Production Blog

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

Patron Spotlight

Stage West’s Development Director, Tonya Wilson-Brown, recently got the chance to catch up with a loyal Stage West Premium Season Ticket holder, Melissa Deur. Melissa and her husband, Charles, have been coming to Stage West for 15 years and are strong supporters of theatre that challenges audiences.

How long have you been coming to Stage West?

You know, I just went back through my old calendars. My husband introduced me to Stage West and we went on a date there in 2008. The first play we saw was The Clean House - that’s when we became season ticket holders. The other play that stood out back then was The Norman Conquests and then Copenhagen. I could go on and on to include Bad Jews, Ann (the Ann Richards Play), and even this past season’s Into the Breeches!.

We like Stage West plays because they are very layered.

How did you become interested in theatre in general?

What tipped it off for me was when my parents took me to the theatre in Connecticut as a child. For my tenth birthday, they took me to the Shubert Theatre in New Haven to see My Fair Lady. I was enthralled. In the seat I was sitting in, I could see the inner workings of how the set moved from one scene to the next on the stage. Also, the costumes were just beautiful.

Why do you support SWT?

What we love about Stage West is its intimacy of it. It feels accessible. It also feels special to know the staff and have a friendly relationship with the theatre.

I like theatre that challenges you to think. For instance, On the Exhale. I sometimes feel disappointed when audience members just want to see a story tied up with a cute bow.

My initial First Tuesday experience was listening to Sharon Herrera from LGBTQ Saves. I came to that evening out of curiosity. She shared her life journey and it was incredibly moving. When I come to Stage West, I try to come with an open mind. I leave changed.

What is your favorite show of recent memory at Stage West?

Guards at the Taj. My husband’s roommate from college came with us to see the show. We had dinner in the cafe beforehand. He was simply amazed. I just kept thinking how great it was that a History professor was impressed by the show and the historical accuracy of it. For me, that play was impressive on many levels.

Up until this year, we have been able to travel and go to Broadway often. Some people think they have to go to New York to see great plays. I am proud to take people to Stage West and say “look at this - you don’t have to leave town to see this.”

What three words would you use to sell SWT to a friend?

Professional but intimate.

We are so grateful to Melissa and Charles for their long time and loyal support of Stage West and our local arts scene

A chat with Alison Whitehurst on making chaos in THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

Q: This play is PHYSICAL. Much of the comedy in the script comes not from what is said (although there are plenty of riotous lines), but from what is happening - or not - on stage with actors’ bodies, scenic elements, props, etc. There must be a great sense of order in the production for all of the chaos to be performed safely and repeatably. What do you find to be some of the most exciting aspects of working on a show that demands such precise physical comedy from the cast?

 A: I was immediately attracted to this show for exactly these reasons! The Play That Goes Wrong is deliciously challenging and invites its cast to engage in three planes of consciousness going on at once. Go with me here: Florence, the “grieving fiancé” voraciously dodges murder accusations by either flouncing around or melting down. Sandra, our “leading lady” playing Florence, is maniacally committed to a successful opening night at all costs, believing wholeheartedly its unraveling through zero fault of her own. All of which is balanced by Alison, the living human being chiefly responsible for my scene partners’ safety -- making eye contact before every punch, managing screams and silence at the appropriate times to guide the viewer’s focus to catch what we want them to catch, while also remembering to bend my knees and brace for impact. This exciting balancing act ensures every moment of delicious chaos is not only a delight to audiences, but also executed safely and easily by all, six times a week. In the world of the theatre where text is king, action is the star of this show!

If you find yourself at Stage West with us before we close on March 12th, brush up your body language because everything NOT being said is the most important story being told!


A moment with Director Harry Parker about creating a killer farce with THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

Q: With this play, audiences get two shows in one—a hysterically manic farce as well as a suspenseful murder mystery. On the surface these are two seemingly disparate genres, but this script is proof that they have more in common than meets the eye. In working on this production, what have you discovered makes a great farce and what makes a great murder mystery—and what have you found to be the most similar or complimentary element that links these two genres?

A: It’s true that at first glance The Play That Goes Wrong doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with The Murder at Haversham Manor (the play that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is attempting to produce as the play-within-a-play in The Play That Goes Wrong), but there are, in fact, some similarities. The most crucial one of these similarities is this: the two genres represented here are (1) Farce (The Play That Goes Wrong), and (2) Murder Mystery (the fictional play The Murder at Haversham Manor). Both of these categories of plays rely very heavily on plot in their structures; they are each a series of compelling events which create the excitement of the plays.

Farce is defined as a comedy in which a series of incredibly silly and fantastic complications occur to the major characters, stretching the limits of credibility, but never quite slipping over the edge into fantasy or the absolutely impossible. The fun of a farce is to watch the characters struggle and suffer as their best laid plans are systematically trampled on by a series of amazingly silly, though not impossible complications. These plays are often extremely popular with audiences! Some contemporary examples are Noises Off (written by Michael Frayn), and One Man, Two Guv’ners (Richard Bean), and other classic farces include Charley’s Aunt (Brandon Thomas), What the Butler Saw (Joe Orton), Bedroom Farce (Alan Ayckbourn) and many of the works of two great playwrights who specialized in farce, Georges Feydeau (Hotel Paradiso; A Flea in Her Ear), and Ray Cooney (Run For Your Wife; Not Now, Darling).

Murder mysteries have a completely different tone from farces, of course, but they are also heavily dependent on plot. They normally contain a series of twists and turns, filled with both clues and red herrings, as the playwright creates a guessing game for the audience concerning who might ultimately be revealed as the culprit. Again, many of these plays have long been audience favorites! The Murder at Haversham Manor owes a lot to one of the masters of the murder mystery, Agatha Christie, specifically The Mousetrap (which has been playing in London in its original run for more than 70 years, and which has a planned Broadway production later this year). Additional successful entries into the murder mystery genre for the stage include Dial M For Murder  (Frederick Knott), Deathtrap (Ira Levin) and Sleuth (Anthony Shaffer).

Other kinds of comedies and dramas may emphasize richly nuanced characters, or contain thoughtful and provocative ideas or themes. However, farces and murder mysteries are usually populated by stock, two-dimensional characters, and these plays have as their overarching purpose an evening of exciting entertainment (hilarious or suspenseful), rather than profound insights. Farces and mysteries are about story first and last. The acting in these plays requires extremely clear choices to keep the unfolding of events, the storytelling, crystal clear for the audience. In rehearsal, we have worked hard to play one moment at a time in the play, never allowing the characters to assume anything about what’s coming next in the story, and letting each domino fall clearly, even as it knocks over the next one in line.

So, it’s rather fitting that the play that does indeed go wrong in The Play That Goes Wrong is a murder mystery, a surprisingly similar style of play.