Wednesday, August 10, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Director Greg Sherman gets in his wrangling
on summer production of Broadway's "Oliver"
|Conversations: Looking back|
|Click here for more arts talk.|
Summer Musical Enterprise has been putting on a show in the New River Valley every summer for 14 years. Tonight is opening night for this year’s production, the Broadway smash "Oliver!" directed by Greg Sherman.
Here Sherman, a professor of teacher education at Radford University, shares some thoughts on the challenges and rewards of working with a 100-person production that includes a large cast of first-time child actors.
How many people are involved in this production?
Greg Sherman: There are about 70 cast members … almost all amateurs, and many of them have done nothing before this … and 30 various crew members, including the orchestra.
What’s the age range?
GS: I think our youngest just turned 7, and they range up to … they will hit me if I say 7 to 70, I will say from 7 to well-seasoned.
What’s the majority?
GS: More than half the cast are between the ages of 7 and 17.
How long have you been involved with Summer Musical Enterprise?
GS: This is my first job directing, and it will probably be my last. You get so burned out. Anybody who works as the director, they do their year, then they end up in rehab, and then they actually cannot see any type of theatrical production for three years. … I’ve enjoyed my one year and already made my reservations.
What was your involvement before this?
GS: This is my third show being involved. I worked technical stuff in shows before this.
How long have you been working on this one?
GS: We had auditions in March, and we started having meetings in May, and we’ve been rehearsing two or three nights a week since the very beginning of June.
And there’s a different production every year?
GS: Different musicals, yeah. They try to stagger when they’re gonna do one with kids and without kids. They can only handle doing a show with kids every two or three years because you do it with kids and then you realize why you don’t do it with kids. They’re fabulous, I love kids, it’s just a lot of work. Actually the reason I got involved with this one was because there were kids. … I have experience as a director in children’s theater. Most of my directing experience is with kids.
What got you into theater in general, and into the directing path? Did you start with acting?
GS: Yeah I was an actor first, in college. I was a junior high science teacher, and the theater teacher at our junior high school ended up in an institution about halfway through the year and I had to take over. That’s true by the way. … I had been involved in theater before, so I ended up being the theater teacher and I really loved it. I ended up doing that for six or seven years.
So you’re a professor now?
GS: In education, not theater. But I suppose there’s an element of theater in education.
Watching you direct, I was actually very much reminded of when I taught English classes. Trying to find a language that conveys a vision to everyone in the room — in your case 100 people. What do you think is the role of the director?
GS: Try to stay sane I guess. One thing I really wanted to do this year was to encourage people of all ages who have never done this before to get involved, that it would be enjoyable. I was really interested in working with people who have never done this before. … This is a huge team effort. We have a vocal director, a music director, a technical director, a lighting director, the costumers, the set designer. We had a meeting where I communicated what I thought the feel of the show should be, and everyone went off and did their thing, and I was just the person who had to sit there and say yes or no. Somebody has to be that person.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
GS: Working around people’s summer vacations. Here we are with two more rehearsals before opening night, and I think this might have been the rehearsal with the most people. Not everybody was here either. I don’t think we’ve ever done a rehearsal with everybody, so there you go. That’s the biggest challenge.
GS: My own kids are in it, and knowing that they’re having a great time, that’s been the biggest reward.
And that seems like it extends to your goal with everybody, to make it an enjoyable experience.
GS: Yeah, and I think they are really having a good time.
Summer Musical Enterprise’s production of "Oliver!" opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Squires Haymarket Theatre at Virginia Tech. The musical will also be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Aug. 18-20, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 21.