Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Year Full of Passion, Talent and Enchanted Evenings

Contributed by Jeff Thomakos, Artistic Director of Water Works Theatre

Well, another Water Works season is drawing to a close and I can hardly believe it. I knew it was going to be an odd year, when I met Ed, our executive director for coffee last fall and broke the bad news. The Purple Rose made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I wouldn’t be available this season to direct anything. Ed was amazingly understanding and off we went to prepare for the season.

First, there was our Winter Fundraiser. To celebrate our ten years as a company, we invited every single person who has ever been a part of our shows that we could get a hold of. We then did scenes from all ten of our shows with original cast members reprising their roles. It was wonderful, but…phew…it was a lot of work. I spent months tracking people down, leaving voicemails and emails, and convincing people to come perform for us for free in the middle of winter. The task was daunting, but somehow, it turned into an amazing, enchanting evening that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Meanwhile, I was also hiring our artistic team. Don Hunter, a key person for us for the last two years, was moving back to Indiana and I had to find a stage manager who could fill his rather imposing shoes. Fortunately for us, Emily Pierce came in for an interview and I was completely wowed. Add to that, the great Emily Bowyer as Stage Manager for Commedia King Arthur and a huge weight was lifted.

This year we were also lucky enough to bring in Barton Bund as a director. Our team knew that we wanted to do a comedy this year, but we weren’t really sure which one. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves and do something we had already done like Midsummer or Much Ado. Love’s Labours Lost and Merry Wives of Windsor were thrown around a lot, but nothing seemed quite right. Then in walks Bart who says he’s willing to direct anything we want, but was really passionate about Two Gentlemen of Verona and felt he had a winning concept for it. Since it is my feeling that it’s best when directors direct shows they are passionate about, the decision to do Two Gentlemen of Verona with Bart as director was a no-brainer for us. His passion for the material beams from the stage every night and as a result, everyone has caught a bit of it - the actors, the audience…even the dog.

Bart suggested we bring in the brilliant Monika Essen who last worked with Water Works in our critically-acclaimed co-production with Performance Network, Nine Parts of Desire. What’s more, he convinced us to bring her in not only as a set designer, but also as the costume designer as well. As a result, the artistic vision of the show was unified in an amazing way. Everything compliments each other, everything fits.

With Shannon Kennedy and Tom Niemkeiwicz as Production Manager and Master Carpenter respectively, our super, amazing production team was assembled. All that was left was the casting.

Those of you who have already seen the show know what a fantastic cast we have this year. It’s a great mix of familiar Water Works faces like Rusty Mewha and Sara Wolf Molnar and new faces like Tommy Simon and Kevin Young. Everyone in the cast is fantastic. I am quite jealous.

You have one more weekend to experience this unique event. One more weekend to sit under the stars and laugh, and hear poetry and watch talented people take interesting characters to amazing places. Please come, and then tell us about your experience. If you are like the 10,000 other people who have seen a Water Works show, then I think you will find it to be unforgettably wonderful.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Real Stars of Shakespeare in the Park in Royal Oak

Contributed by Ed Nahhat, Founder and Executive Director of Water Works Theatre

The 13 year-old boy selling popcorn in the park this year first learned stage sword fighting in KidsAct!; after which he was cast in our production of the “Scottish Play” in 2009, showing off his on-stage dying skills every night with professional actors. The girl who starred in Royal Oak High School’s musical last fall learned her first Shakespeare in the park with Water Works in 2004. The boys and girls who got cast in Gerard Butler’s upcoming movie Machine Gun Preacher are recent KidsAct! students, all of 10 and 12 years old, working with A-List talent on their first paid acting job.

For one local actress a small part with Water Works led to bigger roles and a highly sought place in a prestigious graduate theatre program. Another actress was so good in her first Water Works show that she won awards, catapulting her to roles in major films, including one with Robert DeNiro.

We know that Water Works doesn’t make people talented. But we work hard every year to offer talented people the opportunity to grow in their craft and career. We educate and empower artists (offstage and on) of any age. We also pay all of our artists, hiring local actors, designers, directors, graphic artists, and other vendors and suppliers. We offer the only outdoor professional Shakespeare event in Michigan. And we’re really proud that we run the only public event in Royal Oak that does not cost the local taxpayer a dime.

In fact, Water Works pays the city to use the park, and we pay for everything else that goes into a professional outdoor theatre event, from microphones to insurance to port-johns. Certainly we could not make it without our generous donors, neighborhood advertisers and ticket buyers. And we need more help in that department.

But the real stars of Shakespeare in the park in Royal Oak are:

our volunteers.

It’s not easy to explain why some people volunteer their time, or how one manages to recruit such wondrous people. But when it’s real, it’s just like finding gold in the ground. Water Works saves thousands of dollars in business expenses every year relying upon the generous and professional help of volunteers, from signage to bookkeeping, from house management to social networking, from manual labor to audio supplies, from legal advice to student interns. Personally, I think that even our “paid” people are so underpaid that they end up volunteering a lot of time too.

Everyone who donates their time, their talent, their insight and creative contribution to such an effort is a special kind of local hero to me. So this year, we decided to honor six of our Ten Year volunteers with Water Works’ “Best Friends Award” (custom made by local artists Edward Marsh and Nina Barlow). The honorees are: Tony and Jan Schmitt, Lisa and Duane Kimmel, Holly and Bryan Conroy and Sam and Mary Nahhat. But we have many other volunteers who are just as valuable to us, people who have given their time and talent in past years, or are stepping up today.

I can’t name them all here, but I know their names by heart. And if you come see our show, you’ll meet them, our real stars, one by one. And they’ll be smiling.

Come see us, and join in the fun.

In the photograph: A few of our "Best Friends" - Water Works 2010 honorees Lisa and Duane Kimmel with State Representative Marie Donigan and Water Works founder Ed Nahhat.