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An Interview with Bunny Christie

Published March 22nd, 2017 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Bunny Christie

By Alicia Hansen

As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team. Alicia recently interviewed Bunny Christie, the Scenic & Costume Designer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about her experience in designing this Tony Award winning play.

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Scotland and was involved in my school drama group although performing, not designing. We would sometimes go to Glasgow to an amazing theatre called The Glasgow Citizens Theatre. They produced incredibly visual, decadent pieces of theatre and employed very beautiful actors. I then went to Art School in London and found that the Theatre Design students were having much more fun than the painters or sculptors.

I first heard about The National Theatre doing a version of Curious Incident when Marianne Elliott rang me asking if I knew the book and if I would like to have a go at designing the show. I absolutely loved the book. I had read it along with the rest of the UK when it first came out. I love working with Marianne so it was a very decision to say YES!!!

In taking a book to the stage, how did the novel of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time inspire or influence your designs?

It was really lovely to have the book and the script to work with. The book is beautiful and has lovely pictures, maps and equations in it. I really wanted to use some of the illustrations in the book in our production. Also, the book is very playful. The chapters aren’t numbered 1, 2, 3. They are numbered as prime numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, so I wanted to keep some of that playful, irreverent feeling. There are also nice descriptions of the people in the book that I used in the costume designs. Christopher often notices the shoes that people wear or their t-shirts because he doesn’t do eye contact.

The most striking aspect of the scenic design is the electronic panels that provide the flexibility to tell this tale. Can you describe your process in developing that important feature?

It felt to me that we should be in a space that is Christopher’s domain, almost inside his head, and that would be a world of technology, science and math. I also really wanted the space of the stage to feel exciting and vibrant, and celebrate the world of computers and technology.  I was looking at lots of computer gaming rooms and club interiors for inspiration, and talking to Paule Constable, the lighting designer, about how to make the space feel like a computer game and fizz with energy and light.  The space needed to become so many different locations, and be very fluid and fast moving.

What were some of the most important aspects on your mind when creating the costume designs for Curious Incident?

I wanted the colors on the clothes to really glow – as though when Christopher sees a color, it is super bright and almost vibrates. I also use Christopher’s favorite colors on his clothes and the colors he hates on the characters he doesn’t like. Anyone wearing something yellow or brown is not a good person. The characters need to be able to change very quickly, sometimes onstage.

The company who become all the characters in the story and also sometimes act almost as neurons in Christopher’s brain have a monochrome ‘skin’ of clothes that sort of match the black and white set.  They can then add character elements to quickly become an individual person, or melt into the set when the focus is really on Christopher and we need to see only him clearly. Siobhan, his favorite teacher, is dressed in white, so she glows in the space a little. I always felt like she is a guardian angel for Christopher.

As I said, I used particular details from descriptions in the book of how people looked: Mrs. Shears in her pajamas and pink toe-nails; Mrs. Alexander, the neighbor who wears New Balance trainers with red laces; the neighbor, Mr. Thompson, who wears a T-shirt with “Beer. Helping ugly people have sex for 2,000 years”!

Was there any one character you especially enjoyed crafting costumes for in this production?

I do really like Mrs. Alexander the older lady neighbor. She’s a really nice person and I love the look of her wearing her trainers to do work in the garden. The policemen were actually really fun to do. London and Swindon police have quite particular kit and the actors always love dressing up and trying on the London Bobby helmets.

What scenes in the show leave the audience with the strongest visual impacts thanks to the work you created?

I love the moments when all the visual and aural elements work together. The section when Christopher is searching the house for evidence is really fun.  All the pixel lighting is firing, the actors are moving through the space and its fun and playful.

I also love the bit we call Astro-boy when Christopher imagines himself in space. Again the projection, sound, light, music and movement are all working together and we spent a lot of time orchestrating this section to make it feel magical.

The journey on the train to London is lovely. I can really clearly remember coming up with this idea way back at the beginning of the design process with Marianne. It’s still exactly as we imagined – that’s very satisfying.

What makes Curious Incident stand out to you from the other productions you’ve worked on over the years?

Definitely the teamwork.  Although Marianne and I worked alone on the design and feel of the production for many weeks, once the rest of the team got involved, we all bounced off each other and they added layers of ideas. It’s a large team of people all working together – this includes the actors and all the backstage teams.  It’s a very precise piece of work.  We all became very particular about the detail of each moment.  Although the show is very visual and loud at times, it is also quiet, moving and delicate with beautiful acting and writing. I always love watching it. The story gets me every time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs March 21 – April 9, 2017 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a local yoga teacher, event professional, marketer and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

This week (January 1) in theater news…

Published January 5th, 2017 by | Comments Off on This week (January 1) in theater news…

Each week we’re going to keep you up-to-speed with the latest Broadway and theater news. Check back next week to see what you missed this week, and to catch a glimpse of what’s going on at Playhouse Square and beyond. Enjoy!

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New Year new records to break
Oh what a year it has been! Broadway broke box-office records up and down Times Square for the week ending January 1, with 33 Broadway shows taking in $50 million, the highest total in Broadway history! (Playbill.com) Read More…

A must see documentary
The world still feels the loss of legendary mother and daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. On January 7 at 8 p.m., HBO will debut Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, a documentary. Watched first full trailer that was recently released here. (Playbill.com)

Nothing like Broadway in the spring time
There’s beauty behind a show closing in order for a new production to take its place. From December 31, 2016 through January 29, 2017 thirteen shows are scheduled to close, including Something Rotten, Jersey Boys & The Color Purple, and a new slate of revivals, original musicals, & two Broadway play writing debuts will being previewing these theatres. (Playbill.com) Read more…

Sing Emma sing
Just in case you’re as excited as we are for Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, enjoy this snippet of Emma Watson singing “Something There” (Playbill.com) Read More…

Reflection time
As the first week of 2017 comes to an end, join us as we take a look back on 2016 and some great Broadway reveals. (Broadway.com)

An Interview with Jovon E. Shuck

Published June 29th, 2016 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Jovon E. Shuck

As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

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As part of the 2015-2016 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, Phantom of the Opera is making it’s mark on Cleveland once again.  In this interview, stage manager Jovon E. Shuck gives a behind-the-curtain look at the show.

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Tell us about yourself.

My high school drama teacher encouraged me to be a stage manager as I had a flair for being organized… and also because I was a pretty terrible actor back then!  I went to Michigan State to be a veterinarian. As I was taking math and science classes, I was also taking a technical theater class. I quickly realized I liked one a whole lot better than the other. So I switched my major, became a theatre major, graduated and went on to work in summer stock and touring productions. I would eventually move to New York City, where I worked a lot, including at Radio City Music Hall and Shakespeare in the Park. There, I worked with a Broadway stage manager who connected me with a job opportunity that would set me up for all my jobs going forward.

This is my fourth time in Cleveland with a touring production. I was here almost ten years ago with Spamalot. We were here twice with that show – we played both the State and the Palace Theatres. I was here not too very long ago with The Lion King, and now back with the Phantom of the Opera.

Touring Phantom seems like an epic undertaking. Can you tell us the process of getting from the previous location to the next? What does this show entail that some others do not?

It takes us about 14 hours to load it out when we are done in one city and about three days to load the show into a new theater in the next city. Two of the trucks actually arrive with what we call our “advance package” while we are still loading out in the last theater in the previous location. It is a marathon for the crew!

We travel in 16 separate semi-tracker trailers. As you can imagine, moving 16 trucks means moving around a lot of stuff! There is one whole truck that is nothing but costumes. The two opera boxes that are on either side of the stage design – those ride in one whole truck themselves. They travel just as you see it on stage, as does the chandelier, so not everything breaks down into smaller parts. Our chandelier is one ton in weight. Our revolving stage wall is ten tons. We have mammoth pieces to move!

There are 65 people in the company: 30 of them are actors, 30 of them are crew and staff. We also travel with our own resident director to help maintain the show. When we get to a new city, we hire about 100 people to help us move the show into the venue. They are all locals. They are wardrobe people, as well as crew working on and back stage. Then about 30 will stay with us to help run the show every night. We really count on those local people. Same is true with our orchestra: we travel with five and we hire ten local musicians.  As you can see, there is a lot of logistics and time dedicated to moving the physical production pieces as well the people.

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As a stage manager, one of your primary responsibilities during the show is to call cues. What are one or two examples of cues that you call each show that stand out to you?

The first that comes to mind is right at the top of the show with the start of the overture and those big organ cords. That cue starts a whole series of cues – in this day and age, some of those are computerized, taking some of the pressure off of me!  Calling that cue will give you goosebumps every night. The same is true at the end of Act I when the chandelier crashes. That is just fun to do! When you hear the audience scream when the lights go off, it is pretty great.

I first saw this show when I was 12 years old. I learned all of the words and music then. I have seen it more times than I can count, but the end of the show still gets me. I sometimes have to tune out what is happening on stage and just focus on my cues! If I am standing in the wing and get wrapped up in the story – sometimes that is too much to handle! The story will suck me in every time. I still get wrapped up in it, and that is not true for every show I have ever worked on.

Once the show is up and running in a new location, what is your average “day in the life” of a stage manager on this production?

I eat my way around every city that we are in, so I try to find the local specialties by asking all the local crew where they eat. It is my way of getting out and experiencing the city, so that is how I generally spend my afternoons, if there is not a rehearsal scheduled. The show just passed its 1000 performance so we are constantly replacing people, but also continue to keep up our understudies. We will have an understudies’ rehearsal every couple of weeks. Those sort of rehearsals will take up an afternoon or two each week.

We are in the theatre an hour and a half before the show every night. The crew comes in at that time to start the preset:  they will rig the chandelier before every performance, do all their safety checks, reload the pyro, etc. That all takes about an hour before the show every night. It is a pretty carefully choreographed hour – it is full of activity from start to finish. At 7:30pm, the actors are due. Lots of them are due earlier though. For example, Chris, our Phantom, is in at least an hour before curtain as it takes about 45 minutes to get him into his makeup. The company does a full company vocal warm up together, which is not typical for every show I have ever done. The ballet dancers are downstairs stretching during this time. We travel with ballet bars so they can do their whole ballet warm up pre-show.  That final half hour before the show is the most intense period.

Then at 8pm, we start the show. It takes about two and a half hours to run the entire piece. Even once we are done, there is about 15 to 20 minutes’ worth of post-show paperwork, safety checks and resets to complete. About 11pm, we are out the door, but we never go home and go right to bed! My wife always teases me, “don’t you ever go home and go right to bed?”  I say “well, when you get out of work at 5pm, do you go straight home to bed?”  We have that much more day to go! We are often night owls and late to rise the next day… which is why my day starts with lunch!

Out of all the shows you have been involved in over the years, what makes this production of Phantom of the Opera special to you?

People’s relationships with the show – it really is different and special and unique to this show. We have super “phans” – you will notice we spell fans with a “ph”! Certainly the other shows I worked on have their own fan bases as well, but this show gets a reaction that no other show does. I will see the same people in the front row all week sometimes, and I will see them outside the theatre before and after. That means a lot, especially to the performers, but also to all of us backstage too – we all certainly feel that love.

Phantom of the Opera runs June 15 – July 10, 2016 in the State Theatre at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a local yoga teacher, event professional, marketer and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

An Interview with Allison Layman

Published June 1st, 2016 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Allison Layman

As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

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As part of the 2015-2016 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, Steel Magnolias is making a stop in Cleveland.  In this interview, Allison Layman, who plays Shelby in the show, discusses her background and what it’s like playing a role in the story beloved by so many.

Tell us about yourself.

I am the only child of two professional actors and was raised in Teaneck, New Jersey. I grew up tagging along to commercial calls and seeing my parents in productions at regional theatres all over the country. I loved the smell of the buildings, playing with the wig heads and staying up late after performances to “wind down.” Being inside theatres was a normal part of life for me as a child.

Though acting is in my blood, I took a circuitous route to finding it as my path.  I majored in French Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, moved to Vail, Colorado, for a year and after some time without acting in my life, decided that it was what I really wanted to explore.  I moved to New York City and studied with Bill Esper at his studio while acting in and around the city.  Then I studied at The Old Globe/USD program in San Diego where I received my MFA in acting in 2014.

My agents and the wonderful folks at Calleri Casting (James Calleri, Paul Davis and Erica Jensen), who cast this production, arranged for me to audition for Laura [Kepley, the director of Steel Magnolias], and I am honored she chose me to be a part of this production.

This story is well known to many thanks to the popular 1989 movie starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts. As an actor bringing the tale back to the stage, is there something that the stage version provides to (either you as an actor or to the audiences) that the film version did not?

I have to admit that I have never seen the 1989 movie of Steel Magnolias. I know that it is dear to the hearts of many people and I look forward to seeing it when we are finished with our run.

I can, however, speak to some of the differences without having seen the film.  The story is essentially the same, but in the film, the men in our lives appear and in the play the audience never sees the male characters.  To me, having only women tell their story is very important to the how the story is revealed.  Also, in contrast to the many locations in the movie, the play is set in one, intimate space:  Truvy’s Beauty Shop.  It is a women’s space, a place “where they can let their hair down” to reveal their truest selves.  The play invites the audience to eavesdrop on these women talking in the safest of places during important moments in their lives.

The relationships between the characters are the highlights of this piece. Can you speak to the process of the development of those relationships as you rehearsed with your fellow actresses?

Laura’s vision for Steel Magnolias has guided an incredibly talented and experienced cast to discover the surprising depth of character and relationship Robert Harlan, the playwright, forged into a very entertaining play.  Many of the relationships are initially obvious (mother/daughter; childhood friends; etc.) but Laura has led us to deeper places in the situations presented, helping us to clarify and focus our characters and the story.

The piece features an all-female cast. What is the dynamic of the group on and off the stage?

We laugh a lot.  I think it’s lovely how bits in the show reflect things we do in real life.  Harlan is expert at capturing learned feminine communication.  We recommend products to each other, articles that we’ve read and helpful things to share and borrow.  Where the characters are talking about southern recipes and radios, we tend to chat more about political articles and Cleveland grocery deals.

This group is excellent at communicating – on and off stage.  On stage, we are always listening and aware of nuances and changes in the evening’s dynamic.  Off stage, we are usually group texting or grabbing a bite to eat.

I love to watch and learn from the work of my cast mates and when hang out after shows I relish listening to their stories about working in this business.

This production runs for three months at the Allen Theatre. What are the pros and cons of such an extended run like this one?

Often regional theatre productions (which last from 3-5 weeks) close as soon as we feel we are getting into the groove.  With a contract this long, we will have the opportunity to really play with each other and live in the rhythm of doing this play in front of the audience.  It will be lovely to see how the show and how our performances evolve.  I am also looking forward to performing for the different subscription bases – Cleveland Playhouse and Playhouse Square.  The audience is an essential part of this play; we listen and respond to an audience the same way we do with another actor. I hope we all have the chance to see some of the sights in Cleveland as well.  I guess the downside is being away from friends and family as it always is when you go away.

Out of all the productions you’ve been involved in over the years, how does this production of Steel Magnolias stand apart?

For me, the great thing about every theatrical collaboration is that I have the opportunity to explore different elements of humanity.  This is my first time working on this play and I have fallen in love with these women.  Every production is an opportunity to learn, make new friends and grow as an artist and human being.  At its best, a theatrical collaboration will contribute as deeply to the audiences’ life benefit as well.

Produced by Cleveland Play House, Steel Magnolias runs May 21-August 21, 2016 in the Allen Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a local yoga teacher, event professional, marketer and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

An Interview with Jackie Burns

Published February 9th, 2016 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Jackie Burns

As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

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As part of the 2015-2016 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, If/Then is making a stop in Cleveland.  In this interview, Jackie Burns, leading lady of the hit musical, answers questions about life and Broadway, and her role as Elizabeth, Liz and Beth.

Tell us about yourself, Jackie. Was performing always a part of your upbringing?

I started dancing when I was 3 and danced until I went off to college. I have always loved performing. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

The role you play of Elizabeth in the show takes on two identities: one of Liz and one of Beth.  Are there any challenges/things of note in playing the same character yet in different incarnations?

Honestly, Brian Yorkey [Book Writer and Lyricist of If/Then] wrote such a genius script – it makes my job as the actor easy to switch worlds.

In being a part of the cast since the show’s Broadway run, in what ways have you seen the production grow and evolve as it now tours around America?

It’s been very interesting getting to watch the show take shape and shift over time. It’s such a beautiful show and I feel like it is at its best version now on tour. The added projections for the tour by Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully really help set up the two different worlds.

You’ve previously been a part of a touring production before heading back to New York City to appear on Broadway. As you just recently “hit the road” again, what about touring stands out for you?

When you are on tour you get really close to your cast mates. You are together all the time; they become your family in a sense. This cast is amazing!

Are there any moments/songs in If/Then that are favorites of yours, or ones that the audience react strongly to? Why?

I love every song in the show for different reasons. One of my favorite moments for the audience is during the first act. There’s a song called “What the F—?” and audiences always really love that one.

This show has been described as “intense and thrilling” – in your opinion, what’s the secret to engaging an audience to feel that way in your experience?

I think as long as we are telling the story from a real, grounded place, the audience will take the journey with us and leave the theater having a very moving special experience.

Is there something that makes If/Then a bit special for you from the others you’ve worked previously?

This role is the stuff dreams are made of for an actor.  I get to go out on the stage and go through every emotion a human being has. It’s challenging and rewarding in ways I can’t even put into words. I’m loving every minute of it.

If/Then will play in Cleveland February 9-21 2016 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

 

An Interview with Kristen Beth Williams

Published November 2nd, 2015 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Kristen Beth Williams

As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Buzz Extra writer Alicia Hansen will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

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The 2015-2016 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square keeps the laughs, musical numbers and hilarious plot lines coming with its second show, A Gentleman”s Guide to Love and Murder. In this interview, Kristen Beth Williams, the actress who plays the character of Sibella, provides an in-depth look into her life as a performer in the touring production of this 2014 Tony Award® winner for Best Musical.

Tell us about yourself.

I started dancing when I was 3 years old. At that age, much to the dismay of both my parents, I “couldn”t carry a tune in a bucket,” as my mother says.  My dad is a phenomenal bass/baritone, and my mother has a lovely singing voice as well.  Luckily, I figured out how to match pitch around the age of 7 or 8, and I have been singing ever since.  My parents took me to see the national tour of CATS when it came through Dallas when was 9 years old. I think that is when I knew I wanted to do this for a living.  I did children”s theatre over the summers until high school, then I did the high school plays and musicals, along with choir and choral competitions.  I went to the University of Oklahoma to study musical theatre, moved to New York after graduation, worked all over the country, all before landing my first Broadway show.  Four Broadway shows, a stint in London”s West End, a LOT of auditions later and here I am!

What was your process in preparing for the role of Sibella?

I saw Gentleman”s Guide twice in its first year on Broadway, and I absolutely fell in love with it and the role of Sibella.  Most performers watch shows with an eye on what role they could play in them. Sibella was the one that called to me.  When I got the audition, I read the script, learned the sides and music, and forced my wonderful husband to go through everything with me.  When I got the job, one of our writers gave me a bit of insight that helped shape my initial take on the character. Additionally, our director, Darko Tresnjak, encouraged all of us to find our own way to the characters and not to do an imitation of anyone we had seen play them previously.  Sometimes in this business, you find a role that just fits you like a beautifully tailored suit.  Sibella is one of those for me.

Would you provide a glimpse into a “day in the life” of an actor of a touring production, including some insight to what audience members might not know is a part of your regular routine?  

The wonderful thing about touring is getting to see new cities all over the country!  I have never been to most of the cities we are going to, and I can”t wait to explore them!  The hard part is packing your life into two suitcases and a trunk.  For example, you have to ask yourself, “what clothes am I going to need in Tampa, Florida versus Cleveland, online casino Ohio?”  Many of us are married and have husbands and wives at home in New York, so we have to figure out when we are going to see them.  My husband (fellow actor, James Ludwig) and I sat down with both of our work calendars about a month before I started rehearsals to map out a schedule of when we could see each other.

On days when we only have one show, we try to get out and about to see what there is to see wherever we are, like The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum and the Christmas Story House in Cleveland.  There is a group of us who are finding yoga studios in each city we visit, which has been really fun. Sometimes when we get to our hotel on the first day, we will put on our running shoes and go for an exploratory jog – finding the theatre, seeing what restaurants are close, etc.

I have to eat a very early and somewhat meager dinner before the show because of our costumes.  All the women are wearing corsets (yes, real corsets) under our costumes, and a big dinner right before the show would just make you uncomfortable for the rest of the night! Also, I talk to people all the time who do not realize we all do our own makeup for the show!

Are there specific musical numbers in the show that are favorites for you? For the audience?

I love all of my songs and scenes, but I think the obvious favorite for everyone – cast and audience – is “I”ve Decided to Marry You,” right at the top of Act II.  The staging is exciting and pristine. In my opinion, the song itself is one of the best musical theatre songs written in the last 20 years.

This show has been described as “uproarious” – what’s the secret to musical comedy success in your experience?

Timing is everything, but I think the key with the comedy in our show is the honesty behind it.  Every character has something they want so badly they would lie, cheat, steal, or even kill for. It”s the way each character goes about achieving their goals that makes the show so incredibly funny because they all believe with absolute certainty in what they are doing.  You cannot just try to be funny.  It does not work that way.

What makes A Gentleman”s Guide to Love and Murder stand out to you from the others you’ve worked on over the years?

 My last Broadway show was Pippin, so this is a completely different experience!  Up to this point, most of my career has been based on my dance ability.  Gentleman”s Guide is giving me the chance to rest my dancer legs a bit, put on my actor/singer hat, and step into a beautifully complex role in a fresh and exciting new musical that I get to share with audiences all over the country.  I think that sounds pretty amazing, don”t you?!

A Gentleman”s Guide to Love and Murder plays in Cleveland November 3 – 15 in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

An Interview with Clare Cook from Bullets Over Broadway

Published October 5th, 2015 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Clare Cook from Bullets Over Broadway

Please welcome back guest blogger, Alicia Hansen, with your Broadway Buzz Extra for Bullets Over Broadway.

Great news, Cleveland theatre lovers: the 2015-2016 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square is ready to entertain you. The production opening this season, Bullets Over Broadway, captures the making of a Broadway show, highlighted by the masterful choreography of Broadway legend, Susan Stroman. In this interview, Clare Cook, choreographer of the tour, gives us the inside scoop on what it takes to keep all those dancing gangsters creatively engaged as they arrive in Northeast Ohio.

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How did you discover dance? How did it bring you to the theater, specifically Bullets Over Broadway?

I started dancing at a very young age growing up in Louisiana, but have been living in New York City for about ten years now. I originally moved to New York to peruse my Master of Fine Arts degree at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts – that is what first brought me to the professional realm of New York City. Shortly after finishing my degree there, I began working with productions of new musicals a lot as NYU has a graduate program in composing/writing musicals, which is rare.

In addition to all the training in my younger years plus having a lot of theatrical work in my training as a choreographer, participation in those pieces was my first foray into working professionally in musical theatre.  It was really exciting for me to be working on these new pieces — you are literally the first person to get to make the movement and have it dance off of the page. You are working in a highly creative way. You are constantly in conversations. Things change rapidly. It is an adrenaline rush. It was a nice balance to be able to work with musicians and actors, not just only dancers. The work has continued to come since my professional start, and I am very grateful for that.

I first became involved with Bullets Over Broadway project several years ago during one of its workshops in New York City before it went to Broadway. I did a great program through the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. They offer an “observer-ship” which is essentially a paid fellowship/internship opportunity. After a specific interview process and several interviews, Susan Stroman selected me to be the observer for the New York City Bullets workshop.  That was an amazing opportunity because it allowed me to closely witness her work in building the production. I had been doing that in my own field on a smaller scale, so to watch someone like her who is a master at her craft was so exciting.  I was learning from her new things but also understanding that the work is the work. No matter what the scale is, the toolbox is still similar. It was rewarding on many levels to have that realization at the same time.

From there, Bullets went on to Broadway and I went on to other projects. What a wonderful opportunity it was to get an email several years later to say they were going to do a tour asking if I’d want to be involved with it. And so here I am!

In serving as the choreographer of the tour, what does your role entail and how does it continue to evolve? What challenges arise as you are on the road?

I have the great fortune to be working with some of the best choreography in the business. It is a real pleasure to be inside of Susan’s original movement from the Broadway show every day. First, part of my role is just physicalizing and knowing that work intimately so I can pass it on to the performers. Then, because it is a tour — it is not the same cast as Broadway and we have some adjustments to the set pieces – it has been exciting to take the original choreography, but, in the moment, shape it to the actors, sets and transitions that we have found in the touring process. It involves a lot of thinking on your feet and quick reflexes. Ultimately, I try to maintain the original work as closely as possible and as elegantly as possible.  I shape the work so the current cast can understand the style and help them get inside of the piece so it becomes original to them – the cast then takes ownership over the moment.

You are working on a show with a some very well respected names associated with it, including Woody Allen and Tony-Winning director Susan Stroman. What lessons have you learned while working with this creative team?

One thing I learned from Susan a long time ago is that you have to trust your instincts. Be open to new discoveries. If you have an idea, try it. There is no harm in trying. For this touring cast, we are setting the original work, but as it is on human beings, you have to be open to their ideas as well. The director of the tour also carries that sense of experimentation and inspiration with him. If there is an idea in the room, it’s “let’s try it” and “let’s see what happens.” If you try it before you have time to self-edit, you might find something really great.

Are there specific moments of the show that are favorites for you? For the audience?

There are so many moments, but towards the end of act one, “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do” is an ensemble tap dance number lead of by Cheech, one of the main characters. It is one of the most thrilling musical theater experiences in terms of dance that I have ever had the chance to be involved in, but also that audiences really respond to during the show. It features nine or ten tap dancing gangsters in suits, fedoras and tap shoes. It is so exciting to see the physicality, yet you’re not losing any of the edge of a gangster. It is so physical, heavy footed and acrobatic.

The men in the number are coming at this with different levels of tap dancing experience. We have some very skilled tappers and some tapping novices. For the Broadway show, it was the same and Susan was really excited and inspired by having all of them do the choreography. These men have worked, toiled and really just gave it all for this dance. It is a real excitement for me to see it all come together. I am just so proud of them as they are embracing it with such force.

Also, the rhythms in this dance especially show the craft of Susan Stroman. It is very even, articulating that sound of bullets. It is not only physically exciting to watch, but to hear the sounds of it — it fits so seamlessly into the story that you don’t believe for a moment that you’re watching a bunch of tap dancing gangsters!

What makes Bullets stand out from everything else that you worked on over the years?

It is the craft of it.  The story so tight and so funny. Add in the dancing, the staging, the costuming, the designs, the sets — it’s just one of the most professionally perfect pieces of theater, in my opinion. The elements just fit so seamlessly together and support each other so well. When you experience it, it just flies before you. You are suddenly inside of it, and before you know it, you’re in the next scene, the next action, the new character. Yet since it is an ensemble story, you grow to love all of them. It is the collaborative nature of the creative, the design, the story, the characters themselves – it is just its own perfect family.

Bullets Over Broadway plays in Cleveland October 6 – 18 at the Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

An Interview with Sarah Wolfe from Kinky Boots

Published April 10th, 2015 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Sarah Wolfe from Kinky Boots

Our Buzz Extra writer, Alicia Hansen had the exciting opportunity to interview Kinky Boots’ Touring Makeup Supervisor/Hair Stylist Sarah Wolfe. As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Alicia will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

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Kinky Boots arrives in Cleveland a part of the 2014-2015 KeyBank Broadway Series this month. As it turns out, moving this production from stop to stop on its tour around the United States takes quite the amount of manpower – and even more skill to then provide a first rate production to entertain audiences. Kinky Boots’ Touring Makeup Supervisor/Hair Stylist Sarah Wolfe (of makeupandmayhem.com) took time to chat with our Broadway Buzz blogger Alicia Hansen to share how she consistently works her craft in an environment of constant change.

Tell us how you started in the theater and how discovered your talent in makeup and hair design.

My parents were heavily involved in theater from the time they met. They started a community theater in Placerville, a small town in California, where I grew up. I spent a lot of time on stage performing or at rehearsals. I found out later that I did like the behind-the-scenes work a lot. When I was 15, I had a dance injury that changed everything. My dance teacher encouraged me to start thinking about designing makeup for the recitals we would produce. That was just the beginning.

During school, I was always into painting, but I fell behind in math and other subjects. I tried to go to college for psychology and journalism, but I was instead always doing all these creative things. I found out about a makeup school in Los Angeles called Make-up Designory. It offered everything: beauty and character special effects, hair styling, behind-the-scenes work and more. At the age of 18, I moved and joined that program, jumping both feet in. Upon graduating, I took every freelancing job I could. I was working on everything. I freelanced for five years and sometimes it was a struggle. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and I’m glad it’s been my life thus far.

After a few years of freelancing, I started working at Sacramento Music Circus. I had actually done a summer internship there when I was 15. I have now been working there for the past six summer seasons. Because of that, wig styling is now a special niche that I have in the makeup and theater world. It is where I learned how to do really fast wig changes, and learned how to work with big name actors. It provided so much of that experience in that specific area of my craft.

With so much to keep track of as you move from town to town, how do you stay organized as you tour Kinky Boots around the country?

I oversee all makeup for the entire show: there are six drag queens called the Angels, all the ensemble women and all the ensemble men. There’s a big binder I call “The Bible,” and it keeps all the plots for all the cast members organized. It has each of their foundation colors, their eyes, their lips – every single detail. Additionally I have this big box that I also keep super organized. It comes around to every city with me, with everything I need.

Even though every city is totally different, I have all these systems that I set up exactly the same in every city. For example, the factory workers have fake tattoos, which I apply on those actors every performance. A company prints the custom tattoos with the ink and send them out to me as I need them. To do so, I have a tattoo station where those actors get their custom tattoos applied. They know where to go!

Can you provide a glimpse into what a run of a single performance is like for someone in your position?

I have an hour-and-a-half call before each curtain, every single show. I arrive for what we call “Continuity Hour” where we get organized and touch up wigs. Then at an hour before, I go up to Lola’s room where it takes about a half hour to do her first full drag look. Now I have it down to a routine, and we have a good time with it: we turn on music, we chat if the actor wants. From there, I apply a few more wigs to other actors. At five ‘til curtain, I apply Lola’s lips, which is a five-step process – it’s meticulous. We then put Lola’s wig on next, then the show starts. I run the show with cues, following Lola the entire time. She has five different looks, so I’m constantly changing hair and makeup in between. If Lola’s not on stage, he’s in my chair! At the end of the show, I collect wigs, and we clean and lock everything up. That’s all about three hours… so picture doing that twice on a Saturday and twice on a Sunday!

One could imagine all the effort it takes to move a production from one city to another. Can you share how that takes place for the Kinky Boots tour?

After the performance on Sunday night, we pack up everything. Our show travels eight trucks to transport it all, so it takes a lot of people to move it. We load out through early Monday morning with the crewmembers working all night long. Monday, we go to the airport and get on the flight to our next stop around 8 or 10 a.m. We fly to the next city as the trucks are traveling. Usually the carpenters and the electricians go in Monday nights to start load-in at the new venue. I go in on Tuesday mornings after all the stuff is off the trucks. We meet three local hires in every city that morning. As a newly formed team, we start taking wigs out, washing them and breaking down things. Then we reset the wigs: we put them in curlers, do blow outs, as well as set up the makeup. We spend all of Tuesday working on this from 10 a.m – 5 p.m. Then, we take an hour break before running the show for our first performance in that new city.

Is there one of Lola’s looks that is your favorite? Is there one that is more challenging for you?

My biggest challenge for each show is when we go from Lola in full drag to Lola as a man. That change all happens during just one song. We just don’t wipe all the makeup off and make a big mess. I strategically take off certain things, like the eyeliner underneath her eye, half the eyebrow, I powder over the blush… really specific changes. Not only am I doing a makeup change and ripping the lashes off while he’s tying his shoes, I also take the wig off. It happens like a choreographed dance now, but when I first learned it, I would have butterflies in my stomach. In live theater, the music is not going to stop if I forgot something. There’s no running back to the dressing room. That transition just has to be seamless.

During intermission, Lola goes back into a drag look with a full eye, a contour face, a full lip, and no wig. In the second act, there’s this look call the “Hold Me” change – for “Hold Me In Your Heart,” which I think is my favorite song in the show. When I first learned it, they called it the “Whitney Look,” as in Whitney Houston. It is really pretty. He’s in this beautiful cream and yellow hombre dress. I apply a little shimmer across collarbones. I pack the lip-gloss on to give it a really nice shine. Whenever I finish that, I think “perfect.” I’m always really proud of it. When he walks out on the stage in that look, he’s by himself with just the spotlight and he steps forward singing his song, I feel that choked-up, want-to-cry feeling. It makes me happy every single night. This is what I get to do – and if it moves me, maybe the other people in the audience will be moved by it.

Out of all the productions that you worked on during your career, what makes Kinky Boots stand out for you?

There’s nobody doing anything like this. Yes, there are other shows with beautiful costumes, and scenery and lighting. But Kinky Boots has such a different message. It’s not only the family of the entire cast, but the family of the entire crew. We all have to get along and accept each other’s differences, and we do. We work together to create this huge art piece every night. I have chills just talking about it.

What’s been a highlight of your career and where do you see yourself headed next in your life?

This year, I joined the Local 706, the Make-up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild. I submitted for the Guild Awards that recognizes every area of the industry in Hollywood – from feature films, commercials, television and live theater. I ended up winning in the live theater category! Sometimes winning something and being recognized for your work makes it almost bittersweet. It makes you look back on how far you’ve come to get to where you are now. It’s been almost ten years, but I’m excited for the next ten years!

Looking forward, I want to start my own line that is strictly professional theatrical makeup that is free of synthetic ingredients. There was a specific time in between not having much work during the winter and starting another summer season, I had four months to kill. I decided to get my esthetics license. I knew I would have a lot more knowledge about skin and what I am doing and what these products are doing for people’s skin. From there, I went crazy studying ingredients and skin care. In 2008, I started really getting into wanting to change the theater makeup industry with providing theater makeup without garbage in it. I continue to be super focused on morphing the theater makeup industry in that way. It’s a huge part of what I’m doing in the future.

Kinky Boots plays in Cleveland April 7-19 at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the Playhouse Square website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest

An Interview with Michael Lanphear from Pippin

Published February 5th, 2015 by | Comments Off on An Interview with Michael Lanphear from Pippin

Our Buzz Extra writer, Alicia Hansen had the exciting opportunity to interview Michael Lanphear, the Acrobatic Coordinator of the current touring production of PIPPIN The Musical. As part of our Broadway Buzz program, Alicia will take you behind the scenes of each KeyBank Broadway Series show and interview a member of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

Pippin, part of the KeyBank Broadway Series at PlayhouseSquare

Michael Lanphear, the Acrobatic Coordinator of the current touring production of PIPPIN The Musical, found his way to Broadway via a different route than most. As a young child, horseback riding and vaulting lead him into acrobatics and eventually the circus arts. Since honing his skills in those areas, he performed with the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Bieber before finding his way to the Great White Way. In advance of PIPPIN’s arrival in Cleveland this month as a part of the 2014-2015 KeyBank Broadway Series, Michael answers some questions about his involvement with this American musical classic and its circus-themed spin.

Tell me a bit about yourself, your path to the circus arts and your involvement in this touring production of PIPPIN?
In terms of circus arts, I started at a bit of a late age. I rode horses starting when I was young. I started competing and started vaulting, which is gymnastics on horses. Then around the age of 18, I focused more acrobatics and then eventually on circus arts. I was a performer until last year. I retired and decided to go more into coaching, but up until then, I was performing for about ten years and touring the world. I’ve done pop tours, different circus tours and a lot of cabarets in Europe. Today, I am the Acrobatic Coordinator of PIPPIN and I am the assistant to Gypsy Snider, the Acrobatic Choreographer. I maintain all of what she’s created while we’re on the road.

Would you provide a glimpse into a “day in the life” of a touring production? What happens on the first day in a new city, and then once the show is up and running?
When we first arrive in a new town, I am responsible for checking that all the apparatus are running properly, all of cues are in the computer system correctly and all the props we use circus-wise are ready for the show that night. Once the artists arrive, we have a meeting before the first show in the new location. That very first meeting is very important to getting the team used to the new space. We will try different cues and skills if necessary, then we’ll do our regular training that occurs before each show.  At that daily rehearsal, all of the principal actors, if they do anything that is acrobatic in the show, come to brush up on skills and conditioning. The acrobats also have their skills that they train every day before the show. It’s a pretty full-on day!

Once settled into a new town, we have a two-hour training on stage once a week, which is separate from the daily hour rehearsal before each show. It involves constant cleaning and constant upkeep. If someone is planning on taking a vacation and we have to change the routines a bit, that is when we practice those changes.  We only have seven acrobats. If one is out, we are very creative in creating alternate versions of the routines without affecting the quality of the show. We have lots of tricks in our bag.

Is there a specific part of the show that is is a favorite for you?
I was able to assist the Acrobatic Choreographer in the creation of the tour, so all of the acro numbers are very special to me. There is one moment in particular that is a big mix of all the circus guild skills that we have: there’s tumbling, knife juggling, two porters throwing a flyer in the air to flip and land on a platform, and more. It’s the most challenging as a coach to constantly maintain and clean because there is so much going on at stage at once. It is one of those numbers where there’s a clear story to what’s happening, but there’s so much happening that an audience member can come and watch it ten times and they would see something different every time.

All of the acrobats are ensemble members, which is something new to them. In the circus, you are usually a specialist and we do our acts on stage by ourselves, or if you’re in a duo you are with your partner, and then you’re done. You have your highlight moment, and then you come out for bows at the end. Gypsy Snider has created a show where the acrobats are completely integrated the whole time: they are singing, they are dancing, they are doing the acrobatics, they are working with the principals constantly. For me, it’s exhilarating as a coach but it’s a great challenge for every acrobat that we bring in to the show.

What challenges arise with touring?
The most challenging thing is whenever we have to arrange for a replacement, or any time we have someone leaving on vacation, or if a performer’s contract is over and we have to fill the role. This tour really does have some of the best acrobats in the world, and replacing them is a very difficult process. Everyone brings something different to the table.  For example, my two handstand performers are basically irreplaceable. They spend two to three hours a day working on their handstands! We try to hang on to our performers as long as we can.  But when we can’t, I usually run the auditions. It’s hard when you’re trying to replace the best in the world! But we have a really fantastic group on the tour, so we have been fortunate that we haven’t had to do too many replacement processes. We’ve been able to slightly adjust the show for replacements of any sort without taking away any of the essence of what the originators created.

What makes being a part of this production so exciting? Why is this PIPPIN so special?
This production is so special because it is the first time that circus arts have been really integrated into a Broadway production. Some productions — Broadway or not — will put some circus elements in, but it’s icing on the cake – where in this production, it’s the meat of the show, right alongside the signing and dancing – it’s all equally important.

Also, there’s a huge importance placed on the storytelling through the acrobatics. Every act has a purpose and a meaning, and there’s not any superfluous acrobatics in the show. Everything has a bit of storytelling in the show, which is really special and unique to both the circus and Broadway worlds to use acrobatics in that fashion.

Also, we have a wonderful energy in the cast. The majority of the artists all went to the National Circus School in Montreal, so they all at some point cross paths at school. They are very close friends and they work very well together. So not only skill set, we have a nice family bond — not just amongst the acrobats, but with the dancers as well.

On a personal note, one special part of this experience for me is being a part of a union. This isn’t something that we have in the circus and it’s been a huge benefit for everyone: for the performers, as well as for me as a coach. It’s been amazing to feel completely supported by the entire Broadway community because we are part of one united group. It’s not the most exciting answer but it’s a very truthful answer!

PIPPIN comes to Cleveland February 3 – 15 at the Connor Palace at PlayhouseSquare. For more information, please visit the show’s page on the PlayhouseSquare website.

Alicia Hansen is the writer behind Poise in Parma, a healthy balance blog for Clevelanders. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s theatre program, Alicia is a yoga teacher at Evolution Yoga, an event and marketing professional and proud Northeast Ohio arts supporter. Follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

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