Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
Steve Sondheim’s Company follows the single Bobby as he weaves in and around the lives of his married friends, contemplating his own relationships along the way. On this opportunity of his 35th birthday, Bobby relives those defining moments that characterize his ideals of marriage versus the realities of relationships. Director Bridget Grace Sheaff (Undergraduate, ’14) discuses the challenges and successes of the production process so far.
What is your history with directing musical theatre? How has this experience compared to the straight plays and cabarets you’ve directed in the past?
My father has been directing musical theatre since I was young. I have many memories of sitting in a darkened auditorium watching dress rehearsals, mouthing all of the lines and lyrics to myself. I went to almost all the performances of his productions, listening for the audience’s reaction, watching the actors build the story anew every night. Most of the tenants I learned about directing, that I carry with me today, come from musical theatre. There are aspects of musicals that you don’t find in straight plays: large ensembles, heightened passion that can only be expressed in music and dance, and a different relationship between the audience and the action. Company is a larger piece than I have directed in the past, both in size of cast and scale of spectacle. This is the first musical theatre production I have directed. In comparison to the pieces I have done in recent history, this is a whole new world of production. Company is one of my favorite pieces of American theatre, musical or straight play. So, this experience presents me with the challenges of a new way of directing, but also with the absolute thrill of presenting a piece that I love to an audience. The support from the cast, KC, and Derek (my music director and stage manager, respectively) has been unbelievable. I am learning a lot about directing and finding the voice of the text from this production and I am excited to start putting it all together and bring this musical to life.
Why did you choose Company? What makes it a pertinent piece of theatre for the modern audience? How have you adapted the 40-year-old text to better communicate with a modern audience?
Besides my absolute adoration of this piece and my total respect for Stephen Sondheim, I think that the message in Company is something we can all connect to. Company is about more than just marriage. Bobby’s journey is about more than just finding a wife. The piece is about isolation and loneliness. Our society is all too ready to allow us to be isolated; we put in earphones to listen to our own specific music, we use text messages to shorten conversations that we would rather not have, we drive to work alone. And the effect goes farther than we think. When we, individually, decide to become autonomous, we selfishly quarantine those around us. We do not allow people to be active in our lives because it is easier to control our individual, idealized worlds. But, as Bobby sings in Being Alive¸ “alone is alone not alive.” I have taken this text from the 70’s and added a technological element to draw out these themes and present to the audience a world where what is supposed to connect us actively gets between us.
What are some challenges you’ve faced through the production process?
I am so used to self-producing my work that working with a large budget and a full production team has been rather daunting. Collaboration is the corner stone of good art, but it is a skill that I am constantly honing in myself. Another challenge has been the age of the text. Though we are working to make the themes relevant, there are references and words that just aren’t used today. As we weed through the diction, we also are confronted with the problem of age. Here we are, a group of 20-somethings, talking about marriage and loneliness and love. It is almost absurd to think that we are attempting to tell the stories of these middle-aged couples. What could a group of college students of the Millennial generation possibly bring to a piece like this? This challenge provides us with an incredible opportunity to talk about the universal nature of these themes; what do we know about loneliness? No, seriously, what is it that we can bring to table? Conversations with the cast and the production team have brought me to the conclusion that we, in watching our parents, learn these themes on a different level of intimacy than we think. The expectations of marriage are greater for us than the possibilities of the obstacles inside of marriage. We, like Bobby, are on the outside looking in. What we see and have seen is what we are going to put on stage.
What should we expect to see from you next?
I am directing Antigone in February and I will be assisting Eleanor Holdridge on her upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice in April. I am also always working on writing and have a few plays in development right now. Suffice it to say, I have been busy and will continue to be for the rest of the year.