Friday, October 17, 2014

An In Depth Look at Revival Theatre Company

Cedar Rapids - There's a new theatre in town! Revival Theatre Company presented its first show, Children of Eden, last month at Brucemore's Outdoor Stage. Dedicated to producing musicals, Revival has two more shows coming in 2014-15: Dogfight opening this month and Pippin in June. We had the chance to talk to Brian J. Glick, artistic director, about the company.

Why did you choose the name Revival? 

The whole idea of bringing musicals back to the forefront and showing audiences musical theatre that they maybe haven't ever seen or haven't seen in years, led to the name “Revival.” We are reviving shows, we are bringing back the classics and the rare gems and giving them new light in a corridor that maybe hasn't seen one of our productions.

Can you give us a little history on the theatre? Whose idea was it and how did it come about? Who is involved in the theatre? Do you have executive director, artistic director, board of directors etc? 

Cameron Sullenberger and I created Revival Theatre Company. I was living in New York at the time and through many phone conversations we kept talking about the shows we wanted to produce, knowing that whatever shows we did, they would be musicals. The idea to start a theatre company didn't come up in the initial conversations, but after many discussions about the things we wanted to do and how we wanted to go about doing them, we realized that it really is something of its own.

Brian J. Glick
We have a nine-person board of directors of business leaders in the Cedar Rapids Community. They each bring an exceptional amount of expertise and knowledge to Revival Theatre Company. A huge credit for our financial success goes to them for their endless labor of love. I work as Artistic Director and Cameron works as Musical Director. We also have contracted designers who work on our shows throughout the season. Our designers come from all over; Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Texas. We feel very lucky to have gotten several of our artists from the graduate program at the University of Iowa who are getting their degrees in Lighting or Scenic Design. We allow them an environment to explore and create.

I see on your website that you will have an ensemble... have you chosen that group? Can you tell me who they are? How are you choosing your ensemble?

Cameron Sullenberger
Yes, we audition our season with one round of auditions, casting all three shows for the year. I love this process. This creates a core company of artists. It allows us time to cast accordingly and not make mistakes. There’s no quick turnaround. It's nice knowing we have our season cast months out from rehearsals. We wanted to create a company where actors represented RTC and could have materials in advance of rehearsals and come prepared. It makes a difference when you get in the rehearsal room.

Your mission states you're producing musical theatre. TCR does a lot of musical theatre and there are touring shows coming to the Paramount - how will Revival differentiate themselves from what's already out there?

The type of shows Revival does are very specific. Our contemporary shows are what we call the “rare gems”; the shows that have an incredible score and script, but had a short-lived life in New York or Chicago. We have the opportunity to produce those here without so much of a risk. It’s really thrilling to hear comments from audiences who hadn’t heard or seen one of our contemporary shows and are blown away by the script and music. We’ve given a show new life and that’s exciting. Now, this isn’t to say that other theatre companies won’t ever, or haven’t ever done the shows we are doing, but they are rare. The classics fall in the same boat. Cameron and I come from a background of working on and studying the classics with an approach of reimagining and evoking something special. I love when individuals come to a musical they’ve seen a million times like The Music Man, and they leave feeling a new connection and vibrancy about the piece. That’s the joy of the classics; we all grew up on them. They are special.

Our third element is creating programming for younger audiences. Now, we’re not reinventing the wheel on educating children, but our approach is one envisioned by companies like the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre or the Seattle Children’s Theatre. We plan to create musicals that involve children and adults in an intensive environment, and we plan to give those shows all the bells and whistles you would expect at one of our classical and contemporary productions. Kids should experience the process of collaboration, like working with the technical elements and working with experienced adults. It is a valuable tool that they can use for years to come. There’s also the element of the audience, we want families to experience quality children’s musical theatre with the family. When it works, it’s a magical combination. If the product is really good, we’ll build better audiences and future artists.

Do you ever see Revival doing straight plays too? 

Nope. Our mission is strictly musical theatre. The classical and contemporary.

Let's talk about Dogfight, which opens in October. If I remember correctly, Dogfight the movie was about a group of soldiers who had a contest with the winner being whomever brought the ugliest girl to the party. The musical is based on that movie...can you tell us why you chose that show?  

Dogfight is probably one of the most sophisticated and beautiful musicals I’ve come across in my career. I’ll be directing Dogfight and could not be more excited about starting this process. We started rehearsals mid-September. Our rehearsal schedules are limited to just five weeks. Dogfight fits our contemporary mission perfectly; creating cutting edge and thought proving musical theatre. And again, it’s that “rare gem” that nobody knows about. At the same time, it’s also one of the hottest shows that has been released and theatres want their hands on it. We are the Midwest premiere and were actually told we were first to receive general licensing rights. It’s going to be one of those shows that we will all remember for years to come. The music and story are stunningly beautiful and touching. The anticipation buzzing around Dogfight is unlike any other show I’ve worked on. We’ve actually been in contact with the writers, lyricist and composer and have invited them to our opening night. They are unfortunately unable to attend, but we’ve shared information with them about our production designs and will send them publicity pictures later in the run. They are just as proud of their show as we are to produce it. It’s an exciting time for RTC.

And then next June, you're producing Pippin, one of the most performed musicals in the country. There's some controversy about how Pippin should be done - original Broadway director Bob Fosse's darker vision was different from what lyricist Stephen Schwartz had in mind. Where will your production fall in that continuum - closer to Fosse or closer to Schwartz? 

I tend to side with Fosse. I saw Pippin twice on Broadway; what left me wanting more after seeing the show was how much I connected with the story and how much they took the characters to a darker side, giving them more depth. Diane Paulus (the director of the revival & A.R.T Artistic Director) made it relatable to everyone in the theatre. Even though Fosse was a choreographer who then directed at times, I tend to agree with this vision and approach as a director. Truly, I feel Pippin works best when the depths of the story and characters are pulled out and exposed in their full glory. That’s what makes it a powerful piece of musical theatre. There’s a strong ark to the story, especially for Pippin and the Leading Player, which some companies tend to miss when presenting Pippin. One should feel a sense of struggle and optimism when watching the show and feel completely exhilarated by the movement, storytelling and dancing. It all tells a great story. I don’t think Pippin would have been the show it is without Fosse. However, certainly Schwartz’s score is without a doubt unforgettable and he was at the forefront of bringing it to life. He wrote Pippin while in college…his work is timeless and part of the American Musical mainstream.

Who is directing Pippin? What else can you tell us about the production?

I’ll be directing Pippin. I’ve had several people ask me if I wanted to direct Pippin after seeing the revival in New York; actually, I was considering producing it before I knew it was coming back to Broadway. I’ve been following the success of Pippin since it’s start at A.R.T (American Repertory Theatre.) We also get asked if we’ll be doing acrobatics of “Les 7 Doigts de la Main.” I don’t think so. At the same time, we won’t be presenting magic tricks on stage that they were doing in the 70’s, that won’t fly with today’s audiences - so we are trying to find that balance of presenting the spectacle and the practicality of the piece. It will be exciting to see what we decide once we start meeting with designers.

Can you talk a little bit about your schedule - when you're going to do what sorts of shows?

In the future we hope to present our classical and contemporary shows within the first part of the year and then the children’s production in summer. It all depends on venues and rehearsal spaces. Those are some of the challenges as a “floating theatre.” In order for us to keep fine actors, designers, and musicians we prefer a shorter time span of rehearsals and downtime between shows. We know our company members have other gigs they want or need to take to sustain a living, so we hope to balance things out next year in a way that works for us and everyone involved. We’re all still discovering what’s ultimately going to fit the best.

What other shows would you like to tackle in the coming years? 

So many shows so little time. When we started Revival Theatre Company we created a list of shows that will last us for many years. We have a list that spans from shows like – South Pacific and Mame to Merrily We Roll Along and Falsettoland. As to what’s in the near future, we’re not ready to share that, but we’re excited about the possibilities.

I see both Brucemore and CSPS are locations for your shows... will you continue to use those locations? Others? Is the end game a performance space of your own? 

We are so lucky and excited to perform at such highly regarded venues and our shows certainly fit the mold of each venue. We will be a “floating theatre” company for a while, but we have explored venues and hopefully if things move forward in years to come, we will find a home of our own. We’re okay with being guests in the venues our communities provide.

Tell us about your educational component - the summer academy. 

We provide a four-day intensive academy program. We offer two sessions; in the morning we have a middle school program that teaches every child how to work in an ensemble, how to prepare for auditions, what to provide, headhsots, résumé building, etc. At the end of the four days they perform a group number with soloists and monologues. In the afternoon we hold a second session for high school kids. The focus of the afternoon group is all process and less product. We teach them more one on one skills, scene development, preparing for auditions, vocal technique, and working together as a group. On the fourth day the students showcase their work in front of their peers and we work with them in a master class setting, while the other students take notes and observe. It’s a great lesson for their age.

Where does the summer academy happen? 

The academy is held at Noelridge Christian Church in Cedar Rapids. Their space is big enough to hold a large number of kids. We hold the academy the last week in July, right before school starts back up. This worked out well for us since most families were back from vacationing. Finding time in the summer can be a tricky endeavor. A lot of it depends when school gets out.

Do you have to take the academy to audition for the show? 

No. It’s a way for those involved to have a leg up before auditioning, but those who were part of the academy are not guaranteed a role in any of our shows. But it gives them all the tools necessary to walk in ready. It’s pretty cool to see forty plus kids show up to the audition with a resume and headshot and know the lingo and steps to have a successful audition. We’re proud of that.

Can you sum up Revival Theatre in one sentence? 

Musical theatre that evokes, inspires, respects and challenges the artists involved and the audiences that see our work.

Anything else you want to tell us about your company? 

As a new company and a new arts organization, funding and financial support is the most crucial part of our existence. Supporting RTC, and our efforts to bring musical theatre to the forefront in cutting edge and spectacular ways, allows our lives to be filed with experiences that we remember for years to come. It allows economic growth and brings communities together. We offer many ways for individuals and business to support us. Visit for more information. We also have a vibrant Facebook page with artists' bios, headshots and the latest news of what’s going on with RTC. Join us today!

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