Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Interview with the director of WIlly Wonka

Ever wonder what it would be like to be in charge of the artistic direction for a show?  Every director is different in how they approach a show and what innovations they add.  I caught up with our director for Saline Area Players’ production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, Tami HIndes, and here is how she answered some of my questions.

What is your vision for the show?  I loved the original Willy Wonka movie as a kid so when the opportunity came along to direct the stage version, I jumped at it.  Willy Wonka is a colorful, bright, sparkly show.  The factory is what kids might imagine being their ultimate place of business, full of chocolate, candy, and foil wrapping.  In fact, I can imagine that maybe it was Roald Dahl’s ideal job when he was a kid.  This is all in the imagination and the workers (Oompa Loompas) are fantasy characters.

I wanted to make it a family friendly, non-creepy show.  Willy Wonka can be creepy and several have done it like that, but I didn’t want him to be a scary Wonka – I wanted him to be somebody we would want to be.  I also wanted the show to be accessible to younger kids and not to scare them.

What have you learned?  There are meanings to this show that I hadn’t thought about until we got into it.  It seems like there is an underlying message of being responsible and owning up to mistakes.  It’s about saying we’re sorry when we do wrong.  And believing that goodness does pay off in the end and even the little guy can win.

What do you like about directing this show?  It is fun.  The staff has been awesome.  They all jumped in and fulfilled roles, did things ahead, kept up great communication and have decked the show with sparkles. 

The cast has been great to work with - lots of energy and happy faces at every rehearsal. Everyone seems to pitch in and help whether it's moving a prop or reading a line for someone who's not there. 

Tell us a bit about the process of directing this show?  I like to listen to what the actors have to say - especially the kids, because they see things differently and a lot of times, I think, “Wow! that's an awesome suggestion.” I want the actors to "own" this show and I hope they feel I value their input. A few years ago, I wouldn't have felt comfortable using the actors' suggestions. So I think I've matured as a director too. I'm not such a dictator any more. 

Sometimes things happen accidentally during the rehearsals and they end up being used in the show – that’s fun.

It's been another fantastic experience with the Saline Area Players. I've learned a lot about directing, being flexible, but also sticking to my decisions.

What’s rewarding to you?  I look back where we started - 50 plus individuals, and now, we're all pulling together and we've become a complete unit. I've seen lots of friendships blossom. One young lady has been "bitten" by the stage bug and recently auditioned for Varsity Blues - I'm not sure if she would've done it before this show or not, but she did and made the group. I think for a lot of the kids, theater gives them direction and structure while letting them be creative. 

Why should people come to the show?   First of all, one of my trademarks as a director, I guess, is I like the audience to interact with the characters. Before the show, the Oompa Loompas will be greeting the audience and the Candy Man will have his cart out front actually selling candy. 

This version will be a bit different than other Wonka shows because I've added some pre-show/opening fun - once again probably becoming one of my little quirks as a director - where I can have some unlimited creativity. I've really worked to make this an intergenerational show, where the kids will enjoy it on one level and the adults will on a different level. 

Plus we've added in some special treats that I can't discuss here under my magician's oath. People will just have to come and see the show. People will leave humming the songs and my goal is for everyone to walk away feeling like their dreams can come true. 

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka is on April 19 & 20 at 7PM and April 20 & 21 at 2PM at the Ellen A Ewing Performing Arts Center at Saline HS.  To order tickets and for additional information check out the Saline Area Players' website!

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Art of Being a Brat

It occurs to me as rehearsals have gotten underway for Saline Area Players’ production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka that we have some of the nicest kids I’ve ever met playing the most bratty characters ever.  I started to wonder what they did to channel their bratty-ness.  So, I spent a little time with them trying to figure it out.  One thing I found out was that all of them watched both movies, the original from 1971 entitled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and the more recent version from 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to get ideas about their characters.  3 of the 4 kids said they liked the first one better, which I saw when it came out, but they all saw on DVD.  Yes, there were people alive then.  In fact, my sister had a theme party at our house based on the song Candy Man, which was a lot of fun and, needless to say, included lots of sweets.  Anyway, the other thing they all have in common is that they are enjoying their parts, as you will see by some of their responses to my questions.

Augustus Gloop:
Henry Kiley, who plays Augustus Gloop, says he’s played the part before.  He describes his role as a “happy goofy glutton.” He says, “I could never do a good German accent…. but, I gave it a shot … it has been working well.”  To learn the German accent, his previous director read some of the lines for him with an accent and he listened to it on Youtube.

What’s his hardest part?   "Thinking about how ridiculous the song actually sounds."  Henry had to look up one of the words in the lyrics - truncheon (which rhymes with luncheon) - it's a kind of large club.  He says,"bratwurst the size of a truncheon is funny!"  Overall, Henry's take on the song is that it “doesn’t sink in that you’re singing about food” and then when you think about it, “it is absurd.” The song title is “I Eat More!”

Mike TeaVee:
Stephen Muzzi, who plays Mike TeaVee, says with a smile that normally “I’m a perfect angel.” At home he is more into books than technology, but watches TV, uses a wii and plays with the i-pod touches of his older siblings, although notes that when he asks them to use one, they often say “no”. 

How is he like his character?  “I’m really hyper at home.”  How is he different?  He doesn’t watch TV or screens all day like his character.

What’s it like to play the part?  “It is fun to be a person completely different than you are and to totally turn off Stephen Muzzi and put on Mike TeaVee and call adults ‘fools’…. That’s fun and satisfying.”  But, he acknowledges that he would never do that in real life!

Violet Beauregarde:
To channel her “brat,” Olivianna Calmes watched TV shows where people are super bratty.  She found the show “Toddlers in Tiaras” extremely helpful.  She says, jokingly, that the brat comes from “deep inside” her.  She tries to act sassy and laid back.  A favorite pose:  Hand on hip and leaning on one leg – “it gives the impression I don’t care what people think.”

How is she like her character?  She and her real mom have a good relationship with each other like Violet and Mrs. Beauregarde do.  They are both super supportive.
How is she not like her character?  Violet is usually very competitive, but she’s not.

What’s it like playing the part?  “Super fun and hilarious.”  “I can be exactly opposite what I am and know that people will laugh because I’m acting horrible.”

Veruca Salt:
Hannah Burkhart is one of the kindest kids I know and has been honored for her volunteer activities.  So, what does she do to play a spoiled, bratty kid?  She says “I try to be rude and listen to what the director says.”  She was instructed to be like a child who doesn’t care what anyone else says but to do it in her age range.  To prepare, she thinks about mean people she knows.  She has worked on her body postures – hands on hip, shaking her head, stomping her feet. 

How does it feel to be so bratty?  “I feel bad sometimes for yelling at everyone…. I don’t want to invade people’s personal space.”

Is it fun too?  “Oh, definitely!...I get to be mean to people with no repercussions!”

These are great kids who are having a riot playing bratty ones.  I’ve had my own share of playing bratty characters, and I agree with them, it is a lot of fun! Just know, though, that when you meet them on the street they are ACTING and these are not their real personalities.

Tickets are ON SALE NOW for Saline Area Players’ production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.  All the information is on SAP’s website at