Pictured: Ensemble of CASA VALENTINA. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder/Spinning Tree Theatre.
By Nicole Marie Green
When Michael Grayman-Parkhurst first approached me about co-directing CASA VALENTINA by Harvey Fierstein with him, my knowledge of the piece was limited. Harvey Fierstein. He does that great cameo in Mrs. Doubtfire, right? I knew him from his performance as Edna Turnblad in HAIRSPRAY, and of course for writing the book of KINKY BOOTS, the musical. But CASA VALENTINA? It didn’t ring a bell. Because I’m primarily known as an actor here in Kansas City, I wanted to make sure my directorial debut was with a script I could fall in love with, and so I dove into reading and researching.
What I didn’t know at the time, but came to realize, is that Michael was offering me an opportunity of a lifetime. The script was exactly what I love about a piece: equal parts humor and heart, with characters that were complex and complicated. And so I said yes to the position, and thus my adventure as a co-director began.
The director’s timeline is very different from the actor’s timeline. It begins the second you decide to do a script. I began to research the place CASA VALENTINA was historically based on, called Casa Susanna (type that into Google Images for some amazing photos of the real place and occupants). After familiarizing myself with who these characters were, we headed into auditions. Every actor you will see on stage came in and auditioned for us months ago. After three days of seeing some fantastic performances, Michael and I sat down and created our ideal cast which consists of a combination of actors KC knows and loves and some new faces.
After solidifying our cast and hiring a strong design team, we started to develop what our world was going to look and feel like. Michael and I decided we wanted to create an atmosphere that felt like a house that was lived in constantly. We wanted life to always be happening in the rooms even when other scenes were going on. With this in mind, we discussed our idea with the scenic designer, and he created a set with three different platforms representing floors in the house. Now that we had our visual representation of where we would be working, Michael and I could get creative with our storytelling.
Co-directing presents its own set of challenges because you want to be on the same page before going into the rehearsal hall. Luckily, Michael and I work well together. We would meet in the mornings over coffee and discuss everything from what music to use, how dresses might affect how the actors would move, and what blocking would make the most sense to our story. Both of us are very visual and physical learners, so these meetings often consisted of drawing diagrams as if planning for a football game. We made lists. We highlighted images we connected to in the script. We created a structure in which to play within and then knew that once we got to the rehearsal room, it could all change.
After I’d read CASA VALENTINA for the third or fourth time, what really stood out to me was the difference between public and private personas. This was a story of married cisgendered men leaving their everyday responsibilities and heading upstate to dress as women. What was the difference between Valentina hosting the resort filled with peers and when she was alone at her vanity? What weight is carried or lifted when taking these private trips up to the Catskills? What happens when we allow these characters on stage to just take a deep breath? When I brought these questions to Michael, he completely agreed. We found ways through music and lighting to find the contrast of the public and private moments. We staged places of quiet deep breaths for many of the characters on stage throughout the scenes. We allowed this simple idea of “public vs. private” to inspire how we blocked the piece, and settle into really beautiful and collaborative storytelling between our cast, our designers, and the directing duo.
I am constantly inspired by the work that has happened in the room. I never stop being an actor in that sense. However, I was able to grow creatively in a different direction because of the opportunity given to me by Spinning Tree Theatre. This story is an important one, and I am so happy to be able to share it with the rest of Kansas City.
CASA VALENTINA runs October 27th – November 12th. For more information visit spinningtreetheatre.com.
Nicole Marie Green (CASA VALENTINA Co-Director) Spinning Tree: The Turn of the Screw. Usually seen on the stage in Kansas City, this time Nicole has stepped behind the scenes to co-direct Casa Valentina. Other directing credits include Morpheus Quarter, The Problem by A.R. Gurney, The Good Person of Szechwan by Brecht, among others. Nicole would like to thank both Andy and Michael for their trust in helping tell this beautiful story, and the opportunity to grow in an entirely new direction in her theatrical career. Next up Nicole will be performing in Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at Kansas City Repertory Theatre. NicoleMarieGreen.com