2015 Best Director of a Musical Nominee: Stacey Stephens for Fiddlehead Theatre Company's "Jesus Christ Superstar"

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

NOPTE: 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.

Photo Credit:   Bryce Cutler

Photo Credit: Bryce Cutler

Stacey Stephens is a renowned director and costumer, boasting an impressive list of credits and talent. However, it is Stacey's daring presence and interpretations of classic shows that made him stand above the rest in his inspired production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. As divisive as it was calculated, this production boasted a transgender Mary Magdalene, a Jesus who topped the TIMES magazine for "Person of the Year," and a set that brought us back to the rumble of post-9/11 New York City.  In his Interview, Stacey explains his concept for this production; some of his hobbies; and his advice for actors, directors, and audience members. 

Stacey, thank you for joining us for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I currently work as the Associate Producing Artistic Director of Fiddlehead Theatre Company where I have directed and designed costumes for their productions of The Wiz, #JCSuperstar, West Side Story, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and, currently, a twentieth anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent.  I have also worked on the Broadway productions of Les Miserables (both original and current revival), Miss Saigon, Newsies, After Midnight, and Five Guys Named Moe

I toured extensively with The Lion King, Wicked, Les Miserables, and, most recently, with Memphis. I previously directed, designed, and created costumes for Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s productions of Funny Girl, Odd Couple, Fiddler on the Roof, Crazy for You, Into the Woods, Gypsy, The King and I, A Christmas Carol, Barefoot in the Park, Singin’ in the Rain, My Fair Lady, and Steel Magnolias, as well as Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s critically-acclaimed Into the Woods, staring Rachel York. 

In the Boston area, he has also designed costumes for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s productions of The Wild Party, Saturday Night, A New Brain, and Parade; Wheelock Family Theatre’s The Little Mermaid and The Secret Garden; Stoneham Theatre’s My Fair Lady and The Dinosaur Musical; and The Boston Conservatory's productions of Candide, On the Town and Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus (which he also directed). Stacey is a six-time Independent Reviewers of New England Award (“IRNE”) winner for both his stage direction and costume design.  He has designed and staged performances for Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, including Misbehavin’ with Nell Carter. I am also a 1987 graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

Talk to us about your production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  How did you develop the concept and production?  What made you choose to produce and direct this musical?  What was different?  What was the same (or similar) to other productions?

Now that’s a question . . . We chose the show because we wanted to do a show that would speak to a lot of people on many different levels.  We also wanted to do a show that we could rethink and bring a new perspective to.  Looking at the show itself and in research, the authors, both Lloyd Webber and Rice, talked about how they wanted to tell the story of Jesus as a real, ordinary man who did extraordinary things.  They also wanted to examine how media and hype could not only bring fame to someone, but also condemn them.

Fiddlehead Theatre Company's  Jesus Christ Superstar  (Photo Credit:   Matt McKee  ).

Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo Credit: Matt McKee).

I found so many parallels to our present world, and how media and the internet have made “instant fame” so attainable.  How the selfie generation has changed the world.  I thought what if Jesus was that everyman who was proclaimed a savior from a major world event?  Even though I was criticized for using the 9/11 tragedy to add “gravitas” to the play, that was not the point at all.  I wanted a milestone that everyone could relate to, that everyone could immediately understand the place of unrest the world was in.  As we worked in rehearsal, the show and the story of Jesus became even more current with lyrics like “What’s the buzz,/ tell me what is happening,” and news stories about how more people would video tape a crime or attack then actually step in to help the victim. 

I was careful to make the biblical accounts accurate in our retelling.  I didn’t want people to not understand what the Bible told us about Jesus, I just wanted to make it current.  One thing we did was play with gender reversal.  I decided that in today’s world Jesus’s twelve apostles would be an all-inclusive group, both male, female, gay, straight, and transgender.  I chose to illustrate how Jesus would have grown in fame in today’s world, writing a book, and then pushed toward a political career before the world condemned him to his death. 

I did warn the cast that we might anger people in this production, and that we may end up with people walking out.  I am happy to say that was not the case.  I was greeted with comments of praise for the production, some commenting that they could not see how it had been done differently in the past.  One mother, who had attended with her sons, thanked me for telling the story so that her kids “finally got it.”

How do you pick your projects and productions?  Is there any common thread?  How have you evolved as a director?

When we talk about upcoming seasons, Meg Fofonoff (Founding Producing Director for   Fiddlehead Theatre Company) and I consider many things.  We discuss shows that we would like to do, what our audiences want to see, and shows that we can breathe new life into with our productions.  We then look to see how shows might relate to one another.  Usually, we try to find something that ties them together.

I hoped I have evolved as a director.  If I haven’t I should probably stop directing.  As humans age and time teaches.  I would say that is the same as a director.  We learn as we go along.  Using life’s experiences we breathe life into characters on the stage.

Do you have any favorite songs?  Pick a lyric from this song that speaks to you as a person or artist.

Smile by Charlie Chaplin, and especially Judy Garland singing it.  It is so simple in its lyrics, but goes straight to the heart for me.  A career in the arts brings many ups and downs, so: “Smile what’s the use of crying, you’ll find that life is still worthwhile,/ If you just smile.”

What are some of the challenges for producing and directing theatre in Boston?

What do I say without out getting in trouble? 

What are some of your hobbies?  What do you do in your spare time?

Shopping.  Shopping, SHOPPING!  

Can you define spare time?  I don’t think it is in my vocabulary.

Fiddlehead Theatre Company's  Jesus Christ Superstar  (photo Credit:   Matt McKee  ).

Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Jesus Christ Superstar (photo Credit: Matt McKee).

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?  What would you do?  What are three things that you would bring with you?

Probably anyplace I haven’t been yet.  I love to explore new places.  I have been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling in my life, both for business and pleasure.  The more of the world I see, the more I want to see.  As for the things I’d bring:  I’ll quote Mae West (but it is four things): "A mink in the closet, a Jaguar in the garage, a tiger in the bedroom and a jackass to pay the bills.”  I guess I could forget the Jaguar for now – Oh, and I’d prefer a stable.

What advice would you give to a young actor?  To a young director?  To a young audience member?

To the Actors and Directors:  Follow your dreams, go out on limbs, listen and learn from everyone, and everything.  Experience life, all aspects both good and bad.  Have a life of experience you can draw from when you are creating characters and telling stories.

To the audience:  SEE THEATRE, EVERYTHING you can.  Things you’ve never heard of, by writers and directors you will never hear of again, featuring actors that aren’t your friends and family.

What is one thing that you could never give up?  What is one thing that you wish that you could give up?

Cheese.  I’m a Wisconsin boy – enough said.

Hmm – can’t think of anything – can I get back to you?

In what do you believe? 

“I believe that children are our future, teach them well, and let them lead the way.”

Oh?  That wasn’t a musical cue?

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Up Next:  Showboat – that little show.  Cast of 48, orchestra of 27, a boat, a car, a story spanning 40 years, featuring one of the most beautiful scores ever written.

I’m co-directing with my partner Meg Fofonoff.  I can’t wait to start.

Also still finalizing next season’s line-up.  It looks like it’s gonna be a “not to miss” season.

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

I’m registered at Tiffany’s and gifts can be sent to me at . . . – I’ve probably shared enough – is anyone still reading this?

2015 Best Student Actress Nominee: Quiana Holmes as Dorothy Gale in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's "The Wiz"

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

Photo Credit: Jenny Rydstet.

Photo Credit: Jenny Rydstet.

Quiana Holmes embodied Dorothy Gale in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's The Wiz. From her courage and strength to her kindness and warmth, Quiana gave a daring performance with talents well beyond her years as a young college student, performing alongside many Equity performers and excelling, especially in her heartrending "Home." In her Interview, Quiana tells us about how she came to audition for The Wiz, her dream vacation (we want to see all of the pictures!), and her exciting and international new project!

Hi, Quiana, and thank you for joining us for our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Please tell us about yourself.

Hello! My full name is Quiana Onrae’l Knaombi Javon Holmes. I am from Rome, New York, a little city in upstate New York. I attended Rome Free Academy for high school, and, there, I ultimately fell in love with music. I was involved in most of my school choirs: Rhapsody Show Choir, Symphony Orchestra, Marching Black Knights (marching band), and the musicals! I decided to take my music education further by enrolling at Berklee College of Music, and, so far, I am having the best time of my life. Boston has given me so many wonderful opportunities.

Talk to us about the audition process for Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s The Wiz.  What did you experience and how did you feel?

One day, I was in my dorm room, and my friend texted me and asked me if I was going to audition for The Wiz. I hadn’t heard anything about the audition and I had about 2 hours to figure out what my plan of attack before they closed the audition. I was not going to let that opportunity pass me by. I had never auditioned for anything outside of Berklee at the time, and I had never auditioned for a professional production before. I really did not know what to expect.

Luckily, I had been learning the song “Home” from The Wiz for my vocal proficiency at school, so I already knew what I was going to audition with. I was nervous and scared, but my gut told me to get to the theatre and give them my best.

What were some of the challenges for this role?  What were some of the most exciting moments or experiences?

One of the biggest challenges that I faced with this role was trying to embody a child. I read the script over and over again to try and understand why Dorothy would say a line a certain way and then I had to imagine her body language. I really wanted to convince the audience that I was a child even though I was 20 years old at the time.

(From left to right): The Lion (Damien Norfleet*), Dorothy (Quiana Holmes), Scarecrow (Carl-Michael Ogle*), and Tinman (Justin Raymond Reeves) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's  The Wiz  (Photo Credit:   Matt McKee  ) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

(From left to right): The Lion (Damien Norfleet*), Dorothy (Quiana Holmes), Scarecrow (Carl-Michael Ogle*), and Tinman (Justin Raymond Reeves) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's The Wiz (Photo Credit: Matt McKee) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

The most exciting moments were definitely seeing the children in the audience, especially when their faces lit up every time that they saw their favorite character or when they saw a special lighting effect. We were creating magic on stage for them and it only made us have more fun and interact in ways that we never thought we could.

Did you see the NBC’s The Wiz?  If so, what did you think?  If not, why not?

I did see NBC’s production of The Wiz Live! and I was very impressed. It was so cool to see the different visions that each director has for their production of a show. It was NOTHING like our version, but the message came across super clear and was so much fun to watch. That is so inspiring to me. Dorothy was beautiful and the cast was perfect!!

Talk to us about your best friends.  How would you describe them?  How would they describe you?

My best friends are loving, caring, respectful, fun, but, most of all, crazy! They love to have a good time and are always there for me when I need them. They are always cheering me on and I really don’t know what I would do without them. I am so blessed to have such an amazing support system.

I think my friends would describe me as fun, hard-working, determined, loving, and super talkative. If I am just meeting you, you might think I’m quiet and shy, but my friends will let you know that isn’t true!

If you could eat anything for the rest of your life, without gaining any negative health implications, what would it be?

I think this is the hardest question I have ever been asked!! But, if I could eat anything for the rest of my life without any negative health implications, then it would have to be garlic pizza from Boys from Italy. Boys from Italy is a little pizza shop in my home town that serves these GIGANTIC slices of pizza, and I have yet to find a pizza that matches its deliciousness. When I say I LOVE their pizza, I mean that with my whole heart.

What are some of your comforts? 

I have a lot of things that I turn to for comfort. First off, performing. If I haven’t performed in a while, I tend to start feeling anxious and not like myself. I turn to my mother and friends and family in times of need or when I need a laugh.

I love my "Sims." You can find me playing The SIMS 1, 2, 3, or 4. The SIMS is always a must. My mother can definitely testify to this!

Dorothy (Quiana Holmes) embraces The Lion (Damien Norfleet*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's  The Wiz  (Photo Credit:   Matt McKee  ) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Dorothy (Quiana Holmes) embraces The Lion (Damien Norfleet*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's The Wiz (Photo Credit: Matt McKee) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Last but never least, God. I truly believe he is making things in my life fall into place and I am forever grateful for him.

What have been some of your most fulfilling theatre experiences (as a performer or audience member)?  Why?

By being a live performer and acting in live theatre, things can go terribly wrong on stage. I think some of the most fulfilling moments on stage are being able to recover from whatever is going on around you. I love being able to play off of another character if one of us misses a line, or a prop falls, or the lights don’t cut out after a scene. There is a thrill of saving a moment that has not gone the way it was supposed to.

Also, as an audience member, when you see actors staying in character and refusing the break the moment, it can be so relieving and exciting. I also really love the times off stage, when you are quick-changing into a costume and you’re on-time for your next scene, or sharing a laugh with your castmates and then having to revert into your character when you walk on-stage. Those moments are what make being a performer fun, and you can’t match that with anything else.

If you could take a journey to anywhere (real or fictional), where would you go?  Who would you bring with you?  What adventures would have?

I would definitely want to travel Spain! I’ve wanted to go all of my life and I want to learn the language and culture. I would bring my boyfriend, mom, sister, niece, my 5 closest friends, Audra McDonald, and, last but not least, Melba Moore!

We would want to pay a visit to Casa Batllo, Basilica of the Segrada Familia, Palau de la Musica Orfeo Catalana, and just explore every crevice of Spain. We would eat so much food and dance until our legs hurt. That is my dream journey!!

What is one music lyric that speaks to you at this point in your life?

“Suddenly my world’s gone and changed its face,/ but I still know where I’m going./ I have had my mind spun around in space,/ yet I’ve watching it growing.”

This is from “Home” from The Wiz, and this line has spoken to me ever since I left home for college. Even though my surroundings are changing, I see myself getting closer to what I want to achieve and I see that I am growing up from what I used to be and that is not a bad thing.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I will soon be in rehearsals for a Motown Revue Tour! I will be performing as young Diana Ross and we will be touring all over Canada, and coming back to the northeast of the United States. I am so excited to finally get started!

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

I am honored to have been nominated as Best Student Actress. Playing Dorothy in Fiddlehead’s Production of The Wiz was such a dream come true and it has opened up many doors for me.

So, I want to thank Fiddlehead again for the amazing opportunity and all of my friends and family for coming out and supporting me. Thank you so much for this interview, ArtsImpulse, and congratulations to all of the other amazing nominees!! God Bless!

2015 Best Leading Actress in a Musical Nominee: Shana Dirik as Ursula in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's "Disney's The Little Mermaid"

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.

Shana Dirik is one of the Cinderella stories of Greater Boston theatre. Starting from community theatre and working her way to Actors' Equity Association, Shana has hit her stride, appearing in no less than 9 productions in 2015, but, most notably, as Ursula in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's star production of Disney's The Little Mermaid. With a dash of camp, a voice to reach the rafters, and an infectious glee and laughter, Shana's warmth and talent shone from even the bottom of the sea as this iconic seawitch and villainess.  

In her Interview, Shana talks about her journey to the professional theatre life (after raising two children), her eventful 2015 performances, and her star-crossed audition story that belongs in her first book!

Photo Credit: Rik Pierce

Photo Credit: Rik Pierce

Hi, Shana, and thank you for joining us for an ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview.  Can you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?

Well, I’d like to begin by saying that I have an amazing husband of 26 years and 2 beautiful children, both in college, that I was blessed to be able to raise as a stay-at-home mom for the last 20 years. I started acting at the age of 10 but never formally had any schooling or classes in theater or music simply because my dad didn’t feel it was a proper profession for a woman, so I studied mechanical engineering and then international economics and graduated from Tufts University, but I always kept my acting on the side.

I turned professional by a fluke 4 years ago when I dipped my toe into Boston (at my children’s urging), and I was offered my Equity card.  The 20 years prior to that was truly spent honing and perfecting my craft in the community theatres of New England which allowed me to always be available for my kids as they were growing up.  It’s in these theaters that I met so many wonderful peers who to this day I still consider some of my nearest and dearest friends, who were always there for me, then and now.  I feel that I truly experienced the best of both worlds, then and now, and I remind myself always how lucky I am to do what I do.      

Tell us about your experiences in 2015; you have performed a lot! What roles did you play, where did you perform?  How were the experiences similar?  How were they different?

Well, 2015 was truly a year of exciting journeys that took me to new places and allowed me to explore diverse roles and challenging experiences!  The year started off with some fun as Addaperle in the Fiddlehead Theatre Company production of The Wiz and continued with crazy Aunt Debra in the Moonbox ProductionsKimberly Akimbo, which was refreshing black comedy that allowed me to spread my acting wings.

Next, I did something that I’ve never done before: the adventure of Summer Stock at the Weathervane Theatre in New Hampshire.  This was truly an amazing experience for me and performing 6 out of 7 shows in an alternating repertory fashion; so yes, rehearse one show during the day, while performing another one at night, whew!  I was lucky to have played Yente in Fiddler on the Roof, Maria in Lend Me a Tenor, Jeanette in The Full Monty, The Witch in Into the Woods, and in the Ensemble in Smokey Joe’s Café and Floyd Collins

Lastly, and most recently, I was thrilled to play Ursula in the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid this past December 2015, a role that truly allowed me to “go big or go home!”  I haven’t had that much fun being evil in a long time! 

As far as similarities, a few of the roles were larger-than-life characters, such as Addaperle, Ursula, Maria, and Jeanette, so I could tap into those characters in a similar fashion, but every show and character had a unique journey for me, so they were certainly different in that sense.  Finding the human side of Debra, and even Ursula, for that matter, meant digging deep and not just making them one-dimensional characters.

Talk to us about how you approached an iconic role such as Ursula in The Little Mermaid?  What research did you do?

For Ursula, I actually did a lot of research through different videos, character analysis sites, and even reading a book that Fiddlehead’s Founder and Artistic Director Meg Fofonoff was kind enough to bring into rehearsal. This book was about the original Hans Christian Anderson story that really gave a good understanding of Ursula’s backstory and why she was so evil.  This was critical for me because it was important, not just to make her this one-dimensional evil person, but someone that, in her own mind, felt justified for doing what she did.  

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's  Disney's The Little Mermaid  (Photo Credit:   Zach Blane ) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid (Photo Credit: Zach Blane) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Hahahah . . .  love this question . . . truly my guilty pleasure would be Vegas baby!  I love going to Sin City with all its amazing restaurants, bars, casinos and shows. It’s like being in a Candy Land for me and my husband. We aren’t huge gamblers, but we like a little table action! 

What is your idea of a vacation?  How do you relax on vacation?

My idea of a perfect vacation is somewhere with an amazing sandy beach and fabulous restaurants. We travel quite often, and tuning-out and just relaxing is the best kind of vacation for us. We tend to do less sightseeing and just more quality down-time recharging our batteries for when we return home.

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?  Least favorite?

Favorite ice cream is anything chocolate with a double or triple in front of it, hahah! I’m a chocoholic so bring it on! 

Least favorite ice cream would have to be coffee.  I prefer that in a mug, thank you!

What are some roles left on your bucket list?  Are there any roles that you would like a chance to play again?

Ahhhh, the ever elusive bucket list. I guess on the top of the list, as I’m sure it is for many actors, would be Mama Rose in Gypsy. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play such an amazing character?  

Other roles I’d be thrilled to get a shot at would be Dolly Levi from Hello, Dolly! and Fosca from Passion.  As far as what I’d love to play again, if I am that lucky, would be Norma in Sunset Boulevard, Jeanette in The Full Monty (I could play her forever!), Mame in Mame, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Miss Hannigan in Annie, and Kate in Kiss Me, Kate.  But honestly, I just love what I do so I would be up for any role that I am lucky enough to have an opportunity to do!

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's  Disney's The Little Mermaid  (Photo Credit:   Zach Blane ) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Ursula (Shana Dirik*) in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid (Photo Credit: Zach Blane) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

What have been some of your most important life lessons?

I think truly believing in yourself and never giving up.  Not having studied theater or music could have been a hindrance for any actor in this day and age, but always believing in myself and working on my skills in the nonprofessional and professional arenas gave me the confidence to know that I was on the right path. It could have been so easy to give up that first year of turning pro, but I had so much support from so many people that giving up was never an option. I’m here to tell anyone who wasn’t lucky enough to get the schooling and training, you may need to NEVER give up on your dream. I like to think I’m proof that good things can happen simply by believing in yourself and your talent.

Tell us a funny audition or performance story.

Omg . . . this one is for the books.  I was still in college and I decided to audition for West Side Story with the MIT Players in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Well, for some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to sing the duet between Maria and Anita,  and yes, you guessed it, I sang it doing both roles back and forth . . . hahaha!  Well when I was done, the director calmly looked at me and said: “Don’t ever do that again.”  And no, I’ve never done that again, but, to this day, it still makes me laugh!

How has the Greater Boston theatre community changed in the last few years?  How would you like it to continue to change?

I actually feel that it has changed, and in a wonderful way!  There is so much diversity in casting now, more so than before, that it is so refreshing for all of us, actors and audience members alike to be involved in that process, be it onstage or off.   I have had the pleasure of working with some of these wonderful groups such as SpeakEasy Stage Company, Moonbox Productions, Fiddlehead Theatre Company, and, now, Wheelock Family Theatre, where diversity in casting is second nature and that just puts a smile on my face.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am currently about to open in Mary Poppins at the Wheelock Family Theatre on January 29, 2016 and I am excited about that!  I am playing yet, another evil character (I am seeing a trend here) Miss Andrews.

After that, I begin a wonderful adventure in LaChiusa’s The Wild Party with Moonbox Productions, working with the amazing Rachel Bertone, so I am truly looking forward to that.

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

Only that I am honored and humbled to be nominated among such a fiercely talented group of women in this category!  I have had the honor of working with Lori [L'Italien], Katie [Anne Clark], Andrea [Giangreco], and Jen [Ellis], and I can truly say my admiration for them both on and off the stage is immense.

 Just looking at this list, there truly are no losers just an amazing group of talented women, and I look forward to sharing a martini or two with all of them.  Supporting the arts and creating magic is what we all love doing, so kudos to us all!  

2015 Best Projection Design Nominee: Bryce Cutler for Fiddlehead Theatre Company's "Jesus Christ Superstar"

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.

Bryce Cutler was one of the designers who brought the static Jesus Christ Superstar into high definition at the historic Strand Theatre. Working under Director Stacey Stephen's insightful design and collaborating with the work of Mac Young, Cutler re-imagined the space and mood for the musical, infusing the production with newsreels, headlines, tweets, and more.  The projection design helped more than perhaps any other visual element to firmly cement the audience in the world of a modern-day Jesus Christ. 

In his Interview, Bryce describes his work, the challenges for projection design, his inspiration, and his upcoming projects!

Photo Credit: Tegan McDuffie

Photo Credit: Tegan McDuffie

Hi, Bryce, and thank you so much for joining us.  Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I am a projection and scenic designer based out of New York City.  Selected projection designs include: The Danish Widow, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley; and the world premieres of The Velvet Oratorio and Antigone. I am a founder of the political theater collective Third Space, and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and my design for The Lady In Red was chosen for international exhibition at the Prague Quadrennial this past year.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, given its unique adaptation.  How much were you involved in creating this concept?

The concept of the media was built into the idea for the show from the beginning.  I just happened to have joined the team a little later after the set had been designed.  A lot of the process was about taking all these ideas and contemporary mediums that we ingest content thru and finding out how those ideas fit into the story we wanted to tell visually.

What role did your projections play in the overall concept?  Tell us about some of the noteworthy moments where your projections helped tell the story.

Mac Young created a fantastic design for projections and, together, I think we were really able to use the projections to allow the show to travel. The projections acted as architecture as well as a space to showcase the larger world around Jesus.  One of my favorite moments was when Jesus is gathering followers and becomes a leader, and we see contemporary magazine covers, news clippings, Buzzfeed says this, and The NY Times says that.  It made [the production] feel very real and contemporary. 

What are some challenges of projection design?  What is rewarding about a good projection design?

Projections come with a variety of challenges and a lot of them lie in the technology.  Half the time, it’s just getting the equipment to connect and speak the same language.  For this production, heat was one of our biggest challenges because the projectors get so hot.  We must have had 3 or 4 fans blowing on projector thru ought the show hopping it wouldn’t “conk” out. 

A good projection design effortless jumps between media and the action onstage.  When it’s done right and done subtly it can take the show to a whole new level you didn’t think was possible. 

What or who inspires you?  What do you think makes something or someone inspiring?

I’m really inspired by artists who push our expectations like Katrin Brack, Marius von Mayenburg, and Donyale Werle.  Whether it’s design or theater or art, I find people who take risk in their work to be truly inspiring.  That risk can take many forms, but I have tremendous respect for people who stand up against the establishment and put everything on the line to explore alternative ideas from the norm.   

How do you think that religion, politics, and pop culture speak to each other in today’s society?

I think it’s a lot of noise.  A sort of endless loop that constantly feeds on itself.  It’s partially why projection design can get so complicated because we have all these mediums to ingest content thru but how those appear on the stage and in what form becomes the challenge. 

Projections helped narrate the story in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's modern interpretation of  Jesus Christ Superstar  (Photo Credit: Bryce Cutler).

Projections helped narrate the story in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's modern interpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo Credit: Bryce Cutler).

Do you have a favorite color?  Why?

Neon Orange because it never stops blinding you. 

If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?  What would you do with it?

I would want to see the future because it would not only be useful but it would help me cut out time-wasting activities. 

What was one of the most demanding projects that you have ever designed?  What was it so demanding?

The design for Spring Awakening was one of the most demanding.  The project took place over a year, and we were trying to reimagine a musical that is pretty iconic and recent—so we knew we needed to be different.  We approached it from a place of dance and focused on a space that could accommodate that.  Then, little by little, we began to design a show that became much more expressionistic then and really quite beautiful. 

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m designing the set and projections for Orpheus Unsung at the Guthrie Theater, a new play by Dael Orlandersmith; a production of Ragtime; and Third Space is in residency at Abrons Arts Center this spring. 

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

Check out my website at: www.brycecutler.com, and thanks for reading!

2015 Best Leading Actor in a Musical Nominee: Jared Troilo in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's "Disney's The Little Mermaid"

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 Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Jared Troilo impressed us with his fresh and charming portrayal of the iconic Prince Eric in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid at the historic Strand Theatre.  Whether he was sailing aboard his ship, serenading us on the shore, or teaching Ariel (and us) to dance, Jared delighted with an easy smile, a winning voice, and just the right mix of princely manners with relateable ease. 

In his Interview, Jared talks about his decision to return to the Boston theatre community, his most challenging roles, and his upcoming role at the SpeakEasy Stage Company in Boston!

Photo Credit: Ross Brown

Photo Credit: Ross Brown

Hi Jared!  Thank you so much for interviewing with me.  Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, ArtsImpulse readers! I’m Jared, and I’m a Boston-based actor.

You’re a Boston boy.  What made you decide to stay in the Boston area after graduating from high school and college?

Well I actually moved to NYC after graduating from The Boston Conservatory, and lived there for about four years. I loved it there, but I found myself leaving frequently for various performance jobs in New England and especially in Boston. Over time, I fell in love with the Boston theater community and with the city itself, so my wife and I decided that we’d rather stay put here for now. We haven’t regretted the decision for a day!

Talk to us about your process for preparing to play an iconic role like Prince Eric.  How many times did you watch the Disney movie?  Did you watch any other versions of the Hans Christian Anderson story?

I watched the movie a lot when I was a kid (I’ve always been a huge Disney fan!), but I decided to stay away from it for this rehearsal process. I didn’t want to be overly influenced by it and come off as some sort of weird caricature of a prince.

I read pieces of the original Hans Christian Anderson story and studied up on my nautical terms, and then did my best to make this well-known prince as normal and human as I could.

Ariel (Jesse Lynn Harte) and Prince Eric (Jared Troilo) sing in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's  Disney's The Little Mermaid  (Photo Credit: Eric Antoniou/Fiddlehead Theatre Company).

Ariel (Jesse Lynn Harte) and Prince Eric (Jared Troilo) sing in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's Disney's The Little Mermaid (Photo Credit: Eric Antoniou/Fiddlehead Theatre Company).

Who is your favorite Disney princess, and why?

Since I was a kid, it’s ALWAYS been Princess Jasmine. I think she might’ve been my first crush!

If you could keep only your sight, your hearing, or your voice, which would you keep?

Wow! That’s like Sophie’s Choice. I would say voice but if I couldn’t hear what would be the point? Hmmm…I like to travel, so I’ll go with SIGHT!

What have been some of the most challenging roles that you have played?  Why?  What did you do to prepare?

I’d say Tony in West Side Story was pretty tough. It was definitely the most challenging role vocally I’ve ever done. Every song is iconic and is expected to be sung beautifully (which is a lot of pressure).

Also, Frank in Far From Heaven was a huge challenge. Dramatically, I had to go places that I had never been before, and try to make this abusive, closeted alcoholic into someone that people could at least somewhat relate to and understand. Plus, people tend to give you a hard time when you beat up Jen Ellis on stage.

What is one thing that you wish that audiences, including your friends and family, understood about theatre?

That it’s a 24-7 career. Even if we’re not working on a show at any given moment we’re always working on ourselves. Our bodies and our voices are our tools so we are always taking voice lessons, dance classes, acting classes, and working out in addition to networking, auditioning and performing. It’s a lot but it’s what we love to do, and we’re willing to make the commitment to do it as well as we can.

If you could trade places with one person for the day, who would it be?  What would you do?

Hmmm . . . Tom Brady. Because why not?

What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of the theatre?

I’m a big Boston sports fan! I’m also a big fan of fitness and traveling. I also love doing winter sports (skiing especially).

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’ll be appearing next in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of Dogfight, playing Boland. We open in May 2016!

Dogfight

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

Thank you so much for the nomination (and for reading all of this). I’m truly honored. Congratulations to all the Nominees!