How are you going to do that big show on that little stage? That is the question I have heard so many times since last April when Arena announced that South Pacific, under my direction, would close their 2015-16 season.
For me the key to directing a successful production of any show is to figure out what that show has to say and then say it with your production.
South Pacific is a show that is near and dear to my heart, as I have been in two productions that have both been meaningful experiences. First, in 1996, in high school, I played Stewpot. It is one of my favorite theater memories as a young actor. It was really that production, under the direction of Kris Campbell and Kerry Mason, that made me aware of my passion for theater and made me want to go on to study theater in college. My second production was in 2000. I was a freshman theater major at IPFW and cast in my first college show. It was the first of many shows I had the great fortune to work on with Larry Life, and for that reason alone it was very memorable.
I can’t answer the question of how I am going to do this show here at Arena without mentioning the team that created one of my all-time favorite musicals. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, initiating what is considered the “golden age” of musical theater. With South Pacific they cut to the core of James Michener’s book, Tales of the South Pacific, which depicts the heat, boredom, and loneliness of war.
For me, South Pacific is, at its heart, a tale of two love stories. The first between Nellie Forbush, a naïve American Nurse, and Emile de Beque, a French plantation owner. The second is between Joe Cable, a young American marine, and Liat, a native island girl. The beautiful and exotic islands of the South Pacific become a moral testing ground that challenges the two pairs of lovers to grow and overcome past prejudices to be with the one you love. What we see unfold before us is their struggles to succeed and overcome these obstacles or their failings.
Love stories are intimate stories between two people. So, to answer the original question: focusing on these love stories and the epic challenges the characters’ struggles to overcome makes this big show a perfect fit for the Arena’s small stage.
I have to thank the board of directors for this amazing opportunity to direct this show with these amazingly talented people. I hope that you enjoy our efforts and how we have done this “big show on this little stage!”