By Morgan Sills, Guest Columnist
When the Sandhills Sentinel asked for a “behind the scenes” story about Judson Theatre Company, we thought it might be interesting to share the timeline of our current production, Neil Simon’s classic comedy The Sunshine Boys starring Don Most and Robert Wuhl. There are months of planning and pre-production, and then a few concentrated weeks of rehearsals and performances.
CHOOSING THE SHOW
Artistic Director Daniel Haley and I have a list of plays we’d like to do and a list of star performers we’d like to bring to our stage. We always test the titles with our survey, to be sure that what we’re doing is what our audience wants to see. Judson Theatre Company is designated as the Professional Theatre Company in Residence at Sandhills Community College, and we’ve been “bringing the stars to the Sandhills since 2012.” We are a professional theatre in service to the Sandhills community.
When the timeline of the upcoming Owens Auditorium renovation shifted and we found out we could be in our home theatre for our Fall 2017 production, we chose The Sunshine Boys. It was time for a comedy after Twelve Angry Men at the end of last year and Agatha Christie’s chilling And Then There Were None this past spring. Our loyal audience chose The Sunshine Boys as one of the top titles they’d like to see, and there had been a positive response to our first production of a Neil Simon play, Plaza Suite, in 2015.
Michael Judson Berry as “Ben Silverman” & Don Most as “Al Lewis”
GETTING THE RIGHTS
The next step is to apply to Samuel French for the rights to perform the play. Judson Theatre Company receives a Professional License, where we pay an advance royalty against a percentage of the gross box office receipts. It’s against the terms of the license to proceed with casting or auditions or even an announcement that you’re doing the play without the license in place, so this is one of the first and most important steps.
AUDITIONS AND CASTING
With the license in place, we begin the process of casting, which is crucial. When a production is well-cast, a lot of things take will care of themselves. For the supporting roles, we put out a casting breakdown and hold auditions in New York. To give you an idea of how competitive it is out there, we received 586 submissions for the available roles in The Sunshine Boys—which has a cast of seven. From those, we select the actors we’d like to see audition in person (or, occasionally, via video audition if in person is not possible). Michael Judson Berry and Emily Turner Marsland are cast in their respective roles as Willy’s nephew and the Burlesque Nurse. It’s a pleasure to offer roles to actors we’ve had a happy working experience previously: Tim Garner, Dwan Hayes, and Rick McDermott are all JTC returnees.
Stars are offer-only—meaning they are not required to audition. We make offers to their respective agents, and lucky for us, Robert Wuhl (“Bull Durham”, “Arli$$”, “Batman”) and Don Most (“Happy Days”, “Glee”) agree to star as our Sunshine Boys.
We also select our designers and crew for the production, typically via interviews.
Once casting is set, there are only a few hundred things left to be done! Here are a few of them, just to give an idea: budgeting and fundraising, executing the contracts, making travel and housing arrangements for the company, graphic design and placement of advertising, putting up posters, bulk mailings, securing various kinds of insurance, arranging publicity appearances and interviews, group sales…the list continues.
Set construction begins before the actors arrive, and the walls of Willy’s small Manhattan apartment go up on the Owens Auditorium stage. Furniture, props, and set dressing are selected, with an eye toward the time when the play is set (1974). Similarly, costumes for each actor are rented from a larger professional theatre with vast costume stock. Several choices for each item are tried on by the actors and then narrowed down to the outfits you see on stage. Once the actors are here, work on the set and lights continues whenever the actors aren’t onstage rehearsing.
On Travel Day the actors arrive. Everyone settles into their accommodations and rehearsals begin the next morning—opening night is only a few weeks away, and every moment is precious. All the press is starting to hit in the various media outlets and all the advertising is out. We rehearse full work days six days a week, so it’s an intensely creative period as the show is blocked (the movements onstage) and rehearsed, lines are learned, everything is worked out. Then just prior to Opening Night, there are a few days of Tech Rehearsal where sound, lights, and costumes are added. There are two dress rehearsals for a select invited audience—some students from two of the local high schools and some close allies of JTC. Lots of laughter, and an overwhelmingly positive response. The Sunshine Boys is ready for a larger audience…and boy, do we need the laughter this show provides in our world today!
And then it arrives. Opening Night is tonight. Come laugh with us! There are five performances of The Sunshine Boys (Thu 10/19 at 7 pm; Fri 10/20 at 8 pm; Sat 10/21 at 2 & 8 pm; Sun 10/22 at 3 pm). Get tickets online at JudsonTheatre.com or in person at the Campbell House, The Country Bookshop, or Given Memorial Library during business hours.
Feature photo: Robert Wuhl as “Willy Clark” & Don Most as “Al Lewis”
Photos courtesy of SayerPhotography.com