Monthly Feature:

les cagelles


Staging "La Cage" -- The Anatomy of a Production

By Geary Danihy

Part 1

“Let’s put on a show!”

Well, for regional and local theaters it’s not as simple as the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland films would have you believe. In the age of digital, when every legitimate theater is fighting for an audience – and funding – the decision to put on a show, or a series of shows, is fraught with imponderables: What show?  Will it appeal to our audience? Can we afford it? Can we cast it? These and a hundred other questions arise when a theater decides to bring a drama, comedy or musical to life on stage, and although, in almost all cases, it’s a labor of love, the steps a theater has to take to board a show are numerous and, as with anything else, the devil is in the details.

Jacqueline Hubbard, executive/artistic director at the Ivoryton Playhouse, made a decision, based on the success of “Dreamgirls” during the theater’s 2013 season, to opt for “La Cage Aux Folles” to fill the end of Ivoryton’s summer season, an important time for the theater.

“I decided ‘La Cage’ was a possibility for us after seeing the revival and understanding that the glitz and glamour of the original production was not necessary to make the show work,” Hubbard commented in an e-mail.

Anyone who has been to the Playhouse, a venerable venue nestled in the middle of Connecticut that recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, knows that its stage presents, if nothing else, limitations. It’s a small theater (240 seats) with restricted space in the wings to store and shift sets and little or no fly space (space above the stage where scenery can be raised and lowered). Thus, putting on a “big” musical is, by its very nature, a challenge. However, Hubbard, who has been with Ivoryton in various capacities for the past 20 years, knows what can and cannot be done.

“Something that has become apparent to me over the last 10 years,” she wrote, “is that even though we have a small budget and cannot provide all the bells and whistles of the much larger theatres, we can take a large production and make it more intimate, sometimes revealing and highlighting aspects of the show that may get lost on a grander scale.” The same philosophy has been embraced by other theaters in Connecticut, notably MTC Mainstage in Westport (a venue much smaller than that of Ivoryton’s), which produced an intimate “Cabaret” several years ago that both revealed and highlighted aspects of the show that might have been less evident in the Broadway productions or the even bigger film version.

(Photo: First reveal of the Cagelles. All photos by the author save where noted)


Staging "La Cage" -- The Anatomy of a Production

stage at Ivoryton

The stage at Ivoryton four days before the first preview of "La Cage." All Photos by the author save where noted.

By Geary Danihy


Part 2

Fifth Day of Rehearsal
Saturday, July. 26

Pieces being fit into pieces.

Five days into rehearsal, eight days from the first tech rehearsal and ten days from the first preview, Thelen works on individual scenes, the first being the scene that follows the opening number.

Theren sets the moment: the musical number ends and all of the Cagelles are still on stage in a final pose. It is here that Thelen’s philosophy about blackouts comes into play. He tells his actors that the lighting changes, the band lights go out, the proscenium lights are doused and…the scene is now immediately backstage, which requires the Cagelles to start bitching and griping, and Thelen wants it to happen immediately – no blackout, no musical transition. Whether this will work, or serve to create momentary audience confusion, remains to be seen.

He tells the cast what he is looking for and then allows the actors to improvise…noise, complaints, movement. In essence, he wants to see what they will do on their own and then add, modify or enhance their instincts. After giving basic blocking suggestions he says, “Let’s try it and see what happens.” What follows is modified chaos with little jabber and ill-defined movement. It doesn’t bother Thelen. He comments on things that he likes, makes additional suggestions, moves people around and then emphasizes that this is the scene where the Cagelles will establish their individual personalities. He doesn’t suggest what those personalities should be, just that the actors must find them.

The scene is run through again, and then again. Thelen asks for more vocalization at the start of the scene, more bitching, more griping. The cast responds. At one point, Thelen approves of what Francis (Conor Hamill), the Cage’s stage manager, has been doing, but asks for a more fevered, frenzied reaction. He then does five seconds of fevered, frenzied reaction as an example. He stops, then somewhat tongue-in-cheek says, “If you could just imitate what I just did that would be great.” He’s not serious, but he is. It’s multi-layered direction, a command hidden behind a suggestion masked by a bit of “theater.” Though he may not be an actor, and does not claim to be one, Thelen emanates an eagerness to take on each role, major or minor, and this eagerness is transmitted to the cast, and the actors respond with “What if…?” and “Could we…?”


Articles of Interest:

Click here to read Frank Rizzo's artcle on Split Knuckle Theatre Company

Click here to read Frank Rizzo's artcle on what's up next for Tony winner Darko Tresnjak


Blogs of Interest

Blogs about Connecticut theater, movie reviews, and the arts.

Artes Magazine -- fine art, architecture, design and theater

Back Stage Buzz - current and archived interviews with CT artists -- movie reviews

CT Arts Connection

WMNR Fine Arts Radio (Rosalind Friedman's Review) (Frank Rizzo reviews)

www.reflectionsinthelight (Lauren Yarger reviews) (Irene Backalenick/David Rosenberg reviews)

Stu On Broadway -- Reviws and comments

Two on the Aisle -- NYC and Connecticut Theater News and Reviews



A Familiar Face -- On-stage on On-screen

By Frank Rizzo

There are actors whose name you instantly recognize, the stars you know by a single monicker: Meryl, Julia, Debbie. Liza, Shirley.

Then there are others you've seen giving countless supporting performances that help ground the work in a truthful reality but whose names might not leap to mind. These are character actors and when you see their faces you know you're in good hands.

Elizabeth Wilson is a character actress whose work I've admired for many decades on stage, screen and television. She now lives in Branford with her younger sister, and at 93 is mostly retired. (Mostly, I say, because she still does readings and master classes and just two years ago had a significant part in the film "Hyde Park on Hudson" where she played Sarah Ann Delano Roosevelt, the formidable mother to Bill Murray's FDR.)

Among her scores of film roles are her movie debut in 1955's "Picnic" with William Holden, "The Goddess" with Kim Stanley, "A Child Is Waiting" with Judy Garland, "Grace Quigley" with Katharine Hepburn, "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" with Lily Tomlin and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

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