The New Paltz Theater Department wants to be a producer — in every sense of the word. This spring, the department will be putting on the bi-yearly New Play Festival and “The Producers.”
On Saturday, Jan. 26, auditions were held for both the controversial Mel Brooks musical and the evening of original productions written by Hudson Valley playwrights. Cast lists have since been posted, and now the grueling and rewarding part begins — rehearsal.
“During the rehearsal process, you have a great period of discovery,” Stephen Kitsakos, musical director for “The Producers,” said. “We’re hoping to get this group together and learn different things about each character and think of funny and entertaining ways to bring the characters to life.”
New Paltz’s staging of “The Producers,” directed by Department Chair Jack Wade, features a cast of 23 actors. Despite the nature of this large-scale musical, the department was only able to cast 13 men and nine women out of more than 80 students who auditioned because of budget constraints, Kitsakos said.
There was also some apprehension about putting up a show with such an extensive dance requirement, but taking the risk paid off during auditions, he said.
“A lot of students who work with [the] Dance Association auditioned, and it was a very competitive process to whittle down,” Kitsakos said. “My only disappointment is that we could only cast 23 people, but working on a huge show like this, it’s very expensive, and there’s limited space onstage.”
Although the department intends to honor the original text and score, they promise that the musical will be anything but a “copy job,” according to Kitsakos.
“We’re finding our own way in,” he said. “It’s scary, but it’s very exciting. No matter what happens, there’s an opening night.”
The department will also be putting up the New Play Festival, which highlights original productions and gives opportunities for student directors to take leadership roles. Robert Miller, artistic director and communications & media advisor, has been working with the New Play Festival for two years now, and said it’s his job to consider how all of the pieces fit together.
“I have the overall responsibility to the artistic integrity of the evening,” Miller said. “There are a lot of people involved and we have to keep everyone on the same page with the…message of New Play Festival.”
The evening will contain a performance of seven plays, each not exceeding 20 minutes in length, all written by Hudson Valley playwrights and directed by either students or professors.
Each play is centered around a female character, according to fourth-year theater performance major, Brendan Quinn, one of the playwrights and director for the festival. Although Quinn is excited to begin the rehearsal process, he said he’s also nervous about disappointing a playwright.
“I’m directing two shows, and I’m concerned about betraying another artist’s vision,” he said.
Only being able to provide roles to five actors in total — three women and two men — poses an inconvenience for the playwrights as they make their final cuts and decisions about who they will cast in their shows. For an auditioning actor, versatility is very important, Miller said.
“We can only cast five people, and they have to look interesting together,” he said. “In the decision-making process and the rehearsal process, communication is key. I’m not the boss of this; it’s a collaborative effort. My job is to steer the process as opposed to making all the decisions. Some people’s ideas are a lot better than mine.”