BWW Blog: Naomi Melvin - Somebody's Eyes: Q&A with Lisa Stevens!
Recently I sat down with our director and co-choreographer, Lisa Stevens, to chat about our version of Footloose and her personal process in relation to building theatre. As I've said before, we are lucky. As someone who has intensively observed the rehearsal process (I love rehearsal), I have sat in awe of Lisa's direction. Specifically, I find her vocabulary lends itself beautifully to moving the work in a forward direction. Her style is streamlined along with plenty of room to play. And Lisa is so underneath each character and their relationships that, with her guidance, there's a stronger connection between the actor and his or her role. With her list of credits and accolades, Lisa has brought the know-how of the business to rehearsal, imparting on us indispensable tools essential to the artist's working life. As the cast filtered out for lunch, I joined Lisa behind the creative team's table and opened our discussion.
NM: What is the very first thing that you do when starting a new project?
LS: I read the script and consider the elements that I can relate to. I read the script again. From the second read, I start to form pictures in my head that resemble my mind's movie version. The third read through is when I begin to make my blocking notes.
NM: Was this the same process for Footloose?
LS: More or less, yes. It's different for choreography. As a choreographer, it starts with music. But as a director, you have to start with the story. I read the script in its entirety to gain an overall feel, and then separate each scene as if each were an independent story. From there, I ask, "what is the thread that ties it all together?". The audience is a huge consideration when forming initial ideas about the show. I think about how I want to make them feel and what I want to teach them. I think about how we are telling a different story from other stagings and how our version can be unique.
NM: In your opinion, how is the story of Footloose relevant to today's audience?
LS: Kids experience suppression, whether it be from their parents, teachers or peers. From this stems insecurities with identity and voice. One would hope that parents are looking out for their kids - that they are loving them - but the relationship can appear to be one-sided. I think there is relevance here. The show illuminates a situation where care and compassion is at an extreme due to a tragedy; the care being taken is irrational and the kids are being stifled. To the kids in Bomont, the restrictions placed on the community seem like the end of the world.
NM: And I mean, people today, especially youth, are reacting to the state of our world. We live in a time where it takes a few seconds to share a point of view, form a like-minded group and challenge authority figures.
LS: There is suppression at so many different levels from the minute to the consequential. And it happens at every age. This show is about recognizing what is important in life and having a balance.
NM: In your opinion, what is the biggest similarity and the biggest difference to the '84 movie?
LS: The biggest difference is that everybody in our show is actually closer to the age of the characters written. In the '84 movie, you have adults playing ten years younger. The story is more relevant and accessible to this cast because they come from a recent place of understanding in some form or another. The similarity is the youthfulness, the music. I mean, it's a good story. It's a timeless story.
NM: Did you take any specific inspiration from the movie?
LS: I don't usually watch the movies all the way through. I look at the first ten minutes, maybe, to grasp the energy, flavor, mood and setting. I look at the aesthetic of the story originally intended. Then I ask myself how much I want to adhere to those choices or whether I want to try something different.
NM: You recently worked on The Little Prince in Calgary. Was there anything from that show that you carried with you into this project?
LS: The Little Prince was a truly collaborative project. Similarly, Jeff Dimitirou and I are co-choreographers for this show which requires the same effort. The Little Prince was such an enigma. It was really out there, atmospheric and philosophical while Footloose is so present. They really are two different entities. But at the end of the day, the way of work is the same. A story needs to be told, no matter what the project. We must consider the audience, how they will feel and what we want them to talk about when they walk away.
NM: What was casting this project like?
LS: A nightmare! There were so many people and we didn't know names. Everyone had the same youthful look. It was really hard to cast parts, ensemble and company. We did a lot of type casting in an effort to fulfill the look, sound and comedy of the show. When casting Ren, we really needed someone with the boyish charm but who could believably grow into a man. We only had two days. I went home with all the resumes and tried to piece together my notes, figure out who would be best and then double cast the whole show!
NM: What is an item that you must have at every rehearsal?
LS: Elastic bands and pencils.
NM: Is there a song from Footloose that keeps getting stuck in your head?
LS: "Still Rockin". That was in my head for a week!
NM: Can you speak to your next project?
LS: I am directing an Off Broadway play called Executive Decision.
NM: And this is a straight play. Have you found crossover between the role of choreographer and director?
LS: As a choreographer I always speak in terms of storytelling and there's lots of direction within it. I approach choreography from an acting perspective and probe for who, what, where, why, how. I work with intention at the forefront. As a choreographer I would always go to the director to see if I was on track with his or her vision. I would invite him or her into the room to see if I was accomplishing what their plot points were and whether or not I was using the right vocabulary. As director, I work the same way but without movement. The beauty of being both (like on this project) is that I can lead the piece in the direction I'd like it to go story-wise. Then Jeff can use his brilliant mind by offering more creative ideas and added movement vocabulary.
NM: As we head into the final stages of rehearsal, is there a challenge that you'd like to impart on the cast?
LS: Yes, absolutely. The challenge is finding ways to keep every show feeling and looking like it's the first. How can you keep every moment fresh?
Randolph Academy's Footloose will run from July 28th to August 6th at the Randolph Theatre, Toronto, ON, Canada.