If you have ever seen a show at one of the many smaller theatres in Denver, then chances are pretty good that you’ve seen the work of Rebecca Joseph. As one of the premier stage managers in town, Rebecca has been on the team of some of the biggest hits, best shows and most memorable performances of theatres all over the city. She’s one of the best stage managers in town, and you know this because you never see her work. It’s seamless, it’s efficient, and when you see a production that is run by Rebecca, you never know she’s there.
Coming up, Rebecca is making her directing debut with Vintage Theatre Production’s “In the Heights” opening Friday, August 2, 2013. As Rebecca and team are deep in the challenges of tech week, putting this truly fun musical together, this seems like the perfect time to visit with this weeks Acts and Answered.
Q: What is your earliest theatre memory?
A: My earliest theatre memory is my mom taking me to see Annie at the Civic Theatre and having me listen to old musicals like Oklahoma. I listened to Anything Goes on vinyl when I was a kid and staged out the whole show in my backyard. I call that show my Drowsy Chaperone, a beautiful escape into a silly world. It’s not perfectly crafted by any means but the music is gorgeous and you lose yourself in it.
Q: What makes a good show?
A: Good shows tell the story convincingly. Seriously, I think the most important part of any single show is telling the story. You can make me stand in a public park with no scenery or technical effects of any kind (I saw a production of Hamlet this way) but if you’re committed to the story, I’ll go with you on the journey. That being said, I guess good writing goes hand in hand with that. Some shows, like The Lion King do not have a solid script as the foundation, so they rely on extreme theatrics, like puppets, to engage the audience and that works if you have the budget to develop that kind of show.
"if you’re committed to the story, I’ll go with you on the journey."
Q: What makes a bad show?
A: Oooh, difficult one. Unfortunately a lot of things can make a bad show, theatre is hard work. The material itself may not be solid or in the case of a musical, maybe it doesn’t all quite flow together, like Candide. Often I think that ambitions are too high or too complex. I fundamentally believe less is more and in the case of small non-profit theatre, play to your strengths or plan one extremely challenging show a year. A 30 person Sondheim musical is inherently going to be much harder to pull off correctly then a play with one set and a few characters. Dreaming big is wonderful, mixing in a dash of practical makes the end product more solid for everyone involved.
Q: Do you have any dream projects?
A: My current project, In the Heights, is my dream project. Never before have I waiting anxiously for a show’s rights to be released and actively gone around pursuing theatres that might be doing the show so I can somehow be involved. The fact that Vintage has allowed me to direct this show is honestly a dream come true, I feel it in my chest. That being said, despite my earlier comment about not doing too many complicated shows, Sondheim is my love. I want to do them all and last year I got to do two back to back, which was a little much for me. One every year or two would be amazing and Sunday in the Park with George is the biggest dream.
"The fact that Vintage has allowed me to direct this show is honestly a dream come true"
Q: What do you think the general public doesn't know about live theatre?
A: How much work goes into mounting a show, and in Denver, mostly on a volunteer basis. Rehearsals are generally six weeks in advance, after your day job. Add in production meetings, research, practice at home, memorizing, character development, notes, and emails and it’s a tremendous amount of work. That’s also one of the things that make theatre people so special, We. Love. It. Who would do it if they did not love it?
Q: How can we get more people excited about live, local theatre?
A: Ahh, the million dollar question. Quality and consistency is a good place to start. I feel like there are a lot of theatre companies in Denver and most of them have their niches in terms of the type of programming they offer. Without a doubt there will always be a place for warm classics like You Can’t Take it With You, but when a show like The Book Of Mormon brings in sellout audiences across the country you know the general public is clamoring for something new and exciting. Have a good plan for executing the show in terms of creative team, budget and timeframe so you can ensure a solid production by opening night and finally, reach out and market if you can. With Facebook, the Denver theatre community excels at marketing within the community. Not so much outside of the community. Most of the small companies just don’t have the money for ads and tons of print material or mailings but maybe scaling down programming to a few shows that you can properly promote is better than a full season with no real audience.
"the general public is clamoring for something new and exciting."
Q: What are your favorite theaters to visit as a patron and why?
A: Wow, seriously tricky question. I go to all the theatres in town and subscribe to none. For me it’s more about the current production being offered. I admire Curious very much. I feel that their pieces are nearly always well crafted and usually my biggest complaint there is that I don’t like the chosen piece itself, which is really a matter of tastes. I can still admire the work that went into the production and Curious feels like they are true to themselves. I can’t say the same for the other larger budget theatre company in town whose productions, recently, have felt entirely to safe and lacking in heart. The smaller companies are all dear to me. I know we struggle at varying levels and in the past couple years I’ve been blessed to work at Vintage, Silhouette, Equinox, Aurora Fox at PACE, Ignite and Town Hall. Like I said, it’s more about the project, not the company.
Q: You have a strong background in stage management, can you tell me what the general public doesn't know about the stage manager's job?
A: When a stage manager is doing their job well they are invisible to the public. Everything is running so smoothly that you don’t notice them. A good stage manager will also hold a show together, from the beginning of the process to strike. They are usually the first person to show up and unlock the theatre and they lock up at night making them the last person to leave. Therefore we must be trustworthy since we have keys, door codes, and alarm codes. Stage manager’s take daily notes, coordinate the performers with the technical, set and enforce schedules, and “call” the show. In higher budget theatre that means calling out all the technical cues over headset to your board ops. In smaller theatres that means pushing the buttons yourself and controlling your itchy trigger finger. Add in some role playing as psychiatrist/comforter to the cast/director and there you have a stage manager in a nutshell.
Q: How has your transition from Stage Management to Direction gone? Is In the Heights your directing debut? How do you think your background helps you with this project?
A: I haven’t formally directed since my undergraduate college days at New York University, about ten years ago. I would call this my directorial debut. I have assistant directed for Avenue Q, Grand Night for Singing, and City of Angels over the past year or so but directing is way different. I am a lot more nervous and also a lot more excited. Part of it is the project, In the Heights, itself but undoubtedly my rookie directing status makes me feel like I have something to prove, or maybe all directors feel that way. One of both the most wonderful and frustrating things about being a stage manager is that you’re an observer. People often forget you are there and sometimes that leads to feeling unappreciated but it also allows you to watch creative, talented people in their native habitat, in the process, creating. I can’t really think of a better preparation for becoming a director. You see what kinds of methods are successful. You see what is less successful. You overhear frustrations from actors and you get the inside dope from the director after rehearsal on how they feel. However, as far as transitioning from observer to active leader, it is quite different. Instead of comfortably sitting quietly and taking notes, you are giving notes in the moment, being asked lots of questions, and generally being looked to for all the answers. Just last night I fell short of properly answering a question an actress asked me but fortunately I have tonight to further hash it out with her. I think the best stage manager trait that translates to directing is that I am organized and mostly efficient. I don’t ever want to waste people’s time and it is important to me that it’s respected and appreciated. Other enormously helpful things about my stage management background? I know technical people that I like and I went to them at least a year in advance and asked them to be a part of this project. Ultimately the community and audiences will let me know how the transition has gone. You are not just putting on a show for yourself (unless you are in your basement or garage). The audience and their reaction, good or bad, is a crucial part of the process.
Q: What is one movie that you can quote line for line?
A: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast