December 2011 Newsletter - A Look Back . . .
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Pitt Rep kicked off its mainstage season with a huge hit! Sweeney Todd, a joint production between the Theatre Arts and Music departments, surpassed all box office goals and laid a strong foundation for future collaborations. Director Lisa Jackson-Schebetta and music director Roger Zahab were true artistic partners from Sweeney’s infancy. When asked to reflect on the experience, Zahab shared “When I met Lisa I found an ideal collaborator with ideas, energy and skill – and I felt we could jump off of any artistic cliff and do far more than just survive.” Jackson-Schebetta, who described the production as “always a joint venture,” too, saw Sweeney as a challenge worth undertaking and identified a “positive spirit” created and sustained by “a high tolerance of risk-taking…and commitment” as integral to its success. For the director, tackling a musical was a new opportunity that challenged her in both “exciting ways—i.e., let’s run around on a rake, in heels with great swaths of silk—and in “ah, right” ways—i.e., running around on a rake in interesting patterns means one cannot see the conductor to get the cue to sing!” Zahab also valued the give and take between theatre and music artists demanded by musical theatre: “A particular benefit for each group is to see how the other works and copes with difficulty.” The risk-taking demonstrated by the director and musical director inspired all involved with Sweeney to take creative gambles that paid off. Teaching Artist Theo Allyn acknowledged the high stakes of the production. Jackson-Schebetta’s concept rested squarely on the back of Mrs. Lovett, played by Allyn. Interested in the woman and the city behind the man, Pitt’s Sweeney Todd pushed artists and audiences up against and ultimately beyond traditional interpretations of the piece. Allyn confessed "There's nothing safe about doing this show, especially the way we're doing it. And I'm exhausted. But profoundly grateful."
Like Allyn, Jackson-Schebetta and Zahab spoke of the student and professional artists that made the production possible with great respect, pride, and gratitude. Theatre is a risky business. Pitt Rep made risk their business and business was good!
This semester also presented adventerous and challenging shows directed by three graduate students beginning with Funnyhouse of a Negro, directed by Esther Terry. With its complex representations of self-identity, the show succeeded in starting conversations about racial perceptions and the difficulties of navigating difference. With powerful performances by a talented group of young actors, the production demonstrated that theatre, like life, requires a great deal of courage.
Kellen Hoxworth's production of Bedtime Stories was a very different kind of show that wove together Charles Mee's script with a series of devised performance pieces. Alternately funny, tender, and boisterous (and with a killer tap dance number!), the production was a strong challenge to traditional ways in which theatre narratives are presented and a meditation on what storytelling means to us all. In the end, audience members were asked to create their own stories in reaction to a sly and joyful production.
The final lab of the semester was the English-language premiere of famed playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer's This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, directed by Dave Peterson. This fairy tale for all ages about three sisters finding their ways in the world was told through a deft combination of puppets, projections and live performances. A charming and gentle meditation on the nature of family, loss, love, and self-discovery, the play left audiences enchanted and just a bit more in love with the world than when they came in.
This has been an exciting semester of lab productions, with each one taking on new and different risks, as well as both challenging and delighting audiences! Come join us for next semester's productions as our talented students continue to take theatre into their own hands and share their distinct visions.