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Heritage Theatre Festival to present Ken Ludwig's BASEKRVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY

The game is definitely afoot this summer at Heritage Theatre Festival thanks to its upcoming production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery – opening July 22 in the Ruth Caplin Theatre.

Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, directed by Colleen Kelly and Marianne Kubik, will be presented in the Ruth Caplin Theatre from July 22-29. Tickets are $25 if purchased before July 22 and $30 if purchased on or after that date. Student/Child tickets are available for $15 regardless of when purchased. Tickets for this and all 2017 Heritage Theatre Festival shows are available at the UVA Arts Box Office (located in the lobby of the Drama Building), online at www.heritagetheatrefestival.org or by phone at 434-924-3376.

The world’s most famous detective and his trusty sidekick Watson face down their most notorious case of all in this madcap retelling of the ultimate Victorian whodunit from the “mastermind of mayhem” Ken Ludwig. A stunningly nimble cast of five takes on nearly 40 characters, coming on and off stage almost as quickly as the twists and turns of this delightfully complex plot, as Holmes and Watson race against time to crack the mystery of The Hound of the Baskervilles before a family curse dooms its newest heir. The intrepid investigators’ search for the (anything but elementary) truth comes complete with a dizzying web of clues, outlandish accents, disguises, and deceit.  Does a wild hellhound prowl the moors of Devonshire? Can our heroes discover the truth in time?  Can costume changes really be that fast?  These and many more questions are just waiting to be answered!

Co-director Marianne Kubik said she was drawn to the story by its deft mixing of comedy and drama. “Ken Ludwig puts the entire Hound of the Baskervilles plot into this story,” she said. “But the unique thing that really starts to move it into the more madcap comic realm is that he has taken five actors and dispersed them across 38 roles. Two of these actors spend the entire play as Holmes and Watson. So there is a lot of energy and excitement in seeing these remaining three actors playing these multiple roles, often in the same scene. Then you add the fact that this is set in Victorian times and features period costumes and you have full costume changes that are happening sometimes in 20 or 30 seconds.”

Those changes, Kelly said are nothing new to Heritage Costume Designer Dorothy Smith, a veteran of the “Tuna” plays that proved a hit with Heritage audiences and featured only two actors in a similar number of roles.

The pace and complexity is hardly conveyed by sets and costumes alone, Kelly said, but falls largely on the show’s cast. “In addition to costume changes, our actors are often doing scene shifts,” she said. “They may carry a chair into a scene, or they may suddenly grab a door and walk through it.  They are really creating the environment or the audience.”  These added responsibilities plus a summer season rehearsal schedule made casting particularly important, she said.  “Both Marianne and I wanted to work with actors we knew and trusted, people we knew we could start with on day one, since we didn’t have the time to figure out how to work together.”

The cast includes UVA Drama MFA students Michael Miranda and Sam Reeder and Drama faculty member Denise Stewart, a Heritage audience favorite from roles in shows including Shear Madness.  Playing the roles of Holmes and Watson are Mark Jeter and Jeremy West.  “Not only do I know them and have worked with them,” Kelly said, “but they have also worked together before and really understand how each other works.”

Another element that is helping to set the many scenes is an original soundscape for the show created by Sound Designer and UVA Drama Department faculty member Michael Rasbury.  “Michael has composed an underscore of music for the entire show,” Kubik said.  “So you have chase music for a chase scene, for instance, and danger music when the hounds are imminent.”  The soundscape is complemented by a visual landscape created by Lighting Designer R. Lee Kennedy and Set Designer Batul Rizvi.   “The challenge from the beginning was how do we create this world in which the actors can tell this story, from the danger of the hounds and the moors to the creepiness of Baskerville?”

Despite the many moving parts and the extensive preparation that goes into a production like this, the goal, Kubik said, has remained simple. “What we want to do with this show is to thrill the audience.  That could be the thrill of suspense, of danger, or of comedy.  Because this is definitely a comedy, but it is also Sherlock Holmes, so there is plenty of real suspense there as well.  I think there are plenty of thrills to go around.”

The 2017 Heritage Theatre Festival will continue with the classic Stephen Sondheim musical Company, featuring all-time classic Broadway hits like “Being Alive” (July 28-August 4 in the Culbreth Theatre). Putting an exclamation point on the season’s proceedings this summer will be International Clown Hall of Fame member Barry Lubin, the face of the Big Apple Circus, who will bring his iconic and irrepressible character “Grandma” for performances in the Ruth Caplin Theatre on August 4 and 5.

Parking for Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters.

Meeeeeet Robbie Flanagan!

*Hype Horn Sound* Meeeeeet Robbie Flanagan! An integral part of our amazing costuming department that is currently working overtime to make sure that the madness that is Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville goes off without a hitch. Read on to learn more about him!

What is your job here at Heritage?

I am the Costume Design Assistant for Heritage this summer. I assist all the costume designers on the shows this season-- taking notes in fittings, keeping budgets on track, making sure actors feel comfortable. A lot of my job is talking and making sure nobody completely loses their mind. Along with that, I also do the finance work for the costume shop. I create expense reports and track all purchases that circle through the shop on a system called Chrome River. All I have to say about that is that Chrome River is a cruel mistress.

How did you first get involved in theatre? When did you realize that it was something you wanted to be a part of for the rest of your life?

My first taste of theatre was in first grade. My teacher wrote a musical about marine life and I played the starfish. I sang "It's my Party"-- the classic diva song by Leslie Gore. Of course I absolutely loved it and have been hooked every since. Now-a-days, I don't act as much. I am exploring pretty much everything else--costume design, directing, arts administration. Where I will end up.... who knows.

What is your favorite play or musical?

I have always wanted to play Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. The music, the dancing, the spectacle of it all. CLASSIC. I hear Harvey Fierstein in my DREAMS. I mean, how can you not? Truly legendary.

What is your favorite thing to do in Cville?

I went to karaoke at Wild Wings Cafe and had a blast. Definitely something to do with a group while in Cville. You don't even have to sing... the atmosphere is what makes it fun. I, personally, love dancing to the sounds of the not-so-trained vocalists.

What is your favorite non-theatre related activity?

I love to kayak. Back home in Boston, I go kayaking on the Charles River whenever I can. It's amazing to just be on the water and rowing along.

Desert island questions: you can only bring the following to a desert island, what do you choose:

-Book-- Fallen by Lauren Kate (It's basically Twilight with Angels. Judge me)

-Movie-- Clue. I could watch Madeleine Kahn as Mrs.White for HOURS. "Flames... on the side of my face"

-TV show-- Nurse Jackie

-Two food items-- Pizza and Pasta (I love carbs)

What show are you most looking forward to this season?

Due to the amount of pure insanity, I am most looking forward to Baskerville

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Star Wars.... is that even a question?

Marvel Comics or DC?

Marvel. Love me some Tobey Maguire Spider-Man.

Dogs or Cats?

Dogs. Cats always hate me.

Coke or Pepsi

Pepsi. My mother would be ashamed of me if I ever said I preferred coke.

Company Member Profile - Hannah Bergere

We’re back at it again with another Company Member Profile! This time it is our pleasure to introduce you to Hannah Bergere. Recently of Elon University and now one of our kickbutt stage managers. Read on to find out more!

1) What is your job here at Heritage?

Production Stage Manager for Middletown & Baskerville. I'm in the rehearsals basically making sure everything goes as planned and stays on track. I'm constantly taking notes on what changes in rehearsals and documenting everything. Once we get into technical rehearsals and performances I'm the one calling the light and sound cues so that everything can look and sound like it's supposed to on stage. It's a lot of fun!

2) How did you first get involved in theatre? When did you realize that it was something you wanted to be a part of for the rest of your life?

I started acting in middle school, and during high school I discovered tech. I became a stage manager my senior year of high school and fell in love. I then chose to go to college for stage management, and the rest is history!

3) What is your favorite play or musical?

Next to Normal. I have stage managed it, but I also just love the show. I'm partial to rock musicals.

4) What is your favorite thing to do in Cville?

This is my first time in Cville, so I've loved exploring, especially finding all the great places to eat!

5) What is your favorite non-theatre related activity?

Getting off of work and hanging with friends, and also binging Netflix shows!

6) Desert island questions: you can only bring the following to a desert island, what do you choose:

-Book- If I'm allowed a series... it would definitely be Harry Potter.

-Movie- Forrest Gump

-TV show- Gilmore Girls

-Two food items- Peanut Butter, Mac & Cheese (but I wouldn't eat them together)

7) What show are you most looking forward to this season?

I'm biased but... Baskerville!

8) Star Wars or Star Trek

I've never seen either fully.... but Star Wars

9) Marvel Comics or DC?

Marvel!

10) Dogs or Cats?

DOGS!

11) Coke or Pepsi

Coke!

 

It's really all happening now!

It’s really all happening now at Heritage! Over these past few days we hit that unique point in our season where every single show we are presenting this summer was being worked on in one way or another throughout the building. Middletown had a wonderful closing weekend of performances, while Woody Guthrie’s American Song opened their run! Meanwhile in other corners of the building Chapatti (which opens THIS WEEKEND) was in tech, Baskerville was in the midst of rehearsals (running scared from Giant Hounds and changing costumes), and Company was having their very first music rehearsal. It’s all hands on deck here at Heritage, and the building has never felt so alive. Every department is busy from lights, to props, to box office (click the link above to make sure they stay busy).

But while we work hard at Heritage, we think you’ll agree that it’s also important to take opportunities when possible to kick back, relax, and celebrate a little. So last Thursday night with that mantra in mind we all charged off to Travinia Italian Kitchen and Bar, following the preview performance of Woody Guthrie’s American Song. Once we arrived we were treated to a wonderful selection of pasta dishes and appetizers, not to mention two very skilled bartenders. It was a wonderful moment for everyone to chat about the season so far and what was still to come.

Not satisfied with just one event involving food, we were already back to stuffing our faces yesterday on the 4th of July, when we held a “Hot Dog Cookout” following our matinee performance of Woody Guthrie’s American Song. Widely regarded King of the Grill, Steve Warner was back out in full force serving up all kinds of hot dogs to patrons and company members alike. A great kick off to all of our Independence Day celebrations!

Now, I can’t end this blog without giving a quick shout out to the amazing work that is happening in our Helms Theatre, at this very moment. Chapatti which we mentioned opens this weekend, is a touching love story between two neighbors in the latter years of their lives. This is a small and very personal show and we couldn’t imagine a better powerhouse trio to be handling it than Richard Warner, Judith Reagan, and Doreen Bechtol. There is a special magic that can happen in a rehearsal room when you bring together people who not only love their craft, but have successfully devoted their lives to it, as these three have done. Written by Christian O’Reilly, this show will touch, delight, and remind you of the beauty of connection. Read more about it in this lovely UVA Today Article.

Thanks again for stopping by, and we’ll see you at the theater!

Company Member Profile - James Scales

Welcome back to our Company Member Profile series on the Heritage Blog! Today we want to introduce you to the one the only James Scales!

While a lot of people reading this might recognize you from your turns on the stage, would you mind taking a moment to describe what it is you do for Heritage on a day to day basis? When you aren't performing that is.

I’m the business manager, both for Heritage and the UVA Department of Drama.  If it involves money coming in or going out, it crosses my desk at some point. This morning I’m looking at a final proof of the Heritage playbill, making sure that all of Drama’s accounts are in good shape for fiscal year-end (and moving money around as necessary), reviewing a television ad, discussing how to put an out-of-town employee onto the payroll…. 

How did you first get involved in theatre? When did you realize that it was something you wanted to be a part of for the rest of your life?



I started acting when I was eleven.  I started thinking seriously about it as a career when I was a junior in college, but I wasn’t prepared to live the life of an actor—not knowing where or when your next job would be.  So I went to law school, my original plan A.  Three years out of law school, I started working here, where I’ve been able to act often enough to keep that side of me happy. 

What is your favorite play or musical?

I’ll go with shows I’ve worked on.  Favorite play: ARCADIA by Tom Stoppard.  I was Assistant Director to Betsy Tucker for UVA’s production in 1999.  JP Scheidler (who I’m thrilled to be working with again this summer) was Septimus.  First-year student Sarah Drew was Thomasina.  It was a lovely production.  The play is so rich and overflowing with ideas.  Favorite musical: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE.  It was a show I loved from the first time I saw it in New York, and I was so happy to be a part of it here.  The cast is pretty much onstage the whole show, so we really became a tight ensemble.  We laughed so much in rehearsals.  We only had six performances, but I would have been happy doing that show indefinitely.

What is your favorite thing to do in Cville?



We used to live downtown when my oldest child was a newborn, and we loved to just take a turn down the length of the mall and back.  We’d always run into someone we knew.  Great people-watching!

What is your favorite non-theatre related activity?



Watching and talking movies.  I used to work at Sneak Reviews.  I miss that part of my life, when I got to talk movies every day. 

Desert island questions: you can only bring the following to a desert island, what do you choose:

  • Book  Complete Works of William Shakespeare
  • Movie  Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS (extended edition). That counts as one!
  • TV show  Doctor Who (50 years worth of viewing material)
  • Two food items  Peanut Butter and Coffee

What show are you most looking forward to this season?



I’m looking forward to each of them in their own way.  How’s that for a non-answer!  I think the time is right to revisit Woody Guthrie’s anthems of economic justice, and I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and new ones in WOODY GUTHRIE’S AMERICAN SONG.  I’ve long admired the work of my friends Richard Warner and Jude Reagan, but I’ve never seen them onstage together, which is what CHAPATTI holds for me.  I can’t wait to see Bob Chapel tackle another Sondheim musical in the Culbreth (I don’t think he’s ever done one without me before!) with COMPANY.  BASKERVILLE and Barry Lubin promise to be tons of fun.  And, of course, I’m happy to be part of MIDDLETOWN with my daughter Colleen.  That experience has been a treat!

Star Wars or Star Trek?

I love me some Star Trek, but watching Star Wars can still make me feel like I’m nine years old again. I’m so happy to be able to share that experience with my own children with the new films.  (I don’t let them watch the prequels. Life’s too short.)

Marvel Comics or DC?



I enjoy visiting DC several times a year. It’s an easy day trip from Charlottesville. You know what my favorite of the Marvel movies has been?  BIG HERO 6.  I don’t think a lot of people saw it, but it’s very good.

Dogs or Cats?

We promised our children that they could have a pet when the older child is ten, which is now less than a year away.  When the weather is terrible, I try to point out “Boy! I’m sure glad I don’t have to take a dog for a walk in this rain/snow/microburst/derecho!”  Still, a year from now I’ll probably be a dog owner again. 

Coke or Pepsi

(Diet) Coke. 

Heritage Theatre Festival to present WOODY GUTHRIE'S AMERICAN SONG

Heritage Theatre Festival is celebrating America’s birthday this year with a musical tribute to one of our nation’s greatest cultural treasures. Woody Guthrie’s American Song, opening June 30 at Culbreth Theatre, is an acclaimed ensemble musical  that has been delighting audiences for more than a quarter of a century with its foot-stomping, hand-clapping, and soul-stirring tribute to a man whose unforgettable music and enduring spirit are deeply  woven into his beloved nation’s cultural fabric.

Woody Guthrie’s American Song, written by Peter Glazer (whose father was a longtime Guthrie sideman) and directed by Bryan Garey, will be presented in Culbreth Theatre from June 30 through July 8. Tickets for adults are $30 if purchased before June 30 and $35 if purchased on or after that date. Student/Child tickets are available for $15 regardless of when purchased. Single and season tickets for the 2017 Heritage Theatre Festival season are available at the UVA Arts Box Office (located in the lobby of the Drama Building), online at www.heritagetheatrefestival.org or by phone at 434-924-3376.

From “This Land is Your Land” to “900 Miles” to “Bound for Glory,” Woody Guthrie’s songs helped carry a nation through the dark days of the Great Depression and in many ways still carry it today, serving up lessons in humanity, humility, perseverance and hope that remain vitally important in the world we live in. They also served as an inspiration for a new generation of cultural standard bearers including Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, and U2, all of whom credit Guthrie as a primary influence.

 Woody Guthrie’s American Song, hailed as “A dazzling explosion of Guthrie’s genius” by the Boston Globe, features a talented array of actors and musicians who will take audiences on a musical journey and across a range of tales that are as vast as the country Guthrie cherished  - from the Dust Bowl to the California coast to the streets of New York City and beyond. The show also offers glimpses into Guthrie’s own life through his humble musings and deft and timeless insight.

The production will also feature a familiar face for local music lovers. Michael Clem, known for his work with the internationally-acclaimed band Eddie from Ohio and for his work locally with his Michael Clem Trio, will make his theatrical debut in the production. The move to the stage is serendipitous for Clem, who first got the folk “bug” as a child while watching Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in a PBS concert broadcast.

Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Garey said, is far from your typical musical theatre experience.  “This is a folk concert/storytelling experience as much as anything. It’s a great chance for people to appreciate the work, and sort of humble genius, of an American master, no matter how much they knew about him coming in. We have had people working on the show who didn’t know much about Woody Guthrie, and now say they find themselves wanting to sing the whole time.”

One of the pillars of Guthrie’s simple genius is his ability to capture all of our most profound hopes and deepest fears, regardless of our age or era. “He is able to profoundly describe the human experience, including through great adversity,” Garey said. “And he has the supreme gift of being able to use music to help people deal with their insecurity in a turbulent world, and to provide them with real empathy and comfort –which is obviously something that we can use more of in our world today.”

Garey added that Guthrie’s songs and stories transcend political affiliations, and speak to a larger need to come together as people first. “He talks about the power of the people and that there is power in togetherness in a way that is not about liberals or conservatives. It’s a reminder that music has a unique power to inspire all of us to remember what is truly important.  This July will mark the 105th anniversary of his birth and here he is still pushing us, through his music, to be better.”

The show’s appeal also transcends generational boundaries, Garey said. “This is a great evening that can be shared by an entire family that features great storytelling, fascinating history, and absolutely incredible music.”

The 2017 Heritage Theatre Festival will continue with Chapatti, Christian O’Reilly’s touching drama about an unusual bond forged  by late-in-life neighbors around finding homes for their respective pets (July 6-15 in the Helms Theatre); Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, a madcap whodunit in which five actors play 40 characters (July 22-29 in the Ruth Caplin Theatre) and Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Company, featuring all-time classic Broadway hits like “Being Alive” (July 28-August 4 in the Culbreth Theatre). Putting an exclamation point on the season’s proceedings this summer will be International Clown Hall of Fame member Barry Lubin, the face of the Big Apple Circus, who will bring his iconic and irrepressible character “Grandma” for performances at the Ruth Caplin Theatre on August 4 and 5.

Parking for Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters.

 Cast of Woody Guthrie's American Song

Interview with Director Bryan Garey

If you enjoyed last week’s interview with Colleen Kelly, then we hope you’ll dig this. This weekend we sat down with the one, the only, Bryan Garey to talk about the unique challenges of directing Woody Guthrie’s American Song; you’ll find our interview below!

Hi Bryan! Thanks for taking time to answer a few questions. With Woody Guthrie’s American Song opening this week, we just wanted to sit down with you and get your thoughts on the show and your team’s process. Let’s dive right in - What was your experience with Woody Guthrie prior to directing this show?

Like most folks, my knowledge of Woody Guthrie was limited to “influential folk singer and song writer” and “This Land is Your Land.”  This wonderful piece exposes all of us to his incredible music, so beautiful, melodic, and meaningful.  And, it introduces us to his life story and the stories of people during his lifetime.  Like us, folks were going through tough times and Woody found a way to provide insight, empathy, and comfort through his words and music.

Guthrie’s catalog ranges from the obscure to the, well, "This Land is Your Land" - did you feel a need to balance the show relative to each song's individual fame?

The music is so good, no balancing was needed.  What we try to do is honor the music by performing it well and also bringing the audience into the time and the work.  Folks will be singing along and leave the theatre humming the tunes and, I hope, reflecting on Woody’s life and work.  Many may also find comfort in the music as it is universal and is relevant to our struggles today.

Your cast came to this process with a very diverse skill set, and range of experiences as performers. What work did you do to unite those talents to a cohesive vision?

We rehearsed as a team the entire 3-week process and created an open and collaborative environment where many good ideas where shared and incorporated from everyone throughout the rehearsal time.  We also tapped into strengths…different musical talents, comic talents, etc., so that this is truly an ensemble piece.

What was your favorite part about working on this show? And what would you like your audience to feel when the curtain closes?

The music, first and foremost.  People will love the songs and performances.  And, as a bonus, they will learn about Woody and the American people of the 30’s and 40’s.  Finally, they may even be surprised as how much this work is alive and relevant today.  We need relief and comfort from the day-to-day struggles we all face.  Woody Guthrie provided that in his time and for our time, too.

Thanks again Bryan, really looking forward to seeing the show this weekend! Can’t wait to see what this ensemble has created!

If you haven’t yet, clink the box office link at the top of the page and grab your tickets now! On the 4th of July we’re doing a special matinee followed by a hot dog cookout for the Company and all those attending the matinee! A pretty cool way to kick off your Independence Day celebrations!

The Festival Begins!

Welcome back to the Heritage Blog! Hard to believe we’re already here, but the first show of the Heritage Theatre Festival season opens this Friday! That’s right, you heard me, THIS FRIDAY. As in two days. From now. Unless you’re reading this late… in which case it might already be open and you’re missing it. Or maybe you’re reading it during intermission, in which case I hope you are enjoying yourself! If you don’t have tickets yet, get them now - the shows are selling out fast. Go, go, click the box office link above. Go on, I’ll wait…

Phew, isn’t that a relief? So, you’ve got your tickets for Middletown and you can’t wait to see it; but you’re thinking to yourself - what’s next? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s Woody Guthrie’s American Song. That’s what’s next. And trust me, you’re not going to want to miss this one either. I’ve been talking to the cast and they are tearing it up in rehearsals. This is a super talented group of musicians and actors, and actor-musicians; heck, there are even some musician-actors; and they are all looking forward to showing you what they’ve been up to in just 9 days time!

So we’ve mentioned that Woody Guthrie’s American Song is an exploration of Woody Guthrie’s catalog, but haven’t had the chance to talk about how the heck it all ties together into a show yet. The main through-line is that the cast of 5 take on several characters that embody the feeling of Guthrie’s music in different times and places. The amount of responsibilities our actors juggle is pretty amazing, they have to move seamlessly between scene and song, playing their own instruments, and beautifully weaving together tight, complex harmonies. Seriously, this music is beautiful.

Alisa Ledyard, a member of this band of intrepid performers, talked with us about how exciting it is to work on something that at the outset seems very simple, but when you break it down becomes increasingly intricate. And based on the laughter coming out of the rehearsal rooms, the rest of the creative team seems to be loving it, too.

I know what you are thinking now. You don’t want to wait 9 days! You want to see what this show is all about as soon as possible. Well, I have good news for you. If you head down to the Charlottesville City Market bright and early this Saturday, you will get to see the cast of Woody Guthrie’s American Song live and in person. The cast will be performing live from the Market on WTJU’s Atlantic Weekly show around 9:00am.

We can’t wait to see people turning up this weekend as Middletown gets things rolling, we’ve got a feeling that this is going to be a summer of theater to remember.

Heritage Theatre Festival Opens 2017 Season with Will Eno's MIDDLETOWN

Heritage Theatre Festival is kicking off its 2017 season with Will Eno’s critically-acclaimed play Middletown, a deeply moving and often funny look into the lives, loves, fears, and hopes of residents of a most typical small town that examines and challenges our views of what passes for “normal” in today’s world.

Middletown, directed by HTF Interim Artistic Director and UVA Drama Department Chair Colleen Kelly, will be presented in the Ruth Caplin Theatre from June 23 through July 1. Tickets for adults are $25 if purchased before June 23 and $30 if purchased on or after that date. Student/Child tickets are available for $15 regardless of when purchased. Single and season tickets for the 2017 Heritage Theatre Festival season are available at the UVA Arts Box Office (located in the lobby of the Drama Building), online at www.heritagetheatrefestival.org or by phone at 434-924-3376.

Eno, once hailed by Christopher Isherwood of the New York Times as “Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation,” has said that Middletown owes an “inspiration debt” to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, he was conscious to take the play in a decidedly different direction. The result is a story full of quirky neighbors and new friends where characters use disarming honesty to highlight both the absurdity and the poignancy of the millions of tiny moments that make up all of our lives. From the budding friendship between an expectant mother and an itinerant local handyman to the prickly observations of the local beat cop to the brooding, and clearly troubled, mechanic, Eno weaves a tapestry that can feel both surprising and familiar while serving up plenty of food for thought about all of our lives.

“What really appeals to me about this play is the playfulness of Will Eno’s language,” Kelly said. “Characters weave and vault between waxing poetic and making pedestrian observation about life.”

In addition, Kelly said, there is a universal nature to the situations in which the play’s characters find themselves. “Like the residents of Middletown, we are all alive in the ‘middle’ of something—a world created by past and future ancestors, an existence between birth and death, a day that spans a sunrise and sunset, or, as is the case with one character, just between two crappy jobs. Regardless of differences, we are all humans just breathing and trying to get through life a day at a time. One character in the play observes, ‘That’s the trouble, the beauty, the trouble.’”

The 2017 Heritage Theatre Festival will continue with Woody Guthrie’s American Song, an ensemble musical celebrating the life and songs of one of our nation’s true cultural treasures; (July 30-July 8 at the Culbreth Theatre); Chapatti, Christian O’Reilly’s touching drama about an unusual bond forged  by late-in-life neighbors around finding homes for their respective pets (July 6-15 in the Helms Theatre); Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, a madcap whodunit in which five actors play 40 characters (July 22-29 in the Ruth Caplin Theatre) and Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Company, featuring all-time classic Broadway hits like “Being Alive (July 28-August 4 in the Culbreth Theatre). Putting an exclamation point on the season’s proceedings this summer will be International Clown Hall of Fame member Barry Lubin, the face of the Big Apple Circus, who will bring his iconic and irrepressible character “Grandma” for performances at the Ruth Caplin Theatre on August 4 and 5.

Parking for Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters. 

Actors John Paul Scheidler, Chiquita Melvin, Priyanka Shetty, and Randy Risher in MIDDLETOWN.  Photo by Michael Bailey

Q&A with Colleen Kelly the Director of MIDDLETOWN

Middletown opens this weekend! What’s that?! You want to hear from the show’s director, Colleen Kelly? Well, you’re in luck! We here at the Heritage Blog got a chance to sit down and chat with her about the upcoming production, check it out below!

Hi Colleen, thanks for taking some time out of tech week to sit down with me and answer a few questions! I know you’re busy, so let’s not waste any time, what about Middletown first drew you to the play?

Two things. First, the story. I was intrigued by this contemporary spin on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. The citizens of Middletown, however, are more diverse and quirky [than in Our Town] and I was captivated by how the characters deal with the challenges of a modern world. Second, I was drawn to Will Eno’s playful language. He has such a talent for juggling the poetic with the pedestrian and the profound with the simplistic.

Speaking of the citizens of Middletown, your cast spans a huge age and experience range, do you find yourself having to wear a bunch of different director hats to get the best out of everyone? 

I do, but nothing has been a surprise. When I was casting the show, I knew I wanted a company that reflected the age and life-experience of Middletown citizens. As a director, I try to adjust my own directing style and the rehearsal schedule to accommodate what the play demands and the cast needs. For example, I anticipated that a very young actor in the play might be shy about speaking her lines aloud so I scheduled time for her to lead a few vocal warmups with cast members to boost her confidence—during those times she was responsible for assuring actors had a strong physical presence and lines could be heard and understood.

That’s awesome, I’m sure everyone enjoyed that. You mentioned Will Eno’s wonderfully odd writing style, what are some things you are asking the actors to focus on when it comes to the text?

The play has several themes as through lines and Mr. Eno uses repetition of words and ideas throughout. I’ve asked the actors to be aware of connective themes in the play and be aware when other characters use the same words or phrases that they use, but, as characters, to stick to their specific point of view. It is OK if a theme takes a right turn in one scene and a left in another. It is OK if ideas have varying importance to characters in the play or a word has a different definition for one character than it has for another.

You referred to Middletown as a contemporary take on Our Town, do you find yourself leaning into that as a source of inspiration, or are you pulling away from those ideas?

That connection was certainly on my mind when I first decided to direct the play, but then I just focused on directing Middletown. The stories of the citizens of Wilder’s Grover’s Corners and Eno’s Middletown parallel in that people are born and people die and, during the time between, they just try to figure it all out. However, figuring it all out in 1938 is much different than figuring it all out in 2017.

What has been your favorite part of working on this play?

Throughout the whole rehearsal process, each actor has brought their unique talent and perspective to this story of Middletown, and it has been a joy to shape all of that into a cohesive message. The play has a prologue, 2 acts and 24 scenes. Another exciting element of directing this play—and, perhaps, the most challenging—is staging the flow between scenes. Sometimes the challenge is practical: how to get set pieces and actors on and off the stage. Sometimes the challenge is aesthetic: how to seamlessly continue a theme or abruptly change a point of view. Finding these solutions with the cast has been exciting, and I’m looking forward to sharing the work with our audience!

Thanks again for your time Colleen, best of luck with your final week of rehearsals, we’re all really looking forward to seeing the show!

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