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.

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