2015 Fall Arts Preview: Theater

We talk to a theater company producer about the preparation process for a show. Plus, the fall calendar for local theaters.

From Script to Stage

Other than buying your ticket and finding a good prix-fixe dinner before the show, a night at the theater doesn’t involve much planning. But, for the people behind the play, the two to three hours that you spend in that red velvet seat takes months of preparation. We talked to Olivia Sklar of Hudson Stage Company about how the company’s productions (they’re putting on Other Desert Cities in Armonk in October) go from conception to curtain call. 

June: There are three of us that founded the company: myself, Dan Foster, and Denise Bessette. We all have to agree on a show. Denise serves as literary manager, so she combs the agencies, goes to plays, and presents things to us to read. In this case, it was an interesting coincidence. My friend recommended it [Other Desert Cities] to me, and it had always been on my radar. I mentioned it to Dan, and he said, ‘Well funny you should say that, I’m directing it this summer in Nantucket.’ 

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We like to mix it up each time in terms of the worlds of the play. Our spring play Outside Mullingar was an Irish rural love story about a couple of 40-somethings who were late to love. Prior to Mullingar, we did a play called The God Game about an aspiring Republican vice presidential nominee. So, that was a rarified Washington world of politics. 

Once we make the decision, we have to apply for the rights so we can officially do it. If another professional group is doing it less than 50 miles away, you can’t do it at the same time. 

July: Sometimes, the next step is matching the play with the director. We knew that Dan was going to direct, so the next step was to hire a design team. We are not a company in the sense that every time it’s the same person that designs our sets and costumes, but we do have a so-called family of people whose work we like and that we approach first. In this case, we were fortunate to get the same set designer who’s done our last two plays, David Arsenault, who’s doing a lot of Broadway work now. We got a costume designer who also worked with Hudson Valley Shakespeare. The sound designers change depending on availability, but the lighting designer has been with us for every single show. We also have another person who builds the set, called the technical director. 

When we read the play, it’s our job as producers to make some kind of decision: Can we pull this off in our space budget-wise and set-wise? Can it be done realistically? Can it be done more suggestively? How hard is this going to be? Other Desert Cities is a well-to-do family, but it’s one set—their living room. It’s going to be expensive in terms of outfitting all the details, but it doesn’t have to change locations. The costuming is going to be more complicated because it takes place around Christmas, and they do change outfits quite a bit. 

August: We can only do shows with up to five people for budgetary reasons. We are an Equity company, so we have to have something called an ‘Equity open call.’ It’s a union rule that for any roles that are not cast, we have to see any Equity actor and give them a few minutes to audition for us. It’s a long day. It depends on the play, but where there are a lot of younger parts, especially for women, you get a lot of people; I guess 70 or 80. 

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Once that takes place, we’re allowed to have what we call ‘agent auditions,’ which are auditions with actors that we decided to bring in. We all know actors that we like and suggest them, and then our casting director puts out a description to the agents in New York breaking down all the characters. The agents make suggestions, and she will pick from those lists and present them to us. For a play with five roles, she might bring in 15 people per role.  

September: After casting, we start rehearsal. We rent a studio in Midtown, so it’s more attractive to the professional New York actor. It’s six weeks that the actors are under contract, and three of those are the run. So, in terms of casting, not only do we look for the best people for the roles, but for people that are sharp and can learn quickly, because it really isn’t a lot of time. 

Opening Week:  Once we’ve done all the rehearsals in the city, we move to the theater to do the big tech days. It’s called ‘hell week’ because you are there all day and night putting it together. The actors can work on the stage and do the spacing. It’s lights, sound, costumes, and blocking everything in the theater. We have an invited dress rehearsal on Thursday before we open. It’s good for the actors to get a sense of what an audience is going to react to in the show. 

The Run: A typical day in the run would be picking the actors up from the train. The Equity rule is that they need to be there half an hour before curtain, but most of them get there a little earlier to warm up and get dressed. On the second and third Friday, we bring them in early for what we call a ‘speed-through,’ because they’ve been away from the play since the prior Sunday. The actors are getting into hair and costume, the stage-management team is running their checks on lights and sound, and house management is getting ready with ticketing and cleaning the house. Then, the doors open about 20 minutes before the show. 


How Many Will You See?

Fill your fall calendar with shows from the county’s local theaters. 

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Through September 13

Bedroom Farce
A play by Alan Ayckbourn
(203) 227-4177; www.westportplayhouse.org
Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, CT


Ongoing through September 20

Backwards In High Heels
The Ginger Rogers Musical
(914) 592-2222; www.broadwaytheatre.com
Westchester Broadway Theatre, Elmsford


September 20

Cultural Katonah presents a performance by Aquila Theatre: 
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
(914) 232-8119; www.johnjayhomestead.org
John Jay Homestead, Katonah


September 20
Broadcast Live from London’s West End:
Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in Skylight
(914) 251-6200; www.artscenter.org
The Performing Arts Center, Purchase


September 24 – November 29;
December 30 – January 31

Books & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Music by Jerome Kern
(914) 592-2222; www.broadwaytheatre.com
Westchester Broadway Theatre, Elmsford


October 6 – 24

Celebrating Arthur Miller’s 100th birthday
Broken Glass
Directed by Mark Lamos
(203) 227-4177; www.westportplayhouse.org
Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, CT


October 9 – 10

From Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown
(914) 962-0606; www.yorktownstage.com
Yorktown Stage, Yorktown Heights 


October 16, 17, 23, 24, 25

Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Music by Richard Rodgers
(914) 591-6602; www.irvingtontheater.com
Irvington Town Hall Theater, Irvington


October 18

Broadcast Live from London’s West End
The Beaux’ Stratagem
A play by Georges Farquhar
Directed by Simon Goodwin
(914) 251-6200; www.artscenter.org
The Performing Arts Center, Purchase


October 16 – 31

Other Desert Cities
Written by Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Dan Foster
(914) 271-2811; www.hudsonstage.com
Whippoorwill Hall Theatre, Armonk


October 30 – 31

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

(203) 325-4466; www.palacestamford.org

The Palace Theatre, Stamford, CT


November 12

Broadcast Live from London’s West End

Benedict Cumberbatch in William Shakespeare’s 
(914) 251-6200; www.artscenter.org
The Performing Arts Center, Purchase


November 13 – 15 

Little Shop of Horrors
Book & Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
(914) 328-1600; www.wppac.com
White Plains Performing Arts Center, White Plains


November 20 – 22

Mary Poppins

“Anything can happen if you let it”

(914) 591-6602; www.irvingtontheater.com

Irvington Town Hall Theater, Irvington


Hudson Stage Company’s spring production of Outside Mullingar

Our Wine & Food Festival returns June 4-9!

Our Wunderkinds event takes place on May 23!

Our Best of Business Ballot is open through May 15!

Our Healthcare Heroes Awards event takes place on May 9!

Our Westchester Home Builders Awards take place on April 4!

Our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Forum is March 14!

Unveiled: A Boutique Bridal Brunch is February 25!

Our Best of Westchester Elimination Ballot is open through March 6!

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