BWW Interview: Director Doug West of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ
This holiday season, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey will be presenting It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Adapted by Joe Landry and directed by Doug West, the show will be on the Madison Stage from November 30 to December 31.
In the production, a group of actors and technicians gather in a 1940's radio station at holiday time to perform a live broadcast of "It's a Wonderful Life." Replete with Foley sound effects, commercials from the era, and sprinkled throughout with a generous dose of music and humor, this charming piece brings the famous story to life in a new way and fills the theatre with the inspiring spirit of the holidays.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing the show's director, Doug West.
West is in his 16th season with The Shakespeare Theatre and is currently the Associate Director of Education. Company directing credits include: Shakespeare LIVE! touring productions of Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet, Next Stage Ensemble's touring productions of The Rover and The Taming of the Shrew, and staged readings of The African Company Presents Richard III and last season's reading of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Company fight direction credits include: Coriolanus, Blood and Roses; Shakespeare's Henry VI, Romeo and Juliet, and Misalliance on the Main Stage; multiple productions of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Henry V with Shakespeare LIVE!. Company acting credits: Main Stage productions of Henry IV, Part One, Macbeth, King John, The Tempest (2002) and three tours with Shakespeare LIVE!. Doug has an MFA from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
When did you first realize your penchant for theatre?
I followed a cute girl into auditions for the eighth grade play. I never left. I was good a making the other kids laugh, and I thought it felt better to have them laugh with me than at me, so I kept doing it.
Tell us a little about your education and your mentors in the field.
I have a BA in Theatre Studies from Montclair State University and an MFA in Acting from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of great teachers and mentors throughout my education and career. I like to think I take a bit of something from everyone I've worked with. Most of my professional life has been spent here at The Shakespeare Theatre, and I've definitely learned a lot from [Artistic Director] Bonnie, [Director of Education] Brian, and the other directors who work here on a regular basis.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is gift for NJ audiences. What are some of the things you think have contributed to its lasting success?
The obvious answer is the high quality of the work we put on stage; however, I believe that our commitment to Education is also a large part of why we're able to do what we do. That commitment permeates every layer of our institution. It's allowed us to cultivate an educated audience, and a company theatre artists who all believe in the importance of education and the development of that relationship with an audience. I'm the Associate Director of Education here, so I may be a bit biased. I'm also a product of that commitment to education. The first live Shakespeare play I ever saw was on a class trip to see Bonnie's production of Twelfth Night in 1991, I remember sitting in the balcony of the old theatre thinking, "I want to do that. How do I work there?" Coincidentally, Jim Reilly, who plays Uncle Billy and others in this play, was in that 1991 production of Twelfth Night.
Tell us a little about your career as both a member of the creative team and as an actor and how they complement each other.
While this is my first main stage directing job here, I've worn a lot of hats at The Shakespeare Theatre. I've been an Actor, Teaching Artist, Props Master, Box Office Manager and Fight Director. All of those experiences have given me (I think) a unique perspective on how things work. I like to think that it's given me an appreciation of and respect for all aspects of our art form.
What have been some of the challenges of directing It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play?
Well, as I mentioned earlier it's my first MainStage production, so that's been a pretty big adjustment for me. The size and the scope of the show are larger than anything I've directed previously. Specifically with this particular show, I'd say it's the Foley Sounds that have proved challenging. Our Sound Designer (Steven Beckel) and Warren Pace, the Foley Artist have worked hard to create and execute some fantastic effects, but figuring out when and how to work them into the piece has been challenging. Figuring out how to weave the dialogue around all of the foley effects without having one step on the other adds an additional level of difficulty.
Tell us a little about the cast/creative team.
They're fantastic! I've worked wth most of the cast and the Stage Manager before, either on the previous staged reading of this show or on other projects here at The Shakespeare Theatre so it has a real family feel to it. The design team has done a great job (in my opinion) of capturing the look of the mid-1940s.
Why do you think metro area audiences will enjoy the show?
I'm a huge fan of the movie. It's a part of my holiday tradition every year. So, aside from the obvious draw of the conceit of a live radio show complete with live music, live Foley sound effects, and a small company of actors playing more than 40 roles, I think they'll all also enjoy hearing the story told by different voices. I've found that I'm hearing things in the play that I've never noticed in the film, and I'm really enjoying the opportunity to get to hear someone else's interpretation of words that I know so well. I couldn't be more happy with this cast, and I'm sure the audience will love them too.
Tickets for It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play can be obtained by calling 973.408.5600, by visiting their Box Office, or online at http://www.shakespearenj.org/. The F.M Kirby Shakespeare Theatre is located at 36 Madison Avenue, Madison on the campus of Drew University.
Photo Credit: Headshot courtesy of Doug West and photo by Samantha Gordon