For this Seagle Festival blog entry, we thought our readers might enjoy learning about our shows from a different angle than we usually take – through the lens of our stage directors.
Richard Kagey, Seagle Festival’s long-time Director of Productions, will take on directing the double bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini, with performances July 20-23, as well as the new American opera Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce, which will show August 3-6.
Meaghan Deiter, who returns for a second season this year, will direct our two musicals: Hello, Dolly! by Jerry Herman, with performances July 6-9, and Once Upon a Mattress by Mary Rodgers, with performances August 17-20.
We asked both Richard and Meaghan to answer a few questions.
How do you prepare to direct shows like these?
Richard (on Puccini): With any Puccini opera you must listen carefully to the score. Not just the vocal lines – but the music when there is no singing. Puccini writes in his music exactly what he expects the moments to be on stage. I have learned over the years to not follow his musical direction complicates the story telling.
Meaghan (on Hello, Dolly!): While I’ve not directed the show before, I’ve performed in it and seen a Broadway revival, so it’s a show I’m quite familiar with. That said, approaching a piece as an actor is very different than approaching it as a director.
I started by rereading the script and noting anything that caught my imagination regarding major themes. I tried to let it speak to me as if I hadn’t read it before, and then jotted down anything that felt interesting, important, confusing, inspiring, etc.
And then I read it again. This time I zeroed in on the setting and timeline. It’s important to have a clear understanding where each scene takes place and how we get from point A to point B throughout the entire show. I read it slowly and took notes to make sure I stacked the blocks correctly.
From there, I read it again! This time around, I took close notes on costume considerations, props, scenic needs, etc. I also started to sketch big picture ideas for staging.
The next step involves meeting with the designer to start building the world of this production together. This is where we are currently for the summer season. We are meeting about sets and costumes and beginning to lock in decisions.
Working with the singers is the final step. I like to schedule a few book reads ahead of starting staging, so that we can explore the themes of the show and the character motivations together.
Finally, we are ready for staging. In this process, I take my big picture staging ideas and sketch them out in detail before each rehearsal. I show up to rehearsal with a plan, but depending on the things we discover in the room together, that plan might evolve. The final product will have a mix of moments that were exactly as I had planned months earlier and scenes that grew and developed during collaboration with the cast.
Richard (on Fellow Travelers): My first stop on any new work that includes real characters is to research the events that shape the story. In the case of Fellow Travelers, the setting is 1950’s Washington DC during the McCarthy hearings. Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, through lies and innuendo, alleged the government was infiltrated with known communists. Not just the government but the entertainment business as well. The time was referred to as the “Red Scare”. When critics began to question his facts, he turned to alleging the government was filled with Soviet spies, communist sympathizers, and known homosexuals. This created the so called “Lavender Scare” which is part of the story of Fellow Travelers. McCarthy appears only as a minor character in the opera, but his influence on the story is tremendous.
What are the aspects of directing a show that are the most challenging, and which are the most enjoyable?
Richard: The challenge in Suor Angelica is to not get too heavy handed in the sentiment, and in Gianni Schicchi, to remember that it is a comedy. The enjoyable parts in these two shows, are to help the singers find the identifying aspects of their characters and to bring them forward. For a show like Fellow Travelers, the most enjoyable part is to help the singers understand that in the short time of the opera on stage, the story takes place over several years. The challenge is to help them show the impacts and changes that those years have made on their characters. In the case of this story it is not just growing older, but making choices that change their outlook on life.
Meaghan (on Hello, Dolly!): The biggest challenge is time. The book is loaded with witty, fun, thoughtful and heartfelt scenes. There is so much to unpack regarding character motivations, objectives, and relationships. It takes time to discover those details, and even more time for them to sink into the performer’s bones. Additionally, Hello, Dolly! is a BIG show. The costumes, sets, ensemble work, and choreography all play a huge part in delivering the magic of this Golden Age classic. It’s a huge undertaking to make sure all those moving parts line up in a short amount of time.
What are you most looking forward to in directing these shows?
Meaghan (on Hello, Dolly!): This is a show that is close to my heart. I played Dolly in the 2010 Seagle production, and I have such fond memories of that experience. It was the first time I played an iconic title character like this – a Teyva in Fiddler, a Momma Rose in Gypsy – and experienced the weight of carrying an entire show. If Dolly isn’t singing, she’s speaking, and if she’s offstage, she’s changing dresses. It was hard work, and at times I was overwhelmed, but I loved the process and grew so much as an artist during the run of that production.
Returning to direct the piece is a true honor. I get to follow in Richard’s footsteps and build on the footprint he helped me create in 2010, and I get to share everything I learned from that 2010 experience with a new group of talented singers. I’m so excited to support them along the way and help them inhabit this poignant piece of American Musical Theatre.
Richard: For the Puccini pieces, it is working with the wonderful scores these operas provide, and using them to help direct the piece. For Fellow Travelers, I feel this is a story that must be told, because if we do not realize that this kind of persecution has happened in the past, it will happen again if we do not stop it. Equally important is to present a story that explores a real relationship, and how time and external forces shape it.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about these shows from your perspectives?
Richard: For Fellow Travelers, mostly I want you to see that it is an important story of real people told beautifully with beautiful music. For the two Puccini operas, please come enjoy the beautiful music and let yourself laugh out loud at the comedy and perhaps cry a bit at the tragedy.
Meaghan (on Hello, Dolly!): I went to see the 2017 Broadway revival starring Bette Midler and cried like a baby in my seat for much of the show. It was such a magical experience. The ensemble was absolutely the best I’ve heard on Broadway. The leads were dynamic and warm. I loved every second of it. And I love this show. I’m so excited to direct my first production of it and bring my passion for this piece to Seagle this summer – exactly 12 years after I first discovered the heart and joy of Hello, Dolly! on the Seagle stage.