Good Things, and a MILESTONE!

Lots of good things going on now!

SEASON 16 begins! We start rehearsal for The Magnolia Ballet by Terry Guest at Williamston Theatre tonight. I love this play, and can’t wait to see what the director Gary Anderson, and the production team and cast do with it. This beautiful, intense and thought-provoking piece follows a young Queer Black man coming of age in the American South. In a wonderfully theatrical storytelling style we explore sexuality, racism, toxic masculinity, homophobia, love, and the incredibly complicated relationship between fathers and sons and the legacy passed through them from generation to generation.

This week we also have our first production meeting for our holiday show, A Very Williamston Christmas. I’m really looking forward to directing this fun, sweet, ridiculously silly Christmas piece. Everyone loves (or loves to HATE) those Hallmark Christmas movies, right? Well we’ve got our own over-the-top parody of those stories coming to Williamston this November! If you’ve been jonesing for schmaltzy, smoldering “Will they Won’t they” looks over giant mugs of hot cocoa between flirty new friends as one of their Small Town businesses is under threat by an evil developer from the Big City RIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE….. then we’ve got the show for you!

As I type this in my office, it’s quieted down in the building. And by “quieted down” I mean that now I can hear the normal buzz of people getting ready for first rehearsal. An hour ago I couldn’t hear that, because the sound of banging and sawing and drilling and construction workers yelling back and forth filled the air, and I loved it! We are just DAYS away from the renovations to our space being done and I am SO EXCITED. For 15 years we’ve hoped to get rid of the structural support poles in our theatre space, and this week it becomes a reality. Can’t wait to share the newly renovated space with our artists and patrons.

OH! And one other thing that I’ll probably write more about soon: I realized that I’ve hit a milestone. This Fall marks my 30th anniversary of making a living as a professional in the American Theatre Industry. I’m pretty proud of that. I remember many years ago, when discussing what I wanted to study at college with my parents, I said “theatre” and my father took a breath and said “Do you think you can make a living at it?” I responded with “I really think I can.” He nodded, and said, “Okay then, let’s figure it out. Your mom and I will help however we can.” And that was that. Now, all these years later, I can look at the last 30 years and say “Okay. Done. 30 years. I did it. I made a living at that.” And it feels good, like I lived up to my promise. And to their faith.

So, I’m having a good week. I hope you are too!

And now….. off to 1st rehearsal!

Williamston Theatre 2022-2023 Season

So excited to share this fantastic upcoming slate of shows. We’ve got comedy, drama, World Premieres, romantic holiday craziness and magic theatrical realism that’ll blow your mind. You’ll find Christmas cookies, standup comedians and talking goats! Riveting, heartbreaking tales about coming of age, fathers and sons, sisters and friends, and second chances. We’ll ask questions about honesty, ownership, tolerance and more… but you’ll have to provide the answers. If we do our job right, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get angry, you’ll fall in love, and you’ll ask more questions. A season about the the journeys we take, paths we abandon, the circumstances, choices, legacies, triumphs and traumas that shape our lives.

The Magnolia Ballet by Terry Guest. Directed by Gary Anderson.
Ezekiel is a Black teenager with a secret. Every day he finds himself haunted by ghosts, ghosts that have plagued men in Georgia for generations, ghosts of racism, homophobia, and toxic masculinity. Ghosts that show up in the other men in his life, including his emotionally distant father. But when Ezekiel discovers a trove of forbidden love letters among his late grandfather’s belongings, he has a realization: perhaps the only way to exorcise these multi-generational ghosts is to burn everything to the ground. The Magnolia Ballet Part 1 is a Southern Gothic fable that melds high drama, dance, poetry, and spectacle to explore masculinity, racism, and the love between a queer kid and his father.

A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere
A co-production with Plowshares Theatre in Detroit

A Very Williamston Christmas by Robert Hawlmark. Directed by Tony Caselli.
An all-new holiday tradition! A professional woman running in the fast lane of the big city corporate world journeys back to her smalltown on a mission for her boss. When she runs into a handsome acquaintance from high school, she’s forced to evaluate her life and priorities. Hot cocoa, light parades, and romance collide. Hilarity ensues. This holiday movie parody will be one everyone from Michigan will recognize and enjoy.


Wild Horses by Allison Gregory. Directed by Mary Job.
That summer you scared yourself. That summer you woke up to desire. That summer you tasted freedom. You remember, and so does the storyteller of Wild Horses. She hilariously recalls stealing liquor with her best friends, escaping her bedroom in the middle of the night, feeling the boy she loves reach across her body, borrowing cars without permission, and making the pact with her best friends to break into a horse ranch and set the beautiful animals free. She remembers being thirteen, and she’s going to take the audience on the ride of her life. Allison Gregory’s savagely funny Wild Horses takes on the pathos and hubris of teenage years amidst the struggle for identity and independence.


Mrs. Harrison by Eric R. Thomas. Directed by Jasmine Rivera.
Mrs. Harrison is about two women and one story. At their 10-year college reunion, Aisha and Holly meet by chance. Is this the first time or has it just been a long time? They can’t agree. Aisha is a Black, successful playwright; she’s on the cover of the alumni magazine. Holly is a white, struggling stand-up comedian; she’s here for the free drinks. Aisha’s most successful play bears a striking resemblance to a tragic event in Holly’s life. Is it a coincidence or is it theft? As a rainstorm interrupts the outdoor reunion, they find themselves trapped inside, together. They both have a story that they’ve been telling themselves about what happened all those years ago and they’re both willing to fight for the truth in the present.


Alabaster by Audrey Cefaly. Directed by Tony Caselli.
Alice, a noted photographer, sets out to explore the topography of scars, and the women who bear them. Her journey takes her to the mysterious realm of an undiscovered folk artist, June, who is hiding herself away on a small farm in North Alabama. What begins as an artistic collaboration between the two women becomes an intimate exploration of love, grief, and longing.  This bittersweet portrait explores the meaning and purpose of art and the struggle of the lost and tortured souls that seek to create it. Hilarious, heart-wrenching and full of theatrical magic, this play will make you laugh, rip your heart out, and remind you to hold the people in your life close.

A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere

Be Here Now by Deborah Zoe Laufer. Directed by Rob Roznowski.
Bari’s always been a bit of an angry, depressed misanthrope. And losing her job teaching nihilism in New York to work at the local fulfillment center in her rural hometown has sent her into despair. She begins to find connections with the quirky people she meets at the center and a local artist with his own list of insecurities. When recurring headaches manifest bizarre, ecstatic, almost religious experiences, they change her entire view of life. She discovers they are also killing her. She must decide between a short life of indescribable joy, or a long life of mediocrity. A comedic look at what we’re willing to do for love and happiness, and to create meaning in our lives.

You can find dates and more details about our upcoming season at the theatre’s website: Williamston Theatre.

Some great reviews for our big dystopian tale of mothers, sons, war and “othering”!

900 Miles to International Falls has gotten a couple of great reviews!  The production has been a wonderful challenge – it’s unlike most plays I’ve directed before, and it’s fun talking with our Williamston Theatre audiences about this different kind of production.

Set a mere 30 years in the future, in the middle of a huge war, this tale about mothers, sons, war and “othering” is provoking a lot of thought and discussion, which is very fun to see.

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An excerpt from the Lansing City Pulse review:

It’s a time of war, government propaganda and lies — and when mothers are asked to give up sons to fight never-ending battles. 2054 is when citizens are fighting aliens trying to occupy our lands.

Sound familiar?

Except in this new era, the “aliens” aren’t Mexicans, South Americans, or other foreigners fleeing horrific and unlivable conditions. The future invasion is actual alien beings from a distant, uninhabitable planet. Who look just like us. And care for their babies, just like us. And who really want to be our friends.

The world premiere of Annie Martin’s play is full of parallelisms, surprises, shocks and novel storylines. Getting to International Falls isn’t its real focus. “900 Miles” has flashes of aggression, emotional outbursts and genuine scares. Martin’s script also includes humorous and touching moments.

What helps make her very adult play succeed and come alive are the grand elements of the Williamston production.

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The Lansing City Pulse really got the show:  Click here if you want to read the full review.

This is a big production for us – a lot of tech elements, a larger cast that many of our shows, a set with lots of moves, and it’s a big epic storyline. I’m really pleased with the way the entire production team, the cast, and the playwright brought their A-Game. IMG_0240.jpg

I like this quote from the City Pulse:  “If the Orwellian and horrific future “900 Miles” portrays isn’t scary enough, the thought that a similar scenario could be less than 30 years away is terrifying.”

IMG_0134.jpgThe other great review, from Encore Michigan (Bridgette Redman), is available by clicking here if you want to read it.  It contains some terrific insight, and a couple of quotes I love, like this one:

900 Miles to International Falls asks questions about what we might do in a war-weary world where it seems impossible to make a difference because the odds against us are so great. What can any one individual do? When is it important to break free from our isolation and reach out to others, whether it is to help them, to let them help us or to learn to trust and care. It is ultimately a beautiful work by Martin interpreted with heart and love by the artists at Williamston Theatre.

The pics above are courtesy of the Williamston Theatre.  I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to bring this thoughtful, unsettling play to the stage, and work with Annie again.  The fun of the world-building in a piece like this was embraced by everyone involved.  I encourage you to check out the play, and also the list of wonderful people who made it all come together! You can learn more about them by checking out the website: Click here!

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Mid-December round up – keeping the plates spinning….

Still catching my breath after a wonderful trip to Actor’s Express in Atlanta for the NNPN National Showcase of New Plays (followed almost immediately by a trip to Buffalo with family for some much needed family holiday time!)

The NNPN Showcase was terrific.  (NNPN is National New Play Network, in case I haven’t mentioned it in a while.)  We saw 6 readings, some of which I absolutely loved, and I had a ton of good conversations and chats with theatre makers from all over the country.  I love the readings, but sometimes just being immersed in that energy is the perfect thing to recharge my batteries.  It’s energizing to get that reminder that everyone deals with the same challenges and struggles, the highs and lows of this industry – all on a variety of wildly different points on the scale, of course – from companies with a $50,000 annual budget up to ones with many millions of dollars to spend, and raise, every year.  But the wonderful part is the belief and faith in the power of storytelling, and of having an impact on your community, and the pursuit of excellence in the craft – AND allowing for a whole variety of opinions on HOW to make all that happen.  It’s really good stuff.

And then our trip to Buffalo was fabulous.  We continued our decades long family Christmas tradition of holding a big dinner at one of the relatives houses, and that person (or family) cooks a giant dinner for everyone that consists of food from some other country, or culture, from anywhere in the world.  No one knows what it’s going to be until we get there, and it’s a big fun reveal and feast, with lots of lovely family time and board games and presents and laughter.  This year my brother and sister-in-law made an amazing Jamaican dinner that was delicious!  The kids played games, built an igloo in the snow, and generally had a good time.  It was fun to see all the cousins together, the six of them don’t get to visit as often as they used to. The age range goes from middle-school up to college now, and it was terrific to see them having such a good time just enjoying each other’s company.

Now I’m neck deep in prep for 900 Miles to International Falls, by Annie Martin, the show I’m directing next.  We start rehearsals at the end of this month, and I can’t wait.  It’s a big thoughtful, meaningful piece about mothers and sons and war, but it’s also about trust, and compassion.  We get to do a lot of “world building” because it’s set in 2054, when the planet is at war with an alien race who have landed seeking a new home!  I have an amazing production team to work with, and I’m so excited to launch into rehearsals for this world premiere in a couple weeks.  Learn more about the show here!

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Until then, though, our production of A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show is going wonderfully!  It’s essentially completely sold out this weekend, except for the occasional person calling in to cancel one or two from a group, but then those are scooped up by someone calling wanting to see it before it closes.  Aral Gribble is wonderful in it, and the whole production team did some really fantastic work. Check out more info here!

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Now I’m looking forward to the next couple days, when both kids will be back home with Jeanne and I for a couple weeks, and we can all enjoy some holidays relaxing at home with the Christmas tree, the dogs, and some friends and family.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Next season!

Our Williamston Theatre – Season 14 brochures will be out in a few days, but here’s a sneak peek!  We’ve already announced the shows, and here are the blurbs with graphics.  Man I’m excited about this season!

 

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The Safe House
By Kristine Thatcher

October 3 through November 3, 2019

In 1982, Bridget returns home to Lansing looking for a respite from a failing NYC acting career, and a troubled, abusive marriage. Longing for the comfort of a stay with her grandmother Hannah, what she finds is a family struggling with change.  Hannah, the strong, independent matriarch of the family, is no longer as self-sufficient as she was: The challenges of aging have caught up with her, and her family is at odds on how to best ensure her safety.  With gentle humor, honesty, and heart, this play is a beautiful examination of family, transition, and the importance of being there for each other. 

Williamston Theatre’s first production of a play by Lansing’s own Kristine Thatcher.

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A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show
By David Albert

November 21 through December 22, 2019

It’s Christmas Eve, and with the actors snowed in and unable to make it to the studios of WXMS for the live radio performance of A Christmas Carol, the sound effects man decides to take the audience through the classic tale himself. A rollicking, creative adaptation of Dickens’ classic work that is sure to warm the hearts of even the chilliest audience members. This one-man tour de force features WT favorite Aral Gribble as our endearing and engaging storyteller.

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900 Miles to International Falls
By Annie Martin
A World Premiere

January 30 through March 1, 2020

The year is 2054, and our world is unrecognizable: aliens, war, and a congratulatory sheet cake for each baby born. In this future, a woman’s work is never done but always vital.  Tanya remembers a world where there was more than war, though, and refuses to surrender her son to the chaos surrounding them now. When she befriends a new young mother she thinks she’s found an ally…. but the universe has other plans for them.  This compelling drama explores mothers, sons, and the importance of connections.
Contains adult content and language.

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These Mortal Hosts
By Eric Coble

March 26 through April 26, 2020

“Don’t get in the car”, the voice said.  So, Meaghan didn’t.  And then her world turned upside down.  After a tragedy devastates tiny Dove Creek, Colorado, the Mysteries begin. Earl can’t explain the change coming over him… Phyllis knows the impossible has become possible, and… is the voice in Meaghan’s head still her own?  Three seemingly random strangers find themselves thrust together at the center of the Mysteries as their lives, and bodies, hurtle them toward events far beyond their comprehension.  But what are the Mysteries?  Whatever is happening, the whole town is suddenly swept up in events of epic proportion, and the question is: Are they preparing for a miracle, or are they succumbing to madness?  A riveting exploration of faith and community in small-town America.
Contains adult content and language.

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Alabaster
By Audrey Cefaly
A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere

May 21 through June 21, 2020

Alice, a noted photographer, sets out to explore the topography of scars, and the women who bear them. Her journey takes her to the mysterious realm of an undiscovered folk artist, June, who is hiding herself away on a small farm in North Alabama. What begins as an artistic collaboration between the two women becomes an intimate exploration of love, grief and longing.  This bittersweet portrait explores the meaning and purpose of art and the struggle of the lost and tortured souls that seek to create it. Hilarious, heart-wrenching and full of theatre magic, this play will rip your heart out, make you laugh, and remind you to hold close the people in your life.
Contains adult content and language

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Be Here Now
By Deborah Zoe Laufer

July 9 through August 9, 2020

Bari’s always been a bit of an angry, depressed misanthrope. When she loses her job teaching nihilism in New York, and has to work a local dead-end job in her rural hometown, she spirals into despair. Suddenly, her recurring headaches manifest bizarre, ecstatic, almost religious experiences, and they’re changing her entire view of life. She’s in love! She’s almost… happy! When she finds out the headaches are also killing her, she must decide whether it’s better to live a short, joyful life, or risk a lifetime of misery. And she must also ask herself… what’s it all for anyway?  A wonderfully funny and heartwarming tale that asks the question “We know how life ends, so can’t we enjoy the beauty in now?”

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I’ve said before how excited I am about this season. To quote myself from an earlier blog post, in Season 14 “we’re deliberately and enthusiastically presenting a slate of plays that will run the gambit from big laughs, to big thoughts, to big tears.  Working around a couple of key themes like empathy, compassion, and the idea of being open to a world wider than our own, we’ve got six pieces from some fantastic playwrights that I just can’t wait to share with our community.”

For now, though, everyone has a couple more weeks to catch Popcorn Falls, the delightful comedy that audiences and critics are loving!  (Nominated for Best Comedy of the year by the Wilde Awards, and the actors Pat and Aral are nominated for Best Teamwork!)  See you at the theatre!

“Wonder will always get us there…”

What a joy Silent Sky has been. Some shows just have such an affect on people – audience, cast, designers, crew – that you don’t want them to end. Watching this beautiful script by Lauren Gunderson do that to people over the last 5 weeks has been wonderful and, now that we have reached the closing performance, I find myself feeling the same way.

The sense of wonder, of exploration and perseverance from this show is beautiful and inspiring. The sheer joy it evokes, that sense that “Anything Is Possible”, is just so beautifully interwoven with the loving bittersweet reminder “But… we don’t have forever… so Savor Everything.”

Working with the entire production team on this show has been an amazing journey. Telling the story of Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming – true pioneers in their field who persevered and changed the world around them despite incredible resistance – has been an absolute gift, and one of the highlights of my career so far. I offer a giant THANK YOU to the many wonderful people who helped to make it happen!

Because the real point… is seeing something bigger. And knowing we’re a part of it, if we’re lucky. In the end that is a life well-lived. Because thank God there’s a lot out there bigger than me.

-Henrietta Leavitt, SILENT SKY by Lauren Gunderson

Opening Night for SILENT SKY!

So excited to open this show tonight. It’s the first production of our 13th season which, in itself, is a really cool thing. Plus, the script is a beautiful piece of writing by Lauren Gunderson. Moving, funny, inspirational – and based on real people and real events, which makes it particularly wonderful to work on.

There’s something special about doing a play based on an actual person, especially one who did some amazing things but doesn’t get enough recognition for it. Henrietta Leavitt helped change the way we see the universe today, which is a pretty incredible freaking thing. She looked at the men saying “Nope, you’re a woman, you can’t do that” and went and did it anyway, and made the world a better place.

It’s also been a fabulous process – starting another season with my co-founders John, Chris and Emily is always a special thing, but then you add in the amazing team of people I got to work with on Silent Sky and it makes for an even more wonderful event. The cast, the production team, the stage management team – everyone is at the top of their game, and it inspires me to be better. PLUS – when you mix all of that with the tale of Henrietta Leavitt, who saw the world and knew what she wanted to do to make it better, and DID it – it’s hard not to come out of that process feeling like you A) have work to do, and B) WANT to do it.

So – here we are! This autumn will be full of cool work, and I’m excited to do it. Jumping into that can wait, though… until Sunday, anyway! Now we celebrate, and keep trying to make the world a better place, through storytelling!

A new season, a new show

Today we start rehearsal for Season 13 at Williamston Theatre, with a beautiful play called Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson.  A gorgeous story, it’s all about Henrietta Leavitt, one of the first women astronomers.  (Link is here for more info)  I’m super excited:  The play is wonderful, the production team I get to work with is top-notch, and the cast is fabulous.

Some designs I can leak:

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This set rendering (Design by Kirk Domer) is from the SR audience viewpoint. Imagine the back wall being full of stars, or projections, or color, or a combination of all 3!

And here’s an image of the set construction as of a couple days ago!

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I’ll post more designs and images as the days go by.

This is going to be a fun one.  Warm, funny, beautifully moving, and deeply inspirational.  Lauren Gunderson has taken the real-life story of Henrietta Leavitt and crafted a play about a woman who simply refused to accept the status quo – and changed the world. This is the kind of life-affirming play that makes you wanna explore the world around you, tackle something big and make a difference!

Williamston Theatre 2018/2019 Season

We are just past the halfway point of this season, and neck deep in rehearsals for Doublewide, but the wheel keeps turning. I’m so pleased to announce our upcoming Season!

Williamston Theatre 2018/2019 Season

Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson
September 20 – October 21, 2018

Based on the true story and science of early 20th century female “computers” at Harvard Observatory. Astonishing discoveries await Henrietta Leavitt as she maps distant stars in galaxies beyond our own. But this brilliant, headstrong pioneer must struggle for recognition in the man’s world of turn-of-the-century astronomy. In this exquisite blend of science, history, family ties, and fragile love, a passionate young woman must map her own passage through a society determined to keep a woman in her place. An inspiring, stunningly beautiful tale.

A Hunting Shack Christmas by Jessica Lind Peterson
Nov. 15 – Dec. 23, 2018

Looking to sort out his life, Charlie heads up to the hunting shack that’s been in his family for generations. Instead of the peace of mind he was looking for, he finds himself buried in a blizzard of snow, unexpected family squatters, beef jerky, crazy internet romance, and more snow. Can he sort it all out in time for his wedding anniversary? And who the heck is Helge?!

To Quiet The Quiet by Christy Hall
Jan. 24 – Feb. 24, 2019
A World Premiere

Having suffered great loss and heartbreak in her life, Kathy, now middle-aged and alone, is a woman on the edge. Haunted by her past, and her own personal demons, Kathy seems to be losing the battle against her thoughts, her words, her fears. And the one man who can help Kathy may prove to be just as powerless against her. This new mystery play will keep you riveted through it’s deepest, darkest secrets.

The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn
March 21 – April 20, 2019
Featuring Ruth Crawford and Hugh Maguire
1978 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama

Weller Martin is playing solitaire on the porch of a seedy nursing home. Enter Fonsia Dorsey, a prim, self-righteous woman. They discover they both dislike the home and enjoy gin rummy, so they begin to play. As they play, intimate details begin to reveal themselves, and what follows was called by the New York Times “The closest thing the theatre offers to a duel at 10 paces.”

New Releases by Joseph Zettelmaier
May 9 – June 9, 2019
A World Premiere

Jen is going down with the sinking ship. That ship is Avid Video, a small-time video rental store that is circling the drain. One night, a strange woman comes in to rent a video that has never been rented…one that Jen didn’t even know the store carried. The two of them strike a bizarre deal, and as the months go on, Jen struggles to unravel the mystery of this woman, even as the store she loves marches towards extinction. A warm comedy that’ll melt your funny bone and touch your heart.

Popcorn Falls by James Hindman
June 20 – July 28, 2019

The sleepy town of Popcorn Falls is forced into bankruptcy when a neighboring town threatens to turn them into a sewage treatment plant. Their only hope – OPEN A THEATRE! Two actors play over twenty roles in a world of farce, love and desperation proving once and for all that art can save the world. You won’t want to miss this hilarious, theatrical whirlwind!

The last week…

Currently having a blast directing Steve Spotswood’s Doublewide at Williamston Theatre. Man, this beautiful play is thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking and beautiful. It ticks so many boxes for me: Makes you laugh, cry, think, want to call people you love. And the team I get to work with in making it is pretty damned awesome. I’m a lucky guy.

Here’s a screenshot of the scenic rendering by Kirk Domer…

And here’s shot from rehearsal of the thing in action…

And here’s a pic from later that same day, after rehearsal when the scenic crew was hard at work!

This is one of those shows that has a good handful of locations, but a couple of them are the anchors where the majority of the action takes place. Thanks to a great production staff, we’re having a blast embracing the theatrical expressions of those locations instead of trying to do hyper-realistic scenery. This is something I’m wanting more and more as I get older – I don’t know why, but the more I do this the more I want to get away from super realism. Film and TV do that, but I love when theatre does what it does best: Make us imagine.

For more info, check out the Williamston Theatre website!