Pictured: Sidonie Garrett in rehearsal. Photo by Matt Sameck.
Our “Inside” series takes you behind the scenes of productions through blog posts written by the artists in the trenches. To read past “Inside” pieces, click here.
By Matt Sameck
Sidonie Garrett is a fixture in Kansas City theatre. Currently the Executive Artistic Director for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, she has also directed productions for most every professional theatre organization in Kansas City. She last directed for Kansas City Actors Theatre in 2016 on their production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and this month she will direct longtime fellow artists and friends Jan Rogge and Cinnamon Schultz in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “’night, Mother,” by Marsha Norman, for KCAT. Take a look below as she talks about her process, the difference between directing Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare, and what she wishes people knew about directing theatre.
What were you most excited about heading into rehearsal?
I was eager to work with Cinnamon and Jan again. It’s also intriguing to work on a play that is set in one location, with a ticking clock on the wall and a short running time. A story with an expiration date, if you will. Interesting to focus on a story that holds that kind of tension at its center.
What have you learned about the play since you started rehearsing?
It’s a very well made play. I knew that going in, but as I work on it, the structure and the way this story unfolds is so well-executed. I also learned that there’s more laughter in it than expected. And how much human emotions can shift in the briefest span of time.
How is your approach to directing a play like “’night, Mother” different than your approach to directing Shakespeare?
Not so different at all. Staging is different because of size and scope; the requirements of outdoor Shakespeare theatre include much bigger choices in the voice and body. The physical life and ground that must be covered is much larger. But, the work in advance and during rehearsal to tell a modern story indoors is the same as telling a story by Shakespeare outdoors. Finding the arc, the ebbs and flows of emotion, drawing the thread through are the same in working to tell any story. The language in this play is modern and more readily accessible to today’s audience than some of Shakespeare’s may be, but it must also be told physically and vocally, albeit on a smaller scale and in a more intimate way. Finding emotional truth, recognizable human behavior and creating connection are the constants in good storytelling.
What’s challenging about bringing the script to life?
There are many props and very specific business that must be timed to the words and the emotional life of the story. They will help very much to define our world and the very real lives of the characters, but we have to work very moment to moment and repeat actions to hone the marriage of “business” to meaning. It’s also a challenging story to tell given its difficult emotional through line, finding the truth of the moment to moment and finding the pathos and the humor of it. The actors and stage management and I laugh a lot whenever we are on breaks! There’s usually a lot more laughs offstage when you’re working on a tragedy than when you’re doing a comedy.
Why did you bring these actors on board to tell this story? what did you see in them that made you believe they will make the characters alive?
I have known Cinnamon and Jan for many years and worked with them multiple times. We are friends outside of our work together. I have much experience with their range of emotional life and because of our life experience together, know how to ask questions and make suggestions to help them build these characters. We have a shorthand in communication, all of us together, and a great deal of mutual trust between us. I know that they will bring many choices to rehearsal and we’ll keep honing in to find the best ones together. Both of these actors do their homework and come in each day ready to move forward to get our story ready to share.
What is something you wish people knew about your role?
Sometimes people think that Directors dictate and tell people what to do, which sounds autocratic and not at all collaborative. My role is to see the big picture, understand where the story needs to go and from – point to point – and how it needs to be told in order to get us to the end. My job is interpretive, and I have to collaborate with the actors and all the designers to create a story that has unity – that is set in a particular and defined space and time in a setting that fulfills the playwright’s vision and wherein the costumes, lights, sound and props all BELONG. And that I communicate with every collaborator effectively and with great forethought and clarity so that our story will be impactful and emotionally communicated to our audience. So they can connect to it and be entertained, enlightened, engaged and maybe even laugh and cry.
”’night, Mother,” by Marsha Norman, runs January 8th through January 26th at the City Stage in Union Station. Tickets and information are available at kcactors.org or by calling the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222.