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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

March 29, 2008

Backstage at Great Tuna: 2 Actors, 42 Costume Changes, 4 Dressers

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:44 pm

When you hear the word “dresser” in the theatre you might think of a pampered actor backstage who is too lazy to dress himself but that’s far from the true role of a theatrical dresser. Usually they’re there to help with lightning quick changes  and in the case of Greater Tuna, there are dozens of  lightning quick  changes.  Veteran actors Brian Bogstad and Vic Clark have 42 costume changes and if they had to dress themselves each performance of Greater Tuna might be eight hours long!   
With the help of our four amazing dressers, the costume changes in Greater Tuna take place almost within the blink of an eye, some taking place in only 10-20 seconds!   To accomplish this, the actors and their dressers have been rehearsing each costume change, over and over for the past week.   Backstage the Greater Tuna dressers  look like a polished  Nascar pit crew at work — calm, precise, efficient and FAST!   
This amazing backstage costume crew is led by Charleston Stage Costume Assistant  Erin Cary who joins TheatreWings High School apprentice Taylor Wentworth as the dressers for actor Brian Bogstad.     Here they are getting Brian into his outfit for Didi Snavely who runs Didi’s Used Weapons in Tuna, Texas. 


  On the other side of the stage are TheatreWings High School Apprentices Aidan White and Jake Pensmith, dressers for actor Victor Clark.   Here they help him into his Act Two Sheriff duds.


 Audiences won’t get to see the drama going backstage but that’s part of the magic of the theatre, magic that in this case, wouldn’t happen without the skill and hard work of our terrific dressers on this show.  Our (cowboy) hats are off to you.


March 27, 2008

An Interview with Frog and Toad

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 7:11 pm

Charleston Stage Resident Professional actors Patrick Tierney (Frog) and Charlie Retzlaff (Toad) play the leads in Charleston Stage’s upcoming Broadway Musical for kids, A Year with Frog and Toad.  They hopped in recently for an interview.


Q:  So, you’re starting your final show, are you excited that it’s Frog and Toad?

  Patrick: Oh man! Of course.  I have been waiting for this zany show all season.

Q: What’s the difference between a frog and a toad? 

Charlie:  I had a chance to actually look this up before we began the show and it turns out that a toad is, in fact, a frog!  The difference between the two types of frog are that the toad tends to live in dry environments and sometimes walks on it’s hind legs, whereas the frog lives in wet environments and hops instead of walks.

Q:  How did you physicalize your character.  Did you do any character research to fully realize you’re character? 

Patrick: The stage version of Frog and Toad focuses more on the importance of friendship.  It less about becoming fully realized frogs and toads.  We have a few select movements to help get the idea across, but the story itself is far more important.

Q:  What do have in common with your character? 

Charlie:  Well, I guess I would consider myself quite like Toad sometimes. I do look at the glass as half empty sometimes and I do get frustrated in some circumstances, but I have had many friends like Frog that help me along the way and make my fears go away.

Patrick: Like Frog, I try to stay as positive as possible in all situations.  I also get great joy from helping my friends out whenever I can.  I especially relate to the song “Alone” that Frog sings in the first half of the show.  I won’t give away the message of the song right now…so come see the show!

Q:  When did you first hear of this show

Patrick: I first heard the show when I was a sophomore in college.  A friend of mine lent me the CD and after a 1st listen, I immediately thought how I would love to play Frog someday…seriously.

Charlie:  I first fell in love with CD too. The music is just great and I was pleasantly surprised at how funny the script is, it really has stuff for adults as well as kids

Q:  Did you ever read these stories when you were a child?

Charlie:  My mom says she read them to me.

Patrick: I had never even heard of the children’s stories until hearing about the Broadway musical.

Q:  If you had to sum up your character in one word, what would you use?

Patrick: Frog is positive

Charlie:  Toad is gloomy

Q:  How does this production differ from the ones you’ve already been in?

Patrick: The musical score of Frog and Toad is surprisingly the most challenging we’ve dealt with.

Charlie:  Much of the getting to know how to work with other actors is a lot easier in this production.  I feel like we have such a great sense of ensemble, mostly because we have worked together for 9 months now.  We have really jelled as a group!

A Year With Frog and Toad Plays April 11 and 12, 2008 at 7:00 PM at the College of Charleston  Sottile Theatre.


March 26, 2008

From 40 to 5

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 7:14 pm

The morning after Fiddler on the Roof closed I started rehearsal for A Year With Frog and Toad. Frog and Toad has just 2 public performances April 11th and 12th. No cast of 40 just the 5 Resident Actors, no 35 piece symphony orchestra, just Wendell on piano and I am having a ball! It is one of the great things about my job, it is certainly never boring.A Year With Frog and Toad is a musical based on the popular children’s books by Arnold Lobel. I read them as a child and read them to both my daughters. They are deceptively simple tales that really stay with you. The score is just amazing, it has been a favorite around the business office since we first started listening to it last season. If you call for tickets you may overhear the box office staff singing “Getta Loada Toad” at least that is what I caught them singing yesterday.This will be Autumn, Nicole, Charlie, Sam and Patrick’s last show with Charleston Stage, at least for a while. Our Resident Actors stay with us 10 months. This makes it particularly special to work together on this show. They have grown so much this season, as performers and as educators. We are really enjoying this rehearsal process. It really is a fitting end to the season, a beautiful story of friendship, great music and an ensemble working together to bring a show from Broadway to the children and families of Charleston. Tickets are on sale now, but in the meantime……read the book.

See you at the theatre,

Marybeth Clark Director, A Year With Frog and Toad 

 frogandtoadbog1.jpgPatrick Tierny as Frog and Charlie Retzlaff as Toad.

March 21, 2008

The Many Faces of Greater Tuna

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — admin @ 12:00 am

Veteran actors Brian Bogstad Victor Clark play all 21 citizens of Tuna, Texas (the 2nd smallest town in Texas.) They play the men, women, children, teenagers —even dogs! Tonight at rehearsal the actors got their costumes for the first times and began working thru the quick changes for act one. Brian and Vic were joined by Jake Pensmith, Taylor Wentworth, Aidan White and Erin Cary who served as dressers backstage helping the actors into wigs, dresses, hats, pants, shoes, even jewelry. Below are six of the many faces of Tuna . . . Petey Fisk( Brian), Bertha Bumiller (Vic), Rev. Spikes (Vic), Arles Struvie (Brian), Vera Carp (Brian) and Thurston Wheelis (Vic)tunamontage5web.jpg For the past three weeks Brian and Vic have been creating voices, characters walks and posture and already their characters were beginning to develop but tonight, with the addition of costumes they really came to life. Our resident costumer, Barbara Young has really outdone herself. Now the fun begins, we’re beginning a runthru of act one with more than a dozen full changes in the course of the act, some of which must take place in less than 30 seconds!

Julian Wiles, Director for Greater Tuna

March 11, 2008

Heck, On Opening Night I Even Wore Tails!

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — admin @ 3:37 pm

When Fiddler on the Roof first opened forty three years ago it wasn’t unusual on Broadway to see up to fifty performers on stage and it was standard practice to hear at least twenty eight musicians in the orchestra pit. Sadly, due to financial constraints over the years these numbers have been drastically reduced.  Broadway ensemble actors now typically play two and three roles in one show, sometimes more. And the orchestra of a large show such as Beauty and the Beast or Wicked may start out with fifteen to eighteen musicians, but if it settles into a long run that number is paired down once again.

So, for me to musically direct a show with such  a large cast and orchestra (over 75 performers altogether),  a show like they used to do it back-in-the-day,  was a dream I had placed on the back burner. Burner off. 

wendell.jpg Wendell Smith Conducting Fiddler on the Roof

Enter Charleston Stage’s 30th Season production of  Fiddler on the Roof. Front burner on high. We of course have seen several large casts in very recent memory (Ragtime, Gershwin at Folly, Beauty and the Beast). And Gershwin at Folly had an orchestra of twelve musicians (The other two shows, well, much less.) But as I stood there on opening night waiting to give the downbeat, waiting for the curtain to go up on forty magnificent actors, before me were the thirty five musicians of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. My dream had come true. We were about to do what Broadway hasn’t done in nearly forty years. I’ve conducted several large ensembles in my career, but none quite so elegant and lush as the CSO. As the baton dropped that night, history was made in Charleston, maybe even the world, as we bought back the beloved classic Fiddler on the Roof in all its original glory. Heck,  on opening night I even wore tails. (Wouldn’t you?)



Kudos to guest actor John O. Fennell (as Tevye) for brilliantly heading up our rag tag bunch of Anatevkeans, and director Marybeth Clark for helping to assemble an amazing cast. And special thanks to The Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Tony Pierce, Director of Artistic Operations, whose idea this was. I’m proud to have been a little part of history. I can’t wait to make history again!


Wendell Smith, 

Charleston Stage Resident Music Director

Conductor and Music Director for Fiddler on the Roof 


March 8, 2008

School Matinees for Fiddler on the Roof

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — admin @ 5:15 pm

More than 15,000 students attend Charleston Stage’s School matinee performances each season.   The planning starts months in advance when teacher’s call in and make reservations.    For the Fiddler on the Roof school matinees last week we offered two performances each day at 9:30am and 11:30am. Over 1500 students attended each day.The day before each school matinee, we have to decide where each group will sit, mapping out seating assignments for each class.  It’s a bit like putting together puzzle. On the day of the performance we arrive at the theatre at 8:00 am, brief the volunteer ushers (thanks everyone) at 8:30 and prepare for the arrival of the first students. We stay in communication with each other and the stage manager backstage with walkie talkies.  Soon we’re joined by two police offers who arrive to help with traffic flow. fiddler-school-mat-003.jpgfiddler-school-mat-035.jpg And then the kids arrive! It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm on their faces as they bound out of the busses and into the theatre.  For many of these students it is the first time that they have had the opportunity to see a live theatre performance.  We also prepare comprehensive teacher guides for these performances so teachers can incorporate what the kids see onstage with their academic curriculums.  The best part is hearing the reactions as students watch the show.  They are great audiences because the are uninhibited, laughing loudly, moving to the music, even booing the villains at times.   School performances are kept to around 70-75 minutes to make them more accessible to the studentts and they seem to relish every minute.fiddler-school-mat-023.jpgfiddler-school-mat-018.jpg When the show is over we have about 40 minutes to get the 800 students watching the first show out of the theatre and onto their buses and seat another 800 for the second performance that day.   Thanks to the ushers volunteers from our Volunteer Guild it all goes off smoothly.  You can imagine it is a very busy morning for the Charleston Stage staff who are working the matinees, but a most rewarding one!!!  The best part is seeing the smiles of the children as they leave the theatre.fiddler-school-mat-025.jpg  For information on booking a school matinee performance for your school next season or if you would like to join our Volunteer Guild. Contact us at 843-577-5967.  Beth Curley, Charleston Stage Box Office Manager

March 6, 2008

Tuna, Texas A Scenic Two Step . . First the Floor Plan, Then the Model

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — admin @ 4:55 pm

One of the great things about Charleston Stage is that it is a place to learn. I’ve been given the opportunity (under Resident Designer Stefanie Christensen’s guidance) to design the set for Greater Tuna which will open at the American Theatre on April 3rd.

 I began my work in the theatre as a Charleston Stage TheatreWings  High School Apprentice,  as did Clay Brooks who is designing the lights for this show.   Both of us have graduated  now and are working or going to school but continue to work backstage for Charleston Stage.  We’re both excited about the opportunity to design sets and lights for this clever show (and a little nervous too!)We began with a production meeting last week (that was held backstage at the Sottile Theatre during lunch because most of us were still working to finish Fiddler on the Roof.   The Director, Julian Wiles was there as were the other design and tech team:   Barbara Young (costumes) Clay Brooks (lights), Mike Christensen (props) and Stefanie  Christensen (Resident Designer). It was fascinating to watch us all put all our perspectives into the same place and find a way to make the sets, lights, and costumes help the director find what he wants in the show. One of the many design concepts we talked about is the necessity of having multiple entrances (“I want all those doors so people come and go like a farce”, Julian said.  We also needed ample costume changing areas behind the set to accommodate the nearly 40+ costume changes. (Vic Clark and Brian Bogstag, the two of the actors  who play 27 roles in the show will be joined by 4 dressers backstage helping them fast paced costume changes so I had to find room for all of them.)   This was a challenge since the American Theatre stage is very small and  has NO backstage space!  I think I’ve managed to squeeze everything in though.  I started with a  floor plan, a bird’s eye view of the stage, which shows  all of the walls and set pieces from the show drawn  in scale in order to show a spatial relation between all the pieces.  The set has to incorporate many different locations including a Radio Station, multiple kitchens, a funeral parlor, a Baptist Church, and various outdoor locations (you’d never guess it could all fit on the American stage, huh?)  Once Julian and I have nailed down where all the walls and doors would be positioned. I started working on “elevations”.  These are drawings of scenery that shows what the walls, windows and doors, and other set pieces will look it.   They also show the “set dressing”, those items that add character like an “On Air” sign for the radio station, cactuses and long horned steer horns to adorn the walls, etc. to establish the West Texas look.  We decided to add a giant souvenir Tuna, Texas Post Card to hang over the set and framed it all with Texas flag banners. ( For inspiration I’ve been listening to Patsy Cline at night.  )

From these drawings I created a 1/4-inch scale model of the set (see the photo below). 


  This helps the designers (not to mention the director and actors) visualize what everything will look like.  Our next step of course is to build it.  Want to help?  Come to Volunteer Night at our scene shop at 19 Warren Street downtown.  Call  Stefanie at (843) 577 0868  ( to sign up.

CJ Ohlant, Guest Set Designer for Greater Tuna.

March 1, 2008

“The Best Musical Production This Season”

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — admin @ 2:56 pm

” The combination of the 40 member Charleston Symphony Orchestra with a dedicated cast, under the talented direction of Marybeth Clark, results in the regions best musical production this season. “ To read the full review visit: sabbabth-prayer.jpg

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