BWW Interviews: Jeffrey Coyle About Directing the Musical HELLO AGAIN
As the first production of American Repertory Theater of WNY's 2014-15 season about to kick-off with Michael John LaChiusa's musical HELLO AGAIN, Artie Award winning director, Jeffrey Coyle took time from a busy rehearsal schedule to answer a few questions about the production schedule to open on September 11th.
MCL: Can you please give a brief description of who you are?
JC: Trained as a performer with a B.F.A. in Music Theater from the University at Buffalo. Since graduating from UB in 2006, I have performed professionally in Buffalo, NY, as well as New York City, in close to 50 productions. HELLO AGAIN marks my fifth professional directing gig. I am a writer of short fiction and the author of MIDNIGHT DEATH, INTERVIEW WITH DANGER: THE ADVENTURES OF COPPER PETERSON, PRIVATE DICK, a one-act film noir parody that premiered during the Buffalo Infringement Festival in 2010. I have appeared on camera locally in Buffalo, NY, most noticeably in the web series FAILED FIRST DATES. I am a two-time ARTVOICE ARTIE Award winning director and a four-time nominated performer. I am married to Erin Coyle, and we have a Havanese puppy named Ginny.
MCL: You are coming off winning your second award for theater excellence for directing. How are you going to keep measuring success in your own way? Do you feel any pressure or expectation in this and other projects you have undertaken?
JC: An artist measures success by the personal growth achieved during each project. Much like a runner competes against their own time, I measure my success or failure based on the lessons I learn, the challenges I overcome, and the pleasure I have in creating the art. As for pressure, I place it on myself, and as long as I am satisfied with the work I completed, then other people's opinions don't factor into it.
MCL: Working for the Buffalo-based American Repertory Theater of WNY, you have had the opportunity to direct three musicals with different "personalities". Can you explain the differences in musical styles in each of these three works, Floyd Collins, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Hello Again?
JC: All three shows are newer works, written within the past few decades, but they reflect very different styles of modern musical theater. FLOYD COLLINS was a blending of classical operatic vocals stylings with traditional, country-folk rhythms and cadence. BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON is a part of the pop-rock invasion of modern Broadway. The songs are more radio hook than character/plot propelling storytelling device. The music serves as an accent to the feel, attitude, and mood of the show. HELLO AGAIN is on a level altogether different. LaChiusa's music permeates the entire story. All scenes are underscored, often injected with sung lines between spoken dialogue. The music is conversational, meaning that, for the most part, it resists repetition, refrain, and melody in favor of stream-of-conscious character speech, with all the ups and down of vocal patterns built into the score.
MCL: The recent production you have been tapped to direct is Hello Again with music, lyrics and book by Grammy Award winning and Tony nominated Michael John LaChiusa. The musical is based on the 1897 play, La Ronda by Arthur Schnitzler. Except instead of taking place in Vienna in 1800's we see characters spread throughout the 20th century. What else can you add to describing this saucy musical?
JC: Aside from what I just described above, HELLO AGAIN is a 10-scene story cycle. Characters repeat and reappear, but in different times and places. They have learned lessons from the last time we saw them, but their growth is viewed through the perspective of the time period they now exist in. Each scene is about the yearning for emotional connection, and the often mistaken belief that it can be achieved through physical connection. HELLO AGAIN reminds us that sex is no substitute for understanding, listening, and compassion.
MCL: Who is involved in this production?
JC: HELLO AGAIN is certainly a family affair for ART of WNY. Written by Michael John LaChiusa, the show features his brother, Buffalo-based actor Thomas LaChiusa. And of course, ART of WNY's Artistic director and HELLO AGAIN producer is the author's other brother, Matthew LaChiusa. Outside of the LaChiusa clan, the rest of the cast is a mix of ART of WNY familiar faces (Steve Brachmann, Carolyn Lansom, Matthew Mooney, Katy Minor, Shayna Rachilson-Zadok, Robert Ernie Insana, Michael Wachowiak) and long time Buffalo performers new to ART of WNY (Marc Sacco, Candice Kogut). The show is music directed by Bret Runyon. The design team is made up of young, fresh talent new to the Buffalo professional theater scene, and assisting as stage manager and assistant director is Hannah Roccisano, a stage combat artist with special training with physical and intimate choreography.
MCL: Every production has its attributes and challenges, what have you seen so far with the process?
JC: The greatest challenge with HELLO AGAIN is the degree of musical difficulty. The cast is working their butts off to honor the author's music and bring it to life on stage through the lens of their character's perspective.
MCL: What can audiences expect from this production?
JC: Audiences should expect to see something unlike any musical they have ever seen (or heard) before. This is only the second time one of Michael John LaChiusa's works has been professionally produced locally ( the first time being ART of WNY's critically acclaimed production of FIRST LADY SUITE).
MCL: After this, what do you have in store for the 2014-15 season?
JC: I am already in pre-production for my next directorial gig. I am directing the classic, golden-age musical FIDDLER ON THE ROOF for Theater In The Mist, a community theater based out of the Niagara Falls region, which opens in November. After the holidays, I will be appearing on stage again in the title role of a reverse race production of Shakespeare's OTHELLO, where Othello is white and every other character is played by black actors. WHITE BOY OTHELLO is being produced by Subversive Theater Collective, where I am a company member, and runs January/February 2015.
AFTER THE FIRST WEEKEND I SPOKE TO MR. COYLE ONCE AGAIN ...
MCL: Now that you have had three performances what is you feeling right now?
JC: Shows always take on a life of their own once an audience is present. The actors need that new energy. Up until opening, they are only getting feedback from one person--me, the director. Now that the show is open, they are getting so much more energy from beyond that 4th wall. It is always helpful.
MCL: The audience seems to be really into this show ... do you look for input and change anything based on the audience?
JC: On opening night, my job as the director is over. I've actually already moved on to my next directing project. The show is in the hands of the stage manager, but nothing major should really change. Flow may tighten, line delivery will continue to evolve, but I should be able to go back on closing night and see the same show I left on opening. The only reason something would change would be if a problem or issue developed that necessitated a review or adaptation. At that point, the stage manager and producer would consult each other, and if it were serious enough, they would ask the director to return to look at the issue and assist in any change needed.
MCL: It's now time for the critics to review. How do you deal with that?
JC: A show is always at the mercy of opinions, whether it is the audience, the cast themselves, or a critic. We have invested hours on top of hours of hard work, rehearsal, labor, and planning into our finished product. We are proud of our show. That is the most important thing. If a critic likes our show, we welcome that feedback. If they are critical in some way, that doesn't change all the work and reasoning behind what we created.
MCL: It's a fantastic cast. You seem lucky getting fantastic cast. What is your process of casting?
JC: I build a cast one by one. Going into a production, I have ideas in my head as to who I think might do well. Everybody reads, everybody sings, and sometimes my thinking is proved right, other times not. The best cast member is one who is genuinely excited to participate. They are interested in the piece of work, or in working with other members of the cast and crew. Their excitement translates into a stronger performance.
MCL: If someone had never been to a Play before ... What would you say to them to get them to see this one?
JC: They will never see anything quite like it. HELLO AGAIN is unique in its' style. It challenges the audience, makes them lean in and listen, and asks them to think and draw their own conclusions.
MCL: Any Closing thoughts?
JC: Don't miss your chance to see HELLO AGAIN. It is a rare local chance to see out-of-the-box music theater that challenges and stimulates you.
HELLO AGAIN opened on September 11th and runs to October 4th at ART in the Box, 16 Linwood Avenue, Buffalo NY 14219. All show times are 7:30 pm.
For information or ticket purchases please visit ww.artofwny.org