BWW Interview: Theatre Royale's Sarah Cleveland Dance Directing Her NEWSIES Family Troupe
Theatre Royale will be bringing their production of NEWSIES to The Soraya for two performances June 29 and 30. Winner of two Tony Awards in 2012 (Best Score and Best Choreography), NEWSIES follows a band of orphan and runaway newspaper boys striking against the powerful corporate newspaper publishers. I had the opportunity to ask a few probing questions of Theatre Royale's multi-tasked creative Sarah Cleveland.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Sarah!
What originally brought you together with Theatre Royale?
I joined the Theatre Royale family ten years ago as a dance captain, and have been involved in every project since.
Did you start off as a performer? Or were you always a creative?
I started out as a performer, but as dance captain. I've worked closely with the creative team from the beginning.
How many different creative functions are you responsible for in Theatre Royale?
I am the resident Dance Director, but I work closely with the director in all aspects including staging and technical design. I wear many hats, but the goal is always the same - Tell a great story, and keep the process fun!
What specific functions are you responsible for NEWSIES?
I am co-directing the show with Scott King. Our responsibilities cross over quite a bit with lengthy discussions of concepts and design of the show.
What exactly are the responsibilities of a Dance Director? Do you oversee the rehearsals and/or performances instead of the choreographer?
Dance Director is a title we've come up with for the person who will represent the choreographer. As Dance Director, I oversee the execution of the original Broadway choreography by permission from the legal rights holder of each production. I have great support from our dance captains who clean the specific movements of each eight-count while I work with the dancers on style, story, and emotion to recreate the original intent of each production's masterful choreography.
Do you find it easy when not performing certain functions in a show to not over think these functions and let someone else take care of its execution?
I'm a performer at heart, but because of my role in the company, I don't get to be on stage very often. When an opportunity to perform comes along, I jump at the chance to step away from my other responsibilities and enjoy being on stage. Anybodys in WEST SIDE STORY is a role that has often been played by choreographers and other dance staff. It felt like the perfect opportunity.
You must have seen the original or cinematic versions of the musicals Theatre Royale has produced, right?
Of course! Studying the original version is one of my favorite parts of pre-production. It's a good day when going to work means watching a classic like WEST SIDE STORY over and over again.
In all the established shows Theatre Royale has taken on, do you make it a point to duplicate the original choreography? Pay homage to it? Put a totally different spin on it?
It is important to us to maintain the integrity of the original choreography of the productions we chose to reproduce. Therefore, we always seek out the proper channels to gain permission for the use of the original Broadway choreography. In some productions, we may take a slight twist from the original design on one number or a portion of a couple of numbers, but traditionally our goal is to recreate the original intent of each production's masterful choreography.
Who were your dancing idols when you were starting out?
I have always had a special passion for tap. When I saw the film Singin' in the Rain for the first time, I was mesmerized by Gene Kelly and the effortless way the sounds seemed to flow from his feet! The joy he had when he danced was contagious, and I want our audiences to feel the joy we have for what we do as well.
Which Theatre Royale show has been the most challenging in your input? And would that show be the most satisfying for you?
Each show brings its own unique challenges, but the advanced level of tap that WHITE CHRISTMAS demands made it especially challenging and rewarding.
Which gives you a bigger rush - Performing on stage (Anybodys in WEST SIDE STORY) or watching from off stage, others performing under your supervision.
Playing Anybodys was truly a dream role for me, but it doesn't compare to the rush of working backstage. Our technicians have their own "choreography" happening in the wings, and watching all the on and offstage sequences happening in sync is incredibly rewarding.
How is producing a show for Theatre Royale's home base- Pechanga Resort and Casino Showroom compare to that of a touring production (LES MIS) and other venues? How big is the casino showroom? You must have to scale down big time for some of your other venues.
Adapting to any size stage deck is part of the game with any touring production. Our venues range from 1250 to 2300-seat auditoriums, but that has no effect on the production value. Our responsibility is to bring the same production to audiences at every venue - without scaling down or compromising spectacle. Off stage is where the real changes occur. Some stage decks have less depth, but have a backstage crossover. Other decks are huge, but we have to create our own crossover. During our LES MISERABLES tour, we flew the barricade in the wings for the first act to create more offstage space. Touring is really all about creative problem-solving.
In terms of stage area, how much more or less dance area will you have at the Soraya vs. at Pechanga?
The majority of our venues have at least 48 feet of width, so we trim all venues to a 44-foot-wide production. Our production grows with larger venues, but does not condense at smaller ones, the performers just adapt to the space were able to provide. As for the comparison between those two facilities, the audience will see the exact same show, but the performers will have a bit more room on stage at The Soraya as it has 25% more stage deck than the PRC.
By the time you physically reach The Soraya, all you need is a tech and dress rehearsal? How much rehearsal time will you have on The Soraya stage?
The cast will arrive at the venue in the afternoon the day before our first performance at CSUN. That night we'll do a venue tour, and sound check. Then the cast will have time to walk through their track before heading to the hotel. The day of the show, we'll have fight call, lift call, and tumble call as part of our pre-show process.
Thank you again, Sarah! I look to experiencing the excitement that is your NEWSIES.
For ticket availability at The Soraya for June 29 or 30, log onto www.thesoraya.org