The Crucible Experience

This past winter I had the immense pleasure to work on one of the most important plays ever written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Although I was exhausted (seven months pregnant with twins!), this experience was one of the most fulfilling and synergistic moments of my career.  The production was a collaboration between Lipscomb Theatre and Blackbird Theater Company, which is our resident semi-professional company.  With a mix of students and Nashville pros in the cast, and a top-notch production team, I was enraptured with the entire process and the product.  Why this play, and why now? Here’s what I wrote as my director’s note in the playbill:

One of Arthur Miller’s masterworks, The Crucible encapsulates a dark, disturbing historical event from America’s early settlement period while resonating universal themes that continue to reverberate throughout time.  While Miller wrote the play to address 1950s McCarthyism, his work exploits elements of humanity that transcend single application.  Of all of the ideas explored in The Crucible, including the perversion of justice, the power of collective hysteria, the ramifications of religious fundamentalism, and the unquenched need for societal scapegoats– all boil down to one driving element: fear.

Miller’s Puritans, as many of us do, operate entirely based on fear.  While they specifically fear rebellion, God’s punishment, and the devil, people throughout time have mirrored their beliefs and actions, if for their own reasons. Fear, however, is one of our basest instincts, and this play captures the repercussions of how unbridled terror in a few people can bring down many.

What are we doing TODAY, even in small ways, that perpetuates fear?  

This play serves more than to point fingers at religious figures and political systems from over 300 years ago; we must see ourselves in this story, and not just as the victims.  On both macro- and micro- levels, we behave like the Puritans did that fateful spring.  And the truth is, we all pay the price.  As John Donne put it:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Thank you for joining us for this special production. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have in creating it. May we all hear fewer bells toll in our lifetimes.

Directing STAND for Nashville and a major city tour

I recently directed the remount of STAND by Jim Reyland starring Barry Scott and Chip Arnold.  Directing a remount is always tricky business, and it took some effort to figure out how to marry a previous vision with a new experience.  In the end, it came together well and I was really proud to work on a play about such an important topic: homelessness.  I direct a lot of plays that I’d like to claim challenge my audiences, but at best these works come off as mostly entertainment and food for thought.  This play, however, really calls for immediate action: to take a stand to end homelessness.  It’s a powerful work and I’m grateful to have participated in it’s recreation!  It showed for a week at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center for both public and school performances, and is now going on tour to San Jose, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and a few other cities.  Onward!


Dancing at Lughnasa

In April, I directed one of my long-time favorite plays, Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel. This beautiful, haunting Irish play has been on my “Want to Direct” list for a while, and I was not disappointed.  I had the most lovely cast and production team, we enjoyed wonderful feedback and reviews, and overall I am deeply artistically satisfied with the whole process. Photo credit Kristi Jones.

Ingram New Works Festival with Doug Wright

In May, I had the distinct pleasure to direct a staged reading of Dean Poyner’s Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life featuring Shannon Hoppe and Brent Maddox for Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s Ingram New Works Festival.  This was an incredible experience and one for which I will be eternally grateful.  The air is so electric at new play festivals; I literally got a contact high participating in the emerging playwrights’ works. Which was good, since the university semester was ending and I was exhausted.  The New Works Lab this year featured playwrights Nate Eppler, Dean Poyner, Andrew Kramer, and Jeremy Sony.  All of their plays blew me away, as did the readings’ actors, directors, and stage managers.

I also met this year’s New Works Fellow, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright, whose most notable works include I Am My Own Wife, Quills, The Little Mermaid, and Grey Gardens. The festival presented a reading of his new play Posterity, which will in no doubt go on to receive many productions and accolades.  He really is a genius.  Past Fellowship recipients include Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn (The Columnist), Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner John Patrick Shanley (Storefront Church), Steven Dietz (Rancho Mirage), and Theresa Rebeck (Fever).  

I found Doug Wright to be extremely gracious and kind.  He said super nice things to me and my cast about our reading — I acted cool but I exploded on the inside while he spoke to me. Here’s a photo from the after-party:

Cassie Hamilton, Brent Maddox, Me, Dean Poyner, Doug Wright, Shannon Hoppe

Cassie Hamilton, Brent Maddox, Me, Dean Poyner, Doug Wright, Shannon Hoppe                     Photo credit Shane Burkeen

Overall, the experience was beautiful.  I learned so much, as I always do working with giving artists. And Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life really touched my heart in some new ways.  Art is such a magical, mysterious thing.

POEM SYNOPSIS: Marked by a senseless tragedy, a couple tries to navigate the storm of grief that follows in the wake of their child’s death. Through a series of support group meetings for grieving parents, they struggle to comprehend and remember in an attempt to reconcile what they’ve lost. But as they confront their harsh new reality, they find it difficult to connect with each other in this new discordant world. A powerful and poetic exploration of what it means to live through unimaginable loss.


Shaw’s Man & Superman Production Photos

This past winter, I had the pleasure to direct one of the toughest plays I’ve ever worked on, George Bernard Shaw’s Man & Superman, for one of my favorite theatre companies in Nashville, Blackbird Theatre Company.  We had a brilliant run, great reviews, and a heck of a challenge tackling a play that literally takes the characters to hell and back again. Photo credit John Gentry.

Disney’s Tarzan

This past October, I had the honor to direct a staged concert of Disney’s Tarzan for the National Association for Music Education Conference in Nashville, TN.  About 2,000 audience members joined us for our singular performance at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, and it was a huge success!  We partnered with Disney Theatricals, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, local professionals, area high school dancers, and Broadway actress Eden Espinosa for the staged concert.  Our goal was to inspire Choir, Orchestra, and Band teachers to use musicals as a means for showcasing their talent and building cross-disciplines.  I placed the orchestra on stage to highlight the music and used costuming and simple staging to help tell the story.  We also used graphic animation for parts of the musical made by a local company.  It was magical.  The students loved the performance and the conference organizers already want to know what we are doing next year!


Photo credit: Rick Malkin

Shakespeare in Scotland

This past March, I was invited by my university to spend a week in Scotland teaching Leadership workshops using Shakespeare.  This was an incredible opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up, and I am so humbled by the experience.  I decided to use the Bard’s Macbeth as my foundation for exploration.  I mean, when in Scotland… why not use THE Scottish play?  The middle school at which I taught was a mere fifteen minutes from the Glamis castle mentioned in the play!

I created and taught two workshops on Macbeth (taught multiple times): the first introduced the students to Shakespeare and his work, gave them the full scope of Macbeth’s journey, and set their minds to thinking about Macbeth’s great fall as a leader.  As you might note at the beginning of the work, Macbeth is a trusted leader, military hero, and loyal friend.  How quickly he falls, however, without trusting the strength of his own will and the satisfaction of his current status.  How far he falls, too, as he continues to snowball one bad leadership choice into another.  This was a fun workshop as my two team members and I performed several scenes from the play, making sure to get a few brave pupils to play as well.

In the second workshops, my team and I visited individual classes who had attend the first large-group workshops, giving all of the students a chance to perform scenes and discuss ideas.  We warmed up with some fun Shakespeare games, let the students perform, and then broke into smaller groups to re-write Macbeth in outline form (using strong leadership choices where Macbeth made poor ones).  The ideas could be as creative as the students desired, but they had to show smart and consistent choices within the context of the play.  For example, one group suggested that instead of Macbeth listening to his wife’s evil advice to kill the king, he could have consulted a trusted friend, or listened to himself.

My highest goal was to help these 8th graders understand that they ARE leaders now; leadership isn’t just for people elected into high positions.  Everyone has a circle of influence, and others are always watching and learning from them.  The point is to decide NOW what kind of leader they want to be, and to make good, powerful choices every day in that direction.  Overall, this was an incredible experience, and we felt that the students reacted well to workshops.  It was also lovely to see the faculty and administration’s response– if we can support educators in any way, we’ll do it!

Here are some photos from the trip.  Of course, I can’t post any photos of students due to privacy laws, so you’ll have to accept these as proof that I was there:

I met the most incredible people on this trip.  The Scottish are so lovely and hospitable.  I’ll have to write another post about our work with a local church and our beautiful host families.  What a meaningful experience!

New Projects 2013-2014

I’m excited to announce two projects that I am directing in the next few months:

First is Disney’s Tarzan for the National Association for Music Education at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (Polk Theatre).  This will be a staged concert for a one-night-only performance as part of the association’s conference.  The venue seats about 1,000 patrons.  The production will feature professional musicians, singers, and actors as well as student performers.  The goal of this work is to encourage music educators (band, choir, and orchestra) to see musical theatre as a powerful means to unite their disciplines and put on an entertaining show.  In these difficult financial times, many drama programs are being cut from schools — we believe that there is still opportunity for musical theatre.  We hope this production encourages and inspires new ideas.

Second is George Bernard Shaw’s Man & Superman for Nashville’s Blackbird Theatre.  This is an exciting opportunity to work with Nashville actors on an intense yet brilliantly fun play.  The show will open in January in Shamblin Theatre.  Don’t worry!  We are cutting this masterpiece (5 hours total) into a streamlined little powerhouse.  Here’s an excerpt from Blackbird’s website:

“Blackbird will begin their season with Shaw’s rarely staged Man and Superman, bringing this legendary play to Nashville for the first time. A forceful comedy of ideas, mixing social satire with Shaw’s profound philosophical vision, Man and Superman follows the romantic interplay of political firebrand and confirmed bachelor John Tanner and Ann Whitefield, the charming and scheming woman who intends to marry him.

“It’s a romantic comedy told on an epic scale,” says Managing Director Greg Greene. “It moves from a comedy of manners in an Edwardian manor to a dramatic debate set in Hell, with Don Juan and the Devil arguing about the ultimate purpose of mankind. It’s a brilliant blend of light comedy and weighty convictions.” Full article: Blackbird Theatre 2013 Season

I am grateful for these opportunities and am already in pre-production mode.  I keep falling more and more in love with each script every time I read it.  It’s going to be a great year!