This week I’m focusing on a passion that makes its way into the pages of my fiction; live theater. I’ve acted, ushered, worked on costumes, and fundraised, but my favorite job–probably for the sheer creativity and challenge–was as props mistress and set decorator.
So let’s go backstage!
- Besides the obvious bonuses of escape and entertainment, theater offers a sense of community, shared experiences, revenue for local retailers, income for services and craftspersons. Regional productions can contribute to education, and even help with the preservation of local history.”Horn in the West,” the longest running play about The Revolutionary War, began in 1952.
Even if you’ve never worked “in the back in the black,” as it’s called, you know if there wasn’t someone with serious intestinal fortitude, patience and organization in charge from the get-go, chaos would ensue.
I find the daring individuals who choose to captain the ship of production to be fascinating, and inspiring. Usually in the face of insurmountable odds, thin budgets, challenging scripts, (dare I mention emotional actors?), a theater director must plan, coordinate, budget, audition, cast, rehearse, design…well, you get it.
That said, I’d like to introduce you to Jeremy Scott Lapp, a gifted director on the cusp of a brilliant career, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with on several shows. And yes, he has the stuff, has already proven himself in regional theater, and most recently on Broadway.
I’ve asked Jeremy to tell us what it takes to be a director, and how he chose the career…or did the career choose him?
Jeremy Scott Lapp
Jeremy is a recipient of Noel Craig, Inland Theatre League, Patté, National Youth Theatre, Billy and Director’s Choice awards. When not directing, he runs a freelance graphic design business specializing in theatrical design and advertising.
An alumnus of the 2009 Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab West, Jeremy is a proud member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) and earned a 2011 selection as a SDC Emerging Artist. Recent projects include Assistant Director on the World Premiere Musical, A Room With A View at the Old Globe in San Diego, and a workshop of the new musical, Secondhand Lions! He also directed a workshop of a new musical based on Peter Pan that was selected to be part of the ASCAP/Dreamworks Musical Theatre Workshop with Stephen Schwartz.
From a recent review: “When Director J. Scott Lapp takes the helm of a theater production, audiences had best grab their tickets early and quickly. After such local directorial successes as ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ and ‘RENT’, it is a near certainty that Lapp will find a way to enchant and entertain theater-goers.” – Kerri Mabee / Southwest Riverside News
Fresh Start Stories: Welcome, Jeremy!
Jeremy Scott Lapp: Thanks, Bev!
FSS: How did you originally get involved in theater?
JSL: I grew up in a very musically appreciative family. My mom taught fun and fitness at my preschool, and included music in her curriculum. I would bring buckets of costumes from home and direct my fellow preschoolers in shows that we would perform for open house. My grandparents were huge musical theatre aficionados, and had season tickets to the Starlight Bowl every summer where they started taking me when I was one and a half years old. My grandpa built a miniature stage for me, and I would re-enact the shows I would see at Starlight with my Playmobil ™ people. My mom signed me up for a theatre summer camp when I was 5 years old, and from there I started taking classes and doing shows. I guess you could say it was meant to be.
FSS: Besides every show we ever worked on together >cough< what has been your favorite?
JSL: Every show I work on is different and has a special set of circumstances and a new group of people. That’s what so amazing about this profession; you get to create a new family every two to three months when starting a new project! And it’s hard to say goodbye at the end, because during the process of creating together you grow close like a family.
That being said, two of my most favorite projects were Bonnie & Clyde and 13. I began working on Bonnie & Clyde 4 years ago in a small rehearsal studio in New York where we were doing a workshop of the show. From there, we premiered the show at the La Jolla Playhouse (www.lajollaplayhouse.org) in the fall of 2008, then took the show to the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida and finally landed on Broadway in December of 2011. It was such a special experience because of how close we all got working on the show! The entire artistic team and many of the leads remained with the show from the beginning. 13 was another favorite of mine. It’s a show about teenagers and the aches and pain of growing up and dealing with peer pressure and first kisses. We had an all-star cast working on that show, every single person was so dedicated and it was just a pleasure to work on! We even had Jason Robert Brown who wrote the music & lyrics, and Robert Horn who wrote the book (the story part) come down to the closing performance of the show! They came backstage after the show and met with the cast.
FSS: How did you decide to make the transition to director?
JSL: I’m not sure growing up that I ever had the desire to become a Director. Although, I think my parents might tell you differently, and now looking back many years later, there were some hints that you could definitely point to. I grew up as a performer, singing and dancing in shows from the time I was 5 to 18. I did over a hundred shows all over Southern California with various theatre companies, sang and danced in multiple sing-along videos, and performed at different theme parks across the U.S. It wasn’t until I got the opportunity to direct my first show that I started to think about becoming a director. I even ended up going to school for graphic design, while I continued to direct on the side. In the spring of 2007, I made the decision to really pursue directing musical theatre as a career and I haven’t looked back since.
FSS: Do you prefer directing straight theater or musicals? What’s the difference?
JSL: In a drama, there is no singing and dancing, and the spoken word takes the lead in setting the dramatic action of the story. In a musical, once the dialogue gets to a certain point, and the actor can no longer talk, they sing. More and more though, the line between what makes a musical, and a drama is being blurred. There are plays currently on Broadway that have singing in them. I worked on a show last fall at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego (www.oldglobe.org), called Somewhere that had music and dancing woven throughout the piece. I prefer working and directing musicals, but I would love to work on more straights as well.
FSS: How would you suggest someone who has never experienced live theater decide which type is for them, and how would they go about finding local performances?
JSL: Just go. Don’t worry about deciding which type. Get out and support live theatre. There is nothing like it, because for those two hours, you are experiencing something that will never be reproduced the same way. Sure there will be another performance the next evening, but for those two hours with those 1,000 people, it’s an experience unlike anything else. And don’t be concerned that theatre is too expensive for you, there are tons of deals and websites that sell discounted tickets! Most theatre companies sell rush tickets, or student priced seating. And then there are websites like (www.goldstar.com/TheaterTickets) and (www.sdartstix.com) that sell discounted tickets to theatre shows! To see upcoming shows, check the arts section in your local newspaper or on their websites!
The billboard for Bonnie & Clyde in Times Square. Opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, December 1, 2011.
FSS: How can an audience member get the best experience possible?
JSL: Theater is different for everyone, that’s why there is so much variation. You can go to New York and on Broadway alone, you can see up to 30 different shows at a time. And that doesn’t include the Off-Broadway scene where that number jumps to over 200 different theatrical productions. To get the best experience possible, do your research and know what the show is about. Google it, YouTube it. In this age of technology, you can go online and find out almost anything about a show. As an active theatregoer myself, I attend multiple shows every week. Going that often, you see various levels of quality and you begin to learn what you do and don’t like.
FSS: Besides taking the story from page to stage, what do you hope to do when you envision a show?
JSL: When I begin work on a show, I always try and put myself in the shoes of the audience. As a director, you HAVE to learn how to read a room, listen to it breathe, and know when and how to make the hard decisions. You have to learn how to entertain, keep the audience’s attention, and know when and how to move on. I always try and think as an audience member. What is distracting, where do I lose interest, what could be changed to be more interesting to watch. All of these factors come into play when directing a show.
FSS: How does your faith inform your profession?
JSL: My faith plays a huge importance not only in my daily life but also in my work. I have spoken with and met many artists over the years and the thing I constantly hear, is how hard it is to go thru this business where you have to find your own way and constantly take criticism at every turn. I can’t fathom working in this industry without my faith and the knowledge that there is something bigger and more important guiding my way. Having that “someone” on your side, who always has your best interests at heart and is guiding you is the best possible agent I could ever ask for. We live in a big world with so much diversity.
As a Christian working in the business, you can’t isolate yourself in a Christian bubble. We are going to have to deal with all kinds of situations and people if we don’t have an open heart, how can we ever expect to know how to help others in their time of need? The best testimony I can be is to live and act with that knowledge, and let others notice that there is something different about me.
The Design board and building plans for the Bonnie & Clyde set at the La Jolla Playhouse.
FSS: You have meticulous show notes going into production. But you also allow your creative team freedom to make suggestions. How do you determine what goes, and what stays?
JSL: Well, that’s the best part about this business. The collaboration. I’ll spend months working on a show before meeting with the other members of the team, meticulously plotting out every little detail and how certain scenes will be staged. Then you get to the first day of rehearsal and you meet (depending on the size of the show) 10-30 more collaborators. And the thing I always say in that first rehearsal is that “I like to think of the rehearsal room as a playground. We are all here in this room to play, try things out and love and support each other as we do.” In the rehearsal room, the best idea always wins. I am looking to present the material in the most truthful and entertaining way, and quite often, an actor will have an insight to their own character that I never thought of. Or if I had, I make it seem like they thought of it first.
When I worked with children's theater, I carried a rubber chicken to demonstrate what a hand-carried prop was. Eventually, it became my mascot, and the coolest directors would find a place for him onstage. Sometimes the audience could even see him!
FSS: You mean like the rubber chicken I always tried to get onstage?
JSL: >laughs< Yeah, Bev. Like that.
FSS: Will we ever see you auditioning and performing again?
JSL: I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back onstage again. I love the creative process so much, and building a world where others can shine, I haven’t really missed the performing side of theatre. I suppose if the right part came up at the right time in my life, I would consider doing a show again. But for now, you’ll find me in the back of the theatre watching the audience enjoy the performances.
FSS: What’s your favorite moment in the process of putting together a production?
JSL: I have two favorite moments, and they just happen to bookend the entire process of putting on a show. The first part is those initial weeks leading up to auditions where you get to sit with the script and create and design a world for the action to take place in. The options are endless and it’s so incredibly fun to dream big and imagine the possibilities.
My other favorite part of the process is tech, near the end of the rehearsal process where you move into the theatre for the first time and start to integrate costume, sets and lights. It tends to be a very stressful part of the process, but it’s so gratifying to see everything start to come together. The ideas and drawings from late night meetings in a coffee shop are now in front of you in a fully realized way. I am very blessed to be working in my dream job.
FSS: Live theater has become more widespread, with more communities offering decent productions at higher and better quality. Why do you think we’re seeing increased interest?
JSL: I think with all the negativity in the news and how hard things are right now, people are just looking for an escape. And I think live performances allow people to get away and just enjoy themselves for a couple hours. Sure musicals can be silly when people talking to one another stop in the middle of a sentence and begin to sing. But musicals are meant to entertain, to enlighten and provoke discussion, and yeah, sometimes they are a little ridiculous, but I guarantee you’re gonna walk away smiling a little!
FSS: Are you thinking of writing a musical yourself? If so, can we know what it’s about?
JSL: It’s funny that you ask, I am currently in the process of collaborating on a couple of brand new projects. There’s something extremely satisfying and ultimately terrifying about building a show from scratch. Luckily, I have teamed up with some talented writers and we are playing around with some ideas. I can’t say much about them at this point in their development, but we are working on them and will start doing some developmental workshops in the near future. There might even be one that pops up later this year in a workshop out in New York.
FSS: Tell us about your current projects.
JSL: I am currently producing and directing a new Cabaret project. I have teamed up with Jordan Beck, a Producer/Lyricist from Riverside, California and we have just signed a yearlong contract to produce Cabaret at The Merc. The last Sunday of every month we will be bringing the very best of Broadway to beautiful Old Town Temecula. We are excited to present ‘Sondheim Unplugged’ a completely original, acoustic journey through the musical of Sondheim for our first month! The exciting thing about this show is, it’s starting in Riverside at the Caffeinated Cabaret on Sunday, May 20 then moving down to Cabaret at The Merc on Sunday, May 27 and finally landing in Hollywood at The Coterie at the Hollywood Renaissance on June 2! We have a great team working on the show, and a great line-up of Broadway and Professional talent! You can buy tickets for the Temecula performance by following the link (http://tickets.temeculatheater.org/eventperformances.asp?evt=602)
FSS: What’s next?
JSL: After the final performance of Sondheim Unplugged in June, I will leave immediately for the great Northwest, where I am directing a production of Footloose this summer. The show goes up in the middle of August and I am looking forward to collaborating with my sister (www.chelseanicolelapp.com) again. She recently won an Inland Theatre League Award for her choreography in our production of Fine Art Network’s 13. After Footloose, there are a number of other projects in the works.
(Pictured: Jeff Calhoun (Director
) and J.S.L at the cast recording of the Original Broadway Cast Album of Bonnie & Clyde
. Jeff was recently nominated for Best Direction at the Tony Awards for his work on the new Disney musical Newsies
FSS: How do we follow your career?
JSL: There are a number of ways. The best is to check out my website www.jeremylapp.com, there you can see upcoming projects and galleries of images from past shows, even some video. Facebook is another great way to keep track of things, and you can follow me at (www.facebook.com/J.scottlapp.director) or if you tweet, follow me @JScottLapp for updates of 140 characters or less! Ha
FSS: Any parting comments?
JSL: Thanks for taking the time to read, and a special thanks to Beverly Nault for reaching out to me for this interview! Support live theatre, go see a show!
FSS: You’re quite welcome, and thanks for your time, Jeremy. Break a leg!
(No rubber chickens were harmed in the making of this blog.)