Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

A moment with Director Susan Sargeant about the Holmesian legacy

Q: In Holmes and Watson, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has crafted a completely new story for the Sherlock cannon - a supposition as to what actually happened that fateful day at Reichenbach Falls between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, and the events that followed. In working with this text and building this production, what elements have you found make a Sherlock Holmes story a Sherlock Holmes story, and why do you think that we are still so fascinated with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson today?

A: A Sherlock Holmes story is an elaborate game framed around the solving of a mystery. Jeffrey Hatcher, the playwright of Holmes and Watson, is well acquainted with the canon of short stories and novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Jeffrey Hatcher has created an elaborate Sherlockian game that gives his play all the key ingredients of a great Sherlock Holmes story: intrigue, mystery, suspense, plot twists and turns, wit and intelligence. The paramount ingredient in any Sherlock Holmes adventure, is the unrelenting desire of Sherlock Holmes along with his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, to solve the crime and unearth the truth.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote great stories and was able to capture magic on the page with the relationship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Some say, the friendship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson is the greatest male friendship ever penned in literature. This is the heart of what continues to resonate and captivate us today and onward to future generations.

A chat with Ashley Wood about the thriller genre

Q: As in every Sherlock Holmes story, mystery and intrigue abound, and things might not always be as they seem. As an actor, what are the differences and/or similarities in your approach when you are acting in a suspenseful thriller like this versus another genre, like a kitchen sink drama or a farce? How does being in a mystery (as opposed to another genre) affect or inform your process as an actor?

One of the main differences in approaching a mystery is how we handle the presentation and processing of information. As an ensemble, we’re layering a lot of story elements. For these elements to emerge cohesively for the audience, they must each be presented precisely. While that’s always true in theatre, no matter the genre, it’s heightened in a mystery. We’re laying out puzzle pieces for the audience and for ourselves. Every word that’s said, everything that happens…it’s almost all italicized to some degree. This presents a few challenges, one of which is negotiating those degrees so the experience doesn’t all sound and feel like the same note being played over and over. All of this careful laying out of the puzzle still has to come from a very human place for it to be engaging. But it sure is fun to tackle!

Read 'The Final Problem' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem"

Read The Final Problem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Final Problem sets the scene for where we find ourselves at the beginning of Holmes & Watson. It is by no means necessary to read this prior to seeing the play, except for your own enhanced enjoyment. 

"It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished. In an incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion, I have endeavored to give some account of my strange experiences in his company from the chance which first brought us together at the period of the “Study in Scarlet,” up to the time of his interference in the matter of the “Naval Treaty”—an interference which had the unquestionable effect of preventing a serious international complication. It was my intention to have stopped there, and to have said nothing of that event which has created a void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to fill. My hand has been forced, however, by the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother, and I have no choice but to lay the facts before the public exactly as they occurred. I alone know the absolute truth of the matter, and I am satisfied that the time has come when no good purpose is to be served by its suppression. As far as I know, there have been only three accounts in the public press: that in the 'Journal de Geneve' on May 6th, 1891, the Reuter’s despatch in the English papers on May 7th, and finally the recent letters to which I have alluded. Of these the first and second were extremely condensed, while the last is, as I shall now show, an absolute perversion of the facts. It lies with me to tell for the first time what really took place between Professor Moriarty and Mr. Sherlock Holmes."  

A chat with David Coffee about playing THE FATHER

Q: Although this script is relatively recent, the role of André has become a role of note, a role that marks an achievement - like Vanya or Lear or Willy Loman. What is it about the role and the script that you find puts it among the greats?

A: The role of Andre, I find, is very much like King Lear. Here is a man who starts out very much in charge. (At least, that's his viewpoint.) As the play progresses, however, we see him starting to falter in his confidence. We, as an audience, also begin to doubt our own confidence in what we perceive to be reality. The audience literally experiences what Andre is going through.

To me, it reminds me of Jaques' famous speech from "As You Like It": the Seven Ages of Man. During the course of the play, we see Andre in all seven stages of life.

There lies the great challenge of Andre: to show a full lifetime on stage, to keep trying to find out what is real (and what is not) and, finally, to find the humor in the whole situation so as not to make the experience one big depressing evening.

As the title reads: "The Father" - a tragic farce. I look forward to our audiences joining us on the journey.

A moment with Director Tina Parker about THE FATHER

Q: This relatively new script has already received many prestigious awards and recognitions across the globe in its many incarnations and productions over the last few years. Without giving too much away, why do you think this story was crafted for the theatre, rather than a film or an opera or a ballet? What excites you theatrically about this script?

A: As Co-Artistic Director of Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, I read A LOT of plays every year. Very few surprise me any more in the way that THE FATHER did. It's brutally real and heartbreakingly hilarious--sometimes even in the same scene, with echoes of King Lear, Harold Pinter and All in the Family. The audience experiences the play through the eyes of Andre, who's navigating his way in the ever-shifting and often tricky landscape of old age and family and all that comes with that. Just when you think you've figured out the play, something will shift and send you down a different rabbit hole. And you, much like Andre, will struggle to find your footing and figure out what is going on. But I'm telling you, once the plays lands, without giving too much away here, the payoff is pretty tremendous. I can't wait to experience this wild beautiful ride with a live audience.

A moment with Director vickie washington about then and now

Q: While the events of this script took place over 65 years ago, there is a very contemporary and topical air to the piece that draws interesting parallels between the past and the present. This play deals with ideas like censorship, the relationship between art and politics, civil rights, in addition to many other things. In your examination and exploration of this play and in this production, what aspects of the script have been most important for you in telling this real-life story?

A: Words. Images. Stories/Storytelling. Music. Memory. Rhythm. Resistance to oppression. History. Courage... These are just some of the aspects that Carlyle Brown has deftly interwoven into this thought provoking and beautiful play. Just as Langston labors through the night to create a new poem, we have labored in rehearsal to birth the play. As director/midwife, I have been very attentive to the ‘breath of the play’ - the aspect of rhythm if you will. The deep breaths, the silences, the exhalations…, all vitally important in the birthing process. There is also another kind of rhythm that we find in the play. With each reading and with every rehearsal, we have all been struck by how contemporary the subject matter feels, and actually is. As Langston struggles to create a new poem on the eve of his appearance before the McCarthy Senate hearings in 1953; our daily news cycles remind us that history repeats, there are cycles...there is rhythm. Come breathe with us…

photo: Can Turkyilmaz

A chat with Djoré Nance about portraying “the Poet Laureate of Harlem”

Q: In this show, you are portraying one of America’s most important writers, Langston Hughes. There must be a different element of preparation that goes into portraying a real person. What has been similar and different in your preparation process for this show and this role in regards to playing such an iconic figure?

A: Preparing to be Langston Hughes in ‘Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been” has been truly the most rewarding experience of my life as an actor thus far. The preparation has been a noteworthy process, mostly because I’ve never played a historical figure before! There is a bevy of information on Langston Hughes, and many many still-living people who have intimate first-hand experience with the genius himself. Another welcome surprise has been some of the eerie similarities between us, even down to our looks! The way he speaks, his love and passion for music and art, his political leanings, his commitment to freedom and justice for all people, his solidarity with black people, are all deeply resonant for me. However, because of our similarities, it has created challenges as well. As actors, we must always serve the story and the piece, and the character within that framework. Carlyle Brown has created a richly hued and brilliantly nuanced character in Langston Hughes. It has been a challenge for me to get “Djoré” out of the way because Langston Hughes and I bear so many similarities. Being true to Langston for me begins with the voice, one of the places where words are made manifest. His voice and being as clear with my vocal choices as an actor ground me in Langston being Langston. I have enjoyed this work so much, I am absolutely over the moon to be back at Stage West and to be working with my FAVORITE director, the inimitable Mommy, otherwise known as vickie washington. She is a brilliant artist and I am thrilled to be birthing this iteration of “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been” with her at the helm of a wonderful team!

A chat with Megan Haratine about playing Everybody and everyone

Q: For this show, a handful of the cast (including you) discover which roles they will be playing at any given performance during the show - what a thrill!! How do you prepare for a process like that, where you must know all of the roles, but only learn which role you will be playing each night during the show?

A: During the course of our rehearsals for Everybody, I have had to begin considering this show almost as a one person show in order to prepare for any possibility. In developing each character, I have leaned heavily into physical centers and differing vocal qualities and speech patterns, much of which is inherent in Jacobs-Jenkins’s vivid text and in each character’s actions. In doing so, I am hoping to be able to tap in more quickly not only to each character but also to the unique aspect of the story that they each represent.

In addition, we are working to build a strong foundation of trust among the “Somebodies” since we will need to have one another’s backs during the production no matter what configuration we may be in. Unlike some runs of shows, I will not be focusing as much on coining it fresh each time – since most likely, it will already be fresh based on a new set of who is play who – but rather I will need to stay grounded and flexible to ride whatever wave of possibility comes my way. 

I think this show is the epitome of what is exciting about live theatre – and also life itself! Anything can happen. All I can do is my best to prepare for anything and then live fully in the moment as it is handed to me.  

 

Show:

A moment with EVERYBODY Director Jake Nice

photo Robert W. Hart/Special Contributor

Q: Everybody is a contemporary adaptation of the medieval morality play entitled Everyman. In your interpretation of the script, what about this adaptation is timeless in regards to its source material, and what do you think is “right-now” about it?

A: Everybody and Everyman explore some of life’s biggest questions--why are we here, what happens after death, how ought we to live our lives, etcetera. Those themes are timeless and apply to all people, past and present. Both plays also portray universal concepts like Death, Strength, Beauty, and Knowledge/Understanding as personified figures who interact with their namesake characters as if they were human. Although our relationships with those concepts may change over time, they too are timeless and immortal.

The major difference between the plays is in their delivery. When writing Everybody, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins completely contemporised the antiquated language of Everyman by incorporating phrases like “homey,” “Society and the Media,” and “various streaming accounts.” He also made slight adjustments to the original play’s structure, making it more relatable for a modern audience while simultaneously challenging our 21st century expectations of the theatre. 

Show:

Director Garret Storms on the world of the Jacob Marley

Q: This script has very little to offer in terms of suggestions for staging and scenic elements, leaving much of that up to the director’s vision. What influenced you to stage this production of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol the way that you have?

A: Much of what influenced my vision for the show stemmed from the wonderful Emily Scott Banks. She is a magical and enchanting artist and actress, and allowing her to inhabit a space that she could literally bring to life felt like the right move. We have kept things relatively simple - wooden platforms, exposed practical lights, suspended fabrics, and a odd collection of objects, all coming together to create a space that looks a bit like it has been lost to time. Something about it might resemble a cluttered old attic that hasn’t been touched in a good long while. But when inhabited by Emily, it comes to life as she creates new and imaginative functions for everyday objects. There is an element of imagination and childlike magic that permeates the production, similar to the imagination and childlike magic that tends to well up in us around this time of year - an air of possibility, of hope, of reflection as we stand in the present looking at both the past and the future. It was important to me that Emily be able to bring the space to life and allow it to breathe, making both the story and the storyteller the featured aspects of the production.

For those who saw the 2015 production at Stage West, you can anticipate many of the same elements that made that production so wonderful and well received. However, now that the Studio is in quite a different shape, there is a little something new and fresh about the production. Magic, mischief, memories, and more await you this holiday season at Stage West!

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