The Theater Department will spell out their fall semester very clearly as they kick off with a humorous musical for their first production.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” directed by Professor Joe Langworth, will open in Parker Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 26 and will run until Sunday, Oct. 20.
“It’s a great musical,” Langworth said. “It explores the outsider in each of us and how we can find camaraderie in recognizing that common trait in each other. I’m excited because when musical theater is well constructed and well conceived, it communicates to an audience differently than anything.”
The musical, which incorporates audience interaction, will be held in Parker Theatre in an attempt to enhance that feel. Performing a non-traditional musical in a non-traditional space is helpful, and holding it in Parker Theatre where the audience is so involved is even more conducive to the play, Associate Chair of the Theater Department and the production’s set designer, Ken Goldstein said.
Each season’s productions are chosen through a department Season Selection Committee who collect possible show titles from the faculty, community and students. The department selects shows to be performed based on genre rotation to ensure that students are exposed to a variety of styles from the Greek Classics to contemporary pieces, Department Chair, Jack Wade said.
Langworth, who has extensive experience as a Broadway dancer and casting director, is “quite simply, the perfect fit for this vehicle,” Wade said.
Langworth had been invited to New Paltz last spring semester to choreograph the musical “The Producers,” and was hired as a full-time faculty member who now teaches several classes in the department.
Langworth’s only foreseeable challenge is the amount of time — or lack thereof — that he and his cast will have before the production opens. With a little more than three weeks worth of rehearsal time, Langworth said he stresses the importance of strategic time management.
Otherwise, he said he is not nervous, and that he is excited for his small cast to be able to delve into their characters.
“It’s going to be fun. They’re kids in the show and all of us can identify with the kid that doesn’t exactly fit in,” Langworth said. “I want the audience to explore that and to see a little bit of themselves in the characters. I want there to be someone they can root for and be touched by.”
In an attempt to contrast the lightness of the fall musical, the Theater Department has chosen Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” as their second production of the semester. Directed by Associate Professor Nancy Saklad, the show will open on Thursday, Nov. 14 and will run until Sunday, Nov. 24 in McKenna Theatre.
“It’s a wonderful play,” Saklad said. “I’m excited about digging into the process. I’m excited about working with this group of people. This was Shakespeare’s last play he wrote by himself.”
The play, left mainly up to interpretation by its cast and director, is one Saklad is committed to bringing a more conceptualized version to, according to Associate Chair of the Theater Department and the production’s set designer, Ken Goldstein.
“Anytime you conceive a Shakespeare production, the challenge is to be consistent and unified in an engaging way,” Goldstein said. “There’s no formula, you have to invent everything in support of the text.”
Saklad’s “broad version” of the play includes bold set and costume choices, such as the incorporation of steam punk-influenced garments on the Elizabethan and Victorian-themed costumes. This incorporation will allow the cast to “reference the contemporary more,” Saklad said.
The department’s voice and speech specialist, Saklad is the “perfect fit for ‘The Tempest,’ where language and delivery are crucial,” Department Chair Jack Wade said.
Saklad, who earned her MFA in directing, has invited three English professors who specialize in interpreting Shakespearian text to assist the cast during rehearsal and hold a pre-show panel for the audience before each performance.
The only challenge Saklad foresees overcoming is getting her cast — a mix of upperclassmen with craft on their side and underclassmen who are eager to learn — on the same page.
“It’s a nicely balanced cast with many newcomers,” Saklad said. “But we’re all doing the same play, and we all need to have the same amount of know-how, which will be challenging.”
Apart from this challenge, Saklad said he is eager to begin rehearsing, and said she is keeping an open mind in her creative vision.
“The play is about maternal love and forgiveness,” she said. “It’s also about second chances. The cast becomes a huge part of where my vision as a director goes. And what my cast and designer will do, they will do so completely that I can’t predetermine what it will look like until I see it.”