CA: How do you go about designing lights for a touring production?
MM: The National Tour doesn’t bring its own lighting instruments, so every place the tour goes, adjustments must be made. Each venue is different and their lighting inventory and positions vary tremendously. So when you’re designing lights for the tour, you have to think about what it’s going to be like in all of the locations. You have to be aware of which lights you can cut and still keep the production looking right. We don’t want it overly simplistic, but we want the design on the road to be as close as possible to what we see in Missoula. So design choices made are in the best interest of both the show here and what is seen on the road.
CA: What were your initial reactions to the script?
MM: The single day in which everything happens is the microcosm of the Kellers’ life: of who they are, how they learned, developed, and grew, and, at the end of the play, separated. I was familiar with the play, but it had been a long time. It is so enjoyable to read and when you see it onstage you realize how wonderfully crafted the words are. As you study it more in-depth, you realize the importance of everything the characters say throughout the play. It applies just as well now as when it was written in 1946, and it will continue to apply because it’s about humanity at its core. I love the play and I’m really enjoying the performances as the actors bring these characters to life. One of my favorite aspects is the relationship between father and son. It is written in a way that I think all sons could see their fathers throughout the stages of their lives. As a boy, your father is one person; in your teenage years, your father becomes a different individual because the relationship changes; and then you get to a point where you surpass your father and the roles reverse. So this single day in which All My Sons takes place is, to me, the evolution of the relationship between father and son.
CA: What kinds of initial research did you do to develop your design?
MM: In my early research, I looked at skies, clouds, trees, and vernacular architecture and scenes. What I think is so elegant about Mike’s [Fink’s scenic] design is that it’s this vernacular, everyday, common home that could be anyone’s house in any location. I hope to reinforce that sense with the lights so that the tone is that of an everyman’s place. For example, I love putting texture onstage with lights. I like to paint the stage with texture and quality that is more than just visibility. Knowing where the characters are, knowing where the light is coming from, knowing what the light had to get through, and what the light had to accomplish in order to actually be in the space. What is outside of the set that we don’t see? In reality, light is bouncing off a number of surfaces: it’s coming off the ground, it’s coming off of trees, it’s coming off of walls, so you’re going to get reflections, colors, and qualities that are coming from many areas and I like to justify in my mind of where light is coming through so that there’s a reason for it to be there.I can choose that reason. I can choose where the sun is coming from. For the most part, the cues in the production are mostly smooth, transitional, and would be what you expect during the day in which the play takes place. I’d like people to not notice the lights are changing, but realize that, for example, the day has changed.
MM: Jere and I seemed to be, more or less, on the same page from day one. The main thing we talked about was really capturing how the time of day reflects the mood of the play. As the characters get into the ‘fight’ – the big moment at the end of act two – the clouds are moving in, some stars come out. At the beginning, they even talk about how there’s not a cloud in the sky, but we don’t stay there, we move into something that’s darker, moodier, and the oncoming storm is reflective of the storm that’s occurring onstage. We talked about what we were going to do on the cyclorama and decided that we wanted to accomplish the look everyone is looking for with lighting instruments and not have to bring in projected media. We also discussed the transitions from one point to the next. What the lights look like in one cue and what they look like in the next cue are important, but to me, evolving from cue-to-cue is just as important, if not more so, than the look of each cue itself. The movement of light is a very important quality. With the exceptions of the moments at the beginning and end of each act that serve as a prologue and a button on the storytelling, the transitions are all very smooth and realistically motivated.
CA: What colors and patterns can we expect to see onstage?
MM: We will see a lot of deep, dark blues for the nighttime scenes. We will see a lot of tree-leaf patterns. While we have color picked for the show, it is an organic process-it’s really easy for the lighting designer to change color. Repainting the set is tedious and expensive, changing costume fabrics is impossible at this point in the game, but pulling color media in and out of lighting instruments until you get it right is relatively easy. The play is also set during summer in the Midwest and the trick I’ve struggled with when trying to emulate heat onstage is that it is difficult to accomplish without making it really bright. You have to somehow capture the qualities of light of a hot summer day. To me, hot is a hazy, brutal yellow, but many yellows can be atrocious onstage. So, it kind of comes down to direction. I try to bring light in at different angles so that the eye becomes aware of it, as opposed to making the actors’ faces brighter, which only reads as intensity. I try to create a strong directional light that is suggesting deep, hot, sun rays. I have a hot amber that I’ll use, but also knowing that it’s a hot day that is filtered by clouds and trees helps me justify avoiding making it look like the Sahara Desert.
CA: What do you listen for in the first readings in order to help generate ideas?
MM: I listen for how the actors are interpreting their characters, but there’s not always a lot I can get from a reading. What I get the most from is watching the initial run-throughs of each of the three acts after they’ve been staged. In those rehearsals, I get a better sense of Jere’s boxing ring concept, and, currently, for example, in the staging there are moments where people are getting cornered in the yard, as if in a fight. So it’s fun to watch people get stuck in corners and battle to get out. Because of those staging choices, I am able to make some strong decisions on how I was lighting the stage. If a character seems to get lost in a corner somewhere in a shadowy, reflective state, I can choose to reinforce that with shadowy, reflective lighting. The staging is a lot more important than the language to me because the pace and transitions in the movement all influence how I need to pace and transition the lights. The lights have to support the movement onstage.
CA: How does light contribute to the storytelling in a play like All My Sons?
MM: The light contributes to the storytelling in All My Sons by helping connect us to who these people are, where they are, and where they’re going. My goal is to add the element that finishes making everything beautiful, beautiful in the sense of correct, appropriate, and elegant. There are moments I can bring in that help the production and the audience connect – a light on in the cellar, for example, can be foreshadowing as well as establishing location and time of day. Lighting can make the last and important step of turning this production into a complete piece of theatre. Scenery can look great, costumes can look great, sound can be great, acting can be great, but if the lighting isn’t bringing it all together, if it doesn’t reinforce the wonderful choices of the rest of the team-those things can all get lost, muddied, or displaced. So I want to be able to take all the work everyone else is doing and give it that final nudge.
6:30 PM / No-host cocktails 7:30 PM / Special performance of ARTHUR MILLER’S ALL MY SONS 9:30 PM / Dessert, champagne, and a dance party featuring the Johan Eriksson Quintet
(Please note that there will be no dinner this year.)
This year’s Golden Halo Award and Gala Celebration will be dedicated to the memory of Don and Pat Simmons, who gave so much to this community. Don and Pat’s lives were a reflection of all that is finest in the American character, and we are pleased to honor them as we present another great American classic.
A conversation with Jere Lee Hodgin on directing All My Sons
By Cohen Ambrose, Production Dramaturg
A few weeks ago, I sat down with the director of Montana Rep’s 2016 National Tour of All My Sons, Jere Lee Hodgin. I wanted to offer the Rep’s audiences some insights into Jere’s process as a director, how he approaches a classic text by a such a staple of American drama like Arthur Miller, and how he will go about working with the actors when rehearsals begin in early January.
CA: What is the first step you take when you prepare to direct a play?
JH: I always start by identifying the major elements of the play. I begin with the most basic structural devices. What is the incident that begins the conflict of the play? What event occurs that acts as a turning point? And of course, what is the climax of the play? In All My Sons, the inciting incident is when Chris reveals to his Father that he’s going to propose to Ann. That event sets forth all the motion of the play. The point at which the play turns in a direction from which there is no return is more obvious and that’s when [Ann’s] brother George arrives, having just visited their father in prison, with the intent purpose to stop Chris and Ann’s marriage. Like many characters from the Greek tragedies, he comes in with a vengeance. Had he not come in, it would have been a different play, it might have worked out okay, and I think Miller was trying to write a tragedy that was an outgrowth of who we are today and not who we used to be. Joe’s flaw is that he thinks he can get away with his crime. George’s insistence on the truth being told, to right a wrong and avenge his father, is what ultimately leads Joe to the step that he takes at the climax of the play. He cannot live with his own guilt. He has been living through denial, but when he is no longer allowed the luxury of self-denial, he cannot live with the effacement that that’s going to produce in him.
CA: What is your concept for the Montana Rep’s production of All My Sons?
JH: The play is a boxing match. I think Miller adopted a real robust straightforwardness with this play. It is all set in Joe Keller’s backyard. There are no interior or private scenes. Everything is there for the whole community to witness, and so when I began talking with the set designer, I saw that the play is like a boxing match. I wanted there to be a “ring.” The characters have to get into the ring, so to speak. They spar with one another until George shows up and starts throwing blows. It was important that even in the front of the set, there would be a fence – it’s only suggested, but it’s there nevertheless. It’s containment – there’s no escape from this yard. Joe is a brawler. Even when Kate confronts Joe at the end of the play and tries to convince him to face his guilt, they go into the yard, into the empty ring, as it were, with no one else there, and she really takes him down to his knees. Then Chris comes in and reads the letter, which is the total knockout. There’s no recovery for Joe. He cannot get up.
CA: What will you do in the first rehearsals?
JH: Part of what I’ll do in the first days of rehearsal is to determine how the energies of the actors fit together. I’ll be keenly studying the actors and from that, I’ll determine how I want to rehearse the play. I’ll work out a rough rehearsal schedule beforehand based on how the play is structured, but that will be tempered by who the people are. The cast will not meet one another until the first read-through, so I’ll also be watching their reactions to one another. I also like to try to work out what each individual’s rhythm is and how that rhythm can coincide with the character’s rhythm, or what the character’s rhythm is going to be as a result of the actor’s rhythm. For example, Joe Keller is a blue-collar man who has risen above that level, but he’s a hands-on man. Therefore, his energy has to be big enough that he can be in control – how he reads a newspaper will even tell us a lot about his rhythm. Dr. Bayliss is restless, so I want Scoob [Decker] to be forward-moving and quick. I think George [Mason Wagner] has to have a very fast, flailing rhythm. There would be a considered rhythm – no wasted energy or movement for Chris [Colton Swibold]. Chris is grounded. I’m going to work with each actor on activities and their physicality to help them establish and bring out their character’s rhythm.
How The Montana Rep chooses between commercial viability and keeping the American canon strong and diverse
August marks the first month of Montana Rep Artistic Director Greg Johnson’s monthly “Note from the Artistic Director,” posted last week (read it here). In his note, Johnson sheds some light on his and the Rep staff’s process for selecting the titles the Rep will produce in a given season. Johnson clarifies that there are a number of conditions that must be met with the selection of each title depending on whether the play will be produced for the National Tour, the local Visions and Voices program, or The Montana Educational Outreach Tour. The boxes that must be ticked range from satisfying Montana State English curricula and titles that will challenge and provoke Missoula audiences’ ever-expanding appetite for “edgy, controversial, thought provoking theatre,” to the title recognition and commercial viability that the National Tour venue presenters expect from the Rep. Ultimately, however, Johnson makes it clear that the Rep “seeks to engage the audience in fulfilling, exciting ways, to bring the excitement, vivacity and the joy of live theatre” to all of its local, regional, and national audiences. Keeping these considerations in mind, however, how does the Rep strike the delicate balance of offering exciting, vivacious, thought provoking American theatre that carries enough commercial weight and recognition to sell to large venues across the nation?
The Rep opened its 2015-2016 season with a very successful national tour of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, which is a commonly taught book in American and European high school curricula, is included on the NEA’s national Big Read list, and, according to USA Today, has sold half a million copies annually since its publication (Donahue 2013). Needless to say, the novel’s title itself was the production’s marketing strategy and the Rep enjoyed one of the longest, most widely praised tours in its 48-season history. Last winter, however, the Rep announced that its 2016 national tour would be Arthur Miller’s early play All My Sons, first produced in New York in 1947. Despite the play’s initial success on Broadway and its two film adaptations, Miller’s name is perhaps more synonymous with a tumultuous marriage to his second wife Marylin Monroe than with this great foreshadowing of his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1949 play Death of a Salesman. When the cast and crew of the Rep’s Gatsby tour asked the presenters about the 2016 title last winter, sadly, they were often met with “We can’t sell it.”
In his note, Johnson explains that the Rep has tried to alternate between big titles and lesser-known, but significant works from the American dramatic and literary canons when selecting titles for the National Tour. If the Rep – the only nationally touring company that produces solely non-musical American plays – did not produce the lesser commercially known, but great plays of American drama, does the American dramatic canon begin to shrink? If the Rep only produced highly recognizable titles, what would happen to great plays like All My Sons, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (2012 National Tour), and other great American stories that excite, provoke, and vivify the American dramatic imagination? At The Rep, we believe it is our obligation to not only walk the tightrope that comes with a security net of unquestionable popularity, but to sometimes walk a more delicate, unprotected line that ensures audiences around the nation, although sometimes smaller, access to the other great American stories and plays that speak to our collective historical and cultural moment – plays that ask us to tap into more uncharted, sometimes more vulnerable and unrecognizable territories of the human spirit.
Fourteen-year old Alice does not want to be an adult, especially because she feels it is being forced upon her. When her older sister Lorina asks her to grow up she responds with, “Why would I want to do that?”
As Montana Rep continues telling great American stories, The Great Gatsby will be approached with all the honor and care such an outstanding work of art deserves. The story will be reintroduced and reinvigorated, bringing the beauty and poetry of this masterpiece-living and breathing on stage-to a new generation of theatergoers, replete with the sensuality and extravagance of the Jazz Age.
Time: 7:30pm.Admission: $10-20.Age restrictions: All Ages.Address:University of Montana, 32 Campus Drive.By F. Scott Fitzgerald / Adapted by Simon Levy
As Montana Rep continues telling great American stories, The Great Gatsby will be approached with all the honor and care such an outstanding work of art deserves. The story will be reintroduced and reinvigorated, bringing the beauty and poetry of this masterpiece-living and breathing on stage-to a new generation of theatergoers, replete with the sensuality and extravagance of the Jazz Age.Related post.