Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with Renée Johnson, Director of The Lady's Not For Burning.

by Laura Collins of Pansy Maiden

A few years ago, just before I started designing and making bags, I was desperately seeking a creative outlet to escape the boredom of sitting in front of a computer 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. My first attempt at re-activating those dormant creative energies was acting in community theater productions. I was pretty involved with a couple wonderful local theater groups for a year or so, but then I launched Pansy Maiden. Now I don't have any time for theater, but I am so very thankful that I was able to find an outlet that opened my mind to endless creative possibilities. My 9-5 job was my current location, owning my own (creative) business was my destination, and theater was Google maps.

Even though I don't currently participate in the
making of theater, I like to participate by
attending shows produced by local theater groups. This makes for a super-great date night or girls-night-out night, plus, you are supporting local creatives who want to entertain you! The next play on my list is Theatre@First's, The Lady's Not For Burning. I'm really excited about this one because 1) it's set in Appalachia 2) it has an awesome soundtrack, and 3) it's a dark, romantic comedy. I had a chance to interview the director, the talented Renée Johnson, about her work on this fantastic play.

Tell us a little bit about Theater@First and your history with them.

I began working with Theatre@First in 2005, when I was cast in a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Since then, I’ve appeared on-stage several times and worked in various administrative/back-stage capacities more times than I can count.

Theatre@First is the only community theatre based entirely in Davis Square, Somerville. Part of a non-profit theatre collaborative, T@F’s philosophy is “More theatre, less drama,” and we attract a wide range of people from all walks of life and all levels of talent and experience. It’s a great group to work with and everyone has a say in the shows that we choose to put on and contributes to the way that the theatre is run by participating in a Steering Committee, which meets monthly. I have to say that I’ve made some of the best friends of my life working with this group; the people are really something special.

Without giving away too much, what is The Lady's Not For Burning about?

The Lady Is Not For Burning is a “romance about the gallows.” It’s a dark comedy about a disillusioned soldier determined to die and an accused witch determined to live. You can see how that might lead to hilarity, I’m sure! The show is full of witty language, hilarious visual comedy, clever innuendo and brilliant acting. It’s been such a joy to see it unfold throughout the rehearsal process.

Why did you choose to direct this particular play?

It’s by far Christopher Fry’s most popular play, and one of the most popular British plays of the 20th century. Most people have heard the name but have never seen it, especially here in the states.

This play has always held a special place in my heart. Every time I read it, I lose my heart to Thomas and his twisted declarations of love. I cheer when Jennet factually documents her own strangeness. I see the characters move through their one-room world as if they were right in front of me.

Our production brings this traditionally British tale to American soil and sets it in 1919 in a West Virginia coal-mining community. I wanted to remove the pageantry of European history from our production and highlight the pioneer spirit of America. For me, nothing says Americana like Bluegrass, southern country living and simple, hard-working folk. Our production is sepia toned. It's the feel of homespun cotton, the smell of whiskey and the look of old pine floorboards.

Music plays an integral part in this production. Can you tell us a little bit about this music?

I wanted to highlight the rich musical traditions of rural Appalachia. We’re talking Bluegrass, Americana and good old-fashioned country music. A lot of people probably don’t realize that the Boston area has an amazing Bluegrass/Americana music scene that’s been around and quite popular since the 60’s and earlier, in some cases. It’s a genre that I’ve only just begun exploring, myself, and I can tell you that I’m totally hooked.

Amazingly, I got permission from local legend and folk troubadour, Mark Erelli, to use some of his music in the production. I’ve been a big fan of Mark’s music since his 2004 album, “Hillbilly Pilgrim.”

We also recruited two very talented musicians to record some new tracks for us. Scot Castle and Jiro Kokubu are both local to the Boston area and incredible multi-instrumentalists. Both play a combination of mandolin, guitar and banjo. We recently had our recording session with the guys, and I’m very excited to share what we accomplished with our audiences.

Where and when can we see this play?

The show takes place at Unity Somerville, located about 4 blocks from the Davis Square train station. We’ve got 10 performances: February 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 at 8pm, and February 20th at 3pm.

Tickets can be purchased and reserved by visiting this link.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Yee-haw, y’all!

1 comment :

  1. Thanks, Laura! We finalized all the music for the show, last night, and it sounds incredible! I can't wait for people to share in this experience.


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