Conversation with: Michael Preston

by Tim Leininger

After 19 years, with Bill Raymond stepping down from the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in Hartford Stage’s production of “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas,” running through Dec. 30, the company has looked inward, to the show’s own Mr. Marvel, Michael Preston, 59, of Hartford, as its new Christmas curmudgeon.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the Ohio native who also is an acting teacher at Trinity College, and discuss his life, training, career, and taking over the role of Scrooge.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I was born in Granville, Ohio, which is a small New England-style town where Denison University is, where my father taught civil liberties and American history.

My parents divorced when I was 8. I moved to Georgia for a couple of years and then to Woodbury, Connecticut, where my mother’s father had a farm he had bought in the early 1920s.

Q: When did you move to Connecticut?

A: In ’68. I went to school in Roxbury for a couple of years and Waterbury for a couple of years and I ended up moving to New Haven because my mother got a job as the registrar at the Yale Drama School, thus the dramatic side of my life begins.

Q: Your mom working at Yale Rep. Was that when you were bit by the acting bug?

A: My mother was a dynamic, somewhat crazy, very wonderful, energetic, interesting woman. So, drama had been part of my upbringing, and humor had been a part of my upbringing on both sides.

At Yale they needed a kid (for child roles). The first thing I did was written by Bill Hauptman — who wrote “Big River” later on — and had Sigourney Weaver in it and I think even Meryl Streep in it.

Q: Do you remember what it was called?

A: Called the “Hamburger Mayor of Night City.” It was a student-run production. It was a fantastic thing. I was the kid. I was the lead and I saw these kind of young adults doing great things, having a great time, and I think I just got the bug because of how much fun it was and it was a community of people. It was a very warm welcome for all.

My first job was in New Britain doing “The Little Prince” and Meryl Streep was The Snake.

Q: You got to work with Meryl Streep two shows in a row?

A: I think so. It’s been downhill ever since (laughing). Everybody was so talented. They were just doing incredible, exciting things. For a 13-14 year old this was much more interesting than Ohio.

Q: You’ve picked up other talents along the way beyond just acting. I know you’re an exceptional juggler.

A: I have to say the teacher I had in (University of California) Santa Cruz named John Achorn was a fabulous physical actor who had trained at this place called Blue Lake, which is still there. It is kind of a commedia school (founded by) Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, who came from the commedia tradition, he introduced a physical style of acting that I just loved.

(Later) I lived in Hoboken where … there was this faded sign on the door as you’re walking down as you get to the PATH station and it had “Hoboken Circus Arts” with a woman on a trapeze and it shared a building with a boxing gym. For three or four months I walked past and said “I wonder what that is.” I went up one day and these two wonderful, crazy Russians had started this school. I said, “Oh, I prefer that to taking acting classes. I could use this.” I started learning how to juggle, wire walk, how to do acrobatics, and clowning.

I started working with (Hovey Burgess, a circus skills professor at New York University) and I started doing circuses. I kind of go off and do the circus and make more money than I’d make in New York doing acting. Then I’d come back and work at La MaMa and places like that doing my experimental theater stuff.

Q: What kind of symbiosis happened between your acting and your circus performance?

A: I think this is where the Karamazovs come in because I was going back and forth and I was becoming a more physical and daring actor in some ways, building my skills.

They were working on a piece with Robert Woodruff who’s a very theatrical director and they needed an actor. He cast me, and then for the next 10 years I was touring the world with the Karamazovs.

If we’re doing a show that is 2½ hours, people get bored watching just juggling. It was always theater.

We wrote shows that had a dramatic through line and characters and juggling, and then shows that were just part of the new vaudeville movement. We did things that I think still nobody else has really done.

That was tremendous fun. We were doing 250-plus shows a year.

Q: Did this bring around a point to where eventually where you ended up getting married and getting yourself to settle down eventually, or did she travel with you?

A: Barbara (his wife), we met in New York, she had been on tour with the Swiss mask and mime troupe Mummenschanz, just as I went off with Karamazov. We fell in love and she lived in Berlin and I was over here and we’d see each other every couple of months. And when we got married in ’95, she moved over here … and I still continued to tour for another four years. I got tired after that and I wanted to live with my wife.

I was still going off doing the circus sometimes. Barbara ended up directing like the biggest musical in the world in Germany about Mad King Ludwig. She and I directed “Peter and the Wolf,” which was very successful in Amsterdam, so we thought we’d do more directing and we were going back to Europe.

Something fell through in Europe when we got the call (to teach at Trinity) and we thought, “Yeah, sure” and she’d been teaching all along. I had taught some.

Q: Do you do any performing anything aside from “A Christmas Carol” now?

A: We directed this piece called “Fraulein Maria” which was a dance theater retelling of the “Sound of Music” with the choreographer Doug Elkins. That was the reason I got to know people here because it was (former Hartford Stage Artistic Director and adapter of its production of “A Christmas Carol”) Michael Wilson who brought it in the last time he had something in the summer. They brought it here and that was when they asked me to do Mr. Marvel.

Q:What year did you start as Mr. Marvel?

A: It was six years ago, so 2011.

Q: Then Bill Raymond decides to step down from his tenure as Ebenezer. Was there much competitiveness in regards to some of the other cast members?

A: I don’t totally know about that. Before I knew Bill was retiring, there had been times when both Scrooges (including the understudy) had gotten sick, so I thought why don’t I learn it. I need a challenge. I did it last year in the “put-in” rehearsals where I got to do it on stage with some of the understudies in the cast. I had a really good time and I felt I had a dark affinity for it. I think being around it so much and loving parts of Bill’s rendition. That clown in him, there is something that he always saw in it. There’s something I really saw with Bill was his rapport with the audience and that they really wanted Scrooge to change. I’ve seen some Scrooges where you don’t really care.

Q: Bill’s Scrooge has always had this quirky charm about him that creates some connection. Have you found any difficulty in balancing the light and the dark in this character?

A: Everybody said, “Make your own Scrooge.” What is my Scrooge? Rachel (Alderman, the current director of “A Christmas Carol”) and I have been working in the fall before everyone got here to kind of opening it back up again. It was really fantastic to do that. I think there is a darker element to what I’m do ing, but I hope no less fun.

Q: What do you feel that you’re bringing to Scrooge that is new and compelling?

A: I don’t know if I’m the judge if it is new or compelling, but early in my life I had a lot of loss, which is just the way life goes. I understand this idea of getting away from humanity in order to deal with loss.

Q: With all the family turmoil you had early in your life, do you feel you were a recluse?

A: Not only I, but I saw everybody in the family do it. Scrooge has his beloved sister Fan die early on. I think it’s in everybody. I think this is why this is such a brilliant story. In the need to protect ourselves we often do the most unprotective things to ourselves in order to accomplish it. The touch of a human might actually help us, but we’re afraid of what the ramifications of that are. For me with going into Scrooge, I don’t think this is ever finished with. I love going the length of this journey with Scrooge from totally shut off to totally open. It’s a really spectacular to play.

Q: What does this show mean to you that it keeps bringing you back?

A: All of Hartford Stage and the community of people who come back to see it every year, and the (Hartt School) students, and the parents and the little kids who come here, it is an astounding community experience.

Q: How long do you think you can keep coming back and doing this? Bill did it for 19 years.

A: I don’t know. It seems a very relevant story for the world we’re living in right now. Working with Michael Wilson, his passion for it. He started this 27 years ago in Houston. It’s very important thing to him. The things we try to get to the people. When the top is bad of the society it makes everybody suffer and how do we solve that?

Q: There’s something that keeps bringing people back to it. What do you think it is?

A: I think Dickens wrote an apocryphal story. It’s almost Shakespearean. I think it’s just kind of a fantastic story and Michael Wilson did a fantastic interpretation. There’s not a lot of people who don’t know the story. It comes to the power of seeing something live. My belief which I have no proof of, but with all the electronic and wired in stuff we’re doing, the necessity of live theater becomes more important; seeing a story together. David Mamet says storytelling is genetic. Neuroscientists say there is a gene for it. It’s something deeply rooted in us. It goes into our deepest core as humans. I think it’s still there and I think it is the duty of the theater artist to make it as live as possible.

Jerod Haynes Switches From Ball to Plays With ‘Native Son’ At Yale Rep

by Frank Rizzo

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Growing up in Chicago, Jerod Haynes—who is starring as Bigger Thomas in the stage adaptation of Native Son at Yale Repertory Theatre—had no interest whatsoever in becoming an actor.

Haynes’s dream centered on the basketball court and, for a while, it looked like that dream had a good chance of becoming true.

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“I dreamt of going to the NBA and I worked extremely hard at it,” says the young actor over lunch at New Haven’s Atticus Bookstore Café, during a break in rehearsals.

A star athlete in a state championship high school team, Haynes received a scholarship to the University of Idaho, a Division One school, and it looked like he was on a path to sports glory.

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“But when I got there I kind of fell out of love with the game,” he says, “and I hit a wall mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Coaching conflicts, lack of focus, and a bit of arrogance, he says, all contributed to his going off-course. He transferred to another college in Texas while trying to get a break in the minor league teams of the NBA, but nothing seemed to be going his way.

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Back home in Chicago after college, he was sleeping on the couch at his sister’s, without prospects. He was depressed. Then, one day, he came across an advertisement for an acting school and decided to apply. Lacking the funds for classes, he worked out a work-study exchange.

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The classes were therapeutic and “I was opening up—and it felt good.” Then he discovered that his acting skills were improving, too. He auditioned and got a part in a local production of August Wilson’s Jitney.

“I butchered the audition, but they must have seen something in me,” he says. “That’s when I made a decision to leave ball alone and pursue acting.”

Audiobooks’ George Guidall Talks About Talking

by Frank Rizzo

The Chosen, a coming-of-age story set in the 1940s, is now playing at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre through Dec. 17. Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from the novel by Potok, the show centers on two young friends from rival yeshivas — both with demanding fathers — who learn to question their place in a fast-changing world.

I asked one of the show’s stars, George Guidall, what makes an actor right to narrate audiobooks. Guidall should know. After all, his voice is the one you hear on more than 1,300 audiobooks. His narrations of classics such as Crime and Punishment, Frankenstein, The Iliad, Don Quixote and Les Miserables, along with many popular best-sellers, have set a standard for excellence recognized throughout the audiobook industry, winning three “Audies” for best audiobook narrations.

“Not every actor is cut out for narrating a book,” says Guidall, 79. “There are some fine actors who come to the mike and somehow don’t grasp the art of talking to somebody as much as they understand performing for people. There is no secret to it, other than to say it’s not just reading out loud.”

And the appeal of audiobooks?

“There’s a primal need to be told a story,” he says. “We are really wired for this, even before we knew how to read. It’s akin to people in a cave listening to a caveman telling of a hunt when they forgot about their troubles. You transport people in the telling to some other imagined world. I guess I’m a literary hermit crab, finding a home in someone else’s imagined truths.”

His most challenging assignment? “Don Quixote,” he says, which was also one of his favorite books to narrate.

And no, his golden throat is not insured, he says with a laugh. “It would be so phenomenally expensive,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with a steady instrument that has gotten deeper and a bit more gravelly as the years go on. But I do have a lot of cough drops.”

This Year’s Holiday Offerings Include Classics and Contemporary Twists

By Karen Isaacs

Two new Scrooges are gracing Connecticut stages this holiday season. Each will bring a new take on the classic character of Scrooge, and the story of A Christmas Carol.

A new musical version of the story is at Goodspeed Musicals through Sunday, Dec. 24. A Connecticut Christmas Carol is the brainchild of LJ Fecho and Michael O’Flaherty, Goodspeed’s longtime music director.

“We had the idea about two years ago,” O’Flaherty said. “We had done a very silly and fun Pennsylvania Dutch version a few years ago. Larry (the book is written by him) suggested setting it in Connecticut”.

The setting is the Goodspeed Opera House around 1925. William Gillette, the famous actor who lived up the river from the Opera House, is planning a production of the story.

The unique part of this production—besides a totally original score that O’Flaherty characterizes as “pure musical”—is that the various ghosts are famous Connecticut residents—including Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and P. T. Barnum. These three play the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas yet-to-be.

This Scrooge, played by Lenny Volpe (he was Cap’n Andy in Goodspeed’s production of Show Boat) is not an ogre, O’Flaherty said. “We needed someone with strong comedic chops who could pull off the lightness of the ending.”

The show is being presented at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester. There’s a number of special events and promotions during the run. For information and tickets, visit Goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.

And, a new Scrooge is also taking over at Hartford Stage. The annual presentation of A Christmas Carol–A Ghost Story of Christmas which runs through Saturday, Dec. 30.It’s the 20th year for this adaptation by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson; each year it sells out its many performances. For most of these twenty years, Scrooge was played by Bill Raymond. But last year, he announced his retirement.

Michael Preston, who had played Mr. Marvel, has taken over the part. It’s being staged by Artistic Associate Rachel Alderman. Alderman says this year’s production features some new costumes and new designs as well. While admitting to some hesitation at taking over from Raymond, Preston said he is looking forward to creating his own interpretation of the classic character.

In addition to all the usual performances, for the fourth year, a sensory-friendly performance is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 2. Ticket prices are reduced by 50 percent to make the show more accessible for families with people who have autism or other sensory sensitivities. Changes in the production include reductions in jarring Moises or strobe lights and startling effects. In addition, house lights are only dimmed, audience members can move about, and there is trained staff, volunteers, along with designated quiet areas and stress relievers available. For information about this performance visit hartfordstage.org/sensory-friendly.

A Christmas Story

One of the first holiday shows is a return visit of the Broadway musical, A Christmas Story, at the Bushnell in Hartford, Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26. The musical that had numerous Tony nominations is based on the Jean Shepherd essay which became a classic film. The creative team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Tony Award for Dear Evan Hansen, Academy Award for La La Land), did the music and lyrics. It’s about Ralphie, his desire for a Red Ryder air rifle, and his family in an Indiana town in the 1940s. Though it is a short run, the show is terrific and it will get the holiday season off in a heart-warming but comic way. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.

Radio Plays

Very few people remember the days when radio aired plays with live studio audiences watching as the actors played multiple parts, carried scripts, and created reality with the aid of sound effects.

Connecticut resident has adapted two famous Christmas stories into the radio play format. Each has become a holiday tradition, not just in Connecticut, but throughout the country.

Ivoryton Playhouse is giving us It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play from Thursday, December 7 to Sunday, Dec. 17. Inspired by the classic American film, five actors, directed by Sasha Bratt, perform the dozens of characters in the radio play as well as produce the sound effects. For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.

While you are attending the Playhouse you can also see the Ivoryton Illuminations which runs to Friday, Jan. 5. More than 350,000 lights are throughout the village and on Connecticut’s tallest Christmas tree will sparkle in Ivoryton village. For more information, visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org/ivoryton-illuminations-saturday-december-2nd-2017.

MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) gives us the radio play version of A Christmas Carol from Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 17. Again, you are the studio audience as actors play multiple roles and handle sound effects to create the perfect illusion for the radio audience who would be listening at home. For tickets, contact musictheatreofct.com or call 203-454-3883 MTC is located at 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk.

Charlie Brown and Rudolph

We all love the cartoon of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but now you can see a live production on stage at the Bushnell. All the favorite Peanuts characters come to life in this all-new touring stage adaptation of Charles M. Schulz’s classic Emmy and Peabody Award-winning animated television special, all set to Vince Guaraldi’s unforgettable music. It runs Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 3. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.

Another well-loved TV cartoon, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, makes a stop at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre. The show is new to the city though it played in Hartford for two years. It runs Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 10. For tickets visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666

The Nutcracker

The holiday season would not be the same without productions of Tchaikovsky’s famed ballet, The Nutcracker.

A very original take on the classic returns to the Bushnell in Hartford where it wowed audiences last year. That’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker, an evening-length production performed by a supercharged cast of a dozen all-star dancers, DJ, and violinist. The press materials says, “Through the spells cast by the mysterious Drosselmeyer, Maria-Clara, and her prince, Myron, travel back in time to the moment when her parents first meet in a nightclub. Digital scenery transforms E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story of a palace of sugarplums into a romance set in 1980s Brooklyn. The dance work celebrates love, community and the magic of New Year’s Eve.” It’s at the Bushnell on Sunday, Dec. 17. For tickets contact bushnell.org.

You have your choice of more traditional takes on the classic. The Connecticut Ballet’s production, Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17 is in Stamford and features guest arts from the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. For tickets visit palacestamford.org. The Bushnell in Hartford has the Nutmeg Ballet’s production also on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16. For tickets visit burshnell.org. The New Haven Ballet at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven features guest artists from major ballet companies. It’s Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16 and 17. For tickets visit the203-562-5666 or at www.shubert.com.

In addition, The Kate is broadcasting the Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker in high definition on Tuesday, Dec. 19. Toyota Oakdale Theater is presenting The Great Russian Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 2. For tickets, call 800-745-3000.

For Adults Only

If you are looking for something a little more cynical or adult-oriented, you have several choices. The Shubert Theater is presenting The Santaland Diaries, based on the essay by David Sedaris. This one-person play is about the fictionalized experiences of Sedaris when he worked one Christmas season as an elf at Macy’s–34th Street Santaland. It runs Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26.

TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back Christmas on the Rocks for the fifth year. This series of short one-act plays, shows us what all of those famous children from various holidays stories became when they grew up. So we see an adult Ralphie (A Christmas Story), Tim (A Christmas Carol), Clara (The Nutcracker), Charlie Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas) and more. A new episode this year is based on the children from It’s a Wonderful Life. It runs Tuesday, Nov. 28 through Saturday, Dec. 23. For tickets visit theaterworksHartford.org or call 860-527-7838.

Sister’s Christmas Catechism is also returning to Connecticut stages this year. It’s at Long Wharf Theatre from Tuesday, Dec. 5 to Sunday, Dec. 17. It’s subtitled The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold and Sister uses science, local choirs, and some audience members to find out what happened to the gold. There’s lots of audience interaction. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

Playhouse on Park is again presenting what is billed as a “Burlesque Extravaganza,” Mama D’s Christmas Stocking: Where’s Santa? What is it? The press material says it’s a celebration of “all things sexy in an evening of music, dance and comedy.” The material admits “We’re rude, we’re crude and we’re partially nude.” The event is scheduled the weekends of Dec.15-16, 22-23, 29-30 and a special New Year’s Eve show. For tickets or information, visit playhouseonpark.org or call 800-523-5900.

With so many offerings, you are bound to find something that will fit your schedule and your taste.

THE JUKEBOX EXPLODES IN “GOIN’ TO THE CHAPEL”

THE JUKEBOX EXPLODES IN “GOIN’ TO THE CHAPEL”
BONNIE GOLDBERG 203-397-5433
Teenagers are often preoccupied with bouts of puppy love, going steady, getting their hearts broken, pledging eternal devotion, wearing varsity pins, and all the other diversions that make these adolescent years so dramatic and traumatic.  To get a glimpse into your past, no matter how many years ago your high school years were, hop and bop over to the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin for Valerie Fagan’s world premiere musical “Goin’ to the Chapel” with arrangements and orchestrations by Bryan Crook playing weekends until Saturday, December 16.
If you can find your black leather jacket or pink poodle skirt, you’ll feel right at home as you meet the cool gang.  You’ll be just in time to see Johnny (Tony Galli) promise his heart to Suzy (Maria Pompile) for forever and a day, or at least until a new guy, a wild guy, rides into town.
When Jon Escobar’s Eddie breezes in, with danger as his middle name, Suzy and her gal pals Judy (Kristin Iovene) and Robin (Carleigh Cappetta Schultz) are soon all gaga over the exciting new possibilities.  Johnny and his friend Kenny (Rick Bennett) are initially bent out of shape by Eddie’s evident allure, but a hearty dose of “Love Potion #9” awakens their macho spirits.
While all these hook ups and break ups are happening, the group of six salute the 1950’s and 1960’s with an exploding juke box of classic hits like “Rock Around the Clock,” “Johnny Angel,” “All Shook Up,” “Fever,” “It’s in his Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song),” “Duke of Earl,” “Ring of Fire” and “Bye, Bye Love, among many others, all played with pizzazz by Nathaniel Baker and his lively band.
By the end of the night, you will agree that “rock and roll is here to stay” and also that teen romances are destined to last about a minute and a half.  Kris McMurray holds the dance cards for all the revolving couples until it looks like they are all “Goin’ to the Chapel” for eternal vows.
For tickets ($30), call the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre, 31 Webster Square Road, Berlin at 860-829-1248 or online atwww.ctcabaret.com. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with doors opening  at 7:15 p.m.  Remember to bring goodies to share at your table or plan to buy desserts and drinks on site.
Come and apply your Bonnie Bell Grape Lip Smackers  liberally so you’re all set to discover “who wrote the book of love” and why “breaking up is hard to do.”

Mia Dillon savors a jam-packed theater year

by Joe Meyers, CT Post

Acting is a tough profession that consists of countless interviews and auditions that rarely lead to jobs — the national unemployment rate at any given time is around 90 percent.

So, veteran performer Mia Dillon, 62, is savoring a highly unusual year in which she has been offered four juicy acting jobs without having to audition for any of them. Since last spring, Dillon has starred in “Cloud 9” at Hartford Stage, “Lettice and Lovage” at the Westport Country Playhouse, “Arsenic and Old Lace” at the Berkshire Theatre Group and the current “Seder” at Hartford Stage.

Mia Dillon is featured in the Hartford Stage production of “Seder,” running through Nov. 12. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

The Fairfield actor’s first job of 2017 was a sudden offer that grew out of a crisis at Hartford Stage when one of the cast members in “Cloud 9” was injured just a few days before the first public performance. The phone rang in Maine where Dillon was doing an NPR “Selected Shorts” show with her actor-husband Keir Dullea. Could she step in for the fallen performer and be on stage in four days?

 “I had three days to get ready. I worked on it four hours on Friday, did the show in Maine Saturday and then spent a full day (in Hartford) on Sunday. The actors were off Monday, so I just rehearsed with (director) Elizabeth (Williamson). I was on stage Tuesday night and off book for Act 1,” Dillon says, still sounding amazed by the radically compressed rehearsal and memorization period.

The actor faced the added challenge of playing two different roles in “Cloud 9” — a 10-year-old and a 60-year-old.

Mia Dillon in the spring 2017 production of “Cloud 9” at Hartford Stage. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

“I think I did a pretty darn good job,” she says of a performance that was cited by the Connecticut Critics Circle at its annual awards ceremony in the spring.

Dillon believes her emergency service on “Cloud 9” paved the way to working with the same director on “Seder,” which is running through Nov. 12 at Hartford Stage.

“My 60-year-old character in the play looks back at her 19-year-old self, her late-20s self and her 40s-self. I think Elizabeth might have told (playwright) Sarah (Gancher), ‘I know an actress who can play all the parts.’”

Dillon feels lucky to be in the cast of the world premiere of “Seder” that examines the Nazi and Soviet occupation of Hungary, but does so in a way that should make theatergoers think about present-day parallels.

“It’s a very, very interesting play with so many levels,” Dillon says. “Sometimes you go to the theater nowadays and you’re disappointed by what seems like an episode from a TV series. This is certainly not that. It’s a massive play that asks huge questions.”

In an age of nearly boundless entertainment options, Dillon thinks theater should offer a rich experience that can’t be found at home on a screen.

“You can get entertainment on your iPhone now,” she says. “This is more than entertainment — it’s about expanding your outlook on life. When I go to the theater, I want my mind to be challenged. I want to think and feel.”

Dillon worries that young actors who decide to focus on serious stage work won’t find the same opportunities she did in her early days in New York City.

“It’s totally transformed,” she says of a Broadway scene that no longer produces as many plays as it did in the 1980s. “Audiences and producers share a lot of blame for that … but part of it is producers thinking they need a TV star or a movie star rather than a trained stage actor.

“Prices are to blame too. When I did ‘Crimes of the Heart’ the top ticket was $25,” she says of the original 1981 Broadway production of Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. “I remember seeing the original ‘Chicago’ for $5 in the last row of the balcony. Actors’ salaries have not gone up at the same rate as ticket prices, so it is much harder for an actor to make a living. In regional theater, I’m earning the same money now that I did during the 1990s. I don’t know how young actors do it.”

Mia Dillon in the 2014 Hartford Stage production of “A Song at Twilight,” with Brian Murray. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

The New York acting scene has been damaged, Dillon believes, by the exodus of straight plays from commercial productions on Broadway to nonprofit New York companies such as the Roundabout Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club,. The critical prestige might still be high, but the salaries are much lower than for a Broadway production. In her early days, Dillon was able to find good-paying jobs in several long-running Broadway hits, including “Agnes of God” and “Equus,” before her Tony-nominated work in “Crimes of the Heart.”

“I was very fortunate because there were a lot more opportunities to do plays on Broadway then. My first Broadway (job) was in ‘Equus,’ which had a seven-year run. Musical actors can still find work and make a living on Broadway, but it’s much harder for actors who do plays,” she says.

Dillon is savoring the chance to dig into her fourth meaty role of the year. She has been working very hard for months, but jokes, “Adrenaline is a very powerful drug. When you burn your candle at both ends you use up all of your energy, but you rise to the occasion. You get through it because you love what you’re doing.”

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @joesview

 

Broadway Hit ‘The Band’s Visit’ Began At Hartford Stage

by Frank Rizzo

First published in the Hartford Courant’s Hartford Magazine November 16, 2017

 

Broadway has a new hit with “The Band’s Visit,” but just like the little lost traveling band at the heart of the musical, the show’s journey was a circuitous one — starting in Hartford.

It all began when Orin Wolf, who graduated from the theater division of University of Hartford’s Hartt School in 2001, saw the film “The Band’s Visit” shortly after its 2007 release.

Wolf thought the modest and minimalist story — an Egyptian policemen’s band scheduled to perform at an Arab arts center in Israel is instead mistakenly directed to a remote Israeli desert town — would make for a wonderful and very different kind of musical. Wolf reached out to his friend and fellow Hartt alum, Maxwell Williams, who was at the time resident director at Hartford Stage.

After Wolf secured the stage rights of the movie from Israeli filmmaker Eran Kolirin, Williams approached then-artistic director Michael Wilson with the project who gave it a slot in the 2010 Brand:NEW” play reading series. The reading consisted mostly of the screenplay.

The response from that reading, which Williams directed and which also featured some atmospheric Mideastern music, was encouraging. “My objective was clear,” says Wolf. “I wanted to validate what I thought: that was this was a compelling theatrical story. At the end, that Hartford audience stood up and cheered.”

Says Wilson now: “We launched its formal development process and gave [Wolf and Williams] a very well-funded, large-cast workshop that helped send it on its way.”

Darko Tresnjak, who succeeded Wilson as artistic director in 2011, was interested in doing more musicals as part of his vision for the theater, and he continued to offer the possibility for a production for the show.

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Triney Sandoval Takes A Break From Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet To Talk To CTLatinoNews

Triney Sandoval will be performing the role of Capulet in the new production of Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT. (WCP) The play is directed by Mark Lamos, who has served as the artistic director of WCP since 2009. Lamos’ has become one of the most admired and respected theatrical directors in his interpretation and presentation of works by Shakespeare.  I still remember many of the scenes of the productions of plays by Shakespeare, he directed during the 17 years in which he was the Artistic Director at Hartford Stage. The news that Lamos will direct a Shakespeare play always generates great excitement and interest among the theater-loving audience. To have both Lamos directing a play and Latino actor Triney Sandoval in the cast, peaked my interest and I reached out to  Pat Blaufuss, Public Relations Manager at WCP. I want to thank her for introducing me to Mr. Sandoval and facilitating this interview.
IN CONVERSATION WITH TRINEY SANDOVAL
BESSY REYNA: Where are your parents from? Did they speak Spanish at home?
TRINEY SANDOVAL: For as long as anyone can remember, both sides of my family come from the Colorado/ New Mexico region – before they were states. As the saying goes.  We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.  Both of my parents were born in New Mexico (my father in Las a Vegas and my mother in Santa Fe) but they met and lived in San Diego. My father grew up speaking both Spanish and English. My mother grew up in a household where they used Spanish as a secret language when they didn’t want the children to know what was going on, so she never learned it. As a result, almost the only time I heard the language was when my father would chat with my maternal grandmother, and I, like my mother, don’t speak a word.
BR: A day in the life of your family, what was it like?
TS: My dad worked as a machinist, my mom stayed home to take care of my brother and me, we had a pool and dogs and ate dinner together every night. I thought I lived the same life that everybody in America lived. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that not everybody in America had at least 40 people over on birthdays and for every major holiday – and for each gathering had a full ham, a turkey, tamales, and beans with chile. I had no idea that not all of America sent family members to Hatch, New Mexico every 4 or 5 years to pick up 40 bushels of green chile, and then get together over a long weekend (and over several barbecues) to roast, package, freeze, and distribute it throughout the family to carry everyone until the next trip. So while it turns out that it wasn’t necessarily what everyone thinks of as an American childhood, it was a very American childhood.
BR: When did you become interested in acting/singing?
TS: High school was the first time I was on stage. I took a drama class as an elective, and as a relatively quiet kid I found an outlet that I was pretty good at. It was intriguing to be someone else. Adolescence is a time when you’re figuring out who you are, and for me there was no better way to do that than a socially sanctioned avenue of trying on other personalities.
BR: Your first play or concert? Memories about it?
TS: When I was in the 6th grade I saw a production of Sinbad at the local Junior college. I remember lots of smoke and green lights and darkness, but the big thing I walked away with, was seeing actors in one scene as one character and then in the next scene as completely different characters. I was fascinated by not only the change of character but of the change of costume and makeup, and how quickly it could happen. I went home and practiced quick changes in my bedroom. It was more than a fascination with being someone else it was being multiple someone “elses”
BR: Favorite composer, music?
TS: If you’re asking what I listen to and who consistently moves me, I have to confess I’m a pop music fella and I’m a bit stuck in the 70’s and 80’s. I listen to a lot of Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and everything from Billy Joel.
BR: You have participated in so many different plays all over the country, do you have a favorite theater?
TS: I love working in an outdoor space, but I don’t have a favorite theater, per se. There have been some beautiful ones, but for me, theater is really about the people.
BR: You were part of the cast of “Frost/Nixon” by Peter Morgan, which is serious and political, and “The Underpants” which was adapted by Steve Martin, do you prefer drama to comedy?
TS: I love them both! And more than that, I love to mix them as much as I can. The great thing about Shakespeare is that all his plays incorporate both.  Maybe that’s because he was an actor and knew that laughter will open an audience to and emotional experience. One thing I love about comedy is the high wire element. You know immediately when you’re successful and when you’ve failed.
BR: you also worked on TV? Elementary and Law &Order, The Sopranos, which are very popular, how was that experience?  Which roles did you play?
TS: Usually just one or two scene roles; an FBI agent in The Sopranos, a postman on The Blacklist, but both Law and Order and Law and Order SVU afforded me the opportunity to do recurring roles. In the former, I was a coroner, and in the latter, a computer tech. The wonderful thing about those experiences was that I was able to spend some time getting to know what it was like to be on a set and how that world, which is very different from theater, works.
BR: Do you have a preference as to the type of work you do TV or theater?
TS: Well, my pocketbook loves, loves, loves television, but I’m so much more comfortable in a rehearsal hall and on a stage theater.
BR: Your next project?
TS:  There’s nothing on the horizon, but then there rarely is. I tend to start looking for the next job a few weeks before the current one ends.
BR: What do you do for fun?
TS: One of the things I love about theater is the collaborative nature of it. But when it comes to having fun outside of work I look for things that are decidedly un- collaborative. Most of it has to do with constructing things. I’ve built almost every piece of furniture in our house, I sew most of my clothes and I’ve just recently taken up welding. I can’t wait to see what I can make with this new hobby.
BR: Gracias Triney for taking the time to chat with us.
Romeo & Juliet will be at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Wesport, CT from  October 31 to November 19. For more information visit  www.westportplayhouse.org  or call 203-227-5137.
Bessy Reyna is a member of the Board of Directors of CT Critics’ Circle