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Up Next: The Setup

Summer is blazing and though the Ed Schaughency Theater remains dark, the Bobcat Players are still at work behind the scenes. In just two short months, we'll be back on our home stage--and also in the big city. But before we dive into our upcoming production of Michael Hollinger's Red Herring, we wanted to take a few weeks to focus on the other performance we're bringing to life. This season, our resident queen of comedy, Shelly Cary, turned her directing talents towards a different stage--the Genesius Theater at Duquesne University.

To break it down for you, there are a lot of firsts happening here. This is the first time that the Pittsburgh New Works Festival is taking place in this state-of-the-art location. Shelly is making her directorial debut with PNWF and leads the Bobcat Players in our first mainstage production for the festival. (Our two previous performances had been as a part of the scaled-down, one-night-only Lab Works portion, taking place in August.) Yet, through all the craziness, I was fortunate to be able to discuss what's happening with Shelly--and what you can expect up next!

Casey: Pittsburgh New Works Festival is formatted so differently from the way the Bobcat Players season works. Can you speak a little bit about the play selection process vs. what you're used to with the Bobcats? What was it like reading all those plays from the perspective of a director?

Shelly: With the Bobcat Players, our season is chosen by the artistic director and the reading committee. As they select plays, they have directors in mind, so once the season is pretty well in place, Patti Ross [our artistic director] will reach out to you with a script to see if you feel like it is something you're passionate about directing. It's very flattering to have a script brought to you like that and it certainly saves directors the time of trying to find their own shows. Of course, there may be a tiny bit of pressure there--you don't want to let anyone down if you don't love the script, too. But for me, that process has always worked out incredibly well. With New Works, everything is completely different. Patti and I had the daunting task of reading 35 plays, which came much more naturally to me than I initially anticipated. For me, if I can't see or hear the play coming to life within the first 5-10, maybe 20, pages, then it's not the one for me. I truly enjoyed reading all of the plays for this because it really gave me the opportunity to think creatively. A lot of the shows submitted are so completely different from what theatres in our area can do as part of their traditional season, so I had a great time exploring the range of different plays and being challenged to think outside of the box.

Casey: For the first meeting of the PNWF 2019 season, you participate in a lottery to choose your play. Tell us what that experience was like and how it went for you.

Shelly: Honestly, it was so nerve-wracking! Patti luckily drew number two for the lottery, which meant we got to choose second for our play. I was elated at that and we were able to choose our first choice script! Then I realized that meant we would be in 11th place for actor selection, and it became scary again. So ultimately, I would say it was a rollercoaster! In the end, everything worked out and the casting wasn't really an issue--probably because we all were looking for such different types.

Casey: You mentioned the casting process, so could you expand on that a little more? How was that different from your past directorial experiences?

Shelly: Because New Works has such a large amount of actors auditioning, they have to adhere to a much stricter time schedule. Actors have two minutes and are cut off once they reach that time--which left us wondering how a lot of monologues ended! The other challenge is that there simply isn't enough time to have actors read from parts of your script, so you really have to use your imagination. When an actor comes in with a dramatic monologue, but you have a comedic script, it can be difficult to picture how their talents may transfer to your style of show. In the end, I always have to trust my instincts as a director. I usually get an intuitive feeling about an individual's audition, and with this style of process, there's no room--or time--for second guessing.

Casey: What makes directing for the PNWF so different than directing for the Bobcat Players? What are the challenges you anticipate and what are you most looking forward to?

Shelly: There are a lot of reasons directing for the festival is different than the Bobcat Players. Probably the greatest one that I am considering right now is the fact that everyone is from such different locations. We want to make this process as easy as possible for everyone involved, which means we'd like to rehearse in a more centralized location. With our Bobcat Players shows, rehearsals are almost always in our theatre, but with New Works, you transfer to the actual performance stage only for tech week. At this point, I'm most looking forward to pushing myself creatively. As for challenges, right now, I'm currently focused on two. For one, this is the first time I've ever directed for a thrust stage, where people will be on three sides of the actors. All of my previous directorial experience has taken place on a proscenium, so the audience is always only in front of you in that scenario. And secondly, the overarching challenge is to bring to life the playwright's vision with a minimal set that will still "set" the tone for the audience.

Casey: Speaking of playwrights... In 2017, you directed Foolish Fishgirls and the Pearl, by Barbara Pease Weber. Amazingly, she traveled to attend one of your performances of the play. Now, without knowing it, you have chosen a play to perform that happens to be written by a local playwright. What are your hopes with that and how does it change your process?

Shelly: I feel incredibly fortunate to be inadvertently matched up with PJ Roup, the playwright of our chosen play, The Setup. PJ and I met at the second day of auditions, and we immediately clicked. It was really great to have someone who knew the play even better than me to bounce ideas off of for casting and I'm looking forward to working together. He, of course, will be invited to all of our rehearsals, which will begin in August. Ultimately, his presence doesn't change the core of my process as a director, but I'm definitely receptive to whatever input he may have. I do feel pressure to bring his play to life as he envisioned it, just like I did with Barbara, but I'm more excited than nervous. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to grow as a director, and I thrive when a challenge is handed to me. New Works provides a lot of exposure for me as a director, as well as the Bobcat Players, and together, we certainly enjoy trying new and different styles of theater.

Next week, we aim to dive in to an initial read-through of The Setup. Stay tuned for our next blog entry in August where we announce our cast and tell you more about the play, including when you can see it make its debut!

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