The Sunday performance of the first full weekend for The History Boys just ended — and what an amazing week it has been. I am so proud of the work everyone has done to make this production such a huge success.
It tends to happen that the director, actors and designers get all the credit in the press and from audiences because it’s the work people most easily see and hear. You can read more about these folks in some extraordinary reviews here …
But you may not be aware of the other people who have worked just as hard to make this entire production come together.
I want you to know the INSIDE STORY!
A great place to start is Bridget Dehl. Assistant Director and the “den mother” of the production. She was there at the beginning, helping with casting and script work at early meetings over Chinese food at my place. She also took care of my neuroses (a full-time job in itself). She is brilliant at the job because she is a great actress as well and she often gives me insight to what an actor is thinking or why and how they are responding to a note. She also provided GUM/MINTS for the entire group so that we’d all have fresh breathe. That’s an important job. She did all this while also being a mom to 2 rambunctious boys (3 if you count her husband).
Maren Robinson: Our Dramaturg. Who is she? What does she do? Well, let’s just say she makes all of us a little smarter. Look online at the 43-page study guide. That was what Maren produced for us. (Actually the rehearsal version was 94 pages!) Maren was also at those early meetings, exploring and answering questions we had about the history and the references in the play. Generally, she also creates the content for Backstory and informational boards in the theater. On this production, however, she went far above and beyond her usual responsibilities. She helped design things for the boys “rooms” including photos, music, posters and poems, and she was our consultant on all things French, including translations and pronunciations. She also worked with Mike Tutaj, the video designer, helping find bits of video segments and photos. She is also very much a part of the “directing team,” and had a critical voice in the staging and the acting choices. She was the one who responded to “ad libs,” saying, “I don’t think a British schoolboy would ever be allowed to say THAT!”
Eva Breneman: Dialect Coach (Extraordinaire). Yes, the dialects were mentioned in a few reviews, but the Dialect COACH is almost never mentioned. Eva is a genius at dialects; other things too, of course, but it’s the dialects I remember. Eva has given the production the authentic sound of northern England. She can easily jump from East London to Manchester to Sheffield, or for that matter, from Iran to Afghanistan to Wales to Germany at the drop of a hat. It is awe-inspiring. I haven’t heard her do Korean yet, but I bet she could. Actors love Eva because she is also an amazing actress as well and can talk to them with a clear understanding of their goals and objectives. Eva and I have been working together for about 6 years (on more than 10 productions)!
Julie Eberhardt: Properties Designer. You have read about the wonderful designers of set, lights, sound, video and costume. But you never hear about the “props” designer. And there are no awards for props design either. (There should be — let’s begin the campaign.) Julie helped find so many of the items that make the boys’ rooms unique, true-to-character and British. She worked hand in hand with Brian Sidney Bembridge, the scenic designer, to find the furniture and all of the hand props. It doesn’t seem difficult to find props from the ’80’s, right? Wrong … especially when the items needed to have a British quality as well. That stuff is hot again! Julie works like crazy and always smiles when I say, “Hey Julie, can we talk about a new prop.” Amazing.
James Ogden: Technical Director/Production Manager/Carpenter/ETC. James does a lot of jobs. Not only does he help schedule all of the design elements and keep everyone on budget — he also helps build things. James is the guy left at the theater at midnight when everyone else is going home. There he is pounding nails in the floor or hanging a light. He is from Virginia and has a very funny accent that never ceases to humor me. “Google” = “Gee-oogle.” He is also one of those people who is forever positive, even as I impart the bad news that we need to hang the door the other way. Notice the “we” when I mean “he.” James is not just a builder but a designer and his work always shows that. When a patron or reviewer comments about how our designs are getting more and more professional looking, it is James I think of.
JoFlo and Chain, Chain, Cheney: Our Stage Managers. These two ladies are in charge of making the technical side of the production happen. Jo Ann Flores-Deter, the SM, is in charge of running the sound, light and video cues for the show. This takes enormous concentration on a simple show — and this one is very complicated. She does a host of other things like making sure the actors are there when “places” is called, opening and closing the theater, and much more. Cheney Tardio, Assistant SM, deals with everything backstage. She has a list of about a million pre-set items that take place starting at one-hour call. She makes sure props are where they belong, actors are where they belong and, oh yeah, she is IN the first scene of the play. During the show, she also climbs around the set military-style, on her stomach, doing things the audience isn’t supposed to see!
Mac Vaughey: Master Electrician. You get the idea. Mac hangs lights and speakers and deals with all things electrical. I don’t really know any more and don’t really want to. Mac is the silent type who sneaks into the theatrer in the middle of the night and the next day, things work. I don’t ask questions.
Behzad Dabu, Govind Kumar, Rob Fenton and Brad Bukauskas: or Akthar, Crowther, Lockwood and Timms. These four get lumped together oftentimes as “the other boys.” They are part of the ensemble of boys but are each pretty amazing on their own as well. Behzad is a little finicky, like his character, and he gets teased by everyone because he loves the ’80’s group WHAM! (or at least he loves “Careless Whisper.”) Mostly, he ADORES basketball just slightly more than he adores women and you will notice his prowess at basketball when he flies over the desk in the second act. Govind has been dubbed Akthar II because the script didn’t originally call for a second Muslim character, but we just wanted Govind and that was that. I also have confused the two of them on occasion (senior moments) as have others in the cast and audience! Govind’s specialty is the silent but deadly approach to ad libs. If you sit near him — you will know that he has a “wicked” sense of humor. Rob is the great ad libber. That means he is excellent at throwing in lines that aren’t actually written by Alan Bennett. These USUALLY come as the boys enter and exit — but some of them have become so integral that the other boys wait for them. Listen for “MORE than they needed” in the second act. Brad is the class clown. Oh, there are other clowns here, don’t get me wrong (in fact 8 of them), but Mr. Bukauskas is the BIGGEST of them all. Brad brings all sorts of things to the party: condoms, pizza, dirty pictures, a huge wedgie, and each night, a hand which gets deep throated in a way that just doesn’t seem right. Usually I have to tell him “no” but he always keeps trying. And it is the thing I like most about him.
Tony Santiago, Michael Cook, Barbara Figgins, Chris Hart, Jack McCabe and Niall McGinty: The Understudies. These people have a grueling task. They have to learn everything that the actors in the production know and be on call at all times to go onstage. They also face the possibility that they may never get to perform at all. This is a tough job, requiring attendance at rehearsals and performances and ongoing rehearsals during the run. Inside scoop: one of these understudies is also the face on the poster.
The Front of House/Box Office Ladies: This show is going to be especially challenging for the “Ladies of Management.” They are all working overtime as is, handling the telephone calls that are coming in like crazy right now. They also take a lot of grief. Most complaints go to this group and they handle it with grace. (OK, maybe they get a little grumpy at times, but please understand that they get complaints about the heat, the cold, the steps, the parking, the water fountain — or lack thereof — and that’s just the start of it.) They shield the actors from all these things and that is noble and SO helpful.
The L’s: The 3 ladies of TimeLine’s staff. Lara, Lindsey and Liz. You may know these ladies but you probably don’t really know all they do. Lara Goetsch: Marketing Director. She designs most of the marketing materials you see and is in charge of the buzz and the WOM (Word of Mouth). She loves the WOM! She is also a skilled photographer and most of the shots around the theater are by Lara. Lindsey Becker: Development Manager. Lindsey helps bring in money from foundations, corporations and individuals, which helps us afford everything we do. She also spearheads the TimeLine Gala. She is young in years, but not in experience. Liz Auman: Managing Director. Liz oversees everything that involves finances at the theater and she helps find ways to make the impossible happen. She is also a true lover of theatre and she not only supports the art at TimeLine, but also around Chicago as well.
Last but not least, PJ Powers: Artistic Director. I know he gets PLENTY of mention, but not always in the areas I would like to point out. PJ is an amazing Casting Director, with a keen eye for talent and a perception for who will be good in the long run (not just at the audition!). He is also the best person to have in the back seat. By that, I mean he is excellent at showing a director ways to go that the director may not have gone. Example: much to my chagrin, PJ pushed me to change a scene that had been blocked in a boy’s bedroom (with terrible sight lines). I moved it to another place on the set and it is much better this way. Audiences should thank him because he looks out for you. Artists thank him because he does the same thing for our visions. PJ is the best at what he does, leading and supporting an artistic team.
I bet I forgot somebody. I’m sorry if I did. I didn’t forget all the amazing actors and designers who worked tirelessly to make this production as good as it is. I just assumed you have already noticed their excellent work.