Friday, May 29, 2015

Dirty Blonde - meet the producers Marian Holmes & Russ Wyland

There is no easy answer to the question, “why are you producing Dirty Blonde”?  The responsibilities of the producers are, for the most part, the same from show to show:  assemble the design team, watch over the budget, and keep the “trains running on time.”  However, every time we produce together something slightly different draws us in.  For Hairspray (the  last show we produced together), for example, we wanted to be involved because we loved the music, thought it had an important message, and liked working with the director, Sue Pinkman.  Dirty Blonde has likewise been a combination of factors.  First, we loved director Jennifer Lyman’s vision for how the play should look and feel.  Because of the many different scenes and two distinct stories—one love story and another about Mae West—a production of Dirty Blonde could easily spin out of the control.  Jennifer saw simplicity.  But as any techie can confirm, simplicity rarely means simple, and the second reason we wanted to produce Dirty Blonde is that it is technically demanding…definitely not simple.  We are doing some things in this show that LTA has never done before. Finally, and most importantly, we decided to produce Dirty Blonde because Mae West is irresistible.  She was a self-made woman who decided to do it her way…no apologies.  The quickness of her wit is unmatched, and her ability to be sexual without resorting to vulgarity is refreshing.    

Russ Wyland
We have to confess too that we also love working together. We bicker.  We laugh.  We have ideas that we could never have come up with alone.  An actress (in The Underpants, perhaps), once announced to the cast that we were as close to an old married couple as would be found at LTA; we wear that as a badge of honor.  Hopefully, the Holmes-Wyland partnership will continue to thrive.

In addition to being producers for Dirty Blonde, we also serve on the LTA Board of Governors, so we have some insight into why the Board chose to put Dirty Blonde into the 2014-15 season. 

LTA has a long history of doing shows that celebrate historical people.  Audiences are attracted to such shows because they not only become engrossed in a good story, but they usually learn something new and surprising about the person being portrayed.  About fifteen years ago, we staged Terrence McNally’s Master Class, a show that takes the audience members inside both Maria Callas’s classroom tutorials and her emotional state while performing. Master Class was a great success (arguably the best show ever staged at LTA), and since then the Board has chosen several shows in a similar vein:  Gross Indecency about Oscar Wilde, The Will Rogers Follies, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, to name a few.  So, Dirty Blonde is a proven type of show with LTA audiences.  We think audiences will agree.

There were also practical reasons for choosing Dirty Blonde.  Audience members are subscribing or re-subscribing right now, and the Board wanted a show in this particular time slot that would showcase the acting talent in the area and the technical capabilities of the theatre.  Dirty Blonde is both.  Moreover, as show with a smaller set and a smaller cast, Dirty Blonde is a nice contrast with The Odd Couple (female version), which just closed after a great run, and In the Heights, which is already in rehearsals.  Audience members have told us over and over that variety is a good thing, and we hope that Dirty Blonde both provides that variety and serves as a harbinger of what’s in store next season. 

Marian Holmes
As we mentioned above, the technical aspects of the show are, for the producers, the most challenging part of Dirty Blonde.  Even though it is a play, it is much more like a small musical, coming with all the technical challenges a musical.  Musicians—we have a pianist and a bass player—require sound and video monitors and sound reinforcement; the set design has to allow for dancing, but must be intimate enough and simple enough to draw the audience into the world of Mae and her fans; and then there are the projections.  Jennifer and our very talented set designer, Andrea D’Amato, have come up with breath-taking set that uses both rear projections (something LTA has done very little of) and marquee projections through a large screen television.  Running one kind of video is difficult, but running two kinds of video is new territory for us.  Thank God for our projection designer Austin Fodrie, who has taken LTA to new places with his design of Dirty Blonde’s projections. 

There are other technical challenges, of course, but we don’t want to reveal all the “magic” that we want our audiences to experience.  When LTA invests in new lights or sound equipment, the only thing we want the audience to notice is that the show looks and sounds beautiful.  We take on technical challenges of Dirty Blonde in hopes that we can execute them so flawlessly that audience members find them effortless.   

Finally, a little homage to the late Mae West.  She was a riot.  Here are a few of her witticism. 

When I’m good I’m very good, but when I’m bad I’m better.
A hard man…is good to find.
It’s not the men in my life that counts—it’s the life in my men.
He who hesitates is last.
I go for two kinds of men.  The kind with muscles, and the kind without.
So many men…so little time.
Too much of a good thing…can be wonderful.
Why don’t you come on up and see me sometime…when I’ve got nothin’ on but the radio.
I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.
A man in the house…is worth two in the street.
Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.
It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.
Good sex is like good Bridge…If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.
To err is human—but it feels divine.
His mother should have thrown him away…and kept the stork.
I don’t like myself:  I’m crazy about myself.
I like two kinds of men: domestic and imported.
When a girl goes wrong, men go right…after her.
Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
I used to be Snow White…but I drifted.
I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor…Believe me, rich is better.
She’s the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success…wrong by wrong.
You can say what you like about long dresses, but they cover a multitude of shins.
Those who are easily shocked…should be shocked more often.
When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.
You ought to get out of those wet clothes…and into a dry martini.
Give a man a free hand…and he’ll run it all over you.

Tickets and info:

Dirty Blonde - meet cast member Janette Moman

What do you find appealing about your character and this show? 
I am most impressed with Mae West's spirit.  She was a strong woman who knew exactly what she wanted even though odds were against her.   She set the standard for what sexy is, and you still see that influence today.  She didn't stop when she hit obstacles, and most appealing to me is her tenacity and ambition.  She wrote her own plays and movie scripts.  She kept journals and acted as though everything was off the top of her head, but it truly was hard work, drive and business savvy.

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA?   
My first show since college was in 2011 as Velma von Tussle in Hairspray at LTA.  I had been performing for years as a singer, but hadn't considered theatre until I saw a show here, and was struck by magic of this theatre and the incredible talent it draws.  I was searching for another show to attend, and I noticed the audition page for Hairspray on the website.  I just had to be a part of it!

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?  
LTA is like a family that will love you and embrace you for who you are.  It's like no other theatre if you want to volunteer to do anything from house management to lighting to catering to performing.  If you have a special skill you are proud of,  LTA could really use your expertise.  I am amazed by the skills my friends here possess, and it's such a delight to use your talents and skills to help create something incredible together.

Tickets and info:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Meet cast member - Alexandra Guyker

Tell me a little about your character (or what it is like to play multiple characters).
Jo is an aspiring actress who has idolized Mae West’s “tough girl” persona and successful career since high school. As an office temp in New York – unmarried, in a job without benefits – Jo escapes into her obsession, but ultimately is able to share her passion with the only person she can truly be herself with, Charlie. 

What were some of the challenges for you in this piece?
I’ve always struggled with playing characters “like myself.”  Playing an actress with an office job, who’s not married, or thin, or tall – it was hard at first to feel like I had to do anything other than show up!  But I have learned a lot about Jo through this process, what she is hiding from and how she lets her relationship with Charlie break down those walls, and I love getting to “be” her.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this play?
These characters overcome fears, stereotypes, and their own perceptions of “normal” to discover extraordinary strength within themselves. I hope the audience feels encouraged to grab onto that thing they love, to share it with the world and know that others are there to support their dreams and goals.

What do you think of Mae West, has anything surprised you about her?
What I first fell in love with, after reading Dirty Blonde, was the attention to detail to the actual historical timeline of Mae’s life. I really enjoy getting to see her “offstage” temper, ambition, and foibles that do not appear in her films. Getting to see her progression from flapper-style to Diamond Lil’ and beyond, and how so much of the “real Mae” was written into her movies, I felt very connected to Mae West as a person, not just a persona.  

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?
This show spans so many years, through a series of vignettes between Mae West’s career and my character’s timeline in the eighties. Although the only character Jo really interacts with is Charlie, I have learned something new each time seeing the other scenes play out. Playing with only one other actor is a rare opportunity to concentrate on their arc and the way our relationship grows. 

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre?
I grew up singing along to Julie Andrews, Linda Rondstadt and Patsy Cline, and preferred being onstage to playing outside. I now have a Masters in Acting from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, and a BFA in Musical Theatre from Niagara University. Theater has always been a huge part of my life – each show a different chapter with great people, stories, and lessons. 

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?
Classes! Taking classes is a great way to feel comfortable with auditions and improv, and it offers a great sounding board for honing your skills and learning new things.  Oftentimes, you connect with fellow classmates or teachers who become life-long connections and mentors. In fact, LTA offers classes…