A Titanic Journey


It’s the night before rehearsals are set to begin for Titanic and I can’t sleep. I feel like a little kid waiting up for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. In less than twenty-four hours, I’ll be meeting with some of my best friends to board the ship of dreams. Along the way, I know there will be a lot of hard work, but there will also be new friendships, strengthened relationships, laughs, late nights at Noon Hill, a few refreshing tears, and so much more. The cast and crew will unite on a journey toward what we hope will be Woodland’s most successful show yet.


As I lie in bed dreaming of the weeks to come, I can’t help but think that the people of the actual Titanic probably felt a similar way the night before their departure. Many of them, like my character of Kate Mullins, were dreaming of a better life in America, of a chance to create opportunities for themselves. Some were traveling overseas for the very first time. Some were visiting relatives. Many first class passengers were probably vacationing, and they were happy to show their power and prestige by securing a place on this particular ship. All of the passengers, including the crew, were boarding the Titanic for its maiden voyage, and they knew they were making history traveling on this ship of dreams. Boarding this vessel was a sign that they were among the lucky few who were able to arrange a ticket for passage. Their lives would be changed forever


            But not in the way they had hoped. The incredible feelings of excitement and anticipation as they boarded Titanic only made the end of their journey all the more sad. This past week in rehearsals, we blocked both the opening number and the scene in which we all try to board the last available lifeboat. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the emotion was palpable in the room for both pieces. In the beginning, the majesty of everything just swept us all away: the stunning music, the unbelievable talent in the room, the passion, the potential. Then, we experienced the stifling feeling of helplessness as we fought for a coveted seat in the lifeboat. Granted, the musical spells out very clearly who will live and who will die. But in the moment, I found myself not caring. As I ran around the stage fighting through the crowd, I thought to myself, “If I ca  n find a way, I am getting off this stage.” But no matter where I turned, there was another crew member to push me back, another passenger blocking my way trying to board the lifeboat themselves. I couldn’t help but get emotional when I thought about the fact that in real life aboard the Titanic, these people had everything to lose if they were unsuccessful in their attempts to find a spot in a lifeboat. Standing on the stage watching the last lifeboat “be lowered,” there are several moments of desperation that end in a frightening stillness. In those final moments, the distinctions of class go out the window, and the essence of humanity, of imminent death and unbearable sadness, shine through. This story is SO important, and I am grateful to be able to join this cast and creative team and tell the tale.


As actors, we have the all-important job of paying homage to the real people who lived and died on board the Titanic in 1912. It is certainly difficult to put ourselves in this precarious emotional position, but it pales in comparison to the horror that occurred the night of the sinking. My character is among a group of third class passengers that are locked below decks to keep order at the beginning. Not being able to board a lifeboat is one thing, but being denied the chance to even try is another thing altogether. To think that a higher ticket price lent itself to a longer life in many cases is more than one can bear. There is also a theme of relationships that pervades this story. When the ship was sinking, did you abandon your loved ones and focus on saving yourself? Did you give up your seat in the lifeboat to someone older or younger? Did you give preference to first class passengers over the few third class passengers that made it above deck? How do you look someone in the eye and essentially give them a death sentence?


These questions and so many more will be explored in Titanic: The Musical. We will be going on a journey through this process and relying on each other to help the vision for this show to be realized. You may not get to hear Celine Dion sing “My Heart Will Go On,” and the old lady may not drop the necklace into the ocean at the end. My apologies for the spoiler alerts. But I think you will be moved by the power of this story if you are brave enough to sit through it, and I know you will be glad you did. It will make you hug your loved ones a little closer and re-examine the things in life that are important. Come and see Titanic and watch our journey as a cast and crew come to fruition. I promise the performance won’t tank =)


What happens in costumes…..stays in costumes!

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting…my first ever blog entry!! 


My name is Mary Ann Hatem and I am both a member of the Les Miserable cast AND doing double duty as Costume Coordinator.  If you want to know what that means, I do whatever the Woodland Theatre Costume Designer tells me.  That may seem like a simple explanation to you but trust me, I’ve been working with Regina O’Connor for years and she is not afraid to ask you to do any kind of weird thing she can think of.  She is the person who taught me how to use soap to make a ‘bald cap’ and how to use styrofoam meat trays to make ‘shrinkydinks’.  I think she’d put everyone in a Project Runway alternative materials challenge to shame.   She is nothing short of a magician!

Anyway, I’m here to tell you what costuming an epic and iconic musical (i.e. Les Mis) is like.  Everyone here thinks that costuming 31 cast members in upwards of four costumes each is hard but I’ll tell you a little secret:  I also happen to be the adviser and director for the Medfield High School Theatre Society and a cast of 31 would be a dream sized cast for me!  In all seriousness though, I do not want to diminish in any way the amount of blood, sweat and tears put into what is easily the most beautiful costume plot, and probably the most complex one, I have ever had the honor to work on. 


First, the blood.  Here is a little secret.  Thirty one costumes = an infinitesimal amount of pins.  They bite.  Most of the costumes get blood on them.  Regina and I have always been of one mind:  this is good luck.   Chocolate on a costume is not good luck.  If anyone brings chocolate into a costume area it is immediately confiscated.  I am not afraid to let Regina know that there has been a chocolate offender spotted.  We eat it later just to make sure there is no further chance of it getting on anything.

The sweat.  We are so lucky to have a great warehouse to work in.  The space includes both of our own sewing machines, a serger, cutting and ironing tables, two sewing mannequins named Tallulah and Little Edie.  It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  We get there when it’s light out and usually leave in the dark!  We’ve solved most of the world’s problems right there at that cutting table. 


As you can imagine, spending so much time in one space together has led to a lot of laughter and tears.  (Tears…get it?  Fabric?)  One of Regina’s favorite things is when I hum.  I hum a lot.  I don’t even know I’m doing it.  One of her other favorite things is when I say ‘so….’ And then follow it up with a laugh and say ‘ha, ha.  Sew.”  I know she thinks I’m really hilarious even if she doesn’t say so.  The tears mostly come when we get a burn from the super hot iron, or the sewing machines jam, break needles, run out of thread, etc.  Or when we sew things together backwards or upside down.  Or when cast comes in for fittings and the pants have droopy crotches or the sleeves are too short on a blouse we’ve counted on using.  And you thought those things only happened on Project Runway.  When all that happens we know it’s dark out and time to go home. 

All in all, I’ve been very excited to go to work at the Warehouse and help create all these marvelous garments.  We are very luck to have an Artistic Director, Doug Hodge, who has a great appreciation for the importance of beautiful costuming.  Every pair of the 2000 (estimate) pants you see on stage have been built from scratch.  Every gown has been lovingly pieced together precisely for our cast members.  Each costume has been researched and color coordinated with each unique character in mind.  There is no end to the amount of detail, thought and love put into every costume.  Take a moment when you come to see the show to really see the costumes.  We invite you to take a long hard look at them!  Whether they are on a ‘Lovely Lady’ or the ‘Master of the House’, every one of them is a work of art in itself. 

In closing, I will just leave you with this thought.  You know all the times you’ve said to yourself ‘I really wanted to see that show but I didn’t get my tickets in time’?  Well… “The time is now, the day is here!!”  Don’t wait until this show is sold out because you want to be able to say ‘I saw that show and it was GREAT!’

Reflections on a Father-Daughter Bond: From the Backyard to Backstage !

Image“Rob, I’m taking Benjamin to hockey at 11:30 then picking up Charlotte at lacrosse at 1:30, so would you please drop-off Robert at baseball in Wayland at 12, pickup Katherine and Elizabeth at dance in Newton at 12:30, then bring Elizabeth to an audition in Sherborn at 1:00?”

I was just following transportation instructions from my wife, Meg, when I arrived at the church in Sherborn where auditions were being held for Woodland Theatre Company’s production of The Sound of Music. And while filling out the audition form for my daughter, Elizabeth (8 years old, and the third of five children in our family), a little voice in my head said, “Hey, Rob, why don’t you audition? You love singing and acting, you love this musical, if Elizabeth gets a role then you’re going to be making the daily drive to Medfield anyway …. what do you have to lose?” So I listened to that little voice, and right after Elizabeth auditioned, it was my turn.

And that’s how it worked out that Elizabeth and I became a daughter-father duo in the cast of The Sound of Music this spring. And while I know it’s a cliché, it’s certainly accurate to call the last two months a “once in a lifetime experience” for me.

Elizabeth got a lead role. She plays Gretl, the youngest member of the Von Trapp family. And me? I play the role of Franz, the butler. Think about how cool that is: we both auditioned for a musical, we both got roles, and it’s the EIGHT YEAR- OLD who got a lead role and the MUSICALLY EXPERIENCED DAD who got a small, supporting role.

Sometimes I wonder, what did Elizabeth learn from this remarkable audition outcome? Here are my guesses: 1) It’s OK to take risks, to be spontaneous, and to “go for it.” 2) I always thought my dad was so talented, and maybe I’m even more talented than he is!  3) My dad must really love me a lot since he was willing to audition for a musical just to create a way to spend more time with me! And 4) Since my dad was so excited about being offered a small role in the show, perhaps it’s not the size of the role that’s most important, it’s the idea that any role gives you an opportunity to be a member of the cast and to be part of something magical.

I know Elizabeth has loved being part of this production. All seven of the actors and actresses who play the Von Trapp children have bonded just like real brothers and sisters. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, since they spend so much time together, have similar interests and abilities, make similar personal sacrifices to be part of this hard-working cast, and are close to the same age. They joke around off-stage, laugh constantly, hug and high-five each other, and are always happy to be reunited with one another at the start of another long rehearsal. They were meant to be together!


Likewise, the adult actors and backstage crew are like aunts and uncles to Elizabeth and the other kids in the cast. They’re always complimenting the young actors and actresses on their acting, singing, and hard work; they help them with their costume changes, and they laugh together whenever they’re not practicing a scene. It’s been wonderful to watch Elizabeth (and all of the other child actors) become part of an authentic “second family” at Woodland Theatre Company — and for me, it’s a been a pleasure to participate fully in this family, as well.

 First and foremost, my parental joy as a cast member has come from just spending large blocks of time with Elizabeth, both at the rehearsals and on the long car rides there and back. But beyond that, I have been privileged to watch Elizabeth grow as a little professional in the theater biz under the expert tutelage of artistic director Doug Hodge and musical director Chris Holownia.

No, she doesn’t get paid for her acting, but everything about Elizabeth’s approach to the show has been 100% professional: The way she took personal responsibility to memorize all of her songs and lines early on; her enthusiasm for going to every rehearsal, even when she was exhausted and the rehearsals were scheduled to go well beyond her bedtime; her high energy level during long rehearsals that required several consecutive hours of high intensity dancing, acting, focusing, and listening; her appreciation for and collaboration with her acting peers in the show; her willingness to receive feedback about how to improve her performance; and the list goes on and on.

It’s important to say this: everything I wrote in the above paragraph about my daughter, Elizabeth, is also true about all of the Von Trapp Family children. Julesy (Liesl), Brooks (Friedrich), Chloe (Louisa), Tyler (Kurt), Anika (Brigitta), and Katherine (Marta) all approached their roles as true professionals and, as a result, were accorded the same respect as the adult actors in the play. Frankly, I think all of the adults in the show, to some degree, stopped seeing these talented, hardworking children as children and started to see them simply as thespian peers. But they are children (all ages 8 to 14), which makes their accomplishments in this production all the more amazing.

I tell Elizabeth at least once a day, “I’ll always remember this, my girl! I’ll always remember the happy times we shared as fellow cast members in the greatest family musical of all time.”

Something tells me she will, too.


                                         – Rob Crawford


Behind the scenes with Anika!

Ok, so this show is looking fantastic and it has just been so incredibly fun to do and the whole cast is SO nice!!!!! I am insanely excited for the show to open! In this picture we were all trying on our “curtain clothes”…. So cute! All of the kids have really bonded and we all goof off a BUNCH when we aren’t on stage. The set is looking wonderful, but we all have to be careful of that first step up, because it’s taller than a regular step, and if you trip over it, you die (well, OK, maybe not die)….. So anyway, the cast is so wonderful and really incredibly talented, as are our amazing directors, choreographers, stage managers, costumers, props mistress, and the whole fantastic tech crew. I can honestly say this for all of us: You guys rock!!!!! The show would not be nearly as fantastically-wonderfully-amazing (I like to talk things up, but this show really is fantastically-wonderfully-amazing!!!) as it is without every one of you. 


As Jennifer said in her second blog post, the magical quality of being able to become someone else, even just for a little while is so fun! (even though my brother and possibly my parents would say that this character isn’t too far off from me in real life!) This show has been so much fun to do and I can tell I will be experiencing some major rehearsal-withdrawal after it ends.

Monday night we spent the whole time doing cue-to-cue lights, and boy, it was brutal! The plan was to finish the lighting for act two and then run the whole show, but the lights took way longer than expected so we had plenty of down time!



We even had time to take this photo! (OK, actually that’s a lie… We took this photo a while ago….. Whatever!  We did make the best of all the standing around time and goof off a little) We all are really close and we have so much fun together! So… ummmmm…….. I need something more to say….. hmmmm… Oh! I got it! Buy your tickets now because they are selling like crazy!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyways, this show is going to be fantastic, so help us get a full house and come enjoy the show! 

So. I know that that sounded like the end, but nope! I have some more photos of us kids just to show you how dang cute we all are! I believe that all of the photos were taken by two of our fellow cast members, Rob Crawford (Franz the Nazi butler), and Joshua Chelmo (Uncle Max) with the possible exception of a photo taken by Nicole Vander Laan, our wonderful, amazing, MARIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As you can see, I am sadly not in this photo…. Wait! Yes I am! See me? (I’m that creepy little head underneath Elizabeth’s (Gretl’s) arm!!!!)


Here we are in our pajamas singing about our favorite things! And though the picture may make it seem like we are all redheads, I can assure you that the only two redheads in this photos are our little Gretl and our amazing Maria!


“When I blow your whistle you will step forward and repeat your name” (And you will eat a cupcake!)


Those cupcakes really got to us………..


“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” This is a photo from sitzprobe (the first time we sing through all the songs with the orchestra)


This is a photo of the last scene, but I’m not going to say anything more about it, ‘cause seriously, it’s the LAST SCENE!!!!!!!



Going for the funny !

Margaret Felice

Probably everyone can identify the virtue that was encouraged among all others in their families growing up. Some children are encouraged to be the smartest, some to choose the most lucrative careers, some to always appear put together, some to always march to the beat of their own drummer. In my house, after the basics, such as being a good, hardworking and generous person, the highest good to which one could aspire was to be funny.

As I got older and moved out on my own, first to college and then to young adulthood, I surrounded myself with people who also tried to find and communicate humor in every situation. It was my friend Dean who first introduced me to the phrase “going for the funny”: always trying to spin a situation in order to make people laugh. (As an aside and an homage, Dean was very good at going for the funny. There are emails from years ago I still go back and read because they make me laugh until I cry).

One challenge of going for the funny is that most of us bat under .500. If you want to be known as someone who is often funny, chances are you will just as often be unfunny, a necessary consequence of being willing to throw jokes at the wall and see what sticks.

In The Sound of Music rehearsals we have been in the process of throwing everything at the wall. We have the assistance of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crowse’s book, and the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, which guarantee we’ll be batting well over average. The show has some very funny moments in them, and we’ve been working them every which way to pull as much humor out of them as we can. Under Doug’s direction we experiment with head turns, gestures, vocal inflection, and anything else we can find in our bag of actor’s tricks.

We certainly won’t be turning this classic into a farce, but you can be assured that at the appropriate times we will be going for the funny when the curtain rises in a few weeks. We hope to make you laugh and draw you into the amusing, heartfelt story. I hope to hear your laughter from the audience on May 10-12!

Margaret Felice is playing Sister Berthe in Woodland Theatre Company’s production of The Sound of Music. She blogs regularly at http://felicemifa.wordpress.com.

Behind the scenes!!


When you tell someone that you are involved in a show, people always want to know what role you play, so when I say “stage manager” there is always a look of misunderstanding. But for me, it’s the best role. I get to have my hand in every detail, every aspect of the show, and, somehow, I still love it. Every day of rehearsals is a performance for me; whether it is making sure every actor is on time and present, setting up the set, working with cast and crew, taking blocking notes, or monitoring progress on sets, costuming, or lighting. My job is to be always on and be prepared for the next step or next ten steps. It’s a job I love and fall in love with everyday. It means that I always have an active audience and I get to be involved in fantastic shows.

For it to be a truly amazing show though, we need two things: one cast of actors and actresses that will do the show justice and, secondly, a cast of set builders that will work to the wee hours of the morning to do the actors justice. To those of you not familiar with theater, this may sound insane but it is a statement uncategorically true. People who are willing to come in and do whatever that needs to be done, in any place, at any time, and do any activity are underrated in general society but wholly appreciated in theater-land. We are lucky in that we have an amazing Master Carpenter in Greg Hunter who can build anything that we can dream up, that we added a Set Designer, Al Forgione, whose images alone are inspiring, and a Director, Doug Hodge, that always dreams bigger. The first important thing, with set design and construction, is to make sure that everyone is on the same page with the concept. If a concept is not executed properly, the illusion of a show can be damaged. The number one priority is that the world of Maria, the Abbey, and the home of the Von Trapp family come alive to our audience members. So when Al, Greg, Doug, my assistant, and I all met we went over every detail and soon you think that everything is amazing and what a great plan you have in line for the set. Then you get to the infamous day in which everyone gets together to do the first build and you realize that enormity of what you decided on; that feeling never goes away.

This held true for our first Sound of Music build. We started the day with several helpers–Al, Greg, Doug, Kelly (Doug’s wife,) Katherine (Al’s friend,) my assistant, Carol (our props mistress) and Fred (her husband) and, three of our board of directors, Kevin, Brian, and Josh–and the situation still appeared semi-manageable. However, as the first day progressed, we steadily grew to see how truly massive the set we were building had become. It took Greg and Al all day to build the 16-feet-long by five-feet-tall by four-feet-wide grand staircase to help outfit the Von Trapp home. Katherine, my assistant, and I all cut out, braced, and painted the ground row; a design element made to place one backdrop in the back of all the scenery for the entirety of the show. My assistant and I also created a series of gates that will signify the Abbey walls for the show by constructing the gatework and screwing them in place with very specific measurements to ensure that all five pieces–that are each six feet wide–are parallel when placed next to each other on stage. Kevin and Fred built the footbridge that will represent the hillside where Maria escapes to. Carol built our props; all the smaller items that help enhance the show. Doug and Sam worked on the windows and Kelly painted the chair that will go in Maria’s bedroom in the Von Trapp home. All of us worked continuously throughout the day and into the night. The set design day turned into day two and we worked hard on our projects, looking for the end of each and finding only more to do. After nineteen hours, we emerged tired, beaten, exhausted, and hungry but not yet victorious.

Unfortunately, we build sets around rehearsals and not the other way around, so time is fleeting and activities must be fast and furious when we can build sets. We continued the next weekend with more and more projects being completed. Slowly, but surely, things started to look as if we had planned them. All five pieces of the Abbey gates were together, parallel, painted, texturized, and hardware had been put on. They got one checkmark and we moved onto the next piece. We looked forward to the bed being created; a simple thought in format but not in execution. It took coordination and favors to borrow a truck large enough to tote the headboard from north of Boston and intense man-power to create in such a way that it would be solid enough to hold all seven children and Maria but light enough to carry. (Hint: it’s not very light!) But it was completed as well and moved over in the “done” pile. Some of our set pieces were borrowed from previous shows or other people’s yards (I have no shame in begging, borrowing, or pleading for set pieces.) The outside scenes are always tricky because it’s harder to bring the outdoors in but we managed to create a beautiful lattice piece that will be completely covered in greenery, which made our hard work at painting and texturizing almost meaningless. However, it is also completed. Last, but not least, the three largest and most painful set pieces we have are completed in their construction but that is where they stalled. We are nearing our move-in date–the date where we move in all the set pieces so that the actors can utilize them before the show–and we still have not painted those pieces. My assistant, two of her friends, and myself take it upon ourselves to ensure that those are at least primed. Quickly, we paint as if our lives depended on it; painting the backs and fronts of the massive staircase, daunting French doors, and the amazing windows.

We get down to the last weekend before we move in and we are already scheduled to be in the theater and not in the warehouse that we do the set building. At the theater, we spend the day working on all the other details we need to compete as well: reupholstering the poof (circular couch in the Von Trapp home) and doing the first of many sound checks. The next day is committed to finishing the set building. Immediately, we start off running, painting everything in sight. We work on the outside lattice piece, repainting to ensure the right color; the staircase, painting it its lovely golden color; the windows; the French doors; the ground row; everything in sight, rushing forward to completion. The day is spent doing all of the touch-ups, getting ready for the move, and doing all the trim work. Finally, we sit back and realize that everything has been accomplished that we wanted to get done and we look around at our final product. It has been a long and arduous process but a fulfilling one. It is then I look around and see all the work I have put into my show and see the performances I have given. I see them in the Abbey gates and the ground row and the lattice and the French doors and the staircase and I take a bow, begging for no encore. So when you come see The Sound of Music, know that you may see twenty-five actors on stage but there are more than ten people who aren’t on that stage but who deserve to be…for a show cannot be a show without its entire casts–those on stage and those who are off.


The Magic of Theatre

Jenny Gual


Have you ever wished that you could take on a completely different persona? Not forever, just temporarily.  Shed your everyday cares and saunter out as someone else?  For me, that is the magic of theater.  And even better, with musical theater I get to break out into song.

I have a real soft spot for my character of Elsa. Others may see her as, shall we say, a not very nice person (yes, this is a family friendly blog). But for me she is just fabulous. She speaks her mind. She is powerful and sophisticated albeit slightly haughty.  But best of all, she is just plain stinkin’ rich.  As Max says “I like rich people. I like the way they live. I like the way I live when I’m with them.” For me, I like the way I feel when I’m the Baroness.  Elsa didn’t get up in the morning to find that the pipes of her rented house were coughing up some foul and truly scary-looking sludge. She isn’t concerned with which bill she should pay first. And her clothes…Ah the clothes! Day dresses, evening gowns. Impractical, expensive and oh so fun.

And maybe that is exactly what attracts theatergoers. If you don’t have the desire to become a different person on stage, you can still go and be absorbed in the lives of others. The Sound of Music has the ability to whisk you away to a different time and place.  The beauty of Austria, the sweet innocence of children and even the dark shadow cast by the impending Anschluss create a spell. We feel the Captain’s buttoned-up grief and rejoice in his reawakening. Maria’s joyful spirit makes us feel nurtured as we watch the children open up and the Captain grow to acknowledge that love is still possible for him. Even the family’s flight across the mountains of Austria gives us hope that we too can survive and prosper in the face of unspeakable evil.

Of course there is a bit of a downside to playing Elsa when your real life husband is playing the Captain.  I watch the burgeoning love between him and Maria with a tiny bit of real consternation. But don’t worry. It just helps me to imbue Elsa with a little more of that delightful edge.