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 Harry Parker about the genre

Q: It is fact universally acknowledged that rom-coms are here to stay - it is a genre that has been around for decades. Audiences love this charming and relatable type of story - the meet-cute, the butterflies, the goodnight kiss. What do you think keeps this genre so prominent?

A: Romantic comedies are indeed one of the most popular and prolific story structures in theatre, film, and television, and it’s pretty simple to figure out why this is so.  Romance and laughter are two of the most life-affirming experiences the human condition has to offer.  Our own lives may or may not include a significant other, and they may or may not contain plenty of hilarity, but while watching a romantic comedy for a couple of hours we can enjoy the work of storytellers who have manipulated the fictive universe in such a way so as to remind us that the good feelings created by loving and laughing are extremely helpful in living a rich and satisfying life.

First Date is a unique and clever variation on the RomCom theme, because while it uses the tried-and-true device of a blind date which starts pretty badly, its convention of using the “others” in attendance at the restaurant where the date is occurring (the waiter and other dinner patrons) as the voices in the heads of our protagonists, is original and alternately hilarious and moving.  All of us carry around these invisible commentators in our head, but rarely have they been so effectively dramatized as they are in First Date.

This particular production of First Date has been a special pleasure to help create because of the powerful alchemy of working with Theatre TCU faculty and students, along with some of the finest theatre professionals in DFW.  It’s been exciting to see new professional friendships and camaraderie develop, and to watch those collaborations bear fruit on stage as we’ve rehearsed and polished the show.  It’s our sincere hope that audiences will have at least as much at First Date as we have had in working on it.

This musical had a modest Broadway run in 2013, with Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez as Aaron and Casey.  Subsequent professional productions have been mounted in Japan, Argentina and Australia – a testimony to the universality of this kind of story: two hopeful romantics who yearn for a satisfying relationship but are hemmed in by extremely identifiable hang-ups: a fear of vulnerability and  commitment, and the lingering wounds of failed romances in their past. If First Date has a familiar and comfortable story arc (and it does), there’s no need to apologize for an evening that deals honestly with common human frailties, and does so in such a lively and entertaining way.  On the contrary, those are theatrical treats worth celebrating, so… Hooray for Romantic Comedies!  Hooray for Musical Theatre!  And Hooray for Stage West and Theatre TCU!

A moment with Director Carson McCain about the movement in LUNGS

Q:  This story is one that moves through time in an interesting way, with specific rhythms. Early on, you’d mentioned that you see the play in your mind’s eye as a dance. Can you talk a little bit about your vision?

A: The playwright, Duncan Macmillan, has a note on the first page of the script that has made this play the most challenging piece I’ve ever directed. He mandates that the play be performed with no set, no props, no mime and no lighting or sound that suggests space and time. He strips away everything except the actor’s bodies in space. There are no activities I can give them to help them know what to do with their hands. There aren’t even any chairs I can sit them in. It is two human beings tasked with creating not only their characters, but also these characters’ entire world. I have held tight to the vision of this play as a dance, not because we are pirouetting and box stepping, but because the movement doesn’t have to be literal. We cannot drink gin, because there are no cups. We cannot drive a car, or show you what the inside of IKEA looks like. We can only use their bodies, their movement to convey the truth of their relationship. Sometimes that looks like an actual tug-of-war game, because that’s how big the argument feels. Sometimes this looks like walking in a maze because that’s the visual representation of what’s happening in the character’s mind. And sometimes these two people stand next to each other and don’t look in each other’s eyes because it’s too painful. As challenging as it is to strip away all of the usual theatrical elements, it’s also freeing. Because we didn’t have those cups, that car, we weren’t beholden to using them. We could do truly anything we wanted to do. And so we have.

I hope that audiences watch this play and think about how our lives are often like a dance. We move through space in a particular way to communicate who we are or what we’re about. We breathe differently in different spaces, with different intentions, just as these characters do. Sometimes we feel like we’re walking on a tightrope, trying not to offend someone. Sometimes just making it through a conversation feels like an athletic feat. I believe our ‘dance’ has gotten us closer to the truth of these characters’ experience, and I hope the audience can see a bit of their own truth as well.


A chat with actor Dani Nelson about the chemistry in LUNGS

Q: This script is quite demanding - it requires precision, levity, and gravitas, among many other “asks” of its two performers, not the least of which is creating an intimate relationship with your fellow actor/actress. How do you go about building these kinds of relationships in the rehearsal process - what tools do you use to create trust and closeness with the actor/actress playing your partner?

A: Coming into this process, I had not met Ruben in person. And Lungs, as a play, is so reliant on the connection between the actors themselves. I think for me, that chemistry comes from being absolutely attentive on stage; really listening to your acting partner with everything at your disposal, and then responding honestly. What’s wonderful about acting is that I have this living, breathing human being in front of me who is infinitely interesting and complex. And if I have the courage to really take him in, and let myself be affected by what he’s doing, then the chemistry between us is there. I’m fortunate that Ruben in particular is an extremely talented, generous actor.

It has been an absolute joy to work on this stunning play with him, with Carson and Caroline, and the entire Stage West team.