Monday, November 12, 2007

Backstage with Godspell

Catalyst - Catalyst's production of Godspell opens in a few days. We recently had the chance to ask director Jeff Shields and choreography coordinator Carol Johnk to give us the inside scoop on the show.

Godspell is a popular show that has been done many times - are you going for a classic interpretation or something a little bit different?

Jeff: Godspell is a wonderful story about building community. Regardless of anyone's faith, the stories and parables are universal. We are taking this show as a "common person's" experience. Godspell, unlike other musicals, is about the stories and lessons. It's not about big, flashy costumes. It's not about elaborate sets. It's about people coming together for a greater good with a common mission. I really wanted us to focus on the stories, not the superficial aspects of the show. It's easy to get carried away with elaborate costumes and sets - but those are distracting from the true purpose of this production.

So it's not going to be too different from other productions in the past?

Carol: It is going to be different from other productions. There isn't the clown make-up or the funky clothes - no tie-dyed t-shirts in this production. We've really tried to be ordinary people who are called to follow Jesus and in the process form a community that didn't exist before. The focus is on that - the story of the formation of community. The music is still very familiar, but has, I think, a more updated feel. It isn't quite the folk music of the 70s.

I know the choreography was done by Arts a la Carte. Carol, were you the person handling that or someone else in the group?

Carol: AAC is coordinating the choreography. What that means is that I've tapped into our teachers and associates to find different choreographers for different Godspell numbers. This show lends itself well for this - the songs are so different from each other that having different styles of choreography worked very well. Choreographers include Mary Ann Letizio, Kameron Spears, Mark McCusker and Fritha Coltrain. Cast members have also been doing some of the choreography. Jessica Fenucci and Wendy Ostrem have done one of the numbers.

How has that partnership between the two groups worked so far?

Jeff: The partnership has been fantastic! Arts a la Carte was wonderful in coordinating the efforts of some amazing choreographers. They also helped provide some rehearsal space in their studio for the production. Carol has been an wonderful liasion between Catalyst and the choreographers.

Carol: When I'm being the liaison between Jeff and the choreographers, it is a lot less for him to worry about. I am a firm believer in collaboration. There are a number of non-profits arts groups in our area. We are very fortunate in that regard. But having so many organizations sometimes means that resources, both financial and human, are stretched a little thin. When groups collaborate they can pool their resources and talents and everyone benefits. AAC would never have attempted to put on a show like Godspell and Catalyst needed different types of choreography... it really is a perfect fit.

Tell us a little about the rehearsal process - the highs, the lows, the fun stuff, the challenges...

Carol: The rehearsal process has been a real learning experience for me. I've always done theater from an actor's point of view, not the production side. It is sometimes quite challenging to get four different choreographers scheduled. Trying to keep it to one or two new songs/steps a night is tricky if all the choreographers are only available on Thursday, for example. But we've been very fortunate and the choreographers have been flexible. It is also challenging for the cast to adjust to the differing styles of the choreographers. Some come in with it all planned in their heads and others come in with an idea and watch and see how things develop. It has also been a challenge for the choreographers. Some have never done choreography for a show like this. They are all professional dancers and sometimes making the shift from working with dancers to working with actors who may or may not have any dance experience has been an interesting process, too.

This is truly an ensemble show. Everyone is on stage pretty much all the time, and getting seventeen people at rehearsals is also tricky. One of the joys is getting to know this cast... what a great group of people. We've had several people involved in the production that have had to drop out for various reasons and the people that have replaced them have been just great. We've had some differences along the way, but overall, it's been a pretty happy cast. They've worked really hard and the results are very good.

About the cast changes, Heather Lawler was originally listed as playing Sonia. However, now it's Robyn McCright. How did that change come about?

Jeff: Heather decided to take a role in an area production of Seussical and leave her role with Godspell behind. Robyn had been interested in the show but was unable to audition due to her involvement in ICCT's production of Crimes of the Heart. When there was an opening we contacted Robyn and she happily agreed to take over the role. Her enthusiasm and amazing upbeat attitude has been a refreshing addition to the production!

How does this show fit in with Catalyst's mission?

Jeff: Catalyst strives to work with other arts and community organizations... to build a stronger community of groups. This show is a perfect example of such an endeavor.

What lead you to add another performance to the run?

Jeff: Ticket reservations have been going strong for the past few weeks and we decided that it would be beneficial to offer another performance of the show. This show has proven to be quite attractive to theatre-goers for several reasons. Godspell is an extremely popular show that is known by many people in the area. Our ticket prices are extremely low so that families can come and enjoy a live theatre experience. Our area has proven that people want affordable, family oriented entertainment... which we've been lacking to a certain degree lately.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Carol: I'm really excited to be a part of this production. We have a cast that is a wonderful mix of familiar faces and new faces. We have people who have lived in the community for a long time, but haven't done theater before and we also have a cast member who has only lived in the community for about a month. There is some really amazing talent in this production and I'm really excited about it. There have been challenges getting this production going, but the cast and crew are amazingly dedicated and talented and it is going to be worth seeing!

(Picture one is Jeffrey Mead, Wendy Ostrem, Rachel Bown, Meghan Henry, Roxanne Gustaveson, Jim Brewer, Ali Heath, Frederica Kenyon, Jeff Stewart, Jessica Fannuchi, Meghan Henry. Picture two is Roxanne Gustaveson, Ali Heath, Rachel Brown, Jessical Fannuchi, and Rachel Stewart.)

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