In part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast and director of Flyin’ West at Bowie Community Theatre, meet Director Estelle Miller.
Introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform or direct on our local stage.
My name is Estelle Miller. Prior to 2000, I was Estelle Gardiner. I have been involved in local theatre since the early 70’s as a director, producer, stage manager, etc. While living in Sterling, VA, I helped start the Blue Ridge Players and directed several plays for them. When I moved to Prince George’s County, Maryland, I directed for Prince George’s Little Theatre, Tantallon Players, Pasadena Theatre Company, Crofton Theatre Guild and Bowie Community Theatre. I also started a short-lived community theatre company in Upper Marlboro called the Marlboro Masquers. I have had the privilege of bringing to the stage plays written by some of the greatest playwrights of our generation—Boys Next Door, Grace & Glorie, Steel Magnolias, Nuts, Lost in Yonkers, The Odd Couple, Cemetery Club, Bus Stop, The Foreigner, Social Security, and Sylvia, to name a few.
Have you ever directed this show before and why did you want to direct it now?
I have never directed this show before. I had the opportunity to see it several years ago and it stuck with me. The strength of the characters; the way many of the lines paint a picture using the simplest of language; the love shared. When a play stays with me like this one has, I hunger for the opportunity to direct it. When Bowie Community Theatre put it into their season, I jumped at the chance.
How has your design team brought your vision to life on the stage?
They heard me. I have a set that shows the vastness of Kansas, the isolation of the farmers, the toughness of their lives. My design team has given me a cabin as I envisioned it and my prop team found the furniture and hand props to support that vision. My costumers gave us costumes that help tell the stories.
What does Flyin’ West have to say to this generation of theatergoers?
Well, first off, you don’t have to have ipads and cell phones to find enjoyment and power. Flyin’ West is about the human condition. It is as relevant today as it was at the beginning of civilization and as relevant as it will be in our future. Persecution and survival are not new to us. As long as there are two people on this earth, persecution will live. It is how human beings survive this horror and continue to thrive that makes this as important today as eating and drinking.
What scene or scenes were the most difficult to direct, stage, and block, and why?
No scene was more or less difficult. The difficulty for me was choosing the cast. Finding people who would “do their homework”; to be as dedicated to this work as I was. I was thrilled to find these actors. They had to understand that committing to this production would mean not only learning lines but having to read about Nicodemus, Kansas, about the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws, Abraham Lincoln, and read interviews with freed slaves as they told journalists their stories. This background work was essential to becoming their characters, but most importantly, they had to become African Americans of the 1800’s and remove themselves from the African Americans they are today with all the influences they grew up with. To this end, that was the most difficult thing for them to do, and for me to help them get there.
What have you learned about yourself as a director while going through this experience?
I learn from my cast each time I direct. I would not grow if I did not. This cast has taught me to listen to them more than any other I have worked with. They have learned about their characters and have embraced them and are eager to share them with me and their audiences. I have learned to trust my actors more than ever before.
Why should theatergoers come and see this production of Flyin’ West?
Our audiences will be exposed to all human emotion with a story that will make their hearts sing. Peeking into the lives of these people will expose our audiences to laughter, love and tears. What else does a person need to experience in a span of two and a half hours?
Flyin’ West opens April 10, 2015 and plays through April 25, 2015 at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online, or at the door.