, the part of us that dreams of doing something beyond our abilities, of wanting to dance, and brilliantly; the parts of us that live in our dreams. I love Hera in Echo and Narcissus, who represents the brutality of power and the vengeance of jealousy; it is a primal yet sophisticated character. Both Echo and Narcissus make me sad for their tragic plight of falling in love with the unobtainable. The Three Alices thrill me with the possibilities they encompass to leap into various stages of a person’s life, to keep alive the memories and lessons and mistakes of our past, yet who ultimately assimilate into a unified, livable whole that allows Alice to keep on moving ahead with her life, despite the deep loss she has suffered. And I love the White Rabbit, and the way Jessica has created him, introducing the element of absurd whimsy into a hitherto tragic event. The Mad Hatter and the Caterpillar Psychiatrist are interesting to me as they represent polar opposites of chemical treatment; one medical, the other recreational.

 

Q:  What do you hope audiences will gain from seeing the show?

I hope the show wakes up the dancer in them, or the pilot, or the doctor, or the sculptor, that part of us that lives in the pool of the yearning we try to ignore. I want them to get up and dance on the way out, I want them to love the soundtrack and have their own journeys as they follow the ones we present. I hope they can relate to the struggle of living in a world where you always want something more, and celebrate that need within us.

 

An interview with David Elliott, playing Mr. McIlhenny in Do I Hear a Waltz?

David Elliott 4Q: You previously performed with us in The Baker’s Wife in Concert. Welcome back to TMTC! What inspired you to join us again?

I had a wonderful time working with Dominic and everyone at TMTC. When I saw the audition notice and the chance to work with Dominic again, I was very excited!

Q: What about the production are you most looking forward to?

Working with David Girolmo and working on the song “What Do We Do, We Fly!”

Q: What is your process of developing a character? How do you begin?

I always begin with the text. What do the characters say about each other? How do they act?

Q: Where do you hail from?

I am originally from Des Plaines, IL, and now live in Morton Grove, IL.

Q: What is your favorite classic film?

It’s a Wonderful Life.

An interview with Jeanne T. Arrigo, playing Signora Fioria in Do I Hear a Waltz?

Jeanne Arrigo headshotQ: Welcome to TMTC! This is your first time performing with us — what inspired you to join us?

I’ve auditioned two times prior, each time by invitation. I didn’t even know of this theatre company until I was invited to audition, but I’m thrilled to finally be a part of a production here! I actually didn’t really know this show, either, but have fallen in love with Signora Fioria. I am looking forward to sharing her with the audience.

Q: What drew you to Do I Hear a Waltz?

I’ve never been cast in anything Sondheim has written, and who doesn’t love Sondheim? And I’ve always loved Richard Rodgers’ music (the first show I ever did in high school was Oklahoma! and I’ve been drawn to his music ever since!). Since I received the script and the music and have reviewed it daily for three weeks, I am so anxious to see these characters come to life, and struggle through this brief encounter they share in Italy.

Q: What about the production are you most looking forward to?

So many things: meeting and working with the other cast members, singing the music along with instruments and the cast (especially the songs, “No Understand” and “Moon in my Window”), and seeing how it is going to be staged in the space.

Q: Where do you hail from?

Well, I’ve lived in Chicago for over 20 years, so I really consider it my home. I grew up on a small farm in Missouri (where my dad and older brother and his wife still reside — it’s not farmed, but just a lovely woodsy, seven acres). I went to college in Iowa, and then came to Chicago for grad school and have been here ever since.

Q: What’s your New Year’s resolution? Have you kept up with it so far?

I haven’t really made one, except I keep saying that 2014 incorporates my favorite number (14), so it is bound to be amazingly rich with blessings and success!

An interview with Kelli Harrington, playing Leona in Do I Hear a Waltz?

Kelli Harrington headshotQ: Welcome to TMTC! This is your first time performing with us — what inspired you to join us?

Actually, a friend told me about this project and that he was going to recommend me for it. The next day, I was contacted by the office and asked to come in to audition! I still owe that friend a nice big drink.

Q: What is your process of developing a character? How do you begin?

I was a singer before I ever did any acting, so I still always begin with the music first — old habits are hard to break. It’s what makes me feel most comfortable in getting into the style and mood of the show. It’s helpful to know as much as possible about the history of the show and how it was developed; then at some point you have to let that insider knowledge go and play what’s on the page.

Q: What about the production are you most looking forward to?

Getting to work with Dominic and his cast of actors. I was a student in the opera program at Northwestern while Dominic headed up the musical theatre department, but we never worked with each other directly. It’s a little mind-bending that we get to do so now, more years later than I care to count!

Q: What do you want audiences to take away from the production?

This is one of those lost treasures that not many people outside the theatre world know about. I like that we get the chance to introduce them to works by masters in the field that, for a number of reasons, fell through the cracks.

Q: What’s your favorite classic film?

I’m a Hitchcock fan: Strangers on a Train, Rope, To Catch a Thief, Dial M for Murder, and Rear Window are just some of the ones I’ve watched enough times to recite them in their entirety.

An interview with Dominic Missimi, director of Do I Hear a Waltz?

Dominic MissimiQ: You last directed The Baker’s Wife in Concert for us last season. Welcome back to TMTC! What inspired you to join us again?

I enjoy the philosophy of the theatre, that it looks at the more unusual music theatre fare. I also love the fact that no matter what the show may be, the size of the theatre demands that you take a chamber approach. The audience is up close and personal which demands that the director and actor concentrate a lot more on truthful acting. It’s a wonderful intimate space.

Q: What drew you to directing Do I Hear a Waltz?

I was in college when the show opened on Broadway, and I remember being totally captivated by the title song. In fact, I staged it as one of my directing finals. The show was not a big success on Broadway, but for all these years I’ve been fascinated because I could never figure out how three of our most illustrious creators of music theatre — the great Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents created a piece that didn’t land. I believe Rodgers should have followed his first intention, which was to create a chamber musical. Instead, they populated the show with a singing and dancing chorus with not much for them to do. I want to clear things away so that you can see the lovely and somewhat sad story of American secretary Leona Samish looking for love in Venice.

Q: What is the beginning of your process when you start reading a script? Do you envision the characters? The setting? Both at once?

First and foremost I am attracted to the characters that have been created by Arthur Laurents, the book writer. In this particular show, I love the mix of the Italians and the Americans, and especially as it plays out and you realize the enormous differences in the way the two different cultures view life and love. I also believe the characters are a product of their environment. I try to see and touch everything they do in the play. Waltz? was a treat, because I am Italian and I have visited Venice three times. I consider it the most beautiful, magical, mysterious city in Western Europe, just as our leading character describes in the musical.

Q: What were the first steps you were inspired to take after reading Do I Hear a Waltz?

I wanted to go back and look at the evolution of the piece. I read the original play The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents, watched the film Summertime with Katherine Hepburn based on the musical, and I listened to the CD of the revival of the musical at Pasadena Playhouse a few years ago. I read everything I could find about the show, especially Sondheim’s critique of the collaboration with Richard Rodgers. It was quite an adventure for all of the original artists who worked on the production. Through all of this, the characters, the storyline, the music — many, many things shone through and it made me determined to do everything I could to make the show work. We are doing the original version from the Rodgers and Hammerstein library.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from TMTC’s Chamber Musical presentation of Do I Hear a Waltz?

I would love it if I heard someone say at the end of the performance, “Wow. What a lovely musical. Funny, sad, beautiful, touching. I had no idea this was such a good musical!” This show has such a fantastic pedigree. Who could ever imagine any less than a thrilling musical by Rodgers, Sondheim, and Laurents? I can’t. And that’s what I want to prove to our audience. Do I Hear a Waltz? deserves our attention.