Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Beth Peterson Puppet designer for "The Night Fairy"

Flory (Emily Yetter) admires Hummingbird (Catherine Adell) and her babies in The Night Fairy.
Whether it’s a four-person operated raccoon, the brightest-of-blue hummingbird, or even a giant spider, Beth Peterson, puppet designer, has taken on the challenge of making these characters and others come to life in The Night Fairy, South Coast Repertory’s Theatre for Young Audiences show.

Peterson has been creating puppets, masks, pageants, and parades for almost 25 years. She takes great care for the specific functions and appearance for each puppet she creates. We sat down with her during a rehearsal break and asked her more about this amazing art form.

How did you first become involved with puppets and why do they appeal to you?
I made puppets as a child, but as an adult what brought me into puppetry is the ability of puppets to share stories—very challenging and very wonderful stories—in a way that people can connect with them. And maybe help people hear stories in a way that they wouldn’t normally through a conversation and or through just actors alone. I also love the colors and the forms and the personalities and the life that emerge from the process.

Flory (Emily Yetter) and Bat (Jonathan C.K. Williams).
What’s the process like to make puppets?
Really grasping whatever its role is in the story helps determine how a puppet needs to move, its size and scale, its personality and purpose. Those are all can that be reflected in the form that it takes. Part of what I do is listen and read the story and talk with the people involved with the play so that I understand the movement that’s required. Then I work to find a good form to fit that vision. For example, in The Night Fairy, the spider is in its web, and there are lots of strings, so it seemed to be a good match to make that role a marionette because of all the strings, webs and legs.

Working at SCR has been amazing! We had two workshops with actors and puppeteers and that really helped the design process because let me see what would work and what could even be a stronger way of sharing the characters’ stories.

What is the most challenging part of puppetry?
For this production the most challenging was that everything character to be really BIG, which is an unusual size for these animals. So I needed to keep in mind how to adjust the size and still give the puppeteers ability to operate the puppets.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Well, on days like today, I love being able to see these things that are objects and ideas start coming alive and emerging with the personalities of all of our puppeteers. The work of the director and sound and lights and all these people has come together to create something beyond what just one person could ever imagine.

Skuggle (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper) and Flory (Emily Yetter).
What excited you the most about bringing these characters from The Night Fairy come to life?
I really like this story for many reasons. When Flory first meets every creature, they’re very odd and strange to her. But whether they’re scary or cute or beautiful, she grows from seeing a stranger to building a relationship. I feel like that’s a journey that every kid and every adult goes through; we all move through situations that feel strange and then find our way and find friends. This play is a wonderful way to share this journey through these incredible animals.

If you could be any puppet, describe what you would be and why!
I love all the puppets and really don’t think I can choose one! The puppets all have their own personalities and I end up spending so much time with them because it takes hundred of hours to build them with many people involved. I really appreciate everyone who has helped to bring the puppets to the stage.

I hope people come to see The Night Fairy and enjoy the story and the characters. ”Hopefully, a few people will say, “WOW! I can go home and make my own puppets!” That would make me very happy. All of the puppets you see are made out of very simple ingredients, everyday things that anyone can find. It just takes some imagination, engineering and creativity. Anyone can make a puppet!

Magical First Night at "The Fantasticks"

Carnival music greeted First Nighters as they stepped onto the “midway” for the final Cast Party of the season.

The curtain had fallen on The Fantasticks (to a standing ovation) and the onstage carnival had closed down.  Now it was re-opened on Ela’s Terrace—brighter and more colorful than ever, with red and white flags waving in the breeze, balloon centerpieces overflowing with taffy and whirly lollipops, hot dog and pop corn stands and, of course, a strolling magician.

Party-goers cheered* the cast and thanked the underwriters as they sipped cotton candy martinis and nibbled sliders, fries and mac & cheese bites provided by Anders Catering.  The jovial mood continued through the evening and into the next week as reviews appeared, echoing the audience praise:

“Astonishing!” –Los Angeles Times
“Ingenius!” –Orange County Register
“Magical!” –Huffington Post

*By the way, our Honorary Producers, Joan & Andy Fimiano and Bill & Carolyn Klein, were the first to cheer:

"Delightful, exciting or in a word...'Fantastic!'" – Joan and Andy
"Very creative, blending the SCR stage with original performance!" – Bill and Carolyn

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Technology Comes Alive in "Eternal Thou"

At the heart of Matthew McCray’s Eternal Thou is the notion that we can give “life” to something; more specifically, McCray uses the production to dig into how humans relate to technology—in essence, giving it life—and, in particular, how people relate to the Internet. McCray is the founding artistic director for the Son of Semele Ensemble and is directing Eternal Thou as part of the Studio SCR series, June 6-9. He recently talked about how he developed the work.

A vision of HAL from Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to mind when I think about technology that’s “alive.” What’s at the core of Eternal Thou?
HAL is a great reference! Or "Johnny 5," from the movie Short Circuit, or even R2D2 from Star Wars. We've been giving robots life for a long time. The notion that man can bring something alive is at the heart of my play. The genesis for the Eternal Thoucame from my own interest in exploring my relationship with the Internet, and how technology has reframed our discussion about enlightenment. The Internet has woven its way so deeply into my daily life that it's difficult to imagine a day without it. In these little cables—originally phone lines—all over the world, our various interactions and relationships live. That was the original idea for the play: looking at the evolution of telecommunication over the decades.

What are some of the issues that you address in this work?
At a certain point in the creative process, it became clear to me that I needed to entirely redo the framework of the play and set it "inside" the Internet itself. The play originally took place in the world with people tapping into the web in a realistic way, just like how you and I access it. But I wondered what would happen if I flipped the reality on its head and put the play inside the Internet and had "beings" tapping into the outside world instead. So the concept is that technology is a living, breathing force and that, in a way, we are its puppets. The idea is that technology has taken the reins and we are now passengers on its journey, rather than the reverse.

What has been your creative process with this work? Eternal Thou began through devising workshops with friends and associates, but due to a lack of funding I was unable to pay people adequately to get them to dive in. S at a certain point, I took what we had developed collectively, which was essentially a few scenes, and I began to write the play. Almost none of what we had originally was used, but of course we had the beginnings of an idea that is somewhere deep in the play's identity. But things like the words and situations are all mine. During the two years of writing, I presented a few little scenes here and there in Los Angeles and I also held a few informal readings so that I could get feedback. Then in 2012, I produced the play independently.

How has this work evolved—from your original concept to what we’ll see at SCR?
There are two pieces of information that were essential for me to discover. I accidentally tripped upon them while writing Eternal Thou and they became central to the play. The first is the philosopher Martin Buber and his book I and Thou. The central conceit of I and Thou—and I'm really reducing here, so don't hate me if you are a fan of Buber!—is that God can be found only through relationships with beings and things here on Earth. Since the play is about connections in the modern age, Buber’s philosophy became an important part of the play's core. The second piece of information that was essential to the play was the concept of "The Singularity," which is about the future of technology's advancement and humanity's place once we become obsolete. These two ideas land very centrally in the play and impacted nearly all the rewriting over the past year.

What makes the cast you’ve assembled the perfect choices to bring your vision to life?
I love my cast! Almost all of them were referred to audition for me, so I had not worked with any of them prior to the world premiere in Los Angeles in 2012.  For Studio SCR, we have four of the original five actors returning. The newest actor to join the cast is equally as incredible! Look, with sci-fi, you must have fearless actors. And for Eternal Thou, I needed incredible performers. As playwright and director, I have to be able to say to someone, "Look, it's simple: move that desk over there to create a portal into the virtual world. Then tap into the system with your hand, hone in on the signal you are about to enter, and slowly step into the transmission, which should begin to alter your body and voice. As you are taken over by the corruption, your entire code has been rewritten and you've become a virtual-persona, while still aware of your original identity." It sounds crazy, but literally these are the kinds of conversations we have had when working on the play! Think of any sci-fi movie you've seen, and you know that the actors do insane things and the special effects make those things feel justified; but on the set, I'm sure it must have seemed over the top. The same is true here: the Eternal Thou actors are going above and beyond with their extremity of choices and the show's tech will justify those bold choices.

What do you want people to come away with having experienced it
I'd love for the audience to think about their own relationship to technology and specifically the Internet. Many people have never heard of 'net-neutrality' and the idea that this play is helping to get the word out about the importance of preserving network neutrality is very satisfying for me. In that way, the play becomes somewhat political. But, more often, the play is a media-saturated thrill-ride. One audience member wrote me something interesting after seeing Eternal Thou, saying it’s a "fever dream about communications/relationships in the Internet age and it is honest-to-god one of the most thrilling theater experiences I've had as an audience member." That’s one person’s experience and I really enjoy hearing from people after they see the show. I'm very excited to hear what the SCR audiences take away from the play!

Learn More/Buy Tickets

Monday, May 20, 2013

Flory, the Fearless Night Fairy

by Kelly L. Miller

About the Author

Laura Amy Schlitz (book author, The Night Fairy) has spent most of her life as a librarian and professional storyteller. She has written several books and won the 2008 Newbery Medal for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village.  She lives in Baltimore, where she is currently a librarian at the Park School.

Author Laura Amy Schlitz
Schlitz has also worked as a playwright, a costumer, and an actress. She has written several plays for young people that have been performed at professional theaters all over the country including Stage One (Louisville, Ky.), Pumpkin Theatre (Baltimore, Md.) and Children's Theatre Association (Baltimore, Md.).

Author Laura Amy Schlitz, on her interest in fairies:
“I have always had a soft spot in my heart for fairy stories. When I was a child, I stared at pictures of fairies with rapture and fascination. I could imagine my way into these pictures, making myself small. I know that there are children who can still do this, because I work in a school library and little girls come to me every week, asking, ‘Do you have a book about a fairy?’ They don’t want a fairy tale; they want a story with a fairy as the main character. They want to gaze at fairy pictures and think themselves small, alive in a dewy jungle of flowers.”

Learn more about the book, The Night Fairy and its author.
Have you ever met a fairy without wings? Or one who could not fly?  Flory is a young night fairy, who loses her beautiful, gossamer wings one night after an encounter with a ferocious bat.  Dropped into a strange land—a garden, tended by a mysterious human “giant”—Flory must learn quickly how to survive and fend for herself. 

Flory is tiny, but she’s fierce.  And she sets out to collect food and enlist animals in the garden to help her. Determined to live as a day fairy, Flory makes a wren’s house her home—then strikes a deal with Skuggle, an irascible squirrel who’s always hungry.  She promises him food in return for rides across the garden—to help her befriend a beautiful, mysterious hummingbird.

All the while, Flory practices her magic.  Night fairies are born with the seeds of magic spells in their minds.  Spells that come to them when they need them most—“stinging” spells to fight off danger and “seeing” spells to find things.

But Flory will need more than magic to defeat the vicious predators who threaten to harm her.  She’ll need compassion, kindness and the help of her newfound friends if she ever hopes to fly again.

Playwright John Glore adapted The Night Fairy for the stage from Newbery Medal-winner Laura Amy Schlitz’s beloved book of the same title.  Director Oanh Nguyen is employing an exciting mix of puppetry, projections and sound design to create the giant world of Flory’s garden and animal friends on stage.

Nguyen has assembled a wonderful cast of actors/puppeteers for The Night Fairy including Catherine Adell, Sol Castillo, Moira MacDonald, Nicholas Mangiardo-Cooper, Jonathan C. K. Williams and Emily Yetter.  His stellar design team includes Sara Ryung Clement, sets and costumes; Matt Schleicher, lights and projection design; Dave Mickey, sound and projection design; Beth Peterson, puppet design.

We hope you’ll join us at South Coast Repertory to meet Flory—a fierce and fearless fairy, unlike any you’ve seen before.  Who knows?  You might learn a magic spell or two.

Set design for "The Garden" by Sara Ryung Clement

The Magic of The Night Fairy
An Interview with the Playwright

Playwright John Glore’s adaptation of The Night Fairy is a fun, magical, theatrical story for kids and adults, alike. With rehearsals underway, we asked him a few questions about Flory, the fairy, and his favorite magic—both onstage and off.

What was it about The Night Fairy—and Flory—that inspired you to adapt it for the stage?  What grabbed you and wouldn’t let go?

Two things about this story made me want to adapt it for the stage.  My imagination went wild thinking about what the world would look like to a tiny fairy.  Everything would be huge—the plants, the animals, the lady in the house.  I started thinking about how we might create those giant animals using various kinds of puppets, and that was an exciting idea.  But also, I love that the story centers on a small, lonely, vulnerable girl (Flory, the fairy) who finds the courage and the intelligence to survive against terrible odds.  And she learns some things about friendship along the way.

Magic spells come to Flory as she grows older—a stinging spell, a seeing spell.  If you could have one magic spell, what would it be?

I think I’d like to have a magic spell that would make time slow down, or even stop.  I never seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do and to spend with the people I want to be with.

Raccoon puppet
There are so many exciting bits of theatrical stage magic we’re using to create the world of The Night Fairy—puppets, projection, and sound.  What’s your favorite, so far?

I’m excited about all of it, but especially the spider and the raccoon puppets.  The spider is big and a little scary-looking, but it’s also beautiful.  And the raccoon’s head is as big as the front end of a Volkswagen.  It takes four people to work the raccoon puppet, because he’s so big.

What is it about writing plays for children that brings you the most joy?

I love writing plays for kids because I like remembering what used to entertain me when I was a child.  The secret about adults is that most of us are still kids inside, and we still like a lot of the things we liked when we were children.  So when I’m writing a play for young audiences, as long as I entertain and amuse and thrill the kid inside me, I can be confident I’ll do a good job entertaining the kids in the audience (and the grown-ups who remember what it’s like to be a kid).  Also, kids make for a very honest audience—they let you know right away if they’re bored, by getting restless, fidgeting in their seats, even making little noises, and you know they’re NOT bored if they’re sitting still, on the edge of their seats, listening to every word and eagerly waiting to see what will happen next.  And there’s nothing better than hearing kids laugh at something funny.

John Glore has also adapted The Stinky Cheese Man and A Wrinkle in Time for SCR’s Theatre for Young Audience series. When he’s not writing plays, Glore is working as SCR’s associate artistic director.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Alice vs. Wonderland" Rocks!

Assistant Director/Music Director Brianna Beach, a longtime member of the Players ensemble,
has appeared in almost every show, and in A Christmas Carol (twice!)
SCR’s Teen Players will present Alice vs. Wonderland, directed by Hisa Takakuwa with music direction by Brianna Beach, in the Nicholas Studio over the next two weekends.

And Lewis Carroll would drop his monocle if he chanced to pop in during the run.  Not only is the story updated by Brendan Shea in what he calls a “re-mix,” with seven-year-old Victorian Alice now a teenager in a psychodelic world, it’s filled with culture that’s pop and music that’s rock—right off the charts.

Chosen by Hisa and Brianna, the play list will blow you away—and so will the show, in which Alice goes through six stages of adolescence, comes of age and learns who she really is.  It’s a compelling story of teenage angst, performed with vitality and verve.  Check it out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Who’s Who in the Cast of "The Night Fairy"

THE CAST:  (l. to r.) Sol Castillo, Moira MacDonald, Emily Yetter,
Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Catherine Adell and Jonathan C.K. Willimas

They portray everything from a hummingbird to a raccoon to a fairy. Six actors are in rehearsals now for South Coast Repertory’s final Theatre for Young Audiences production, an adaptation of Laura Amy Schlitz’s book The Night Fairy. The stage adaptation is by SCR Associate Artistic Director John Glore, who brings the wonderful daylight creatures that Flory the fairy encounters when she is suddenly plunged into the daytime world. But who are the humans behind the characters in the play?

Catherine Adell portrays the Hummingbird. She has worked with puppets for more than a decade, ranging from small (a paper-thin, finger-sized child) to large (a 20-foot swan). She often helps make puppets, including sewing the delicate fabrics (like silk) and then using power tools to help build additional parts of the puppet. She is making her debut here at SCR.

Sol Castillo is the Raccoon. His parents toured California—acting, dancing and singing—so by the age of 10, he knew that he wanted to act. He has worked in film and television, but his heart is close to theatre. Castillo is no stranger to SCR productions; he has been in La Posada Magica, and TYA productions of Sideways Stories from Wayside School and Charlotte’s Web.

Moira MacDonald portrays two characters—the Wren and Spider. She’s a Sitka, Alaska, native and started working in community theatres at a young age. She also made puppets, wrote scripts and performed in many school shows. MacDonald studied acting in New York, and also learned about set building, lighting design and technical work along the way. She studied puppetry at the California Institute of the Arts.

Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper is Skuggle, a squirrel. He has been in other TYA productions at South Coast Repertory, including The Borrowers, Lucky Duck and Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business. Bringing theatre to young audiences is important to him; among past performances are Ferdinand the Bull and Food for Thought. He balances those roles with others, including plays like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Born in New York City, Mongiardo-Cooper studied acting and did plays and musicals there.

Jonathan Williams portrays the Bat. He is a well-seasoned puppeteer, and can be seen as a Triceratops at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, a saber-toothed cat at the Page Museum (La Brea Tar Pits), and at Disney’s California Adventure in Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular! Williams says sometimes he even portrays human characters.

Emily Yetter
is Flory. Yetter could be called a ‘natural’ at playing small creatures: she portrayed Tinker Bell in the national touring production of Peter Pan. She studied acting at UCLA, the British Academy of Dramatics Arts and is currently studying dance, contortionism, acrobatics and aerial work. She loves the adventure that each acting role has brought her, including the opportunity scare people when she portrayed 12-year-old Regan, a girl possessed by a demon, in The Geffen Playhouse’s production of The Exorcist.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Movement, Magic and "The Fantasticks"

Gregory North, Addi McDaniel, Anthony Carillo and Scott Waara in The Fantasticks.
Five Questions with Sharon Jenkins

Choreographer Sharon Jenkins has an easy smile as she talks about The Fantasticks. Jenkins has been a close collaborator with director Amanda Dehnert, including when the director drew out new insights from this beloved musical.  Recently, Jenkins talked about her memories of The Fantasticks and the approach to re-imagining the American musical theatre classic.

When did you first see The Fantasticks?
I worked on a production of it during college—it was summer stock. I loved the story and thought it was done in such a clever way: a musical that was intimate and didn’t need a large cast. Oh, and our El Gallo was the man that I would later marry.

How did this re-imagining of The Fantasticks come about?
Amanda and I have worked together for 15 years. She came to The Fantasticks with a couple of questions, as she went through every moment of the show: “How does my aesthetic work? How can I enhance the reality of these moments?”

Our company, Trinity Rep, is connected to Brown University through a Master of Fine Arts program. We learned that a student in the program also was a sleight-of-hand artist—that’s Nate Dendy [featured in SCR’s production as The Mute]. That struck a chord with Amanda and—since the character of El Gallo is described as a “magician,” and because of Amanda’s own interest in magic, and given the scenes of illusion and reality in the show— it was apparent that her concept was falling into place.

One of the first things she looked at was the song “Try to Remember.” I first heard it when I was 20 years old and I thought it was a pretty song. But as I got older, I heard the line in the song – “…Try to remember when life was so tender/That no one wept except the willow—and I would think, “What would a 20-year-old know about the kind of pain that brings a deep-welling weeping?” The first time you hear the song in the play, it asks audiences to remember back to simpler times. Then through the course of The Fantasticks, you go on a kind of life journey and at the end, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you realize that you had everything you needed all along. With the reprise of “Try to Remember,” it may be telling people that it doesn’t hurt to remember, and reminding them to hold onto the naïveté and magic of youth.

What about choreography in The Fantasticks?
Choreography isn’t just about laying out 20 steps of “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” (laughs). It’s a very collaborative process with the director—with Amanda. Sometimes choreography is about movement, and sometimes it is about taking away movement that may clutter the story. This is particularly true in a musical: there are those moments when just words don’t suffice. Music can help take a scene to the next moment, and so does movement. But the key is to make sure that it’s all connected to the story. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
I hope they’ll see that this is not the same production they may have seen years—even decades—ago. I hope they take away what the play’s about, that everything you think you know about love and life isn’t everything you know.

Has The Fantasticks stayed with you and your husband through the years?
(laughs) Early in my husband’s career as an actor, he was onstage and realized that he still had his wedding ring on. He quickly put it in the pocket of his costume and lost the ring. So, on his replacement ring, I had “Try to Remember” engraved on the inside. It holds special meaning for both of us. So, yes.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"The Fantasticks:" Complexity and Magic of a Musical

The set of The Fantasticks
The World’s Longest-Running Musical
The original cast of The Fantasticks: Top Row (L to R): Richard Stauffer (the Mute), Jerry Orbach (El Gallo), Jay Hampton (the Handyman); Middle Row (L to R): Thomas Bruce (author Tom Jones as Henry), Rita Gardner (Luisa), Kenneth Nelson (Matt); Bottom Row (L to R): Hugh Thomas (Bellomy), George Curley (Mortimer), William Larsen (Hucklebee)
The Fantasticks opened off-Broadway at the Sullivan Street Theatre in New York on May 3, 1960. It played 17,162 performances before closing Jan. 13, 2002. It was revived just a few years later at the Snapple Theatre Center in 2006 and is still running. In fact, Addi McDaniel, who plays Luisa in our production, has performed in the revival on and off for 18 months. While the two productions share the same songs and script, she says they couldn’t be more different. This magical concept is more demanding, but McDaniel is up to the challenge. “I love that the magic is manifested in a physical way,” she says.

A host of now well-known stars have played in different productions through the years, including Jerry Orbach, F. Murray Abraham, David Canary, Ricardo Montalban, Elliott Gould, Liza Minnelli, Glenn Close, Richard Chamberlain, John Carradine and Ed Ames.

The draw of this show is illustrated not just in its record long run in New York, where it remains the only off-Broadway production to have received a Tony award, but in countless productions across the world. The Fantasticks has been produced in every state in the U.S., including a performance at the White House. Internationally, it’s been produced in 67 countries, including far flung locales like Afghanistan, New Zealand, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Bangkok.
Putting on a musical is…complicated. Think about all of the elements that go into producing a play—actors, lights, sets, costumes, sound. Then add in music, singing, and dancing. Director Amanda Dehnert takes the process a step further: She has taken a beloved classic musical—The Fantasticks—and infused new and magical life into it.

For The Fantasticks, Dehnert took her inspiration from the mysterious stranger, El Gallo. Her approach to the musical re-imagines its setting and atmosphere as an abandoned amusement park, invoking the magical innocence of a long-past time. Inspired by the Rocky Point Park in Rhode Island—Eugene Lee’s set design includes actual pieces from that park, which closed in 1995—Dehnert explains that these common local amusement parks “represent a desire for a simpler, easier time in America.” She describes the setting as a place where people once went to escape their cares, but in its abandoned state, the park now is full of the ghosts of happiness and joy. It’s a place where “magic makes the impossible seem possible even for a moment” and a world where things do not always turn out the way we expect.

Rocky Point Park in Rhode Island

The story is straightforward: Two fathers scheme to make their children Matt and Luisa fall in love by pretending to feud and keep them apart. To seal the deal, they hire El Gallo to stage an abduction of Luisa that would allow Matt to rescue her heroically. Will the lovers lose themselves in the magic and moonlight or find their way into the sobering light of day? Will their separation provide a deeper appreciation for the love they once shared—or create a permanent gulf between them?

Addi McDaniel, Perry Ojeda and Anthony Carillo in The Fantasticks.
Photo by Debra Robinson.
What does it take to put this simple story into Dehnert’s richly layered concept? Here is a description of just five minutes in the rehearsal room recently, as the cast and team put together the pieces of the “Round and Round” musical number:

The Fantasticks creators Harvey
Schmidt and Tom Jones
In the rehearsal hall: " Choreographer Susan Jenkins briefly reminds everyone of the set up. El Gallo is showing the world to Luisa (Addi McDaniel), and Matt (Anthony Carillo) is meeting misfortune at every location. Everyone listens, and as soon as she is done the hustle of setting up the scene begins. The movement of the characters is complicated, with every actor involved, props, banners, magic boxes, and other illusions. The Mute (Nate Dendy), carefully folds a sheet that’s standing as a placeholder for a large banner. Associate director Matt Hawkins listens as the two Fathers (Gregory North and Scott Waara) pitch a modification to a costume. Stage manager Jenny Butler and assistant stage manager Jamie Tucker explain to Henry and Mortimer (Richard Doyle and Hal Landon Jr.) which banner is which and where they need to end up during the song. Dennis Castellano, the music director, plucks a few notes to help Luisa and El Gallo review a few dance steps. Stage management interns Ari and Natalie are moving steps on the mocked up platforms in the rehearsal room. Finally, the scene is set and the frenetic pace in the room stills as suddenly as it began. “Are we ready?” asks Hawkins. The room affirms. “Let’s go,” he says, and Castellano launches into the song and the room comes to life. The sprawling, complex production elements miraculously come together to simply ask if we can find happiness once we’ve seen the tragedy in the world."

The Fantasticks creators Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones began writing together while students at the University of Texas. After partnering successfully on a few revues, they became entranced with French playwright Edmond Rostand (probably best known for his play Cyrano de Bergerac). After reading his more well-known works, they hunted down a copy from a rare book dealer in France of the first play he’d written, Les Romanesques, published in 1894, which spoofs Romeo and Juliet. The Fantasticks presents views on love, marriage and relationships that can feel sweet one moment and cynical the next—and therein lies the universal truth of this modern classic.