BWW Interview: Patrick Cassidy of SHREK at 5-Star Theatricals
VCOS: When you stepped into this role, you obviously had your own vision on the direction you wanted 5-Star to go. But talk a little bit about what changes you want to see as you go forward.
PATRICK: Well, I'm only working on my first show, so it's still a big learning curve. I think the biggest thing overall, after being a resident here for thirteen years, is educating the community to the quality that 5-Star presents. Like I've said, there is no bigger quality in terms of presenting a musical. No better. No question. But also, you have to gauge what the community wants to see and then educate them on more obscure musicals that might not have a chance to play here. That's the tricky part. There are only so many Disney shows. And Disney shows are family shows, but can we broaden the scope of what are truly amazing entertainment shows yet get people to go out and buy a ticket to see it, despite the fact that they might not be familiar with it? My favorite composer is Stephen Sondheim, but it's very hard to sell a Sondheim show up here, only because I don't think people have been educated enough to know who Stephen Sondheim is, let alone know his work. So that is part of my mission: to branch out. And yes, we'll still have the family shows, we'll still try to attract complete families, but at the same time I'd like to do some more adult shows. But that's a process. You have to educate a community. And that's the other thing. Musicals were created in America. As much as baseball is the American pastime, so are musicals, in terms of the arts. We own that. And that's what needs to be nourished and supported and taught to the people up here.
VCOS: There was a time when Cabrillo Music Theatre would program one of these riskier shows in the Scherr. Is that a possibility for you?
PATRICK: Yes. I don't know if it's going to happen this season, but it's definitely something I'm considering. My creativity would love to reach out and try things that are a little edgier, but again, it's a step-by-step process. One of the things I'd like to incorporate and maybe even get to do as a fundraiser for this year are musicals in concert, where you put the orchestra on the stage and you do it either with scripts in hand and do the whole musical as a concert.
VCOS: We've needed that since Musical Theatre Guild left. How else would we have seen shows like Titanic, The Most Happy Fella, Irma La Douce, and Fade Out, Fade In?
PATRICK: I know Fade Out, Fade In because my old man did it.
VCOS: That's right! With Carol Burnett. So do you have a bucket list of shows you'd love to do that no one would expect to see done here?
PATRICK: Oh, gosh, I haven't thought about that because I'm just starting to think about 2019-2020, which would be my first official season. I have not talked about it with the board, so I have to keep it rather quiet, but I have 12 shows that are on my radar right now that I'm researching the licensing for to see if they will be available. These are shows that would definitely fit the concept of family shows and adult shows that are classics, so I've got a good array.
VCOS: So if one of those shows is one that isn't seen anywhere, how do you go about promoting it, not just to the board, but to the community? How do you educate the board so that they would agree to stage it and then educate the community so that they would buy tickets?
PATRICK: Well, it depends on the show. The shows that I am proposing are all very recognizable shows that cover different facets of the community in terms of their appeal. I want to find a classic that hasn't been done in a while, and then I want to find a newer family show. For this next season coming up, there are three gigantic musicals in a row, Shrek, Matilda, and then West Side Story. West Side Story is a more cast-driven show as opposed to one that focuses on sets and costumes. So then it's a matter of finding a hook to sell the show. One of the things I'm looking at for Shrek is to tie it into Halloween because the costumes are so elaborate and I'm looking for ways of attracting families that might want to have their kids dress up as these characters and take photographs of the characters. We might even bring some kids up on stage dressed as those characters.
VCOS: What about staying on top of more current shows? Matilda was a great get for you, but Once would be a great show as well.
PATRICK: Yeah, that's a great show. I was talking with someone who heads Columbia Artists International in New York about something like that. The problem there is that you have to get it so far in advance because we're a smaller market. The Pantages gets the best but then you also have to contend with Costa Mesa and others in the area. The L.A. market is not an easy one because if you're going to play Los Angeles, if you're within a 50-100 mile radius, they're going to be very closed to letting a company like 5-Star have it. So you have to get on lists.
VCOS: Can these other theater companies get first refusal?
PATRICK: The Pantages and the Ahmanson get everything first. They had Hamilton forever and they're bringing back Wicked. With a show like Once, which I love - I saw it at the Pantages - I don't think that would sell up here. I don't think anybody would know it. Very few people even know the movie, even though it had an Academy Award-winning song and it's a really great show. But that would be a really tough sell here. I'd love to go to it, but the average person is not going to be really familiar with it. But there are shows like Newsies, which is a terrific family show that is a little bit more recognizable. Even Footloose, which hasn't been done here, is a little older but hasn't been done except by maybe Theater League.
VCOS: Schools and community theater do it all the time.
PATRICK: I did it in Pittsburgh at the Civic Light Opera. It's good because it's a show that utilizes non-union performers because of its young cast.
VCOS: What are your thoughts about using a "stock crew," in other words, the same director, the same music director, the same choreographer for show after show after show?
VCOS: Yes, an in-house team. A lot of smaller theaters do that and you begin to see the same actors, the same directors and crew members for every show, as opposed to consciously trying to reach out and give out opportunities to other people.
PATRICK: I'm all about that. I'd rather give out other opportunities. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have three or four people in each position who rotate. I know Cabrillo was built on that, giving new people an opportunity, and I really agree with that. I'd like to find three or four musical directors, I'd like to find ten directors and a few lighting designers or stage managers. Each department is different. The one department where it would be great to find one or two perfect people would be costuming. Costumes is a tough department to rotate because it's a mechanism that has to work smoothly under the time constrictions we have. If you have someone who really knows how to coordinate as well as design, that's something I'd like to lock into.
VCOS: Outside of the theater operation itself, can you talk about some ideas you have for outreach in the community? Cabrillo was known for that.
PATRICK: I want to build that back up. The Kabrillo Kids are now called the Starlight Kids. It had really fallen off a lot of late and I really want to build that program back. In addition, there's the education program. We want to train these kids not just in the art form but to get out to places in the community, like to Rotary clubs, assisted living homes, and to businesses. So I want to build that community of kids and then they would have an opportunity to audition for the shows. The really nice thing about that is we have Matilda coming up. I mean that's a kids show! What a better way to get local kids - to be able to perform in a 5-Star show? And I want to get people who have gone on to pursue their dreams, who were raised here. In Shrek, our Fiona, Alison Woods, is a tremendous talent who played Liesl in The Sound of Music for Cabrillo. She's an incredible talent, lives in New York City but also has a house here, and is coming in here to play Fiona. There's one right there. She was raised here, went to school here, did a Cabrillo show, and is now pursuing her dream on Broadway, making a living at it. The more I can get of those, the better, the Cassie Silvas...
PATRICK: Yup. Those people would be great, and I'd like them to come back and do master classes with our education program. So I'm urging them to stay involved locally and show kids what can be accomplished.
VCOS: How about using the Civic Arts Plaza's community room for fundraisers with celebrity performers. Cabrillo did that with Sally Struthers when she was doing Cinderella and there was also a recital with Richard Sherman of The Sherman Brothers.
PATRICK: Yes, I'm talking about something like for the future, like Q&As with people who have been in movies, so the idea is to have people associated with theater or movies associated with our shows come in and do stuff like that.
VCOS: Any other pet projects you'd like to get started on at some point in the near future?
PATRICK: I really want to utilize the Scherr Forum more, such as finding musicals that are not that expensive to produce that have smaller casts. I'd like to try and get a winter show back and we could do something like that in the Scherr. I have a couple of ideas for that. We're even talking about doing a fundraiser in New York City for 5-Star.
VCOS: What things do you need to brush up on yourself, with regard to learning how to do this job?
PATRICK: That interview would take three months (laughs). The learning curve for this position is so gigantic. It's not a curve, it's a circle. A gigantic circle. Every day, I come into the office and by the time I leave in the afternoon, I've grabbed another nugget of knowledge. But it's so massive. I love it. It's sometimes frustrating, it's sometimes overwhelming, but at the end of every day, I've gained something else. It's amazing how you can be in a business for forty years and then come into a job and feel like you're a baby learning to walk. And yet, I have a tremendous support team around me, not only in the office but throughout the community. Lewis Wilkenfeld has been an absolute gem, but everybody's been like that. So I'm really grateful.
VCOS: It's like growing a new set of muscles.
PATRICK: It really is. I feel like a baby. What I said to the board on the first day was, this is a collaborative deal. All across the board. Theater is a collaborative thing. I bring something to it, this board member brings something to it. This volunteer brings something. This stage manager. It's a complete collaborative effort that makes this thing run, and run well, because no one person has been able to do it by themselves. Not Lewis, not Will, and certainly it won't be me. But with everybody getting involved and excited and chipping in, that's what will make this thing build. I'm very transparent about what I know and what I don't know, so allowing people to exercise their opinion and their influence is just what it will take to make this thing happen.
VCOS: How many years do you see yourself doing this?
PATRICK: Oh, man, this is a new career for me. I can always go back to acting and performing but I got to do that my whole life and this is really what I want to do now. And I'm going to take it one day at a time.
VCOS: Will you perform here?
PATRICK: If I have the time. But I have no hankering to do it. I got to do it at the highest level for a long, long time. I don't want to say that I would never perform in a 5-Star show, but it is my inclination not to. I'd like to direct one, not this season, but in 2019-2020 there's something that might be a good fit, but for right now, I'm focusing on this job and I'm really enjoying it.
5-Star Theatricals' production of Shrek opens October 19. See the VC On Stage Calendar for dates and showtimes.