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Curtain Call: Mike Schulz and Thom White Discuss Area Theatre in 2010 - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 20 December 2010 06:00

ensemble members in Genesius Guild's AndromacheDo you ever find that if you devote, say, a paragraph to a performer in one show, you hold back on writing as much about that person in their next show? Like, “Oh, I just wrote a glowing review about her, so I can hold back this time.”

Yes. I was actually chastised because I did not mention Pat Flaherty’s performance in [New Ground’s] August: Osage Country, even though he was fantastic, as usual. And my thinking was, every show I’ve seen him in, I’ve raved over him. I haven’t seen him do any wrong yet.

He’s marvelous.

He is marvelous. And so with August, I thought, “There are so many people that I could talk about, and I only have so many words ... . Maybe it would be okay not to mention Pat, because he’s had so many good reviews, and these other roles are bigger, and I have more to say about them.” And I got notes and an e-mail and stuff saying, “Why didn’t you mention him?” Maybe it was wrong of me, but that was my reasoning.

The word count does need to be considered. Especially with a huge play like August: Osage, where you have 13 characters, you have almost as many plots ... . There’s only so much, as a reviewer, that you can effectively do given less than 800 words.

Exactly. And with that one, some of that word count has to go to just explaining what the show is about. You have to include a synopsis, whereas with certain shows – like Romeo & Juliet – you don’t really have to say too much. People know it.

Let’s move on to Genesius Guild, another group that you’ve performed with. You saw their entire season, too.

[Andromache] was my first time seeing classical-Greek theatre. I was in a classical-Greek show with Genesius Guild, but I had never seen one. And I was really taken with it, and with the use of masks – I just loved it. I was actually worried, because I thought, “Oh, I really like to look at actors’ faces.” I like to see emotion, and I was worried that masks were going to negatively impact my experience. But the actors were so good about inflection and tone that they didn’t.

It was also your first time seeing one of Don Wooten’s wacky, end-of-summer comedies.

Oh yes, and I loved that one [Ecclesiazusae] far more than I expected. Again, I don’t like camp, and because I knew that they made fun of local people and local events in those shows, I worried, “Will they get mean?” But they really didn’t. They were self-deprecating, too, which helped take the edge off, and they were just so funny. And then that stupid, silly chase at the end – which isn’t stupid at all, you know. It’s just ridiculous. But that was crazy-fun. I was smiling so hard it hurt.

Genesius Guild is one place where you notice presence like crazy. I mean, actors are fighting with the elements, fighting with raccoons ... .

The cicadas this summer.

Oh God, the cicadas. So it takes a special talent to really stand out there.

Andrea Braddy, in particular, just blew me away this summer. She also played Sarah Palin in the comedy, and she was just above-and-beyond. I had wondered, before I started reviewing, about whether or not she kind of overplays things a little bit. Nope. Not at all. She’s just fantastic.

Now I know you got some criticism on your Midsummer Night’s Dream review.

Oh yes.

ensemble members in Genesius Guild's A Midsummer Night's DreamIn retrospect, what are your thoughts on that? Should you have written it differently, or do you think the criticism of your review was overblown?

Well, here’s the thing ... . (Laughs.) That was my first time having to deal with negative comments, and so many negative comments. What happened was that review – in a summer of seeing four shows a week – was an attempt to start changing up the style of the reviews. So it didn’t become a Mad Lib review for every show all summer. And I ended up playing up my own experience in the audience too much, at the expense of saying more things about the show. Which, in my mind, was ... . I was trying to say that I thought it was fantastic that the show was so well-attended, but I don’t think it read that way.

Some of the comments were like, “It’s not fair that we’re getting a bad review because he had a bad seat.” And my response to that was, it’s not because I had a bad seat. While I should have written more about my thoughts of the performance, that wouldn’t have made it a more positive review. I thought that the production was adequate. It was fine. There were a few notable performances in it, but overall, it was okay. And so I kind of took issue with those comments. If I hadn’t written about my seat at all, it would have been the same bad review, and I probably would have gotten the same comments.

I don’t mind difference of opinion. But those comments were flat-out mean, and many of them were intended to be hurtful, and that really bothered me. I don’t ever want to be hurtful in a review. I don’t ever want to tear anybody down; I don’t want to write something that is mean but “funny.” There may be some things that I’ve written that have come across as hurtful, but they weren’t intended to be. Those comments were intended to be. And I agreed with a lot of their points, actually – there should have been more mentioned about the performance, and less about my seating arrangement. But I just did not agree with that meanness.

I do not have a thick skin, so I had trouble for a while. There were a couple of weeks where I really wanted to quit. I was like, “This isn’t worth it.” And what really threw me for a loop, too, was I’ve long thought that Genesius Guild was the classiest bunch in the Quad Cities, and these were the most classless responses that I’ve ever dealt with. And so it really shook my whole viewpoint of Genesius Guild. You know, the few bad apples did, for a while, rot the entire barrel for a theatre that has a special place in my heart.

When you have to give a bad review to a show by a particular group, what is that like going to their theatre the next time around? Do you feel pressured to really like the new one?

I wouldn’t say pressured, but I would say that I do hope. I always make the effort to be honest in reviews, and not let them be shaped by what could happen afterward. Maybe they have been, unwittingly. But I remember going to Richard IIIwhich was the next show I had to see at Genesius Guild after Midsummer and praying, “Please let this be good, please let this be good. I want to give them a good review.” Because if the show was bad, I would have said that it was bad. I was just hoping that I didn’t have to.

And it ended up that nobody could go with me to Richard, so I just sat there hoping nobody would recognize me. And thank God the show was fantastic. I really, honestly loved it, and gave it a great review. But, ugh ... . That was a tough period.

Absolutely. What say we move on?

Please.

Lisa Groves, Alexa Harris, Angie Mitchum, and Amber Vick in Quad City Music Guild's GreaseQuad City Music Guild. You only saw two of their shows this year – Grease and Curtains but it seemed like you loved them both.

Grease, I thought, was just absolutely thrilling. And I don’t like the stage version of Grease, so that’s really saying something. I think the movie’s actually an improvement on the stage version, because it makes the show much more linear, and just makes more sense. But Music Guild’s version was just fantastic.

For sheer, good-time theatre, I thought it was maybe the show of the year. I just loved that production.

It was so entertaining.

And how smart to cast it almost completely with high-schoolers! I mean, considering it’s Grease, where we’re used to Stockard Channing playing Rizzo, that’s downright novel. Their Sandy [Taylor Wiebers], I thought, had such a beautiful, distinct voice.

She was so sweet. And I actually work with the actress who played Rizzo [Angie Mitchum], which was a little awkward, because she got a good review but didn’t get a really glowing review. I did wonder, “How is this work relationship gonna be now?” But it was fine.

Curtains I didn’t love, but I did really like it. That was one of those shows, though, where I didn’t take notes, and somebody wrote to me afterward saying, “I disagree with you about this and this and this.” And after I read that, I thought, “You know what? I did think about those points, and forgot to write about them in the review.” Like, there was an issue with the lead being a lot older than his love interest in the show. It was really uncomfortable to watch, and I think that should’ve been mentioned. I’d just forgotten about it.

But I think there were some great performances in Curtains. Even though the script – the book – and the music itself, you know, aren’t perfect, and I think there could be improvements, I really liked the production.

How about the shows you saw in Geneseo, at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre? This year marked the first time you’d ever been out there, right?

I’d never been to Richmond Hill because I couldn’t make it on my former schedule. Getting off at 7:15, I couldn’t get to Geneseo by 7:30. But I really like their space, and I love the theatre-in-the-round. I said before that Playcrafters was one of my favorite spaces if not my favorite space, but now it’s really between Playcrafters and Richmond Hill.

And they do a really great job on their shows. I mean, they do some stuff that’s a little, you know ... typical. Like Christmas Belles. It’s not a great script; it’s more a crowd-pleaser for a community theatre – the kind of show I don’t care so much for. But they did it well, and they also mixed in some great material in the season. Marvin’s Room was fantastic, and The Shape of Things, I thought, was just stellar.

Cara DeMarlie, Matt Mercer, and Maggie Woolley in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's The Shape of ThingsI loved that show, too. And I love that Richmond Hill does risky stuff like that – or like Rabbit Hole, or Proof. Bless ’em, they know that they’re probably not gonna get big audiences with those titles, and they go for it anyway.

It’s great that they’re able to do a mix of crowd-pleasers and art. And The Shape of Things had such a great script, and really good performances ... . And can I just say something about Maggie Woolley? I’ve long been impressed with her, seeing her in Prenzie Players performances, and wished I could see her speaking in prose – speaking something that’s not Shakespearean or classical, you know? I mean, I really like her in that style, but that’s all I’ve seen her in.

But then she was in Moon Over Buffalo, and in The Shape of Things, she just really ... . I always thought she was a phenomenal actor, and this just blew my mind. I think she’s one of the area’s best. So diverse, and so amazing. And knowing her off-stage, too, she’s not at all pretentious. There’s no arrogance there.

Well, most of the area’s really great actors, I’ve noticed, are incredibly humble off-stage. They appreciate praise, but it’s not about that. They’re like, “Thank you very much, but let’s talk about something else now.”

Yeah. And sometimes actors who I’ve given so-so reviews to have even written to me to say, “Thank you, I appreciate the comments, and I’m glad you saw the show.” It’s just so classy. It’s really nice.

We mentioned Maggie Woolley and the Prenzie Players, and you saw that group’s entire season this year, too.

Yeah. I don’t know if it’s valid to compare them, but you have Genesius Guild doing Shakespeare in the summer, and the Prenzie Players doing Shakespeare the rest of the year. And what I like about each of them is that Genesius Guild takes this respectful, proper approach to the shows – regal, I think, overall, and very high-toned – and then the Prenzies will take the approach of making Shakespeare more approachable, and more raw. That’s not to say that one’s better than the other, because I like the fact that there’s an opportunity to see each style. And I think that’s fitting for Shakespeare, because Shakespeare, of course, wrote theatre for the rich, but also for, you know, the peasants (laughs), so there was something for everyone.

I will freely admit: I know some Shakespeare, having studied him in college, and I’ve seen some of the movies. But it’s not something that I’m well-versed in. (Laughs.) No pun intended. And when we saw Troilus & Cressida together, I had little clue what was going on specifically within the plot. You know, I know about the Trojan War, so I knew it overall, but I didn’t know the details, and I still had a blast. It was so well-performed, so well-emoted ... .

Stephanie Burrough in Troilus & CressidaAs I recall, there was a Web-site comment on that review where the tone was, “I don’t understand how you can like a show without understanding a show.” And I totally think you can. You can delight, I think, in performances and atmosphere and implied meaning even if you don’t necessarily get the plotting. You know, “I don’t know what the hell was going on, but I had a blast.” It’s the way some of us like David Lynch movies.

Or Waiting for Godot.

Or Godot. Exactly.

I remember that comment, and I think that’s higher praise, when you can say, “I was confused, but no less entertained.”

I had a ball at the Prenzies’ Pericles, by the way. It was just so stripped down. I mean, starting with the way it opened, with charades, it was like, “We’re just here to play. Let’s put on a costume, and dig in, and just have fun with this.”

That one, I thought, got back into the roots of their rawness – getting together and being playful and just having a good time, rather than trying to create high art. And J.C. [Luxton] was stunning. I’d only seen him in kind of oddball roles before, roles that were a little bit off, and in this, he was just so straight-laced, and romantic ... . There was a sweetness to J.C. that I’d never seen from him before.

I was talking to someone who had seen it [Pericles] a week before it opened. They said it was just kind of a mess, but then, suddenly, [director] Andrew Koski had an inspiration with the staging, and with only a week to go, they pulled it together. And I think it’s just fantastic that they can find inspiration like that so quickly.