Press Event: Anastasia premiering in 2022 at Tampere's Theatre| Interview with Piltz, Harjanne, Whittaker & Bewsher

The great thing about this piece is that there’s so many different styles of choreography within there. You get the traditional Russian side then you get the Europeans...

By: Dec. 12, 2021
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Press Event: Anastasia premiering in 2022 at Tampere's Theatre| Interview with Piltz, Harjanne, Whittaker & Bewsher

Parading Tampere's streets I find my way to its theatre. Having a day for myself charges me with energy.

Tampere theatre's atmosphere is distinctive and really intrigues me. Even Finnish ghost inspectors have paid there visits too and it really is a place with rich history.

Anastasia's press conference day starts with Samuel Harjanne himself welcoming us. The star Pia Piltz told me afterwards that they had been informed that "maybe a couple of journalists will show up" but there were at least a dozen of us! So it was an uplifting day for all of us.

After the interviews Samuel did with the main cast and creatives, certainly not leaving us cold after the Once upon a December bit, we all headed upstairs to have a tasty lunch -- the pudding was the best part!

I lured Pia to take a seat at my table and we shared a chat on her feelings on being the lead. She has an ongoing contract with the theatre (kiinnitys) and few years earlier did a successful role as Anna Karenina. And when the crew was released and her name revealed I, not being the only one, thought to myself: "Was that even a reveal? Of course it had to be her!"

To her it wasn't that obvious:

"In Finland we have such a wide range of musical talent. And for example I have graduated just as an actor, not a musical actor."

We agreed that when you're in the field yourself and could imagine all the talents for the role the idea of you yourself having it feels unbelievable.

One could also think Pia was as if "called for the role" so that her phone just rang that "hey, we thought you could have this..."

"No", Pia exclaims, laughing, "I had to audition all the rounds just like everyone else".

I later switched to the nearby table. Before starting to record for Samuel Harjanne and choreographer Chris Whittaker's interview I shared how proud and inspired I was for the conductor Marko Hilpo and his journey with Anastasia we all heard when Samuel interviewed him on stage. Marko had seen it in 2018 and thought that's something he wants to do one day. And certainly, he was the one who was called for the job! He seemed to spark with excitement as well when we hyped about the case.

After Samuel joined us I pressed record:

My interest is in directing. I'm really keen in terms of details and movement in a show. That would be my question for now: when you guys direct together what's your directing style? How do you cooperate?

Samuel: I rarely tell people "you need to do this". I tell them that I don't understand what you're doing or I'm asking why is this happening. Then if it makes sense it's good enough for me. What we do in preplanning, though, we need to make sense of the entire production. We need to work from A to B. But everything in between I think is up to the professionalism of the crew.

Chris: Obviously within the big dance numbers there's going to be a move on every count, on every beat, so you do choreograph in its entirety. But there is freedom for them to act their own character into that. That's the important part because otherwise it looks sort of "androgynous" and doesn't acheive anything. It doesn't look like real people. So you want to create the style and the movement and let them add themselves into it.

What about the reactions of the characters? Sometimes, for example, the pauses are on point in a show. I love pauses myself. A pause gives breath to the character, to the audience, to the moment. Do you direct pauses yourself?

Samuel: It's a tricky question because I'm never in a situation where I'm thinking that now I'm gonna direct a pause. I answer the same way as in the previous one that if it makes sense to me then I let it be. But if it doesn't make sense I start discussing with the actor why are you doing like this? What are you thinking, what are you feeling? And then you go through that.

So you are really after the actor's own expression. I can see you as a director who sees the potential in the actor and directs in the way of the actor!

Samuel: Possibly. Very possibly. But I do read the signs they're sending and it's all up to how organic it becomes. Because if it's unorganic to me I don't understand it.

Exactly. Do you guys cooperate in terms on where do actors come from to stage. The balance of the stage, how is that managed?

Chris: Yeah, part of it is an aesthetic thing. To make it look pretty and to make it look appealing. But part of it has to be realistic. You can't just have one walk on for no reason and be there just because it looks pretty, it has to have a reason for being there. And then the other part of it is just pure logistics: "they went off that way because they have not enough time to get back on the other way". They have to come on there and do it in this time because there is a costume change. All those elements come together and hopefully looks seamless but is incredibly well thought out.

Samuel: I think our job is to make things look as if they're not choreographed.

I have understood that it's really common and a good thing that Finland gets these non-replica version of the shows. But what do you think when Anastasia came on in 2018 it's really early in my opinion to give off the licenses. What affects having the licenses to non-replica version? How is it managed, are your CV's sent to the original creators or how does it go?

Samuel: First off it's not an easy thing. It's not up to us really but we all need to get approved. So yes they send our CVs there for approval for the original conceivers of the show. It's up to the theater, their reputation, our reputation whether they match, their criteria if this is okay... Shows like Lion King you don't get to do non-replica and I'm happy you don't because it's such an original show. You need to be really really clever and smart to make it work differently. But then show like Anastasia screams that Finland who has very close neighbour relations to Russia, there is show much history, understanding, culture, what matches here way better than across the world. I'm not saying that people across the world couldn't study that or know the story, of course they can. It's the same we do in any production we work with. But it adds something special to it.

Chris, do you have any dreams or visions in terms of this piece? I remember you saying you're going to direct some 20s charleston in this as well?

Chris: Yes the great thing about this piece is that there's so many different styles of choreography within there. You get the traditional Russian side then you get the Europeans when we move into Ballet... It's just amazing to be able to do. Most shows will stay within one style with slight variety, but this show covers so much in terms of location as well. You get the Russian influences, the French influences and how different they can be. It's really exciting to get into those little details.

In terms of character acting and directing if you see there's something good going on is it the actor's job to enhance it? Or do you ever say like "hey, can you make it bigger" or how do you feel about character directing?

Samuel: I think it is an important thing to direct the characters and I think it is important to read the signs they give us and guide them towards the optimal solution. Quite generic answer but I think in its entirety our profession is not to remove their signs in any way, you just need to have sensors open so that we realize what kind of signals we're getting from the actors, from the audience, from the music, script... Everything! And then just try to put them all into a ball that's understandable and organic.

That's a nice quote!

I also got to interview Chris Bewsher who sat with us at the table, curiously listening. He is Samuel's and Chris's assistant and a dance captain.

Chris: I'll be the intermediary between them and the cast. When there are absences when the show is running it's my job to fix the spaces and make sure the swings know what they're doing and how they're covering the people.

Do you ever go into the audience while rehearsing to check if everything's going fine?

Chris: I usually get videos to make sure that everyone is still doing what they've been set while the directors were still here. Everything from the premiere should be exactly the same all the way. It's my job to maintain that and make sure that the cast carry on doing what they're doing.

I agree that the little bits are important. It could be seen really easily if someone's off their place. How did you got involved yourself? Were you part of the casting or did somebody call you?

Chris: Samuel employed me as his assistant and for the casting because Chris couldn't unfortunately make it there. I ended up taking the dance call and Chris was there on a Zoom call so I was in the room teaching the choreography. I've been working with him before in Matilda and the Little Mermaid.

Since you've worked with Samuel before what's your opinion on his comments on his directing style?

Chris: I think he's really calm and very clear. A lot of what he wants is really organic. If you don't feel like it makes sense on stage then it shows and must not be the right thing to do. I think Samuel works really well with getting the motives out and not forcing the emotion. If it comes then it comes for a reason. And that's because what you're doing as an actor it's coming from a real place.

What will your name be in the program?

Chris: In the programme I'll just be down as ensemble's dance captain. But the job that I'm doing is a bit more than a normal dance captain because I'm also employed by Samuel to be his assistant from his company.

What are your expectations for the show? What are you looking the most forward to?

Chris: I'm really looking forwards creating the show because there are so many aspects and things. You can really get into so to speak. I think we have a fantastic cast and really talented people that you can ask anything off. Once the show is running I really trust the people we have here to carry out their job. It'll be a nice puzzle.

I'm really excited for the coming show. Thank you Tampere Theatre's crew for the lovely time!

Text: Rosanna Liuski

Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox Motion Pictures by special arrangement with Buena Vista Theatrical
From the play by Marcelle Maurette as adapted by Guy Bolton
ANASTASIA is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd.

Musikaalin esitysoikeuksia Suomessa valvoo Näytelmäkulma - Nordic Drama Corner


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