BWW Interview - Director Coy Middlebrook Talks ABC's Musical Special ENCORE
ABC will premiere the one-hour musical event special ENCORE on SUNDAY, DEC. 10 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST). In the show, executive producer Kristen Bell, who also appears, reunites the cast of a high school musical and asks them to perform it again twenty years later. Each former student reprises their role from their original production of Stephen Sondheim and James LaPine's Tony-winning musical, INTO THE WOODS, under the tutelage of Broadway directors, choreographers and voice coaches.
Today, BWW speaks exclusively with ENCORE's screen director Coy Middlebrook to find out more about this exciting musical event!
What were your thoughts when you first heard the premise of the show?
"What a terrific idea for a show!" is what I thought first learning of the premise. Being a part of a theatre production young in life can be so empowering and invaluable training in working together as a group. It can really get you ready for a life in the "real world" and I was curious to see if the experience these alumni amateurs had in their high school theater program informed their adult lives as much as it had someone like me, who entered into the professional arena. I also thought the premise would be a way to remind the alumni returning, and those at home watching, that theatre is an art form for everyone,and that theatre can be celebrated, and participated, at any age and in any form, amateur or professional.
Why was INTO THE WOODS chosen as the musical to be featured?
This group of alumni did INTO THE WOODS and it was their most celebrated high school production. Reviving INTO THE WOODS would be a big challenge for them but why not give them their biggest reward to reclaim? They were a great group and it definitely wasn't easy but it was wonderful to watch them get past hurdle after hurdle in rehearsal or how they coped when they couldn't get past one thing they could no longer reach.
Why did you specifically ask for people who were in high school in the '90's and '00's?
We liked the idea of a 10 to 25 year reunion so that the performance muscles, both emotional and physical, needed to be reinvigorated. But if we get lucky we want to go way more recent and distant than this middle ground.
What criteria was used in selecting the school that would be featured on the show?
We needed a critical mass of cast members ready and willing to all take the same week out of their regular lives as well as people who were willing to share their life stories along in tandem for their desire to perform, even if for one last time. Also, those who were willing to reflect and use their now grown understanding of their selves and the life they've lived to enrich their revisit of the role. We so often, when in high school productions, are asked to play much older, to play adults going through complicated experiences and relationships. It was most rich for the returning cast members, and I suspect for the audience who'll be watching at home, who were willing to work from their own life experience as they re-created their performance. This is easier said than done so I took them through an exercise in the beginning of the week where they visited their high school self so that they could have a conversation with their younger selves and to do some inventory of how much they've grown since.
How and why do you think viewers will relate to what they will see on the show?
They'll have fun in laughing at our selves past and present. It's a silly romp and you don't have to like theatre or musicals to like the show because the theatre is just the "stage" that lets us investigate humanity and a chance to go back in time and give us a closer look to where we are now. No matter what the geographical, racial, cultural, socioeconomics barriers one faces in our adult years, we all went to high school. It remains the backbone of the American teenage experience. And who of us doesn't think about what we would do differently if we could go back and have a high school do over? Watching a group of people go back and have to work together once again to their opening night gives the viewer a window into their own high school experience and who and what they may like to revisit.
What were some of the challenges you faced during filming?
The biggest challenge by far was the lack of time. After introductions and then a day of exercises so the professional creative team could get a sense of their abilities and the work ahead, we only had about five days - yikes! Sondheim is not easy material and INTO THE WOODS is a chase through the woods and we certainly were on a chase to get to opening! We also re-cast some of the alumni, gave them more to tackle after that first day and seeing the opportunity for a few of them to dig deeper into bigger roles so then those few had to learn a lot more material and no memory to recall with the script and score. Also one of the cast members was pregnant and, no kidding, due to have the baby any moment - that was super nervous making for everyone. Another challenge was that we were all learning as we were going along, the producing team, the creative team. It was a learning curve on all sides in front and behind the cameras.
What were you most surprised about?
No matter how long a time it's been being on a stage the adrenaline of performance coursing through you, in front of those you love, is the most terrifying and exhilarating experience. Being in the proximity of the many emotions of the alumni cast in the dressings rooms and then back stage when places where called, the fear, the nerves and then their exhilaration during the bows and after - it's always a surprise how triumphant the theater can make one feel.
Is the hope that there will be further installments of the show featuring different musicals?
I sure hope so! It was an enormous amount of work but we all had a wonderful time working together and I would be thrilled to do it again. And it would be exciting to be able to deliver even more so on what we learned the first time around. We all have some super fun ideas for shows that we'd love to revisit with other alumni and it would be my genuine joy to give more days celebrating the value theatre arts brings to schools, communities and to those of us lucky enough to have had the opportunity to have been in a high school musical.
ABC will premiere the one-hour musical event special ENCORE on SUNDAY, DEC. 10 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST). Check out additional images from the show here!
Images courtesy of ABC
Photo Credit : Kyle Dean Reinford