2015 Best Director of a Musical Nominee: Donnie Baillargeon for The Concord Players' "Follies"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Donnie_Baillargeon

Donnie Baillargeon directed a sophisticated and thorough production of Follies at The Concord Players. With precision and attention to detail, Donnie made the story reach audiences, young and old, with Sondheim's rarely-produced show. Donnie's directing emphasized both the play's larger themes while providing gorgeous stage pictures and engaging stories from each character, whether supporting or leading roles. In his Interview, Donnie tell us more about directing Follies, the best productions that he saw in 2015, and his first memory of performing. 

Donnie, thank you so much for joining us for the 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Let’s start with a little about you.  Who are you, what do you do, where are you from, and where are you going?

Thank you for including me in this series among so many talented artists. I am equally grateful for the nominations Follies has received.

I’m a pretty genial guy, a native New Englander, born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. Though I lived for awhile in Williamsburg, Virginia and L.A., my heart yearned for Boston accents and New England winters (not!). Currently I live in Waltham with my handsome and talented husband, David Berti.  I’ve been a performer, producer, playwright, furniture craftsman, waiter and handyman – pretty much doing anything I set my mind to.

Theatrically, I find directing to be a completely fulfilling experience. It brings together the sum total of all my theater and life experience, but it is rather humbling as I continue to discover that I’ve still so much to learn from each person with whom I work. To pay the bills, I work in Product Operations for Progress Software in Bedford. I really do like my job and the team.

As for where I am going, well, David and I will be taking a two-and-a-half week French river cruise in September 2016 to celebrate 25 years together and 11 years of marriage.

How did you become involved in The Concord Players?  How did you come to direct Follies?

I had the great fortune to be hired by The Concord Players to direct their 2011 production of The Drowsy Chaperone. It was a glorious experience in every aspect. They actually built a bi-plane that supported thirteen of the seventeen cast members. It not only lifted off the floor, it also banked to the left and right with the thirteen cast members on board! That effect blew the audience away!

I proposed my production of Follies to the Concord Players knowing only they had the production values and level of talent I was looking for to deliver the musical that I envisioned.

Talk to us about Follies.  What drew you to this project?  What themes or characters resonated with you?

I’ve been fascinated with Follies for decades.  I left a performance of the 2011 Broadway revival thunderstruck. Something about Rosiland Elias’ performance of “One More Kiss,” put the entire show into complete perspective for me.  I vowed then and there in the middle of Times Square that one day I would direct it. 

Ms. Elias’ character, Heidi Schiller, sings “never look back . . . ” What does she really mean by that lyric? Are these words of warning, wisdom, or both? I thought I finally had the answer. The obvious themes of regret and roads not taken are certainly there in the script and the score.  Every single person alive on the planet is set on a journey while they’ve still got a breath to breathe. Each day presents a new possibility for change.  Why were these four people seemingly trapped in this state of inertia which was making them so miserable in their lives, completely surrounded at this reunion by others who seemed quite happy with their lives?

Phyllis Rogers Stone (Lea Oppedisano) surrounded by the Male Ensemble in The Concord Players' Follies.

Phyllis Rogers Stone (Lea Oppedisano) surrounded by the Male Ensemble in The Concord Players' Follies.

In comparison, look at Carlotta’s life as she sings “I’m Still Here.” It was only with the hindsight of age and directing experience that I finally recognized and appreciated the complexity of Sally and Buddy, Phyllis and Ben, both older and younger.  What was the best way for me to make best use of the Showgirl Ghosts to enhance the emotional thread? This all was a gigantic moving puzzle I needed to solve; a story I definitely wanted to tell.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about directing?  What is one thing that you wish people knew or understood about directing?

The casting process is equally as difficult for this director as it is for those that are hoping to be cast.  Sometimes it can be tougher when you have too many choices. This is not a complaint, believe me!  In MetroWest Boston, we are blessed to have so many talented actors and actresses. In Follies, for example, though I needed a cast 35, I had over 100 people audition.  The Drowsy Chaperone called for a cast of 17 with a turnout of about 60 people at auditions.

Since the director is usually the person with the vision for the production, I feel it is his or her sole responsibility to clearly, if not passionately, express and share that vision with every single individual involved with the production.  For me, that’s a requirement if you hope to create one unified experience for everyone involved.

What are some of your favorite movies and TV shows?  Do they ever inform your directing or theatre experience?

Every single thing we experience has some impact directly or indirectly on other parts of our life, like the butterfly effect, don’t you think? There have been so many good shows and series cropping up over the past few years.  Here are just a few in no particular order:

The West Wing; The Sixth Sense; Modern Family; The Good Wife; The Godfather 1 & 2; Mad Men; Schindler’s List; Young Frankenstein; The Amazing Race; The Ritz; Orange is the New Black; Breaking Bad; Survivor; All About Eve; Seinfeld; Game of Thrones; Love, Actually; What’s Up Doc; Victor, Victoria.

What were some of your favorite productions of 2015?  What do you hope to see in 2016?

In no particular order:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime on Broadway, NY (my second time)

Mauritius, directed by Mark Baumhardt at Quannapowitt Players

Casa Valentina, directed by Scott Edmiston at SpeakEasy Stage Company

True West, directed by Michelle Aguillon at The Umbrella

Merrily We Roll Along, at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, NY

Doubt, directed by Celia Couture at Acme Theater Productions

Bootycandy, at Playwrights Horizons, NY

2016 – Hamilton, Shuffle Along, The Robber Bridegroom.

What is one of your first memories of performing?

In Miss Maroon’s second grade class at Saint Stanislaus School in Lowell, Massachusetts, I was cast in the lead role in the class play.  A musical, go figure! It’s Artie’s birthday. He’s having a party and, being a practical kid, he doesn’t believe in anything that’s pretend or involves make believe.  As he blows the candles out on his birthday cake, somehow (through the magic of theater) all of his party friends become Mother Goose characters. 

Sally Durant Plummer (Margaret McCarty) and Buddy Plummer (David Berti) in The Concord Players' Follies.

Sally Durant Plummer (Margaret McCarty) and Buddy Plummer (David Berti) in The Concord Players' Follies.

My brother, a first grader, played Simple Simon, the pie man. At some point in the show, he unexpectedly left his pie on the floor into which I quite conspicuously planted my foot. Sabotage?  Unclear.  Never having rehearsed this I was thrown and mortified. But I did what any burgeoning second grade theater performer would do: I ran offstage crying right into the arms of the reassuring Miss Maroon, who talked me off the ledge and marched me right back onstage into the fold of the dumbfounded cast of Mother Goose characters.  When I got to the line where I stuck my thumb into the pie, an inadvertent take to the trampled pie brought the house down.  I turned bright red from embarrassment, not quite seasoned enough then to realize this was a pure comedic opportunity since they were laughing with me.  Ah, the joy of live theater.  I try not to let those opportunities get past me nowadays.  But I still am a crybaby at musicals – just ask anyone.

Jet set vacation!  Imagine that you could go anywhere on vacation.  Where are you going, what are you doing, and what is one thing that you would take with you?

A round-the-world tour for at least a couple of months. Being a jet setter and all, I don’t think that’s too extravagant, right? On previous trips, I’ve made it a point to attend different domestic and international theaters, not just for an appreciation of the performances but their unique architectural design as well. If I had David Berti with me, I wouldn’t need anything else except perhaps my passport.

How do you see the Greater Boston theatre scene changing?  How do you wish that it would change?

In the past couple of years, it seems that many new local theater groups have emerged. I think this is a welcome indicator of an economy that looks to be finally heading in the right direction.

What I find rather distressing, however, is that the pool of local talent doesn’t seem to be growing proportionately. Certain demographics – young actors in particular – are becoming harder and harder to cast in the MetroWest Boston area. I would like to see that change as the current actor population is aging. Who will continue on practicing this art form? Additionally, audiences seem to be getting smaller, less attentive and increasingly less respectful of the performances in progress.  I hope these aren’t permanent changes but rather anomalies.

We need younger adults to carry on the art form and keep these theater companies running into the future.  Just as importantly, we also need audience support, not just for their ticket purchases, but for their attention and appreciation. 

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I do have a couple of productions under consideration; however it’s a bit premature to discuss them at this time.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

If you’re thinking about someone, been meaning to call them but just haven’t gotten around to it, take the time to make that call. You just never know what a difference it could make in their life. I’ll bet it will definitely make you feel glad you did.