And just like that, a life-changing season comes to a close. As 2018 began to unfold, people would ask me how I was feeling about my summer with McLeod Summer Playhouse. Afterall, I was taking on the role of Associate Artistic Director from my best pal, Wes Drummond, and was thrust into a whole new arena.
My answer always seemed to be (as Little Red in Into the Woods would say), "excited & scared." Equal parts "can't wait" and "scared to death" of the prospect of my regional professional directorial debut at a wonderful company that I'm so proud to be a part of.
J. Thomas Kidd (Managing Artistic Director) and Kevin Anthony Smith (Resident Musical Director) and myself began preparing for the season in January.
We attended the A-1 Auditions in New York City, where we saw 900 young hopefuls. And so, audition season began. It would continue with a local audition in Carbondale, IL, and another 900 auditionees at Southeastern Theatre Conference in Mobile, AL. On top of that, countless video submissions and callbacks. We spent hours poring over every detail and every option.
By the end of March, our cast was finally set. Then, in late April, another bomb was dropped. One of our actresses had an opportunity presented that she couldn't pass up -- leaving us without a Donna in Mamma Mia! As Tom and I both discussed options, I threw out that I'd be willing to take on the role. This would be in between my directing responsibilities with 9 to 5 and Once Upon a Mattress. It would be STRESSFUL, but I said I would give it a whirl. And that was THAT! An incredible experience and a challenging season was ahead of me.
Through all the auditions, casting, countless videos from actors across the nation, long and creative design meetings, fruitful production meetings, inspiring rehearsals, energetic choreography, lots of tears, lots of laughter, late nights, early mornings, a long list of "incidents," stress, and margaritas... it was all MORE THAN worth it.
I accomplished the impossible. I directed the oh-so-challenging feat known as 9 to 5, The Musical, then jumped immediately into the role of a lifetime, Donna in Mamma Mia!, all while prepping to direct and teach and mentor students through a musical theatre intensive and professional production of Once Upon a Mattress.
I survived. I thrived. And I'm proud. Thank you to Tom Kidd for the unwavering guidance and support throughout. Thanks also to my guiding lights: Derek, Wes, Kevin, Jenna, Lyndsay, J. Morgan, Cassie, Katelin, and so many more. Thank you to each designer and creative I worked with on a daily basis. Your professionalism and commitment to your craft is inspiring. Jen, Will, Grenville, Mark, Michael, Kevin, Darryl, Tori, Daniel... looking forward to the next one.
My first tour with the National Theatre for Children is wrapping up, and I feel so grateful to have spent weeks on the road educating middle schoolers about the power of energy efficiency!
Based in Minneapolis, NTC sends out several tours throughout the US during the school year to educate students on a number of different topics. The show that I performed, with my tour partner Derek Brookens, was called POWERED UP! It was a 30-minute sketch comedy show that really stretched my improvisational skills! Before each show, we would ask the group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders for suggestions -- whether it be a movie title, a new video game, their favorite meal, a super hero, or whatever tickled our fancy.
Those suggestions were then incorporated into our sketch show, so, ANYTHING was possible! Since our tour was in and around the Chicagoland-area, we spent four amazing weeks exploring Chicago and visiting schools all throughout. Every day was a new adventure (especially in that Chicago-traffic!), but we got to experience so much while on tour.
Derek and I got to see HAMILTON: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL (a highlight!), visit several breweries, reunite with old friends, see the Improvised Shakespeare Company, see Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare, eat so much good food, visit some museums, cheer on the Chicago Cubbies, and enjoy the weather as it transformed into spring.
Looking forward to the next one! Thanks NTC!
Well, isn't this amazing! The film that I assistant-directed last fall, 50 WORDS, has been accepted into the SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL!
It's an honor for the film to have its World Premiere in Sarasota, as the Sarasota Film Festival was recently called "One of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World" by Movie Maker Magazine. The competition to get into the festival is fierce, and there's a limited number of films they can fit into the programming.
50 WORDS SCREENING DETAILS
"50 Words" will be screened as part of the Shorts 11: Florida Showcase at the Art Ovation Hotel at 1255 N Palm Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236.
Sunday, April 15, 3:00 PM
Saturday, April 21, 11:00 AM
Tickets are available to the general public here:: https://www.goelevent.com/SFF/e/SHORTS11FLORIDASHOWCASEPROGRAM
Here's a link to the Sarasota Film Festival film guide - (50 Words is on page 73!) There's also details about all the wonderful independent movies and festival parties:
Opening Night Film & Block Party - April 13, Selby Five Points Park
Out of the World Party - April 20th - Art Ovation Hotel Ballroom
Closing Night Film & Chill Under The Stars Party - April 21st, Selby Five Points Park
If you have no idea where to start, this interview on At the Movies with "Gus Mollasis" gives a great overview of the festival.
See you at the movies!
When I knew I was going to be spending some time back in my hometown of Overland Park, Kansas, in between gigs, I KNEW I had to get involved with something, somewhere. In between auditions, casting trips, vacations, and yoga, I was looking for an opportunity to stretch my artistic wings and utilize some new tools.
As luck would have it, I reached out to my high school drama teacher, Ms. Laurie VanderPol, and she was in need of a director for the Spring Rep Show at Blue Valley West High School. The Rep Theatre class is the highest level of acting you can take at BVW, where it combines the skills you've learned in acting class and applies them to a performance-based class. Basically... you get to put on shows.
The challenge was finding something that would work for the entire class - should we pick a big comedy? A musical we can do without a budget? Or how about... work with the students on acting through song and create our very own Broadway-style Cabaret with solos, duets, full-scale production numbers with kicklines and choreography?! SOLD!
I started working with the students, many of whom had little-to-no vocal training, in January 2018. We met twice (sometimes three times) a week during their Tuesday and Thursday class time (1.5 hours). I asked them to step completely out of their comfort zone, as I barked "a-5-6-7-8" at them. What happened over two month's time was a miracle.
Through blood, sweat, and yes, some tears, we created a 15-number revue with songs ranging from Golden Age to Contemporary. With a dash of Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton to Chicago and Wicked, we put together a unique amalgamation of Broadway greats that allowed the students to shine. We worked together to take the musical numbers out of context and place them within confines that worked for our piece. It transformed the music, the students, and most definitely, myself.
Piecing together a revue reminded me of my time creating "Sisterly Love," a cabaret I did with the incomparable Alana Opie, my siamese twin from Side Show back in 2014. Being part of the creative process in producing something new is so special.
I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity to work with the students of BVW, Ms. V, Ms. Opheim (our student teacher), and special assistant Derek Brookens (who helped create the pivotal finale, "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" from Spamalot). I can't wait to see what the future holds for these bright stars!
It's been a joyous time in Amish Country!
After closing The Confession on November 4, we had a quick 4 day turnaround before we opened Our Christmas Dinner on November 9. You heard that right. Four days.
But, we did it! We're champions!
The show is a 90-minute romp filled with lots of Christmas caroling, gorgeous original music, bright lights and shiny tinsel. Even though we have a lot of "two-show days," the show is totally fun and I never feel exhausted!
I get to play Mrs. Sadie Miller, a rather spunky Amish lady with a mind of her own. She speaks her mind... sometimes to her own detriment... but you gotta love her.
It's hard to believe there are only 10 performances left before we all head home for Christmas and beyond. I'm so very grateful to Wally Nason, Dan Posthuma, and the whole team here at Ohio Star Theater for the fantastic autumn adventure.
It's hard to believe we are already halfway through our run of The Confession with Blue Gate Musicals! The show is now playing through November 4 at the Ohio Star Theater in Sugarcreek, Ohio.
If you aren't familiar with The Confession, it is the captivating journey of a young Amish woman who is caught in the middle of secrets, scandal, love lost and love found, and personal heartache and healing. I play a New York actress (Alyson) who poses as a "Plain" woman (complete with a fake Amish dress and bonnet) in a devilish scheme for money. Madness ensues.
There truly is "something 'bout a life that's plain." It's such a treat being back in Amish Country after spending five months in Shipshewana, IN, last summer for the world premiere of The Home Game. But, this time, I'm experiencing my first stint in Ohio. And, *bonus*, we are a few minutes from a winery, a short drive from the nearest Starbucks and Chipotle, and only a couple hours in different directions to big cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Akron/Canton, and Pittsburgh, PA.
And to top it all off, I get to experience my first Midwestern fall in almost EIGHT YEARS. I've spent most every autumn in the sunny (and hot) Sarasota, FL, for the past decade and I'm already looking forward to the leaves changing, the brisk mornings, and pumpkin-everything. Maybe I'll even go to my first corn maze? Pick apples from an orchard? The opportunities are endless.
Following The Confession, I'll be staying on for Our Christmas Dinner as Sadie, an outspoken Amish woman. Looking forward to it!
Once upon a time - in a far off kingdom - there was a Kansas girl returning to McLeod Summer Playhouse in Carbondale, IL, to embark on a brand new adventure.
This adventure included being the Artistic Associate for the season... assistant directing, assistant choreographing, dance captain, AND acting.... what a whirlwind it has been!
We started with the Theatre for Young Audiences production of Pinkalicious the Musical, where I played the role of Mrs. Pinkerton. Pinkalicious played on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the season in the Moe Theater - an intimate 100-seat blackbox filled to the brim with excited audiences of children and the "young at heart." I loved working alongside director Wes Drummond, getting to assist in choreography for the Dancing Cupcakes dream sequence and "Buzz Off!"
Pink is joy. Pink is laughter. Pink is love!
Then, we jumped head first into rehearsals for Sondheim's Into the Woods, where in addition to my role as the assistant director, I strapped on the boots of The Baker's Wife. And what a role it was! My favorite moment (pun intended) of the entire show was when I had a brief encounter with a charming prince for a Moment in the Woods, and got to sing and act my way through one of the most poignant, witty, and meaningful song I have ever gotten to sing.
Let the moment go... don't forget it for a moment though.
Following Woods, I slipped into my habit and grabbed my rosary to play Sister Mary-Martin-of-Tours in a flashy and fun production of Sister Act! On top of that, I was the assistant director to J. Thomas Kidd and dance captain for choreographer Darryl Kent Clark.
Did the smoke change color? Do we have a new Pope?
While Sister Act was in performances, I joined Wes Drummond in rehearsals for a very special production of Singin' in the Rain. Every year, the All-Southern Illinois High School Theater Project (ASHSTP), produced by McLeod Summer Playhouse (MSP) and Carbondale Community Arts, presents a musical performed entirely by Southern Illinois high school students. But, it's not like any other high school production... it utilizes MSP's stage, professional staff, directors, and designers.
Rehearsals have been going great! When the director suddenly got ill, I got to step into his shoes for a few days and run rehearsals entirely by myself. It was an enriching learning experience - a mixture of teaching, directing, choreographing, leading, and learning. The show opens this upcoming weekend, July 27-30, and I can't wait to see it all come together.
A couple months ago, I announced that I would be returning to McLeod Summer Playhouse for the summer season.
While this is still true (!!!) and I'm so thrilled, they had a little bit of a change-up in their show line-up. Instead of doing Grease! I will now be working on one of my most beloved shows... Into the Woods. (!!!!!!!!)
And the kicker? I'll be playing a bucket-list role... The Baker's Wife. Honestly can't believe I get to tackle this incredible role! You may recall that I previously played The Stepmother with TheatreZone in Naples, FL during the 2016 season.
Endlessly grateful for the opportunity. Many thanks to Wes Drummond, Tom Kidd, and the entire MSP staff. Now, let's go into the woods to get the thing that makes it worth the journeying.
I had a killer time working with the Barry Baker: Aspiring Serial Killer crew again for Episode 4 (and some scenes from Episode 5) on a whirlwind trip to Florida.
Not to give anything away, but we got to film in a variety of locations - including our regular "Shi-Tech" office, a dimly lit restaurant, on-stage at a dinner theater, and in front of Barry's house. (Praise the weather gods for a gorgeous late afternoon of filming outside!)
Every time I get to step back into Annie's shoes, it's a joy! Well, I should rephrase that... I actually never wear shoes on set. My feet have yet to grace the screen, so why wear uncomfortable flats or heels? But, either way, playing Annie Parker is such a blast -- and this episode, I got to meet and work with some characters I haven't had the chance to share the screen with!
Which characters, you ask? You'll have to wait until it airs on Amazon Prime to see! Catch up on Episodes 1-3 here: https://www.amazon.com/Barry-Baker-Aspiring-Serial-Killer/dp/B01MTKX2X9
Have you been watching Barry Baker: Aspiring Serial Killer on Amazon Prime? Well, if you haven't... WHY NOT? And if you have, then don't forget that you can now stream Episode 3!
Watch now! All you need is an Amazon Prime membership and you can stream for free.
I'll be back in Florida to film Episodes 4 and 5 at the end of April and mid-May... so be on the look-out for more behind-the-scenes fun.
Danae DeShazer is an actress, singer, and dancer living in Sarasota, FL.