They say that journeys improve when you’re in good company. This is true in life and definitely true when one is rehearsing a play. I have recently had the fortune of directing “The 39 Steps” at Peninsula Players, and it continues to be a great adventure with remarkable company.
In theater, starting rehearsals feels a lot like setting off to a place you have never been before. In this case, Artistic Director Greg Vinkler picked the destination—“The 39 Steps”—a rollicking stage adaptation of a splendid Hitchcock film, and a tour-de-force for four actors. Then, he assembled the people who would take the excursion. Actors, technicians, designers, director and stage manager, to name a few…the full company could easily fill a tour bus or, in this case, a train car careening through the British countryside.
So, we had a destination—“The 39 Steps”—and traveling companions. We also had a map (the script), that would keep us on track. But, as anyone who has seen more than one production of “A Christmas Carol” knows, no two productions of a play are alike. So, the adventure in the rehearsal room is the crux of the expedition. And what extraordinary people to have on board!
Neil Brookshire is new to the Peninsula Players and comes to the theater after a stint at Door Shakespeare. He plays the hero in “The 39 Steps,” but Neil is equally adept at comedy and was a ready partner for all the antics in the room. I had never worked with Neil before but he was a blast, and continues to be a great tour guide for the audience. Every night we cross our fingers during each of his tight squeezes and root for each of his victories.
Erica Elam returns to the Players for her third production this season. (She was in “The Hollow” and “The Full Monty.”) I have directed Erica previously at the Players in “Rumors.” She’s a pro improviser, so she was game to be a part of building the show as it took shape. “The 39 Steps” gives Erica the opportunity to play three very different women—all captivating, all hard-to-get. And if Neil’s character can get even one of them, in a way, he has them all.
Kevin McKillip has appeared in more than 20 productions at the Peninsula Players and I have been lucky enough to direct a couple of them. I looked forward to having Kevin in “The 39 Steps” because of his physical agility and comic prowess. It is hard to resist a guy who texts you asking, “Should I bring my unicycle?” Kevin tried to think of everything he might need when packing for this trek. “Of course!” I said enthusiastically. Little did I know what a stellar moment that one wheel would give us!
Joe Foust completes “The 39 Steps” onstage quartet. This is Joe’s 17th season at Peninsula Players. He is a director as well as an actor and an unpredictable force in the rehearsal room. If plays are journeys, Joe is the guy on the tour who lets you know where to find the best local music, the finest glass of wine and the most important shortcuts. His request? “Get us an invisible dog—maybe a bunch of them.” So, two invisible dogs made the trip with me from Chicago. What’s an invisible dog, you ask? You’ll know it when you see it!
Completing the rehearsal roster is stage management. Alden Vasquez is in his sixth season at Peninsula Players. We worked together on last year’s “Nunsense” and he knows how to corral me. Alden is the organizer. In rehearsals, he records, prompts, marks, hauls, cues and tells us when to stop the train. And Alden’s laughter is the best gift in the room. It’s the litmus test for comedy. When Alden can’t keep from laughing, you know something is funny. Savannah Brown, production intern, was s his assistant this year, and together they kept rehearsals on track.
I count myself lucky to have explored “The 39 Steps” in such good company. I hope you get a chance to take the trip with them, too. The adventure continues through October 16th. For tickets or more information contact the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com.
Karen Sheridan, director of “The 39 Steps,” celebrates her 11th season at Peninsula Players where her acting credits include “Into the Woods,” “Rain” and Tons of Money” and where she has directed “Heroes,” “Fools” and The Fantasticks” among others.