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Hold On To Your Vision

Just another rehearsal.

After working twenty nine days straight, I finally had a day off yesterday to recuperate. By recuperate, I mean a day doing laundry and cleaning. Now it’s on to the final month of school: concerts, meetings and award programs. It will most likely take me several months to feel like my self again.

Six months of planning and rehearsing resulted in an epic production of Ragtime that I hope will have a lasting impact on the cast and audience that got a chance to see it. When you begin the process, you never quite know how it will turn out. For me, three days before we opened I was a little more than fearful we had missed the mark. Each day brought us closer and the cast, orchestra and tech became a cohesive unit, resulting in a fine production.

How do you get there? How do you take the known challenges, combined with many unforeseen factors and reach the end result? Vision. You have to have vision and trust and belief in yourself to make it a reality.

The trust and support of those around you are crucial as well. When it’s not there, it doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill your vision –but it’s definitely easier when you have it.

Ragtime was our choir director’s bucket list show. She spent years building enough interest in our small African American population at school to bring it to fruition. BHS has an African American population of less than 120 students and she was somehow able to get 30 to participate. It was no small feat. For those not familiar with the show, Ragtime must have three equally-sized groups to stage the opening number: New Rochelle (white, upper-middle class), African American, and Immigrants. There are individual stories that come from within those three groups that build the overall framework for the musical.

The cast of Bartlett High School’s production of the musical Ragtime.

In spite of all its challenges, the success of the production laid in the hands of the directors, volunteers and support staff that so willingly gave countless hours of dedicated labor to make it all happen. Without all the wonderful support, I’m not sure how I could have successfully survived my double duty as stage director and tech director.

The Vision

Little Girl, Tateh and Emma Goldman in a scene from Ragtime.

In visualizing our production, I had to take into account the large size of the cast (116), the layout of the stage and how best to use it to tell the story and elements that would make our production unique. After spending many hours with the script and score, I returned to E. L. Doctorow’s novel for guidance to connect the dots.

When it came to staging the show, I added in bits of business that reflected on the novel but were not present in the musical script. For instance, in the novel, Evelyn Nesbit was obsessed with Tateh’s Little Girl and she returned time and time again to have silhouettes done. In the musical there is no interaction between them at all. So in a scene where Tateh was working and confronted by Emma Goldman, I had him producing a silhouette of Evelyn and had her sneak out when they were distracted to avoid having her identity discovered by Goldman.

In another instance towards the end of the show, when Mother finds out Father is returning to New York, I had Tateh and Little Girl enter with her and Little Boy to establish their growing relationship. Again, reflecting on the text of the novel.

Houdini and Evelyn, “Atlantic City” from the musical RAGTIME.

One of my favorite staged moments in the show was Houdini and Evelyn Nesbit’s Atlantic City routine. Instead of separating the two as it appears to have been written, our choreographer and I made them a team and created a beautifully executed vaudeville number.

In the Henry Ford number, as opposed to having Coalhouse’s car simply driven onstage at the end, I envisioned a giant ‘puzzle car’ being assembled on stage with the pieces being held by the workers in the scene. At one point, I was afraid we weren’t going to be able to make it work but it came together quite well.

The Show Curtain.

From the outset, I pictured an Act Curtain (Show Drop) that was a giant quilt with RAGTIME in large letters. I thought I might have to build it myself, but we were fortunate to find a wonderful woman that, after some begging and pleading, was convinced to create the 20 foot by 36 foot finished product… and it only took her five days! I wanted the quilt because it represented the piecing, or coming together of smaller units to create a whole, much like the melting pot of people that represent America.

Wheels of a Dream from RAGTIME the Musical.

The Challenges

There were many challenges associated with the production, as there are with most productions. One challenge was getting the cast to understand the historical significance of the material with an even bigger challenge being the way the show is written. Ragtime has many small vignette scenes that intertwine making it difficult for the young actors to develop and understand their characters. A lot of time had to be spent filling in the blanks– another way the novel was helpful.

The biggest challenge was the size of the cast. Normally a high school production has somewhere between 40 and 60 performers but in recent years, BHS has cast 100 to a record 150 performers in last year’s Hairspray. This year’s cast featured 116 performers and along with the size of the cast came the issues of synchronization, rehearsal attendance and eligibility. Most of our leads were active in other school activities such as sports, clubs and competitive academic teams, requiring many changes to the schedule to accommodate productive rehearsals. Combine that with the added expenses of a large cast and a very tight budget and it is a wonder we were able to do what we did.

Mary DeWitt as Mother singing Back to Before in RAGTIME.

Hold On To Your Vision

I have to say there were a number of times I wanted to throw up my hands and give up on certain aspects of the production. Exhaustion and frustration begin to cloud your vision and make you question your original goals.

About a week before the show, after a series of frustrating rehearsals, the choir director and choreographer approached me with solemn looks on their faces. I said, “Oh no, now what?” And they simply told me, “Don’t let go of your vision.” I hadn’t, and I didn’t– but a partly due to their never-ending support for my vision.

You have to visualize and set your goals. You have to believe in your vision. Even though it may be a rough road with lots of bumps and curves, you can make it a reality. You must have faith… trust… and believe in yourself and the abilities of the others around you in order to succeed.

Realize your vision.

Make it happen.

Closing Night Curtain Call of Bartlett High School’s production of RAGTIME.

New York 2012- Monday, Day Four

I was surprised Michael and I weren’t exhausted after seeing 6 shows in the past two days (7 total to this point.) Plus, I frequently take naps when my schedule allows and I haven’t had one since we got here. It’s been a great trip so far and I was looking forward to doing a little exploring today.

Union Square

After I finished my blog post…in a very windy Times Square…. I caught up with Michael in Union Square where we’d planned to meet up with a friend. Union Square holds special importance on this trip as it is one of the locations featured in the musical, RAGTIME that I am directing.

Emma Goldman gave speeches and held rallies here. Today, Occupy Wall Street is camping out, banging drums and holding signs of protest. A century later and not much has changed. Different cause — same location. Power to the people.

Washington Square Arch

We wandered the neighborhood a bit and I jogged over to Washington Square to take a few pictures of the Washington Square Arch. Then we met our friend, had lunch and checked out some of the unique shops in the area.

We ended up at Madison Square Park, the original location of Madison Square Gardens, where we stopped at the famous Shake Shake and had a frozen treat. It was pretty busy in spite to the blustery day. The park is across from the world famous Flatiron Building.

The Flatiron Building


Monday night we saw the revival of Evita which Michael and I had both been looking forward to seeing on Broadway.

I could probably go on and on about it –but let’s just say if it gets one good review I will be shocked.

In a nutshell, it is miscast, over designed, poorly sound reinforced and poorly staged.

There are some nice ‘looks’ but they become repetitive and dull. I have to question the wisdom in many of the characterizations and directing choices that make this production sterile and void of feeling.

It felt like the director tried so hard to avoid the original Harold Prince staging that the work was not serviced properly.

In this production, there is no connection between Eva and Che, except the brief Waltz for Eva and Che which then makes no sense here. Evita was a huge disappointment and an even bigger waste of money.

This is not what I expect to see when ticket prices are averaging $140 a piece.


RAGTIME Press Release

Here’s what I’m working on:


Contact: Gay Rupert
(630) 372-4700, ext. 4602

February 2012

Bartlett High School
Announces the Cast of
The Tony-Winning Musical

Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

Based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

RAGTIME is an epic tale of a young America played out in song and dance. At the dawn of the century, everything is changing…and anything is possible. Based on E.L. Doctorow’s celebrated epic novel and set in the volatile melting pot of turn-of-the-century New York, RAGTIME weaves together three distinctly American tales — that of a stifled upper-class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician — united by their courage, compassion and belief in the promise of the future. Their personal journeys come alive as historic figures offer guidance and diversion – among them escape artist Harry Houdini, auto tycoon Henry Ford, educator Booker T. Washington and infamous entertainer Evelyn Nesbit. Together, their stories celebrate the struggle between tradition and independence all in pursuit of the American dream.
The Tony Award-winning score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is just as diverse as the “Melting Pot of America” that it seeks to recreate, drawing upon traditional Jewish folk sounds, Vaudeville’s outrageous style, and Scott Joplin to invoke the enlivened spirit of Harlem.

Ragtime plays the Bartlett High School Auditorium from April 19th through the 22nd.

RAGTIME originally opened on Broadway on January 18, 1998 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The musical garnered four Tony Awards® including Best Book, Original Score and Best Orchestrations. The beloved Ahrens and Flaherty score features some of the award-winning team’s best-known songs including the title song, “Make Them Hear You” and the anthem “The Wheels of a Dream.”

RAGTIME features a company of more than 100 students, starring Mary DeWitt (Mother), Caleb Hasan (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), Kenneth Gonzales (Tateh), Alexis Mason (Sarah), Nicholas Petrelli (Younger Brother), and Chandler Lanham / Alyssa Chevere (Emma Goldman); with Catalina Faczek (The Little Girl), Nicholas Gaines (Booker T. Washington), Allysa Galloni (Evelyn Nesbit), Joshua Howell (J.P. Morgan), Matthew Howell (Grandfather), Michael O’Malley (Willie Conklin), Thomas McCarty (Henry Ford), Dina Muzzalupo (Sarah’s Friend), Damon Rager (The Little Boy), Jason Vences (Harry Houdini), Christopher Wegner (Father).

The large ensemble includes Daniel Almquist, Adalys Alvarado, Lucille Avendano, Carly Bain, Amanda Bartel, Samantha Biringer, Dolores Brazunias, Andrew Brhel, Ryan Bruchert, Daniel Bucek, Jacqueline Busman, Cora Butler, Jennifer Cammelot, Carlee Campbell, Lauren Cannici, Kelly Cannon, Genesis Castillo, Larissa Castillo, Naomi Chavez, Tyler Christensen, Angelica Chumra, Jessica Ciupka, Kelisha Cokley, Molly DeWitt, Rubi Duarte, Nicholas Dungey, Victoria Fernandez, Andrea Fico, Lena Fico, Arissa Fiedler, Shannon Flores, Ashley Foston, Heidi Gaenzle, Toni Garcia, Sam Giese, Shay Gilligan, Robert Gomez, Katie Gongola, Rachel Green, Amanda Harper, Tiffany Harris, Jessica Heiderscheidt, Natalie Hilvert, Rachel Holderman, Sabina Hunter, Seraphina Hunter, Max Ibbarrientos, Brie Israel, Matthew Janczak, A.J. Johnson, Alec Johnson, Kelly Johnson, Kyle Johnson, Amaan Khan, Corey Kirkendoll, Collin Klein, Jacqueline Klein, Jessica Kolber, Roxana Kolber, Madeline Koldos, Ariella Lombardi, Tabatha Los, Jessica Mancera, Ashley Martinez, Garrett Mayberry, Maggie Mazurek, Madeline McCue, Porsha McJefferson, Alycia McWhorter, A.J. Milledge II, Rachele Minasola, Shinera Moncure, Tichina Moncure, Joshua Morris, Sherriana Mosley, Tamara Neal, Sara Neziri, Christopher Nguyen, Lynne Noel, Sarah Nolimal, Maureen O’Neill, Aleesha Parent, Christopher Perkins, Alex Piedra, Hannah Poli, Amanda Potas, Denise Rager, Carmen Ramirez, Paola Rivera, De’Angleo Robinson, Antonio Rodriguez, Elie Rogers, Dan Saucedo, Emily Schlitter, Sarah Schwartz, Kristen Siciliano, Desi Smith, Brittany Soltis, Jaron Stevenson, Tiffany Sutton, Zachary Svoboda, Chancey Tate, Alexander VanMaldegiam, Colin Wadelin, Ashley Walker, Kahlial Washburn, Anna Wedolowski, Sabrina Wells, Hubert Zarraga, and Nathaniel Zbasnik.

The production staff is led by Brian Kowalski (Music Director), Jeff Linamen (Stage & Technical Director), Aimee Riddle (Producer), Gay Rupert (Producer & Vocal Director) and Marsha Vanek (Choreographer). Additional staff support is provided by Linda Baker, Bobby Braun, Rebecca Lee Peterson, Virginia Strong and Mimi Warwick.

Performances of RAGTIME are April 19th, 20th and 21st at 7pm and April 22nd at 2pm. Bartlett High School Auditorium, 701 W. Schick Rd. Bartlett, IL 60103 Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $6 for students. For tickets call Virginia Strong at 630-837-8817.

NOTE: Audiences are cautioned that the language used in this work reflects the racial tensions of the time.

RAGTIME is produced by special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).

Anyone Have Four Million Dollars Laying Around?

Since I finished my Masters Degree in Entertainment Business last September, the question I get asked the most is: “So what are you going to do with it?” Good question. The main reason I got the degree was to make myself marketable again in the theatre industry. I’ve been out of the professional theatre world for so long, I thought the degree would be a nice boost to my credentials.

One slight problem, there are no jobs. Looking at listings nationwide, the majority of the positions open are for experienced professionals in development and grant writing. There are a few occasional listings of interest but even in metropolitan areas like New York and Seattle, the salary range is about half what I currently make… which isn’t that great to begin with.

My current job is pretty stable and satisfying right now. I’m directing AND tech directing the musical, Ragtime, this year at school. It’s the first year I’m officially directing. No huge issues with the rest of the job, so I’m mildly content to stay. There are many things I want to do but no clear path has me chomping at the bit.


Does anyone have 4 million dollars you want to give me?

Four million dollars. That’s all that is separating me from creating my dream job and legacy: a creative and performing arts center. I have the knowledge and experience and I have a completely written, detailed business plan. I just need the cash.

So if any of you big spenders want to contribute, let me know.


Today’s pic of the Day: My angel statue in the back yard. “To love another person is to see the face of God.” — Les Miserables