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BWW Interview: Director Ryan Lawson Talks WORKING - A NEW MUSICAL at Stagecrafters & Ridgedale Players!

Collaboration between Ridgedale Players and Stagecrafters brings live theatre to the outdoors!

BWW Interview: Director Ryan Lawson Talks WORKING - A NEW MUSICAL at Stagecrafters & Ridgedale Players!
L to R: Mara Kapsis, Mark Hinton,
Alonzo Luzod, Christine Kapusky Moore,
Shannon LaFrate and Jared Hoffert

Live theatre is back and outdoors in Michigan! Stagecrafters is proudly presenting Working - A Musical, brought to you in a joint venture by Stagecrafters and Ridgedale Players in Troy. Originally a Stagecrafters' 2nd Stage production, Working - A Musical was schedule in March of this year, but shut down due to the COVID pandemic. The cancellation was heartbreaking for entire company who learned just a day before opening that the show wouldn't go on. Thanks to the determination and ingenuity of those involved, it is back in an open-aired setting on the beautiful grounds of Ridgedale Players. The cast is made up of three men and three women who tell the story of over 26 characters - how work defines who we are, yet we can't be defined by only our work. BroadwayWorld Detroit had a chance to speak the show's director, Ryan Lawson about why this is such a special project and more!

Ryan Lawson: Describe Working - A Musical in five words:
I can do six, but not quite five: People talk about what they do. I can't claim originality to that, though. It comes from Studs Terkel's original text.

Can you give our readers a brief background of yourself and then your theatre career as an introduction?
I've been with Stagecrafters since 2013 and involved in theater since the mid 1980s. I haven't acted since the early 90s and generally I spend most of my time in technical roles like sound and lights. I love the process of creating a show and seeing all the pieces come together to become something more than just the sum of its parts. By day, my career has been in commercial law, specifically technology, data privacy, and mergers and acquisitions. I've seen a lot in common with managing teams in the corporate environment and directing shows. In both, the cases you're trying to get the best performance out of all the people on your team.

How would you describe Working - A Musical in your own words?
Working, to me, is a show about story-telling. All the people in the show are either real people or composites of real people. Working is ordinary people getting to tell the stories of their jobs and their lives.

What was your introduction to the show?
I was assigned Working as a book to read in my sophomore English class. We weren't assigned the whole book, just selected chapters. I loved the stories. As a teenager, I had the dream that I would go back and write the sequel updated for jobs in the year 2000. I only recently found that they had made a musical about it as I was browsing around on the MTI website. Given my love of telling those stories I wanted to take that story-telling to the stage. I'm not an actor or a singer, so directing is my way of crafting these stories so others can hear them.

Did you do any special research in preparing to direct the show?
The first thing I did is to back to the source. I still have my copy of the book from high school, so I went and re-read the roles that made it to the musical. In most shows, you don't have the benefit of such thorough character development as we get here and the book really helps develop what those characters feel.

Do you have a favorite song in the show?
I both love and struggle with the song "A Very Good Day." It's one of the songs that is new to the show and is written by Lin Manuel Miranda. I love it and it's incredibly beautiful, but as a working parent I struggle to not cry every time I listen to it. I think it's either that or the song "If I Could Have Been." That one for me is about what we can do and the decisions we make. But for me, it's the cast coming together. So much of the show is done with people on their own telling their own stories. This is them coming together as a group and singing about what direction life could have taken them in. It's a very warming moment to me.

What makes Stagecrafters interpretation of the show unique?
I think we really keep the stories as stories and the actors both as characters and story tellers. We went with a costume strategy that was inspired by Come From Away with a simple base costume and people add to it to become their characters. We let the stories and the interviews be the lead rather than trying to create a wow factor with over-the-top props, costumes, or sets. We start with a blank canvas both in terms of set and costume and we build on that as we go on. Since the stories are so varied, I also tried to vary styles as much as I could. The show was done by different composers and I recognized that change in style and worked with multiple choreographers to change some of the dance style in the show to match the feel of the different numbers.

Were there any difficulties with the transition moving the production from indoors to outdoors?
There were some different challenges in moving. The biggest was COVID related. We had to re-block and re-choreograph the show to make sure everyone stayed socially distant and the actors weren't stacked on top of each other. The good news is that this is the right show to do it with. Other than that, the challenges were all technical related. We were originally in a small theater, so the actors weren't microphoned. That meant we needed to come up with a sound system that would support the production. We already were using an all-electronic pit, so it wasn't that hard for the sound team to balance them with the microphoned actors. Our lighting setup has drastically changed. The original show had phenomenal lighting and, unfortunately, we could not support the same lighting needs outdoors. There's an element of the show we lost there, but our lighting team really stepped up and got us set up with the lights for the show. The hard part is all the sound and light gear has to be set up and torn down each night. That's hard on the crews, but it's something we're working with. The last major change was the set. We didn't really have a set, but we did use a back wall that we could pass behind. We've had to get creative in creating a set for us each night. It takes some group efforts, but we're managing it pretty well.

Did any changes spark any fun, new creative ideas for the production?
The more creative changes for us came less with the move and more with the reaction to COVID. One of our songs is about a food delivery boy. While we kept the script the same, we've re-framed his movements and props as a DoorDash/Uber Eats style role, more reflecting our society. In "It's an Art," our waitress sings about her love for being a waitress. But in today's society, she can't serve the fine dining she really used to do, so we've modified the role to show her singing this song to an empty restaurant and recalling the career she used to love. We've made the roles really speak to Working in the time of COVID.

It's wonderful seeing community theatres working together! How did this collaboration with Ridgedale Players come about? I hope to see more of this in the future!
This probably started with some efforts by our Administrative Vice President, Allen Semonian. A year or two ago, Alan started a collaborative group with some similarly situated theater groups in the Detroit area. There has been a general sentiment that all of our groups can do more together, but the opportunities have never really materialized. Just after COVID hit, we had some more serious talks with Ridgedale about closer collaboration, but we weren't quite seeing the best opportunity. My wife and I were in the car one day and the idea started percolating about what to do with Working, and we realized that we had a show and Ridgedale had a space. By the end of the trip, we had drawn up some next steps and started to list out the plan to make it happen. From there, we contacted some people at Ridgedale and it came together. Our hope is that if this goes well that it will open the door for more collaboration in the future. We don't know what that looks like yet, but we're encouraged by the results so far.

Why should people come see Stagecrafters production of Working - A Musical?
While I'm probably biased, I think anyone who comes will be treated to some phenomenal singing and acting. This is an ensemble cast and truly talented across the board. From a more thoughtful perspective, the show makes us think about how we work and how we spend our time. In a time when so many of us can't work and there are so many others who are having their life story cut short, we get a chance to really think about other people's stories about their jobs and how they find meaning in it.


Working - A Musical is collaboration between Stagecrafters and Ridgedale Players currently running through October 4th at Ridgedale Players. For more information and tickets, visit www.stagecrafters.org.

Connect with Stagecrafters on Twitter at @StagecraftersMI, on Instagram at @stagecraftersmi, and on Facebook at facebook.com/StagecrafersMI.

Connect with Ridgedale Players on Instagram at @RidgedalePlayers and on Facebook at facebook.com/ridgedaleplayerstheatre.


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