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

October 22, 2009

Justin Tyler Lewis, Brom Bones in Sleepy Hollow

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:22 am

Q:  How did you prepare for the role of Brom Bones in Sleepy Hollow?  Does playing a villain on stage pose any different challenges compared to playing a hero?

A:  The rehearsal process for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was interesting because it was rehearsed in true repertory.  Blithe Spirit just closed on Sunday and now we are opening a brand new show.  So, we were rehearsing for Sleepy with another show on the back burner (and sometimes the front burner) the whole time.  That overlap meant that I had to focus my efforts on a handful of distinct, visible choices and let some of the other “stuff” take care of itself.  I believe that it is important that the character be immediately identified in opposition to Ichabod so I focused on the characters youth and occupation.  Brom isn’t bound by the formality of the period and enjoys a consequent buoyancy.  Along with that youthful bounce is a salt-of-the-earth mentality that wears on his body; therefore, his movement carries him to extreme ups and downs that I hope rival Ichabod’s rather formal manner and demeanor.  The tricky part was avoiding the tendency to patronize the character.  Sometimes when playing younger people or uneducated people it is easy to talk down to them as an actor and not give them their due.  Although, I’ve tried to address this trap.

The question of villainy in Sleepy Hollow is an interesting one.   While Brom is most certainly the antagonist to Ichabod’s story, Ichabod is not entirely without fault.  In some views, Ichabod might have received what he deserved.  With that said, I didn’t approach Brom as a villain as much as a person without some of the social boundaries to stop him from acting out.  Brom is young, a little immature, and definitely braggertly and so responds to Ichabod’s threats of social coup with a roguish flippancy.  Brom wouldn’t think twice about scaring the pants off Ichabod or making a fool of him in the classroom or at the square dance.  He also disregards the personal space boundaries of the time by touching and at times man-handling his rival.  And so, the story is not one of evil motives or ill-intentions.  Rather, it is a story of two men competing for a young heart using the social tools they have at their disposal.


(Center: Charleston Stage's Professional Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Brom Bones in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)



(Charleston Stage's Professional Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Brom Bones in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)



October 15, 2009

Ghostly Lighting and Set Design for Blithe Spirit

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 12:36 pm

by Stefanie Christensen, Lighting and Set Designer of Blithe Spirit

When designing a show like Blithe Spirit, set in a real home with characters having real problems and situations, and then the story having so much fantastic ghostly elements, the scenery and lights had to be considered together to achieve the right balance needed.  When we first meet Charles and Ruth, their home had to appear as a normal mid-century English home of a well-off writer and his wife having a nice dinner party with friends and acquaintances. 

Much of the furniture I chose came from the Art Deco design period or was a reproduction of pieces from that time.  The twist came with our color scheme, black and white.  This was a fun challenge for me to find the right balance and interest with only two colors.  Now, I have to admit that a few hints of grey snuck into the design as well, but for the most part, I stayed true to the non-chromatic theme.  By not using any other colors for the set, we also carried this idea into the characters’ costumes, designed by Barbara Young.  By doing this, there was a great impact visually when the ghosts finally appeared on stage, in full color.  They really looked like they were from another world and didn’t belong in the world of Charles’s home. 

The lighting design also helped with the ghostly entrances.  When something was about to happen, fans, which were positioned backstage, started the curtains fluttering.  The lights dimmed and ghoulish shadows appeared from outside the room projected on the walls and curtains.  Massive flashes of lighting also accompanied ominous thunder.  These were some of the ways we made the entrances of the ghostly characters really stand out from the rest.

The other fun challenge this show presented to me as a designer came at the end of the play when the two ghosts had been exorcized from the house, or had they?  Well not quite, the unseen spirits proceeded to destroy the house in an attempt to have Charles join them on the other side.  Do you want to know how to have a set completely destroyed each night by unseen forces and still be able to put everything back together for the show the next night?  This is just some of the theatre magic I won’t share the secrets to.  But I hope you’ll come see the show and try to figure out the tricks behind the magic.  Only 4 performances left! 

Happy Halloween!


(In this photo, black and white colors are featured in the set and Charles' costume. The ghosts wear purple costumes.)



(In this scene, Elvira and Ruth tear the room apart while Charles dodges a curtain rod.)


October 14, 2009

Susie Hallatt, Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:35 am

Q:  Susie, how did you approach the role of Madame Arcati?

A: “Time is the reef upon which all of our frail mystic ships are tossed.” Wow. How the heck do you say something like that without bursting into laughter? But Madame Arcati spouts psychic babble like this for much of the play, so I knew from the start that I would have to take her very, very seriously to make it work.

The English have this wonderful fondness for eccentricity, and since I’ve always had the same soft spot for folks who are a little “odd”, I actually found it very easy to slip into Madame Arcati’s skin. I just have to be careful not to take her up to grandness every time she opens her mouth – her every line seems to scream BIG, LOUD, EXCESSIVE. Julian has helped me rope her in and keep her grounded, which I think has really added to the comedy in her character.

I work very hard on getting each line as close to word-for-word as I can, because Coward is one of those playwrights that had a plan for every phrase, a reason for every word choice. According to Coward himself, he wrote this play during a holiday in Wales in just five days, and only two lines of dialogue were removed before its first production in London! Blithe Spirit is like an intricate puzzle, and to get the picture right every piece has to be in exactly the right place.

I adore Arcati. This is a woman who wholeheartedly believes that she has this gift, and that she is meant to share it whenever someone needs her. Such a simple soul with a generous heart; she is a joy to inhabit for two hours every evening. I shall miss her next week…


Susie Hallatt as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit



Susie Hallatt as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit


October 12, 2009

Justin Tyler Lewis, Charles in Blithe Spirit

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 11:47 am

Q: Justin, do you think Charles makes the right choices over the course of the play?  How do you relate to his choice?

A: What a serendipitous question.  Only the other night, I discussed with Julian the fact that Noel Coward does a great job of balancing the audience’s judgment of each character throughout the play.  At no point during Blithe Spirit is any character depicted as a person making entirely unsavory decisions.  Of course, the play progresses dynamically.  It ebbs and flows and the characters are flawed, but I don’t think Charles makes right or wrong decisions – he makes decisions that are dictated by the turns of events.  He is driven to his conclusions by the powerful hand of circumstance.  Because Coward structures the play in such a equitable manner, the audience is never asked to point their finger at any of the characters.  This helps to create a great relationship between actors and audience.

The implausibility of the events in this play presented some of the greatest challenges of this piece and this character.  Of course, plays often center on bizarre or unlikely circumstances, but the resurrection of a deceased spouse is a particularly far-fetched event.  As a result, I found that I related to Charles not on the basis of experience or circumstance, but on the basis of intent.  I haven’t had two wives – or one for that matter!  But I have been stuck in impossible situations and needed the confidence, trust, and understanding of another person.  And so, Charles and Justin have in common the strength and desire to fight in this “battle of wills.”


(Center: Justin Tyler Lewis as Charles in Blithe Spirit)



(Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Charles and local actress Jan Gilbert as Elvira)


October 8, 2009

Priya Paranthaman, Ruth in Blithe Spirit

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:20 pm

Q:  Priya, many times actors play roles that are very much different from who they are in real life.  How did you relate to Ruth?

A:  I can definitely say we are different.  Ruth is a refined, classy, well-bred woman.  I’m a country girl from Virginia.  Ruth is also from an era where women dressed up every night for dinner.  I get my dinner from the drive-thru at Wendy’s.  The one thing that I like about her though is she is the only character that has a legitimate reason for being upset in this play.  I feel the rest of the characters are rather selfish and manipulative at times.  Ruth is actually very sweet and innocent.  She just happens to get the short end of the stick in this play. 

I’ve enjoyed playing Ruth.  This role has definitely been a growing experience for me as an actor, and I’m so thankful that I got this opportunity to explore a character that is so different from myself.


(Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actors Justin Tyler Lewis as Charles and Priya Paranthaman as Ruth)



(Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Priya Paranthaman as Ruth and veteran actress Susie Hallatt as Madame Arcati)


Jan A. Gilbert, Elvira in Blithe Spirit

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 10:28 am

Q:  Jan, how did you approach the role of Elvira in Blithe Spirit?

A:  The fact that Elvira is a ghost definitely factored into my work with her as a character.  It not only affected her movements and physicality, but also her mental state.  At first, it was important to have all the elements of discovery and rediscovery there.  Not only is Elvira rediscovering the physical world all over again, she is discovering changes in her old home, in her husband’s life, and, of course, in his taste in women.

Having been dead for seven years, coming back to the land of the living is full of new fun and adventure for Elvira.  She can be even more mischievous than she was alive, and she takes full advantage of it!  I had a lot of fun developing the character, mixing it between all of Elvira’s experience in her life and a hint of the new things she’d learned on ‘the other side.’


(Jan A. Gilbert as Elvira in Blithe Spirit)



(Jan A. Gilbert makes her entrance as Elvira in Blithe Spirit)


October 5, 2009

Blithe Spirit: The Color of Ectoplasm

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 12:59 pm

by Director Julian Wiles

What’s the color of a ghost?  We often think white or grey when imagining the spirit world.  In the original production of Blithe Spirit, when the ghost of Charles’s first wife Elvira showed up at a seance, she was dressed in grey and wore grey makeup—in fact makeup companies still make “Blithe Spirit” grey.  But putting beautiful actresses in grey just seemed a little bland to us so costumer Barbara Young,  set designer Stefanie Christensen,and property master Mike Christensen and I decided to take a different tack and turn the old cliche of grey ghosts upside down.  In our production of Blithe Spirit, the real world is presented in gorgeous black and white art deco and only the ghosts appear in color.   This meant every piece of furniture had to be reupholstered in black and white fabrics and every costume had to be made from scratch to insure we used only blacks and whites (and a few greys.)   Since we were using such a limited color scheme for costumes, fabrics of different textures were selected to provide variety.  The result is that our ghosts really do stand out I think, in a clever design solution that might have given Noel Coward a smile.


Charleston Stage Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Charles and local actress Jan Gilbert as Elvira.

For the Medium Madame Arcati, who lives between the real and the spirit worlds, Costumer Barbara Young decided to have Madame Arcati’s  basic costume follow the black and white color scheme but added some colorful accessories, elements.  Other than the ghosts, she’s the only character in the show that has any color on their costume.

Seance web

(From left to right: Samille Basler as Mrs. Bradman, Ross Magoulas as Dr. Bradman, Susie Hallatt as Madame Arcati, Charleston Stage Resident Actor Priya Paranthaman as Ruth, and Charleston Stage Resident Actor Justin Tyler Lewis as Charles)

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