Click here to see the full list of shows I’ve directed over the last 10 years.
Table of Contents:
My Directing Philosophy
The Odd Couple: My Current Project
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
1776: The “Spirit” of America
You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown: The “Simple” Joys in Life
My Directing Philosophy
I begin every show I direct by distilling the central theme of the show into one word. That kind of focus gives me a lens through which I can examine the many decisions that a director must make.
For Man of La Mancha, the word was “Story”. I needed to make sure the audience understood the story that was being told, since it was the story of Don Quixote that Cervantes tells that not only leads to his acquittal in the prisoners’ kangaroo court, but also changes the lives of those prisoners for the better. A story about goodness and nobility in a dark and cynical world leads to salvation for Cervantes and others, and I wanted the audience to take that message home with them.
With Guys & Dolls, I wanted to bathe the audience in “Style”, and so as we designed the show we crafted costumes, sets, and performances that luxuriated in the glorious style of Damon Runyon’s tale of gangsters, gamblers, and their girls. I wanted our audiences to walk out strutting, snapping their fingers, and wishing they were wearing pinstripe suits and fedoras.
Once that critical thesis has been established, I surround myself with the smartest, most creative, most talented people that I can find to help me serve the needs of the show and give our audiences the most enjoyable and uplifting experience possible.
Every show I work on begins with this approach, regardless of genre. Please read on to see how I applied the one-word thesis to some of my favorite past projects as well as my current one.
My Current Project: The Odd Couple (Female Version)
The Odd Couple (Female Version) will play at Harman Theatre in West Valley City from March 4th through March 27th, 2021. The production team consists of myself, Kia Armstrong as Stage Manager, Kelsey Anne Nichols as Costumer, and will be produced by Melanie Budge.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee played on the Barlow Main Stage at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre from August 2nd through August 31st, 2019. The production team consisted of myself, David K Martin as Music Director, Kristi Curtis as Choreographer, Todd Perkins as Stage Manager, and was produced by Scott Van Dyke and Krista Davies.
“Self-Worth” isn’t Defined by Winning or Losing
I chose to make “self-worth” the focus of this show, because of the nature of how it’s written. There’s no hero and no villain in Spelling Bee. There are only 9 characters, and each one of them is a protagonist, and each one is their own antagonist. I needed the audience to see pieces of themselves in each character so that as they rooted for every one of these kids, they were also cheering themselves on.
We spent a lot of time in rehearsal talking about character arcs, and the journey that each person goes on between the first time they step on the stage and the time they leave the stage at the end of the show. There are lots of silly moments and tons of laughs in the show, but the most important elements are honesty and sincerity. This show would only fire on all cylinders if each of our star characters becomes a more complete person, and then only if the audience has been with us every step of the way.
I wanted everyone who sees this show to leave the theater feeling encouraged, and a little bit more prepared to face the challenges that hit us every day of our lives.
A Story “Worth” Telling
Spelling Bee is a very quirky show that originated as an improv exercise Off-Off-Broadway and grew and grew into a Tony-winning phenomenon (2005, Best Book of a Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical – Dan Fogler). It’s original, offbeat, a tad controversial, and completely filled with heart. As soon as Centerpoint announced they were doing it, I knew it was the show for me.
We had to start with a close-up examination of the script. There are elements in the original production that we knew our audiences wouldn’t find palatable, and so we had to make some tough choices about how to present such a beautiful story in a way that wouldn’t alienate the people who paid to see it. In one scene, a child speller meets her version of Jesus. I knew that our very religious, very conservative patrons would see that and be instantly turned off, which would be a tragedy, since the point of the scene is that we are loved just for being ourselves, and not only when we are winning. So instead of a parody figure of Jesus, we chose to make him an offstage voice.
Another scene involves one contestant’s two fathers, Carl Dad and Dan Dad. I have no doubt that some audience members will be uncomfortable seeing a gay married couple onstage, but we made the decision to keep these roles as they were originally intended. Several productions I’ve seen have these characters played as over-the-top, very flamboyant caricatures, which I feel detracts from their story. These are loving parents who want the best for their daughter and are unaware of the stresses they are causing for her. She believes that no one will love her if she loses, and it’s that message I want the audience to focus on.
The Reviews Are In!
1776 played on the Barlow Main Stage at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre from June 16th through July 15th, 2017. The production team consisted of myself, Gary Sorenson as Music Director, Kristi Curtis as Choreographer, Ashley Weller as Stage Manager, and was produced by Scott Van Dyke and Krista Davies.
All 1776 photos provided by Pepperfox Photo
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Click here to see more photos from this patriotic production.
A “Spirited” Retelling of the Birth of a Nation
What do you do with a story that every American has heard since grade school? How do you make it come alive in a fresh and new way, especially with a script that’s now 50 years old? These were my challenges as I began pre-production on 1776.
I decided on “Spirit” as my central theme. I wanted to capture the courage, the heroism, and the rebelliousness of our Founding Fathers, and to focus this production on the way that two dramatically opposed groups of leaders were able to come together and serve the needs of the people they represented. I wanted to remind our audience that these men saw a vision of the America that could be, and that felt the “spirit” of what they were doing in a way that crossed political boundaries. I wanted people to leave the theater wishing for their type of leadership now, in a time when we are more politically divided than any other time since the Civil War.
I specifically chose to avoid any reference to current politics, as I didn’t want to muddy the waters of our story. I didn’t want to say “liberals good, conservatives bad”, even though it was John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and the other liberals fighting for independence, while John Dickinson and his fellow conservatives fought to stay a part of the British Empire. I wanted to show that these men were all doing their very best to serve the people in the midst of an incredibly trying time.
A Diverse Cast, Rich in “Spirit” But Not Necessarily in Experience
Casting this show was quite a challenge, as it requires 26 men and 2 women, and we had to fill two casts. We were incredibly fortunate in our audition turnout and ended up with two remarkable casts drawn entirely from our pool of auditioners. A few of our men had over 40 years of theatrical experience, and for a few of our men it was the first show they’d ever done. The rest were somewhere in between. Even with that diversity of experience, my actors caught hold of the vision I was going for, and we were able to achieve incredible performances across the board.
One of the greatest compliments I received on that subject was from a reviewer who said, “The cast of 1776 was a blend of theatre newbies and seasoned performers. But watching their work onstage, I couldn’t tell who was who.”
The “Spirit” of Education
It was very important to me that this was an educational experience for the cast and audience alike. I started the process by asking each pair of doubles to prepare a 5-minute report on the person they were portraying – where he/she came from, what they believed, how they got to Congress, what happened to them after the war, etc. It had a remarkable effect, as it formed quick friendships between doubles and gave each actor a strong sense of ownership over their role and a responsibility to accurately and fairly portray these historical characters.
I was fortunate enough to have the head of the history department at the Utah Military Academy in my cast, and I quickly made him my dramaturg. In addition to giving regular historical information to the casts in rehearsals, I also asked him to write bios for some of the principal characters for the program, to give some insight and additional information to our audience members.
Capturing the “Spirit” of Independence Hall
As the vast majority of this show takes place inside Independence Hall, it was critical that we make the set as engaging and vibrant as possible. One way that we accomplished this was through the use of three large windows that housed dynamic projections. Most of the time they showed the weather outside and the time of day, as well as displaying the date, so as to help the audience follow what was happening and when.
But in several moments, we pushed a little farther with them. As John and Abigail Adams sang about their long-distance relationship, we filled the windows with images of the actual letters they wrote back and forth. When Edward Rutledge sang about the slave trade and how Boston profited from it, we used posters and drawings depicting the slave auctions. As John Adams sang about his vision for America, we filled the windows behind him with images of America’s story to come – victory and loss in war, the launching of a space shuttle, the women’s suffrage movement, 9/11, Dr. King and the civil rights struggle, fireworks around the Statue of Liberty, and more.
In the final moments of the show, as each man signed the Declaration of Independence, our stage went dark, and our windows lit up with the actual portraits and signatures of our Founding Fathers, reminding the audience that while they are watching a dramatized version of the story, these were real men who actually pledged “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the cause of independence.
The American “Spirit” Came Alive to a Younger Generation
As much as this story focuses on the struggle for independence, very little time is spent talking about the war itself. I decided to use the character of the Courier to expand on that element. Each time he burst into the Hall to deliver one of Washington’s missives, I had him and his costume look more and more ragged, up to the point where he collapsed on the floor from his injuries, but refused to rest and stoically limped back out to return to his duties. For the last missive, I had a new, even younger Courier enter, fresh-faced, naive, and looking a little dazed. As McNair asked about the first messenger, a silent shake of the head let the audience know that the boy we had come to care for had fallen in the line of duty.
I knew that I had succeeded in my goals on the final night of the run. As I was watching the show, I became aware of two teenage girls seated just behind me who became more and more engaged in the story, to the point where they were cheering for Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson, while loudly proclaiming their disdain for Dickinson, Rutledge, and the other antagonists. As the final vote was being held, one of them couldn’t help but voice her elation at each “Yea” vote, until her friend said, “Um, you KNOW how this turns out!”
If we could make this 50-year-old musical feel so fresh and engaging to these two teenagers, I knew we had achieved something very special. 1776 was one of my proudest accomplishments as a director, and I’m forever grateful for the chance I had to sit at the helm of such a majestic story.
The Reviews Are In!
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown played in the Leishman Black Box at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre from June 8th through June 30th, 2018. The production team consisted of myself, Matt Hewitt as Music Director, Kristi Curtis as Choreographer and Costume Designer, Todd Perkins as Stage Manager, Kyle Esposito as Assistant Director, and was produced by Brian Hahn.
All You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown photos provided by Pepperfox Photo
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Click here to see more photos from this charming show.
The “Simple” Joys in Life
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown has been one of my favorite shows for a long time. I’ve loved the comic strips since I was a kid, and I wanted this show to remind the audience of that “simpler” time in your life when you spent your days on homework, thinking about the cute boy or girl in your class, or just watching clouds drift by and thinking about your place in a great big world.
I wanted to bring back memories of the comic strip, so I designed a set that was made up of black and white frames on either side, like the daily comics, and a large full-color panel in the middle, like the Sunday strips. The script of the show is taken directly from those comic strips, so breaking up the set this way worked wonderfully to help each scene and vignette be its own self-contained moment, while still fitting into the larger narrative of the play.
“Simple” Stage Magic
I also wanted to use very simple techniques to achieve some stage magic. A slender black stick with a magnet held Charlie Brown’s kite afloat until it came crashing to the ground. A tennis ball on a stick made Linus’ blanket come to life as his dance partner. One of the greatest joys in the whole process was watching adults and children alike smile and laugh as they were surprised and delighted by these effects.
All of the cast members inhabited their roles with such enthusiasm, and it showed in every performance. Snoopy was played by the oldest actor in the cast, and he jumped into the role with such joy and dedication that he quickly became an audience favorite.
One of our favorite performances was a special show we did for children with autism and other disabilities. We kept the house lights up a bit, cut some of the more intense numbers in the show, and allowed our more restless patrons to get up and move around during the performance. And we did it all at no charge. It was a moment where the magic of theater made a real difference in the lives of our audience members.
I Love the “Simple” Things!
I love how this show turned out. It was a wonderful experience for the cast, and the box office numbers were fantastic. It proved that if you have a good story, dedicated performers, and a connection to the material, you can achieve theatrical magic.
The Reviews Are In!