2011 Curtain Call – the Helen Hayes Award nominated creative collaborators

Beginning today, DC Theatre Scene will roll out our annual Curtain Call feature to tell you about some of last year’s most exceptional theatre from the best source possible: the artists who created it.

As the 2011 Helen Hayes Awards ceremony approaches, our five part 2011 Curtain Call presents nearly 100 of the playwrights, designers, directors, actors and producers who turned bare stages into portals to other worlds where anything was possible. They will show us the secret heart of theater, in which craft fuses with imagination to create stories that startle us with laughter and move our own hearts with insight and catharsis.

The complete list of nominees and information about the April 25, 2011 awards ceremony can be found at Helen Hayes Awards.

And now, we invite you to meet some of the nominees for the 27th Annual Helen Hayes Awards.

followed by:

interviews with the Actresses, Actors, Ensembles, Producers and recipients of this year’s John Aniello Awards.

Since it all starts with the play, we begin this first section with the creative collaborators.

(Circulate any way you wish. Begin at the beginning, or click each title above to drop to that category.)

(Featured: Diane Coburn Bruning, Dan Covey, Kasi Campbell, Ben Cunis, Parker Esse, George Fulginati-Shakar, Ricky Ian Gordon, Marcy Heisler, David Ives, James Kronzer, Deborah Wicks LaPuma, Eugene Lee, Nina Mankin, Matthew M. Nielson, Matt Otto, Doug Peck, Michael Rasbury, Reggie Ray, Michael Silversher, Molly Smith, Klyph Stanford, Paul Sportelli, Tom Teasley, Paata Tsikurishvili and Mo Willems.)

Ricky Ian Gordon

Ricky Ian Gordon
Sycamore Trees (book, music & lyrics) . Signature Theatre

The inspiration.

My family.

Biggest surprise.

Because I began it a very long time ago, what surprised me most about this play, and continues to, as I continue working on it, is the way life had to happen in order to inform it…I began it but couldn’t finish it when I began it because it was too dictated by actual history taking place.

Once you finished writing, how long before it saw its first production?

Well, the piece was being worked on up until it’s last preview at the Signature, which was its first production.

Greatest challenge …

Distance from the material, objectivity.

Which scenes in the DC production did you especially like?

I love the way they all come together and dance at the end, the sisters twirling in the back, Andrew dancing with David, and the parents…moving into the final song, “My Family.”

Next?

I have a new operatic musical theatre piece which has been co-commissioned in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, by Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas in Austin, Virginia Arts Festival, and Virginia Opera. It is called Rappahannock County and it premieres April 12th at Virginia Opera in Norfolk. Mark Campbell is the librettist. Also, in Arlington, at the new opera company, Urban Arias, they are about to do two of my operas starting March 31st, Green Sneakers, and Orpheus and Euridice.

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Marcy Heisler

Marcy Heisler
Snow White, Rose Red (and Fred) (book & lyrics) . The Kennedy Center Family Theater

The inspiration.

We’ve always wanted to work with the Kennedy Center…and when they asked us what our take on the Snow White Rose Red fairy tale would be, we took a look at the story about perfect sisters…and decided that would never do! This also coincided with some talks we had been having about trying our hand at a farce…and I’m always a fan of the drama of a love triangle…and it all came together in Snow White, Rose Red and Fred.

Biggest surprise…

While on it’s surface the play is about rivalry, at its heart, the play is about friendship, love, and putting art and passion into action. I was also happy the play seemed to play across a wider span of ages than we had anticipated.

How long before its first production?

Happily, we were page to stage within a year and a half!

Greatest challenge…

The biggest challenge has not been living in DC while all this was going on! We wanted to be there for every second of the fun.

Which scene in the DC production did you especially like?

I like the ending song “There’s Enough to Go Round”…it’s a culmination of a lot of what we believe in and hold dear. Success is best when shared.

Next?

2011 is going to be a year to percolate for us…watch for some of our work in 2012, including a possible return to the DC area. We’re looking very forward to it all.

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David Ives

David Ives
The Liar . Shakespeare Theatre Company

The inspiration.

Michael Kahn of the Shakespeare Theatre Company approached me about translating a comedy by Corneille that I’d never, ever, ever heard of called The Liar, and the moment I read it (ong frongçais, of course, there being no translation at the time) I fell in love with it. In fact I was amazed it wasn’t famous the world over already, the piece sparkled so brilliantly. What could I do but say “Oui”? So Michael inspired me, and then Corneille inspired me. Quite a pair they make, those two. Both inspiring.

Biggest surprise…

The surprise of The Liar was the play’s willing resilience in the face of my bending it to my own dramaturgical purposes, 367 years after Corneille wrote it. The characters themselves spoke across the centuries (asking for more lines, of course). In fact, working on The Liar was the most fun I’ve ever had of anything I’ve ever written.

How long before its first production?

I probably spent a couple of months just reading the play over and over and thinking about it, taking notes, etcetera. The actual writing then took about three to four months. The Shakespeare then did a reading, to see how it sounded, and produced it a few months later.

Greatest challenge.

My biggest challenge has been keeping myself from buying a billboard over Times Square to honor Michael Kahn, the Shakespeare Theatre, all the great people who work there, and the impeccable cast of The Liar.

Which scene in the DC production did you especially like?

My favorite scene ended up being the very last scene, the “recognition scene” of the play, because it was not the actual final scene in Corneille’s version, because I actually wrote it here in New York and e-mailed it to Michael long-distance, because they rehearsed it without my being there to test it out, and because Michael and Christian Conn and Adam Green and David Sabin made it work like a house afire.

Next?

My play Venus In Fur, which was a hit off-Broadway in New York last season, will be appearing in Washington at the Studio Theatre in late spring, directed by David Muse. In New York, my version of Moliere’s The Misanthrope, titled The School For Lies, will be at Classic Stage Company, directed by Walter Bobbie. My play about the excommunication of Spinoza, New Jerusalem, which was a hit at Theater J last season, will be playing in Jerusalem itself, if you happen to be traveling there.

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Deborah Wicks La Puma

Deborah Wicks LaPuma
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical (musical arrangements) . The Kennedy Center Family Theater

The inspiration…

I was brought into the piece midway in its creation to help fill out dance and transition moments in the great score already created by Michael Silversher

Biggest surprise.

How well this piece speaks to every age in the audience – from the grandparents to the toddlers.

How long before its first production?

We were creating right up to the last minute!

Which scene in the DC production did you especially like?

I loved the “Washy Washy” laundry spectaular – it is the best laundromat production number ever!

Next?

I am happily getting my work produced all over the place this year – I am currently doing orchestrations for George and Martha at Imagination Stage, my musical Frida Libre (with Karen Zacarias) is currently running at the La Jolla Playhouse; a new musical Alice in Wonderland (with Doug Cooney) will premiere at the Norris Theatre in Los Angeles this summer, and Jane of the Jungle (with Karen Zacarias) will open at South Coast Rep next June.

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Nina Mankin

Nina Mankin
Sycamore Trees (book) . Signature Theatre

The inspiration.

My co-writer, Ricky Ian Gordon, has been working on this piece for nearly three decades. When I was brought on board, over three years ago, he had hit a wall with the work and he asked me to give him fresh perspective. The piece has changed enormously since the first time we got together to talk about it but one thing that has remained almost entirely the same is the monologue Ricky wrote for the character of Andrew, his surrogate in the piece. When I first read what was then called “The Family Piece” it was this writing that inspired me to work on it. The courage and clarity in that monologue about the death of the character’s lover from AIDS – a completely unorthodox piece of writing for the genre – gave me chills of excitement. I read that monologue and knew that if we could craft this story to arrive at that dramatic moment with the audience still hungry for and open to that level of passion and honesty, we would have done something important in the musical theatre.

Biggest surprise…

The biggest surprise, from the time Ricky and I started working together on Sycamore Trees, was the uncompromising drive to tell the story that seemed to come from within the piece itself. There was not one time that we got together to work when we were unable to make headway – a rare experience! In our work together, Sycamore Trees went from being a very personal autobiographical story about Ricky’s family, to being as much about the forces of history that buffeted so many working class families whose foundations were built in the early 40s and WWII. The story’s ability to both hold the personal truth of Ricky’s experience and expand into a larger more universal poetic truth was continually surprising and gratifying.

How long before its first production?

Sycamore Trees was commissioned by Signature Theatre with the understanding that it would be produced. As I said earlier, Ricky has been working on this story for many many years. It was over two years from the time I started working on the project until the piece was ready to go into production and rewriting continued through rehearsals.

Greatest challenge…

For me, the biggest challenge has been to continually prioritize my collaborator’s vision and not fight for dramaturgical solutions that take away from his truth. Because even as that “truth” became more poetic and less autobiographical, the fundamental “why” of this work has always been to tell Ricky’s story. Honoring the creative rhythm of that story’s transformation into art, rather than imposing solutions outside of that rhythm, was the biggest challenge. And also, I would say, the biggest ultimate satisfaction.

Which moments in the DC production did you most especially like?

There were so many moments! I can’t choose one so here are a few of my favorites 1) when Judy Kuhn, who plays Theresa, the congenitally combative middle daughter in our continually evolving narcissistically-challenged Jewish family, raps about how insufferable people are in self-help programs – in counterpoint to the rest of her family singing about all the reasons they need help 2) When the angry and passionate father Sydney, played by Marc Kudisch, shows his son Andrew, played by Tony Yazbeck, who he has denigrated throughout, that he actually sees him and he is proud of him; that Andrew is a brave man and 3) When Edie, played by Diane Sutherland, the always-optimistic mother who gave up her singing career to be a housewife, has an unexpected professional revival performing in nursing homes and her entire family, including those no longer physically on the planet, join her, dancing in a “glorious ballroom” of imagination that could only be experienced in the theatre.

Next?

I am currently working on a serio-comedic piece about Native American representation in popular culture titled Oops Bloody Bloody Oops. It was just workshopped at La Mama in New York and we expect it to receive a production in NY in the coming year. I co-wrote the piece with Murielle Borst-Tarrant of Spiderwoman Theatre.

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Michael Silversher

Michael Silversher
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical (music), The Kennedy Center Family Theater

The inspiration…

I was commissioned by the Kennedy Center, and they paired me with Mo Willems, the creator of the book and the idea for the show. Since he lives in Northampton, MASS and I in Sherman Oaks, CA, we came up with a way of working from across the country which worked beautifully after our initial meeting at his home.

Biggest surprise…

The absolute joy that both kids and their parents express at the adventure of Trixie and her Knuffle Bunny, and the way that the two heart-felt ballads at the center of the piece work in terms of grabbing the audience completely, despite the fact that one of them is written compleltly in gibberish!!

How long before it saw its first production?

Since it was a commission, it was very soon. We began in December of ’08, and saw it on stage by May’10. I think that’s pretty fast, and gave us enough time to explore the world we we making.

Greatest challenge…

Letting go of assumptions about how certain things will work in terms of music and lyrical prosody. Working at a distance of miles, not intent. Mostly, the challenge was easy, because everyone involved gave so much to make it happen, and we seemed to work very cohesively.

Which scene in the DC production did you especially like?

I loved the “Washy Washy” scene, and the “Aggle Flaggle” scene a lot, but the way Dad and Trixie were with each other during Dad’s ballad brought a tear to my eye. Or two.

Next?

The Imagination Stage in Bethesda, MD is doing my musical version of Wind In The Willows (book by Richard Hellesen) in June. I have an on-going TV series I’m composing for Jim Henson and PBS, called “Dinosaur Train”, which is beginning it’s second season. I’m also working on a new show with Jim Henson Company, PBS Sprout and Nick UK, called “Pajsanimals” for which I’m scoring and co-writing all the songs. A version of that show has been on-the-air since 2008, but we’re gearing up to do a full series in the very near future.

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Mo Willems and friend

Mo Willems
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical (script & lyrics) . The Kennedy Center Family Theater

The inspiration …

The idea of writing a songs and dialog for a pre-verbal character was too gleefully wrong not to attempt.

Biggest surprise …

Having come from writing for television, I was ill-prepared for the luxury of being able to workshop with the actors and revise accordingly. It was spectacular fun.

How long before its first production?

Finishing is difficult, especially with a cast that brought so much fun and new ideas into the project. I’m pretty sure I was revising details until the curtain rose.

Greatest challenge …

Trying to pile on the various technical requirements and puppets while making the piece appear seamless was more of a challenge than I’d expected. As an animator, I was used to simply redrawing things when needed; a technique that doesn’t work as well in theater. That’s probably why animating live on stage never caught on…

Which scenes in the DC production did you most like?

It was a thrill hear the daddy’s love song sung to his child while holding my real daughter’s hand.

Next?

There is all kinds of fun stuff brewing, but nothing I can mention as of yet.

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Kasi Campbell

Kasi Campbell
Travels With My Aunt . Rep Stage

Why this show?

I was originally attracted to this script because of its requirement that four men play 26 roles without costume changes on a simple unit set. The sheer theatricality of a piece where you stimulate the audience’s imagination so that they can “see” a myriad of different locales and a host of extravagant characters without extensive trappings was a delicious challenge.

The most challenging scene…

Creating a World War Two scene complete with airplanes, bombings, a tank, fake priest, terrified strumpet, domineering general’s wife and one obnoxious Irish Wolfhound — all done with just four guys and four chairs — was definitely a challenge. It also was one of the most fun scenes to rehearse as well as to light and underscore. Incredible and inventive work by Bill Largess, Nigel Reed, Michael Rusotto and Larry Redmond made it all possible.

Favorite moment…

When the aging Aunt Augusta tells her conservative nephew that if he joins her risk-filled, adventurous lifestyle, he won’t fear the slow death of a conventional life, but rather celebrate every day he lives as a kind of victory. It is a lovely “carpe diem” moment that never failed to move the audience.

How did your vision of the play evolve while working with the cast and designers?

Although I had worked on this script 15 years ago, this time around I had a greater compassion for the characters and delved deeper into the compromises that shape one’s life and how that impacts the choices we make. Working with a cast that were all about the same age as the conservative nephew, we were able to share our special connections to the fears and hesitations that constricted his life choices. As for the design – I think the sound and lighting designers had a great time playing off each other. Literally NOTHING was off-the-table as we experimented with lighting color (Dan Covey) and sound (Neil McFadden) to aid the story-telling…and that was very freeing. Jim Fouchard’s charming set and Melanie Clark’s pristine costuming helped pull it all together.

If you could work with anyone…

I would gather my arms around all the wonderful artists in the DC area that I have had the joy of working with over the years and put them all in one gigantic show that would travel around the world! Such good company!

Next?

Night and Day by Tom Stoppard at Washington Shakespeare Company in May….and after that I am looking-looking-looking for my next project…..so keep me in mind!!

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Molly Smith

Molly Smith (2 nominations)
Oklahoma! . Arena Stage Why this show?

It’s one of the most important American musicals — part of the Gold Standard of this most American of forms. I wanted a musical which would joyously open the new center and welcome the whole city back to Arena.

How did your vision of the play evolve while working with the cast and designers?

More and more this musical became a reflection of this special time in Arena’s history — a sense of being on a frontier for Arena just as Oklahoma was on her own frontier.

and

The Light in the Piazza . Arena Stage

Why this show?

This is a beautiful new musical with an unusual story of the love a parent has for a child — and the lengths she will go to for her child’s happiness.

How did your vision of the play evolve while working with the cast and designers?

The relationships between characters became more and more central as we moved through the music and design of the musical.

If you could work with anyone …

Leonard Bernstein — because I love his passion and insight into the world of music as a composer, conductor and teacher.

Next?

Directing My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festival in Canada.

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Paata Tsikurishvili

Paata Tsikurishvili (2 nominations)
Othello . Synetic Theater

Why this show?

The character of Iago. His motives, and in some sense, multiple personality disorder, became the central concept for me. Also, the theme of the play itself is the perfect foundation for my type of directing and Synetic’s signature style.

Most challenging scene … All of Othello‘s jealousy scenes were challenging. I really wanted to show on stage what was going on inside his head.

Favorite moment …

Iago’s jealousy. In this scene, Iago split in three different people. Also Othello’s jealousy when he was fighting with his own mind as well as Desdemona’s death.

How did your vision of the play evolve while working with the cast and designers?

The idea of having three Iagos and the use of projectors to show what was going on in Othello’s head became an exiting vision for both the actors and designers. The idea evolved and developed gradually but surely and with creativity.

and

The Master and Margarita . Synetic Theater

Why this show?

The fantastic mix of realism and the supernatural, non-realistic, surreal storytelling of the novel, which is also perfect for me and the Synetic style.

Most challenging scene …

Directing myself in the insane asylum when the Master was recalling the story of his and Margarita’s first meeting. It was tough to find the correct edge and emotional flow while jumping in and out of realism into surrealism.

Favorite moment …

The Master’s and Bezdomny’s interrogation by Pontius Pilate and the KGB.

How did your vision of the play evolve while working with the cast and designers?

The development was smooth with the designers, but it was a bit of a rough, intense and bumpy ride with the actors, while I was still tweaking and adapting this huge political satire from Russia to the American stage. But it was a great creative journey for all of us.

If you could work with anyone …

Charlie Chaplin. He is the best director of visual and physical storytelling, not to mention acting.

Next?

King Lear which is now at Lansburgh Theatre, and I am now working on Don Quixote, which will open in June.

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Fred Lassen

Fred Lassen
Sycamore Trees . Signature Theatre

Why this show?

The chance to work with Ricky Ian Gordon and Tina Landau! Who wouldn’t jump at that? These are two people who are working at the very tip-top of their craft, and they set the bar EXTREMELY high.

Greatest challenge …

I don’t know if “challenging” is the right word, and that’s not to diminish in any way the score’s richness and complexity. There was no challenge to “discover” some locked-away, latent truth in the music. The sheer act of learning Ricky’s music, getting one’s mouth and voice around the lyrics, and one’s musical-physical chops around the notes — through this effort, one instinctively learns that the biggest challenge is to stay out his music’s way. It speaks and sings for itself.

What was the best thing you did for this production?

I tried not to impose anything onto it that wasn’t already there. I tried to keep my work transparent.

If you could work with anyone …

This cast and creative team. Again and again.

Is there a particular work of art you would like to see turned into a musical?

Let me just take a second to quote a verse of Ricky’s lyrics from one of the songs in the show. The song is called “Maybe A Work Of Art.”

I want to turn it all into art
Somewhere an ending, somewhere a start
Made of the noise humming deep in my heart
Into a work of art

I’m not quite as hungry as the character who sings those lines, nor as fecund a story-generator as Ricky, but I do have a few ideas that I’m working on.

George Fulginiti-Shakar

George Fulginiti-Shakar
Oklahoma! . Arena Stage

Why this show?

First of all it’s one of the American musical gems. And right behind that was artistic director Molly Smith’s concept for the production — gritty, dirty fingernails, real. And, of course, the opportunity to be part of history as the Arena Stage opened it’s newly renovated doors as the Mead Center for American Theatre.

Greatest challenge …

I wanted to make the orchestrations feel more “Western” and less classical, while keeping all the wonderful musical intentions of the creators. The orchestra was to be part of the action, both musically and physically. I exchanged some guitar parts for banjo parts and some violin parts for “fiddlin'” as part of this concept.

What was the best thing you did for this production?

It was wonderful to collaborate with Parker Esse on the choreography. His creative instincts encouraged me to shape the dance music to support his work. Also, since the orchestra was literally “in the house”, we worked tirelessly to balance the sound in the theater for both the actors and the audience.

If you could work with anyone …

To be around Leonard Bernstein while he was working would have been a revolutionary experience. His daring and passion for the theater is very present in his work. He didn’t play it safe — he played it real.

Next?

Oklahoma! returns to Arena for the summer and early fall and I am looking forward to each and every performance.

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Doug Peck

Doug Peck
Candide . Shakespeare Theatre Company

Why this show?

I am a life-long Bernstein and Voltaire fan, and the opportunity to dig into this work with Mary Zimmerman was a dream come true.

Greatest challenge …

Defining the score itself was the biggest challenge with Candide. Mary and I were more or less faithful to the structure of Voltaire’s novel, so some songs did not fit. However, we were able to make many of Bernstein’s songs work with our new book. Reducing the orchestration down to 12 players was obviously a big challenge as well, although ultimately very gratifying.

What was the best thing you did for this production?

Getting the chance to conduct Bernstein’s magnificent Overture every night was a huge honor, as was seeing our terrific company sing “Make Our Garden Grow” with their eyes closed at the end of the evening. Also, finding underscoring for all the scenes that Mary added was great fun.

If you could work with anyone …

I want to be a room with the following artists: William Shakespeare, Joan Diener, Jerome Kern, and Audra McDonald.

Is there a particular work of art you would like to see turned into a musical?

There are so many fantastic Yiddish stories that would be great onstage. I have no idea why there isn’t a stage version of “Yentl” yet, for example.

Next? I am creating a new orchestration for Porgy and Bess at Court Theatre in Chicago.

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Paul Sportelli

Paul Sportelli
The Light in the Piazza . Arena Stage

Why this show?

I love The Light in the Piazza. I jumped at the chance at working with Molly Smith again– we had collaborated on Mack and Mabel at the Shaw Festival and it had been a great experience. And I thought it would be exciting to work at Arena Stage and get to spend time in Washington DC.

Greatest challenge …

It’s a complex score, and the first challenge was to make the actors and musicians feel comfortable with the music so that it sounded natural. The next step was to make sure the we reached the transcendental heights of the score while making the most of every lyric.

What was the best thing you did for this production?

I like to think that I can appeal to the actor in the singer and help the singer bring a lyric to life in the same way they would bring a monologue to life.

If you could work with anyone …

There’s too many! I can’t pick one!

Is there a particular work of art you would like to see turned into a musical?

I’m a musical theatre writer myself, and the first musical I co-wrote based on an existing work of art was Thomas Mann’s Tristan. With that piece, as well as all musicals, I think the writer has to be able to justify why adding music will make the storytelling better.

Next?

Right now I’m in rehearsals for My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festival with Molly Smith directing, and it’s an exciting time! After that, I begin rehearsals for Maria Severa, a musical I co-wrote about the life of the famed fado singer, that is receiving its premiere at Shaw.

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Diane Coburn Bruning

Diane Coburn Bruning
Improbable Frequency . Solas Nua

Why this project?

I had just moved from New York and met Linda Murray of Solas Nua who was very helpful in introducing me to some theater folks and providing me studio space to prepare for my projects in New York and Germany. She came to me with the idea, the script,the score and information on the talented director, Matt Torney. It was after spending an afternoon over tea and whatnot in New York with Matt that I committed entirely. I loved working with Matt as he is both a trained dancer and extremely open-minded yet clear in his vision. We could talk shop and he gave me distinct direction but then he let me do my work.

Greatest challenge …

We worked with an extremely modest budget in a challenging space. We did not quite feel ready to open when we were to open!

Favorite moment …

So so many. Choreographically, it had to be creating the lovemaking scene with the Eric Messner pattering a non-stop prattle at neck break speed with Stacey interjecting precisely in the verbal rhythm. I wanted it wry and humorous and very physical without being silly as they were fully clothed and I think the three of us got that with consummation bartop on their knees before Eric falls off. Stacey Jackson is quite a dancer but Eric admitted he had done little. He looked at me with veiled hostility the first rehearsal – so i had to demonstrate all the lifts and partnering with Stacey myself to prove to him it could be done. But he also had to do it while speaking rhythmically non-stop. He came around quickly mentally and physically. I might be most proud of what he did for me in the show knowing he had done no dancing before.

When was the last time you performed as a dancer?

I suppose it was at Glimmerglass Opera in Beatrice and Benedict or with Ann Carlson in a premiere at P.S. 122 in New York. My passion and focus since about 22 has been choreographing so I did not actively pursue a performing career.

If you could choreograph for anyone in the theatre, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I believe the most brilliant living choreographer is Jiri Kylian. I would love to see how it would be to work with or on him in a studio to get a glimpse of his genius and have a dialogue about what we both love.

What would your dream dance assignment look like?

Whatever is my next one!

Next?

Milwaukee Ballet is doing my work Ramblin’ Suite, set to music by Red Clay Ramblers in two weeks (Jack Herrick of Ramblers is a nominee for sound score in Hamlet this year!). The Ramblers and I are planning a new work, Antigone, set in Appalachia with an original score for Chamber Dance Project in New York. I also hope to start working more locally with the Washington Opera and theatre companies-I just don’t know many D.C. theater directors yet!

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Ben Cunis

Ben Cunis
King Arthur . Synetic Theater

Why this project?

I’ve loved the Arthur story since I was a boy running around the woods of New Hampshire swinging sticks and slaying dragons. To say that this was the fulfillment of my childhood dreams is an understatement. I think it was an extension of my childhood dreams. I think this is the key to what attracts me to any project — if the child in me looks at a part, a piece, or a play and says “Awesome! Let’s play!”, then the first step of the work is already complete. Sometimes it takes digging in a piece to find this moment, sometimes it is just in front of you at the start.

Greatest challenge …

There were two great challenges to Arthur. The first of these was the story — the scope of the Arthur legend encompasses a wealth of myths, folktales, epic poems, romances, novels, movies, tv miniseries…cartoons…video games… Weaving all of these disparate stories together into a cohesive narrative was terrifically hard in and of itself. The breadth of the Arthur legend (from beginning to end), is essentially in the epic format (multiple rises and falls of action in various episodes with a generally rising plot) and we had to translate this to the dramatic form. It was a lot of work figuring out what was essential to our way of telling the story. The other big challenge was, of course, the water. We performed the show on a water stage about 3 inches deep, and everything from finding the right shoes to floating stones to fighting the cold (!!!) was a challenge.

Favorite moment …

I am going to cheat and have two. The wedding dance of Arthur and Guinevere was an absolute joy to both watch and perform — think an athletic irish step dance in the water. Every night I would pick out someone in the splash zone and nail them with the kicks that blasted water into the seats. The other was the duel between Arthur and Lancelot. Vato Tsikurishvili played Lancelot, and the comedy as he dispatched the knights off the bridge was wonderful — almost as fun as battling him in the water down below in the very next moment.

When was the last time you performed as a dancer?

Why, last night, in Synetic’s King Lear, if you count me a dancer (the hybrid creature that Synetic produces is a little hard to qualify…).

If you could choreograph for anyone in the theatre, living or dead, who would it be?

Give me Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark‘s stunt performers and an empty stage. Because they can do so much with just their bodies and it sounds like they’re underutilized. They could kick some butt in a strong narrative.

What would your dream dance assignment look like?

Well. Fight assignment. It would have several months of training and choreography. It would be on a set made out of gymnastics equipment disguised to look like a normal set. There would be hidden trampolines and mats everywhere, and the floor would be a gymnastics floor. Some rails. Maybe a halfpipe. And it would like a place that a story will happen, not an extreme jungle gym.

Next?

Synetic’s King Lear has a bunch of fights in it that have been fun to produce…next season there’s a lot of work to be done, that’s all I’m gonna say!

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Parker Esse

Parker Esse
Oklahoma! . Arena Stage

Why this project?

Working on Oklahoma! gave me an opportunity to infuse my original ideas and choreography into one of the greatest musicals of our time. I loved the “Grit under your fingernails” concept we had for Oklahoma! and loved the image it invoked. I wanted to bring that to life on stage through dance.

Greatest challenge … The most challenging process was tackling the Dream Ballet. I took the musical arrangements from the original Broadway production and arranged them with our Musical Director to create my story, tailored to fit our vision for Arena’s production of Oklahoma!.

Favorite moment …

Too many to mention one. I loved breathing life into the “Pin-up Girls” as they rose from the depths, draped inside Jud’s Smokehouse. I loved the strong, masculinity of “Kansas City” with the rhythms and vibrant energy created by the sound of the boots stomping on the wooden planks. I loved the almost awkward farm-girls and cow-girls, exploring their femininity with beautiful delicate parasols contrasted by the reality of their cow-boots, in “Many a New Day.” I loved creating and choreographing the clothes-line “Surrey” where we first fall in love with Curly and Laurey as they take their imaginations on a ride to the Box Social in “Surrey with a Fringe on Top”….. I could go on but too many for me to pick just one!

When was the last time you performed as a dancer?

The last time I performed as a dancer was in the Kennedy Center’s revival of Mame. I served as Assistant Choreographer, Dance Captain and performer.

If you could choreograph for anyone in the theatre, living or dead, who would it be?

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse! They have always inspired me as a dancer and a choreographer. Two of the greatest dancers and entertainers of all time. They were genius. Style, grace, technique and power beyond words. I would love to collaborate with them and choreograph a partnering sequence for stage and screen.

What would your dream dance assignment look like?

The joy of choreographing the most talented dancers and working with my most esteemed colleagues on a daily basis… Wait… I am living my dream! I feel blessed on a daily basis and continually work hard to achieve and create my “Dream Dance Assignment” for every show I work on, becomes my newest “Dream!”

Next?

I am currently working on Follies at the Kennedy Center as Associate Choreographer and looking forward to remounting Oklahoma! at Arena Stage for the summer. A long over-due vacation with my wife and son is in the works as well!

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James Kronzer

James Kronzer
Clybourne Park . Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Greatest challenge …

Creating a house that changed 50 years in the time span of intermission. Not to mention a full size two story house on stage with functioning second floor.

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

Creating the house as an additional character onstage.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art? Photoshop and Vectorworks. My productivity has gone way up freeing up more time for the creative process.

What would be your dream project?

Not to be trite, but I’m happiest when my friends are my collaborators. Nothing better than making art with those that matter and that you respect.

Next?

TV Specials for Comedy Special and Showtime, a remount of Clybourne Park at Woolly Mammoth, two new shows for Norwegian Cruise Lines in Hawaii, To Kill a Mockingbird in Denver, Amadeus at Round House, a new musical called Tulipomania at the Arden in Philadelphia, Scenic co-ordinator for the national tours of Spamalot and Shrek and hopefully a vacation.

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Eugene Lee

Eugene Lee
Oklahoma! . Arena Stage

Greatest challenge …

Trying to do a lot with as little scenery as possible.

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

The orchestra in the half-finished building. We needed a place for the musicians, and there was a line about raising money to buy a chimney for the schoolhouse. It seemed like a perfect fit.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

The Internet.

What would be your dream project?

I’ve always wanted to do Green Pastures.

Next?

His Girl Friday and Clybourne Park at Trinity Rep in Providence (where I’m the resident designer), my 37th season of “Saturday Night Live” and The Music Man at Arena Stage with the wonderful Molly Smith.

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Matthew M. Nielson

Matthew M. Nielson
Hamlet . Folger Theatre

Greatest challenge …

Providing fitting soundscapes for the fantastic video production on the show.

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

Figuring out how to mesh the sound design with composer and musician Jack Herrick’s work.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

Better control and quality in sample libraries.

What would be your dream project?

A stage or radio play version of “The Dark is Rising Series”.

Next?

Clockmaker at the Hub, Amadeus at Round House, Venus in Furs at Studio, opening up Sound Lab Studios, a media production house in Asheville, NC

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Matt Otto

Matt Otto
Johnny Meister and the Stitch . Solas Nua

Greatest challenge …

Setting the play in the correct world. The show has a very specific world and specific references that an audience in the US might not recognize. So the director pushed me to find that world and convey it in a way that everyone could feel was real. The set was a series of florescent lights. Therefore the sound had to convey the world of the play but still remain relatively abstract.

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

I’m not sure what the best thing is I did for this production, but my favorite was writing some leitmotifs for various items and characters. Since it is basically basically a one man show we needed to help the audience keep all the characters straight. So the director and I came up with themes for items and characters. For some of them I pulled specific music and remixed it. Others I created from scratch in the rehearsal room or in tech.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

QLab. This piece of software alone has enabled companies that previously relied on tape and CD decks to produce much more specific and innovative designs that can rival even the most sophisticated productions in larger better supported venues.

What would be your dream project?

This is a hard question as many projects I do become dream projects in one way or another. But I’ve always wanted to do a show where the sound was all human generated. Like when you create a drip noise by opening your mouth and flicking your cheek in specific way. I’ve also become interested in sound sculptures, especially when tied with live projection manipulation. But thats truly a dream right now as I’m still trying to find a solid idea to build upon.

Next?

I am currently finishing my first year as a Sound Design MFA candidate at the Yale School of Drama. But I will be returning to DC this summer to remount Clybourne Park and design Charlotte’s Web for Adventure Theatre.

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Michael Rasbury

Michael Rasbury
Henry VIII . Folger Theatre

Greatest challenge …

This design came together during technical rehearsals.

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

Live microphones in the space routed to a stereo reverb unit that delivered real-time reverb to surround speakers. This allowed us to change the acoustic nature of the seating area. We were able to make the actors sound like there were in a cavernous crypt.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

QLab and SFX allow us to deliver very complicated, multi-channel surround soundscapes to productions.

What would be your dream project?

They are all dream projects!

Next?

I have written an original musical that includes heavy sound design in an attempt to relay autism to the audience. We are pulling together grant monies to fully produce the work in the San Francisco area. Check it out here.

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Tom Teasley

Tom Teasley
The Ramayana . Constellation Theatre Company

Greatest challenge …

The Ramayana is a sacred work in the Indian tradition.I wanted to borrow from traditional classical and folk Indian music and combine that with western influences. It was important to do this in a way that was respectful to the traditions and yet expands on them. I hope this fusion of eastern and western cultures was done in a respectful way. As always, it is also a challenge to perform live with percussion and maintain the needed energy while not distracting from the actors’ lines.

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

This is a question probably best answered by others but here are my thoughts. I wanted to serve a sort of musical narrator almost as though I was another character in the play. To set the scene with sound that paints the text of the lines in a compelling way is a goal I hoped I accomplished. Since I performed the show live every performance I was able to tap into the subtle changes of rhythm and energy the actors brought in each different performance. It’s also great fun to supply the pre-show music to set the mood.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

I used a combination of traditional Indian instruments such as tabla drums, kanjira ( small South Indian tambourine) and others combined with digital technology. Performing the show live I wanted to have the illusion of an ensemble of three or four musicians. I used a digital looper that allows me to perform in real time and record the performance. I then use that as accompaniment for added parts. I also used a hand drum synthesizer and a Roland SPD-20 to trigger live sitar and other string sounds.

What would be your dream project?

Any project I work with director Allison Stockman is a dream. It is great to have such simpatico with a collaborator! I would enjoy a multi-media project that includes spoken word, dance, film projection, and other elements of design as well as compelling music. A project that expands the boundaries of time and geographic location allow me to explore with wonder my musical dreams. I’m so blessed to do what I love and receive some recognition. I’m really living my dream project.

Next?

I’m glad you asked! On May 5 I will join Constellation for The Green Bird at Source Theater. I have lots of surprises including a percussion sculpture that I will play! August 4 we will remount The Ramayana due to the great interest from last year. Also please visit my site to listen to music, view video and stay updated on my projects. Thank you so much for your support of my work. I’m blessed to live in a town where live theater is so well supported.

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Dan Covey

Dan Covey
On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning . Rep Stage

Greatest challenge … The many and varied locations required. It was like “Around the World in 80 Days” or something.

What’s the best thing you did for this production? I loved several moments in the play. One was the canoe travel trip. Another one was with the three women in a hot air balloon.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

LED technology is the biggest change in the last decade for lighting. That and vast improvements in automated lighting.

What would be your dream project?

I am already living my dream, working in the theater doing what I love to do.

Next?

Photograph 51 and Moscow of the Hudson at Theater J, Speech & Debate at Rep Stage, Gem of the Ocean this summer in Ithaca.

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Klyph Stanford

Klyph Stanford
Henry VIII, Folger Theatre

Greatest challenge …

Trying to impart to a 21st Century American audience the feeling of how dangerous it was to live in a time where being close to those in power could lead either to the heights of success or utter ruin, all on the whim of the king.

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

With a great deal of help from Tony Cisek’s magnificent set, Anthony Cochrane’s wonderful soundscape, and Robert Richmond’s great staging, being able to accomplish the above.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

The Internet, most specifically Google Image search.

What would be your dream project?

At the moment, a large scale musical. I haven’t gotten to do one of those in forever.

Next?

Among other things, Lighting Design for Canto al PeruNegro at GALA Hispanic Theatre and Scenery Design for Gem of the Ocean at the Hangar Theatre.

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Reggie Ray

Reggie Ray
Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies . Arena Stage

Greatest challenge …

This show was right up my alley! However, when the standards of director Charles Randolph-Wright and the energetic choreography of Maurice Hines and Ken Roberson was added to the “mix”, the journey became a litany of discovery, accountability, inspiration and motivation towards greatness. Arena surrounds itself with a higher quality of theatre consistently. The support in which they offered this particular show was amazing.

Joe Salasovich and his awesome crew literally altered his usual iron clad organizational skills to accomodate the overwhelming demands of this show as it went through its labor intensive birth. The simple and short answer is the “budget” remains the most arduous challenge in most shows. How do you budget for genius? ….. really – how does one begin to do it?

Will there ever be a budget that will satisfy the creative mind?  Even the administrators have to be artsy fartsy with the many ways they are accountable for distributing and issuing the supporting funds. GO TEAM MOLLY!!!!!!!

What’s the best thing you did for this production?

I feel the best that that happened to me for this show was to be inspired to submit names of people that I have trained and worked with throughout the years to be a part of the production team. Most importantly, being able to crreate a conduit for my students and others who may not get a chance to experience or utilize their professional skills in such a high caliber of this art form. Again, thank you, Joe and Ted, and the Arena family.

What new technology in the last few years has contributed the most to your art?

I love to use Picasa3 and Gimp. Photoshop aids in the altering of colors enhancing the multimedia effects of collage and emotional evoking texturing. The lettering places a finished touch that only a master calligrapher can achieve. I must say it is all icing on the cake because nothing is like seeing a finished sketch from the hands of Paul Tazewell or Austin K. Sanderson  …. NOTHING!

What would be your dream project?

My dream project would be the remounting of Mike Malone’s God’s Trombones and fostering a designer collaboration! For example, the costume “team” of Paul Tazewell, Susan Mickey, Austin K. Sanderson, Emilio Sosa, Anne “my little sister” Kennedy, and me … YES!

And a set “team” of David Gallo, Felix Cochran, Dan Conway, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, Jim Kronzer and Tony Cisek. And choreographers Maurice Hines, George Faison, Patdro Harris, Raquis Petree, Ken Roberson and Hope Boykin.

Lighting designers would be Allen Lee Hughes, Michael Gianetti, Jennifer Tipton, Kathy Perkins, and Thom Weaver.

Sound design/composer/M.D. “team”: Scott Bradley, Justin Ellington, Jeremy Lee, Sanford Moore, Gil Thompson, David Bunn, E’Marcus Harper and Darius Smith. The Hair/makeup “team” will be Greg Bazemore, Vincent Hill, “Q” of Atlanta and Daniel Townsend.

And last but not least, the directors! Charles Randolph-Wright, Kenny Leon, Andrea Frye, Derrick Sanders, Patro Harris, Jennifer Nelson and Joy Zinoman … AWESOOOOOOOOOOOOME!

If this is too far fetched, I would love to do my dream job of designing The Visit starring Meryl Streep as Claire Zachanassian!!!!! WHOOOOO! I JUST GOT A BRAIN FREEZE!

Next?

PLEASE SOMEONE TELL ME!!!!!!! IS ERIC SHAEFFER IN THE HOUSE??????? LOL

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All links to our 5 part 2011 Curtain Call series

 

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