BWW Interview: GLOW Lyric Theatre's Jenna Tamisiea on their 2019 FESTIVAL SEASON
Summer is right around the corner and that means it's time again for GLOW Lyric Theatre's Summer Festival Season.
Each year, Glow Lyric's Artistic Director, Jenna Tamisiea, picks a theme around which to stage their season. 2019's theme is "Show Me." Their three women-centric offerings - Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, My Fair Lady, and Carmen - provide windows into the female experience, ranging from the most jubilant moments to some horrifying realities, all viewed through some of the stage's most memorable characters.
We asked Jenna to share the details.
BWW: First off, please tell us about this season's theme and how you chose it.
One of my dreams for Glow has been to produce a season that would invite discussion about the nuances and complexities of womanhood, and that's really what we are focusing on this year. With many women's issues and rights at the center of our country's debates, I thought it would be a welcome and refreshing change for our audiences to see women's stories play out on the stage, from their perspective. Also, I am more interested in revealing the realities of women's lives than pushing some sort of empowering message. While I feel that empowerment is an important part of my experience as a woman, I also think learning from the mistakes and circumstances of these female protagonists as they work for agency in their lives is just as vital.
How do the three shows reflect that theme?
The three shows center around three women, from all different backgrounds, time periods and situations, who are trying to gain control and agency over their lives. Sometimes the circumstances they find themselves in are funny and ironic, other times they are tough or dangerous situations. I think all three shows balance the realities of womanhood beautifully. For Best Little Whorehouse, I am focusing on Mona as a female entrepreneur, who is struggling to keep her business alive when the local government decides to shut the Whorehouse down. For My Fair Lady, I am most interested in conveying the power shift of Eliza and Higgins. As Eliza gains power and knowledge, suddenly Professor Higgins struggles to keep control over her. For Carmen, I am characterizing her as a hard working and vibrant woman who, in search of a better life, ends up in a tragic abusive relationship.
Because of the movie, I suspect the general public primarily think of Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton when they hear Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. But the show is far from a star vehicle. What would you like people to know about this show if they haven't seen it or if they've only seen the movie?
The stage musical varies from the movie in many ways, and they are all positive and enriching ways. The stage version contains all the comedy of the movie, but balances it with more heart. The musical focuses much more heavily on the lives, feelings and reactions of "Mona's girls" who work in the Whorehouse. The stage version digs deeper than the movie, and uses humor to ask some important questions about Southern culture, the hypocrisy of the government, and the subjugation of women. And it does this while still bringing a smile to your face. That is really powerful.
I've been wanting to see a sort of chamber version of My Fair Lady done at The Warehouse. Will your version be more intimate in scope or are you going to just go full-on Ascot?
All three of the productions by nature will be intimate because we are in an intimate black box at The Warehouse. I have used My Fair Lady's source material, Pygmalion, as much of my inspiration for how to approach the musical. Really, the show to me is a stage play with music, so the large book scenes will really shine under our design concept. We will have a live orchestra, as always, but the cast has been reduced to the numbers necessary, and we have a beautiful unit set with levels that we can use for creative staging and choreography. I think moving the musical toward its roots as a stage play is a very smart choice for our space.
Carmen is maybe the most accessible opera in the canon, and maybe the most popular. And you've done a sort of encapsulated version of it in the past. Is it daunting to approach the full, iconic opera?
I am not daunted, but I have challenged myself to re-think the opera through Carmen's eyes. Throughout history, Carmen has been staged as Don Jose's story, and the role of Carmen has generally been a foil to his journey. In our production, we are working to flip that interpretation. I think the future of opera is finding new relevancy in the most popular pieces in the canon, and presenting it in an up close and personal, as well as relatable way. That's my goal with this production.
For all three shows, I suspect you will be inverting some of our expectations and preconceived notions. Can you touch on that idea? Are you planning to reshape these in light of #MeToo?
Really, all three shows contain three complex women as the protagonists. In my research and work with the scripts, the material does not need to be changed to elevate the female perspective. It's all there and always has been, however, I think that all three shows have historically been presented through the male perspective. I am working in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways to present these through a female lens. I have received a lot of help by collaborating with our season partners. We are partnering with Jasmine Road, Safe Harbor, Carolina Women's Rights and Empowerment Network, and Greenville League of Women Voters. These organizations are going to be very present in our festival, from providing information booths and participating in post show panels, to guiding me and my actors in the rehearsal room, so that we are creating authentic and appropriate characterizations and choices for the productions.