Friday, May 18, 2018

The Nance - meet music director Christopher Tomasino!

Tell us a little about yourself.  I am the Music Director for The Nance.  I have music directed numerous shows at the theatre, most recently Legally Blonde, and I will be music directing the upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  I have been music directing at LTA since its production of Chicago in 1988 and counting The Nance will have worked on 32 shows here.  In addition to LTA, I am the music director for Bishop Ireton High School’s theater arts program.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?  I mainly work on musicals, though I have provided musical input on some plays that had minor musical elements.  However, this is the first show I have worked on that I would say is primarily a play with music.  Roughly I would say the play to music ratio is 60/40.  Most musicals have songs that provide the exposition, develop characters, propel the story line, and provide the resolution.  With The Nance the music, which is original to the show, provides atmosphere, and along with the vaudeville routines helps comment on what is happening in the story.

What made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA?  I have always loved theatre.  The first show I ever saw live was a community theatre production of Brigadoon.  From that point on I was hooked.  I loved going to see the shows, and eventually started playing in pit orchestras (clarinet).  Once I graduated college, I knew I wanted to get more involved – play more, but also wanted to music direct and conduct.  I replied to a notice for music directors posted by Port City Playhouse, interviewed, and was given the opportunity to be Assistant Music Director for their production of A Chorus Line.  For their next musical, Cinderella, I was given the Music Director title and have gone on from there.  I got involved at LTA because someone saw a Port City production and recommended me to the Producer of Chicago.  I was very interested in that show, so I interviewed, got the gig.  The next show I worked on at LTA was The 1940s Radio Hour which is the show I met Frank Shutts, the Director of The Nance which started a fantastic collaboration and friendship.  That show was in 1990.  Hard to believe we have worked together for over 28 years either at LTA, Bishop Ireton, and other theatres.

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?  Don’t!  Just kidding.  Love what you do.  Learn from your producers, directors, choreographers, design staff, and actors.  Everyone has a valid viewpoint and incorporate their view into your work.  Constantly support the view of the director and interpret their view into the music.  However, you must always be true to the composer and lyricist.  While the vision of the particular production belongs to the director, the show belongs to the composer and lyricist and you must honor their work.  Lastly, have fun.  When this becomes work, then it is time to leave.

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show?  Firstly, enjoy the show – laugh and cry.  Then once you have had a chance, sit back and think about what you have seen.  This show is fiction based on reality.  While Chauncey and Ned are not real people, they are based on real lives of that time.  Then think whether times really have changed since 1937.  Certain rights and freedoms exist now that did not then, but have things really changed?  If not, then work on supporting people to accept themselves so people do not have to hate who they are and can be free to be themselves without being called out.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Nance - meet choreographer Stefan Sittig!

Tell us a little about yourself. I am the choreographer for The Nance and very excited to be working on this production!  This is my 8th show with LTA and my 2nd time working with Frank Shutts, after In The Heights back in 2015 (which was an amazing experience all around!)  I have directed and/or choreographed nearly 80 productions, and while I did have a lot of offers that conflicted with this, I jumped at the chance to work on this piece and with Frank (and producer Mary Beth Smith Toomey) again!  I couldn’t turn this opportunity down! I have worked on shows Off-Broadway, internationally, regionally up and down the East coast, as well as for dozens of colleges/universities and community theatres and I always seem to come back to LTA.  The level of professionalism and collaboration is so high for a community theatre.  It’s very impressive.  

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on? As much as I love musicals, I always find that projects that are less traditional, be they plays with music, or shows that use music/dance in an original way, are always the most challenging for me, and often bring out the best of my work. This show fits perfectly into that category.  The Nance is about so many things, but in terms of style, it is a show about the end of vaudeville and burlesque. I have always found the late 30s to be one of my favorite time periods in terms of dance and theatre. The vaudeville part comes a bit more naturally to me, perhaps because of my lengthy background in “hoofin”/tap dancing and musical theatre, but the burlesque acts I had to research. I watched over 100 hours of footage of vintage burlesque dancers to get a feel of the style the ladies in the show would be using during their numbers. I loved every moment of it—I feel it’s added another skill set to my repertoire.  I mean, “ya gotta get a gimmick” right? (Hope most of the readers get my Gypsy reference!)

What made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA? Next year will mark my 40th year of being involved in theatre in some way or another.   I first stepped onto the stage as a young boy in a production of The Lottery and then, shortly after, my first musical, L’il Abner.   I just loved it all!  Singing, dancing and acting—all at once!  I was hooked from then on.   I first came to LTA in 2006, when Joanna Henry asked me to choreograph Into The Woods. That was such a wonderful experience – and a great cast, several of them ended up on Broadway!  It was truly a magical time.  And since then I’ve worked on The Rocky Horror Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, In The Heights, West Side Story, Anything Goes (also director) and Legally Blonde all at LTA.  It’s been a great ride! 

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre? It’s hard work.   Let me say that again---it’s hard work.  But if you have a passion for it and simply must do it, then go for it.  But be ready to roll up your sleeves.  It’s not a place for slackers.  I find that the folks I most like to work with have a strong ethic and follow a disciplined routine.  That’s what leads to the most fruitful collaborations and the most creative solutions in my opinion.  One of my favorite quotes on this is by Julie Andrews – “Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.”

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show? The Nance is unlike any other show I’ve ever worked on.  It’s not quite a play, it’s not quite a musical.   It lives somewhere in that in-between world.   It also has a really strong message about being true to yourself, accepting who you are, and surviving during difficult times.   I think it has a lot to say to today’s audiences.   Plus, the cast is absolutely amazing, they are stunning in their portrayals, all of them, in a different way, take my breath away in rehearsals!   It’s a definite must see! 

For more on Stefan and his work, go to

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Nance - meet cast member Danielle Comer!

What do you find appealing about your character and this show? I really love how fun these characters and this show are. Lots of what they do is to make people and each other laugh and there are so many high energy scenes and it’s just FUN. At the same time the show deals with a lot of important issues regarding the gay community especially during this time period as well as a look at love in general. It’s a great balance of entertainment and something deeper.

What have you learned about yourself in playing the role of “Joan”? I’ve learned more about how I can push myself as an actor, not only mentally and emotionally, but physically as well with all the dancing and singing the show requires. I think I definitely surprised myself with how confident I’ve become in my portrayal of someone so different from myself in real life. It’s really satisfying to look at a challenging role and think “Hey! I think I’ve done a pretty good job!”

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show? First and foremost, I went the audience to have fun. This show is very much a comedy and has so much fun in it- I want the audience to have fun and laugh with us. Second, I’d love for them to take away more of the history of gay culture in this time period and overall a respect for the people and performers that were a part of the unique burlesque culture, both the men and the women.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on? Well, I’ve never really had to take lots of my clothes off before or be exposed onstage that much so that’s definitely different from roles I’ve played in the past. That and the dancing. Not a huge dancer so that was different as well. Mostly, I think Joan is one of the most confident in herself characters I’ve played so that has been fun and challenging to work on.

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA? I’ve been acting since I was 6. I started in summer camps at Mount Vernon Children’s Theatre and just kind of went from there. I studied in high school and got my degree in Theatre in college and I’m currently working towards a Master’s In Arts Management. Mostly I’ve been exposed to LTA through my director and theatre teacher in high school. Both direct shows at LTA and have been very involved so it’s always been something I’ve been interested in. I was in my first show at LTA about two years ago and so now I’m back to do it again! Fun fact, my director in high school who introduced me to LTA is none other than Frank Shutts, the director of The Nance! This is the first show he’s directed me in since high school which has been so much fun and rewarding to continue to grow my craft with him.

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre? Resilience and perseverance. So much about working in theatre is staying true to yourself and your talent. Work hard, be confident and true to yourself and don’t let anyone get you down. If you love it and it’s a part of you, never let it go.

The Nance - meet cast member John Paul Odle!

What do you find appealing about your character and this show? For one, it’s a role that is extremely foreign to me. My background couldn’t be farther than that of Ned’s, and the world he lives in is quite different from today, though in many cases unfortunately, not all too dissimilar. For the show, it has been a real eye-opener to see all the vaudeville sketches, as I’ve been too indoctrinated by the fanfare of modern cinema. The wonderment that is vaudeville and burlesque never leaves your mind, as it should.

What have you learned about yourself in playing the role of “Ned”? Though our backgrounds and circumstances are very different, I do like the parallel of our “entrance” into theatre. While I had a passing interest all my life in acting and the stage, I was very much pushed onto the stage in high school, and sort of rocketed off from there. With our theatre trajectories so similarly plotted, I’ve found that I encountered many of the same bumps in the road. Being overwhelmed and underprepared in my first role, no matter how small. It’s never something you really do get used to honestly. There is always an “awe”-someness that you can’t escape when on the stage. To go on stage without some kind of trepidation, I feel saps the energy from the scene and from the show as a whole.

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show? There are many themes that run throughout this play, but the one that strikes closest to home for me is the idea of not only inclusion, but the idea of self-expression. Theatre has for centuries been an outlet for original thought, and to censor it in any way is to do humanity a great disservice. With the current political climate, and with some events of the recent past coming to mind, it is more important than ever to turn to theatre not just as a mental escape, but as a loud and poignant voice for whatever truths need to be told.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on? My previous works have run the gamut of comedies to dramas to musicals and avant-garde productions. This one certainly stands out as the characters I played in those are relatively cookie-cutter, but this? As a straight man playing a gay man, I have a lot riding on my skill not only as an actor, but also as a person. To respect the community of today, but also to give the community of the past its proper due. It’s a balancing act that I hope shines forth in a positive way. I know my cast mates, and especially my director, has been extremely helpful in this regard and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA?  I started acting in high school, with two plays and a musical. I then graduated from Providence College with a Theatre Degree, working mainly behind the stage as crew and Assistant Stage Manager, I also attended Catholic University for a year following my graduation from Providence, where I honed my skills as an actor and also received a CUA “Gilbie” for Best Supporting Actor in an Independent Play. I started working with LTA only last year, with my role of Spike in “Vanya and Sonia, and Masha and Spike” which was a really fun play to be in. I knew of LTA through my parents, as well as my proximity, only living a few blocks down the street.

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?  Two words quite simply: Do it. From acting, to managing, to all the various jobs behind the curtain and in the front of the house, there is a plethora of options. If you have any skill of any sort, there is a place for you in the theatre. The more people we have under our roof, the greater the experience we can share with each other, and therefore, with the world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Nance - meet cast member Charlene Sloan!

What do you find appealing about your character and this show?
I just love this show. I love the music and the comedic style of the time period. I also love that the play has an important story to tell, and it shows both sides. It shows the hard times and the good. It shows the horrible discrimination suffered by the gay community in the late 1930s, and how performers of the time used comedy to deal with those realities. My character Sylvie is tough and principled, yet she remains understanding of other viewpoints. She is more than the stereotypical burlesque dancer, she is complex, politically aware and does her best to stay in control of her life and fight for what she believes is right.

What have you learned about yourself in playing the role of “Sylvie”?
I’ve learned that what drives me towards a particular role is exactly what scares me about playing that role. Lately, I’ve been driven to try for parts that are way out of my comfort zone. It may be uncomfortable at the time, but I always feel good about the experience after. Maybe pushing our limits is what makes us grow?

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show?
I want people to laugh, be entertained and have a good time, but I also want them to reflect on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go towards personal freedom. There are some important messages in this play that shouldn’t get lost amidst the comedy and music and we are all working hard to make sure those messages get through.
What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?
I would give the same advice that someone once gave to me, “If you really want to try it out then go audition or sign up to help. What’s the worst that can happen? They just say no and you try again.”

The Nance - meed the director Frank D. Shutts II!

Tell us a little about yourself:  I am Frank D. Shutts II, the director.  The Nance marks the twenty-third main-stage production I have directed for the Little Theater of Alexandria since 1989.  I have served as the theatre’s President and in several board positions.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?  This show is a melting pot of theatrical genres.  Part musical and part comedy with a touch of drama.  It takes place in the late 30s, the twilight of vaudeville and burlesque.  While I am familiar with the concepts of those forgotten styles of entertainment, the table work for this show made me delve deep into their history and discover their charm.  I love directing shows that broaden my knowledge in preparation!  This one certainly did.

What made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA?  Theater has always been a part of my life.  I thought I would be an actor until my high school theater teacher said to me, “You’re a director.  You see how it all comes together.”  That was followed by years of student directing and directing in the educational theater venue.  While directing at McLean High School, I applied to direct The Fantasticks here in 1989.  Alan Stuhl was serving on the selection committee and teaching history at our rival school.  He knew of my growing reputation as a director and suggested LTA hire me.  I’ve been here since.  I have directed at the educational, community, and professional levels and now serve as the stage director for The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (make them hear you!)

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?  Two things:  Show up and get educated in the areas that interest you.  Everyone wants to direct, but it’s a skill that requires an in-depth knowledge of the acting process, dramatic literature, psychology, and the humanities…and a great imagination.

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show?  This show as something for everyone, and what the audience takes away from it will be as different and as individual as they are, and that’s a good thing.  I want people to have a good time, to enjoy the comedy sketches and burlesque numbers, and to see how politicians have pitted man against man for decades and have convinced him that he can vote against his own interest for economical or spiritual reasons…even if it will hurt him personally in the long run.  It’s a comedy with a message, take from it what you will.

The Nance - meet cast member Janice Rivera!

"This is an unusual production being that it is a play with music, not a musical. Because of the Burlesque setting we see little mini “plays within a play” with highlights of sketches and dances that are modeled after the ones you would have seen during the heyday of Burlesque. What is particularly clever is how the sketches and dance numbers highlight and parallel the storyline but aren’t actually a part of the narrative as would be the case with a normal “musical” production."

Janice Rivera (Carmen/Dance Captain) is thrilled to have a second time at LTA to fly her Bandera Latina. She was last onstage here as Camila in In the Heights. Previous roles: Aldonza in Man of La Mancha at MCP and Lucille in Parade and Judas Iscariot in Jesus Christ Superstar (both WATCH nominations) at SMP. Other roles include Cathy in The Last Five Years (SCT) and Mrs. Walker in The Who’s Tommy and Ethel in Footloose (LTA). She has also been the sound designer for several LTA shows, including Spamalot and Cantorial (WATCH nominations) and The Fabulous Lipitones. Janice is a freelance video editor under the shingle of Offbook Productions. Un agradecimiento especial a mi esposo reciĆ©n casado por permitirme brillar en el escenario incluso en nuestro primer aniversario.

The Nance - meet cast member Jack Stein

“Working on The Nance has been a terrific opportunity and challenge on so many levels. First, tackling a play that’s never been performed locally is a huge responsibility as we are literally introducing the community to the piece which may influence decisions about future local productions. Second, this is an important piece of work that deals with themes faced by every minority group in our nation with respect to perception, stigma, and acceptance. Third, as a play with (lots) of music we are required to focus on both aspects equally to ensure a balanced production.  It’s been an honor to be selected to work on it at LTA and has given me renewed respect for the skill required to pull off the many classic vaudeville and burlesque sketches which on the surface may seem easy and light. The performers who originated them were comic geniuses who devoted countless hours perfecting the routines. I hope to pay them honor in recreating some of them in The Nance.” 

Jack B. Stein (Efram) is proud to be performing at LTA again in this important play after appearing in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, God of Carnage, Plaza Suite and The Full Monty. Other area shows include She Loves Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It (WATCH nomination), Shrek, Laughter on the 23rdFloor, Crazy for You, The Producers, Follies, Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me, Kate (WATCH nomination), Steel Pier, A Funny Thing…, and Love! Valour! Compassion! Thanks to Frank, Mary Beth, Chris and Stefan for their trust and guidance, along with the wonderful cast mates, production team, and crew. Always to Peter for his ongoing support, Amy for Off Book Inc. and Pounce for his eternal good cheer and lessons in patience and resilience—love you, little guy!

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Nance - Meet cast member Chuck Dluhy!

What do you find appealing about your character and this show?
I love The Nance because it is a very unique play that incorporates drama, romance, slapstick comedy, musical numbers, politics and real-life history. The appeal of my character is that Chauncey is not afraid to stand up for what he believes even in the closeted world of Depression-era NYC.  Although he could be described as “self-loathing”, he has a lot of love inside of him if he can only recognize that he is worthy of the wonderful man who comes into his life. I like the fact that he is Republican and conservative because he is a hard-working fellow who doesn’t believe in taking handouts. I also enjoy the intense demands of the role – switching from an emotional, dramatic arc to the outrageously hilarious, vaudeville sketches to singing a song.

What have you learned about yourself in playing the role of “Chauncey Miles”?
Like Chauncey, I think everyone keeps a part of themselves hidden from family, friends, co-workers and others either for fear of being rejected or not being liked.  Also, I gained an appreciation for the hard-working performers of the time. When I first read the play, I thought the comedy sketches would be “easy” compared to other parts of play, but I soon realized that the energy, timing and quick-paced nature of the entertainment was quite challenging.

What do you want the audience to experience/take away from this show?
As Chauncey says in the play, “I just like to make people laugh”. Even the though the humor seems corny for today’s audiences, I still hope they laugh and gain an appreciation for this type of early 20th century entertainment. I would also like them to understand that gay people have been around forever. It didn’t start with Stonewall in 1969.That they had the same struggles as many people still do today. In preparing for the role, I read a fascinating book called “Gay New York” by George Chauncey, covering the period from 1890 to 1940. I hope I can accurately portray some those struggles many experienced over 80 years ago.

How does this show differ from other shows you have worked on?
Many other shows fit neatly into a genre - drama, comedy or musical. This play almost defies a categorization.  Although it could be defined as a comedy (and it mostly is), that would be selling it short. The complexity and brilliance of this play is that the playwright expertly weaves many styles together.  Also, as an actor, instantly switching back and forth between the intense dramedy of the performer’s off-stage life and the fast-paced, vaudeville sketches and songs has been particularly demanding.  We should sell tickets backstage so patrons can see all the amazing set and costume changes.

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre? How did you get involved with LTA?
I’ve been acting for over 39 years, dating back to my high school years. I got involved because “everybody else was auditioning”.  I was in the school choir and everybody encouraged me to try out for The Music Man.  Shockingly, I ended up getting the part of Harold Hill and the rest is history. I was introduced to LTA as an actor, performing in West Side Story in 1989, directed by the incomparable Roland Gomez.  I’ve been involved in productions on-and-off with LTA over the years.

What advice would you give others who are interested in working in theatre?
Learn as much as you can from veteran performers and production staff. Volunteer for backstage work. Take acting classes. Direct a one-act play. Paint a set. Take vocal lessons. Assist a stage manager. Usher. Gather the props. Take a tap class. The more you know and the more diverse your experience, the more marketable you are.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Anne of Green Gables-meet cast member Aaron Eckloff

My character is Tommy Sloane. Tommy Sloane is the brother of Charlie Sloane, who is another character in the show. He is somewhat of a trouble maker, who likes to occasionally torment his classmates and even his teacher.
Some of the challenges of working on this show for the most part is the physical element of the show. Our choreographer, Ms Cristina , does not cut corners when it comes to dancing, and she prefers a more traditional and intensive style of dance, which looks spectacular, but has taken some getting used to and was a significant hurdle for me to get over.
I hope that audiences will be impressed by the dance numbers, the singing, the humor, and overall just enjoy a story about a girl who is just a little different than everyone else.
The thing that I find appealing about my character is since he’s a trouble maker, he gets to do some mischievous things, one of which involving a slingshot *wink wink*, which is very fun to do.
I’ve been involved in theater ever since I started doing class plays in first grade. I then started to get involve in more legitimate theater opportunities, inside my school and outside of it.
Anne of Green Gables is my first show with LTA, and I decided to audition because I knew the choreographer and some of my friends were auditioning as well.
Some advice I have for people trying to get into theater is to try to find as many audition opportunities that interest you as possible.  And in your audition, just remember that the casting directors are most of the time rooting for you and and want you to succeed, so try to be yourself. Also one tip I can give is to try to make good relationships with other people in the community, especially people like directors who can recommend you to other directors and give you more opportunities to further your career as an actor. Connections are important!

Anne of Green Gables- meet cast member Tony Gilbert

Tell me a little bit about your character?

Matthew Cuthbert is a farmer who lives with his sister on their farm, Green Gables. He is in his 60s and is slowly losing his ability to work the farm due to his age and a heart condition. A gentle man, he is very shy around women he is not well acquainted with. When he meets Anne he is taken by her from the moment they meet. When I started studying him, I liked him more each time I met him.

What were some of the challenges for you in working on this piece?
Well, like Matthew, I am also in my 60s and not being a dancer, I find it more difficult to hop around than 20 years ago. This is also a much different role than I have been blessed with in my past, a lovable (I hope) old boy with a huge heart of gold and a sense of humor. One of the easiest parts of this role has been that Cassie Cope has made my job of adoring "my little girl, Anne" effortless.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this play?
This piece is very progressive for the time in which it was written, and very timely for today with the subjects of gender equality, self image, and bullying. If people walk away feeling more accepting, less judgmental, and warm, we will have made "Anne" proud.

What do you find appealing about your character and this show?
I just really like Matthew Cuthbert and love Anne and Marilla. I hope there is a good measure of Matthew in me and I might "be some good" to others, as he would say.

How long have you been acting and what made you get involved in theatre? 
I performed in my first high school musical 51 years ago last spring. My senior year in high school, our drama teacher took a group of us to see one of the first touring companies of "Man of La Mancha." I was so moved by the story and actors that a year later I decided to major in theatre at UVA. I have always had the goal as an actor to move the audience as other actors have moved me. 

How did you first get involved with LTA?
After a hiatus from acting I decided to show up for auditions at LTA for "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 2016 and was given the privilege of playing Judge Wilson. So far, this is the only theatre I have worked in since.