September snuck up on company members at the Players. With the flip of the calendar not only did our show change but so did our curtain times. The office is now closed on Mondays and we perform Tuesday through Sunday at 7 p.m. We are excited to gather around the bonfire with patrons and enjoy a hot cider.
Prior to last week’s opening of “Always…Patsy Cline” I sat down with director Brian Russell for a chat about the musical featuring the iconic singer. Brian was producing artistic director from 1997 to 2002 of Chicago’s American Theater Company where he directed more than a dozen shows.
“Always…Patsy Cline” is Brian’s directorial debut at the Players, but I learned it was not his first time in Door County nor his first delve into Cline’s music.
Q. Is this your first visit to Door County?
No. My wife and I have taken vacations up here two or three times. One of those trips, we spent a week on Washington Island and I had to go to the parking lot of the Public Library to get any Wifi connection. When you are freelance, you don’t want to be away from your email for very long, vacation or not.
Q. What drew you to this project?
A few things: One, I’ve long wanted to work with Peninsula Players, because I’ve heard such great things about this theater from my many friends who have worked up here; and, two, I directed my first production of “Always…Patsy Cline” way back in 1996 at Northlight Theatre in Evanston, Illinois. That production extended at Northlight and then moved into Chicago in a commercial production that ran another 15 months at the Apollo Theatre.
Q. Why does Patsy Cline’s music stand out from other country artists?
I’m not sure I can say with any precision. I think part of it might be that incredibly powerful voice combined with her tragic, early death at the age of 30. She was also, I think, among the first – if not the first – country artists who “crossed over” into pop music.
Q. How does directing a play differ from directing a musical?
Well, I suppose the most significant difference is that in most plays, people don’t sing, and in musicals they do. That’s the obvious difference. Otherwise, though, I approach anything I’m directing – opera, drama, comedy, musicals, and musicals like this one that have picked up the moniker “jukebox musical” – in pretty much the same way. I am interested in telling a compelling story through the text and music. I work to find the arc of the story, smaller arcs embedded within scenes that combine to form a greater whole, and I’m also always trying to find the emotional truth of every moment. I also focus a lot on working to make every moment firmly rooted in recognizable human behavior, even if most people don’t break out into song every now and then in their daily lives… or perhaps they do!
Q. What are some challenges to staging “Always…Patsy Cline?”
I suppose one big challenge is keeping the show visually interesting when it is essentially one woman telling a long and wonderful story and the other woman, Patsy, singing a bunch of incredible songs. You don’t want it to feel like a concert; you want it to feel like a deeply satisfying night at the theater.
Q. How are Karen Janes Woditsch and Christine Mild to work with?
Karen and Christine are both an absolute joy to work with, and they have a wonderful chemistry between them. I am a highly collaborative sort of director. I like it when all of the artists with whom I’m working on any given show contribute their thoughts and ideas. I’ll take a good idea from anyone. A good idea is a good idea, doesn’t matter where it comes from!
Q. How does the band for “Always…Patsy Cline” differ from other musicals you have directed?
Well, it’s a country band, which is different from many musicals I’ve directed, although I’ve also done some other country band musicals, most recently “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash” at Theatre at the Center, which Malcolm Ruhl also music directed. The biggest difference is that this kind of band really needs to be a band! It’s not like a show where the orchestra is in a pit and they are simply reading the notes in their charts. It’s more organic than that.
Q. What do you find exciting about working on “Always…Patsy Cline?”
Making it fresh and new and tailored to this particular cast and this particular space. For instance, when I’ve staged APC before, it has always been in a thrust stage, where the audience wraps around the stage. This is a proscenium house where all the action is in a frame and all of the audience members are facing the same direction and essentially seeing the same things no matter where they are seated. It took me a while to figure out how I would approach it on this sort of stage, but it’s been very exciting finding answers to those questions.
Q. How does Peninsula Players differ from other theaters you have worked at?
Certainly, the setting is an important difference! Equally important, however, is the familial atmosphere here at the Players. That, and the lack of any separation or distance between staff, technicians, actors, directors, and designers. We are all members of the company; we are all Players!
Q. What projects do you move onto after Peninsula Players?
There’s a project that’s in the works, a potential commercial production, but since it’s not a done deal yet, I don’t really want to say anymore than that. Otherwise, my next immediate project is one with which most freelancers are familiar – looking for the next project!
Join the Players by the bay this fall for a toe-tapping, rootin’-tootin’ good time with the musical “Always…Patsy Cline” which is on stage through Oct. 19. For more information visit www.peninsulaplayers.com or phone 920-868-3287.
Audra Baakari Boyle is the Peninsula Players Business Manager, celebrating her 20th season in 2014.