In Part 2 of a series of interviews with the cast of The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Charles Morey’s Laughing Stock, meet Director Shawn G. Byers.
Joel: Tell our readers where they may have see you on the stage or directing other shows.
Shawn: My directing past includes Plaza Suite (LTA), Bent (Dominion Stage), Funny Money (LTA), The Actor’s Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (Port City Playhouse). Many years ago my first show in the area was one of the two actors in Greater Tuna at LTA.
Why did you want to direct Laughing Stock at LTA?
Once upon a time in a far, far land called Ohio, I worked at a wonderful summer stock theatre called Weathervane Playhouse. I love Laughing Stock, not only because it brings back such wonderful memories of Weathervane; but also because it manages to be wildly funny and really touching and sweet all at the same time.
What’s the show about? Tell us about the history of the show.
The show is a backstage farce in the same vein as Noises Off and It’s Only a Play. It centers on a Summer stock theatre company lacking a budget and maybe even the talent to pull off a lofty season of Dracul: Prince of the Undead, Charley’s Aunt, and Hamlet in rep!!! Charles Morey wrote Laughing Stock after he witnessed an especially bad production of his Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He had tossed the idea of doing a backstage farce previous to this, but the idea really started to take shape after the failed production.
How did you cast the show and where did you find your cast?
This entire area is ripe with talent and I am always amazed of how many people come out for auditions. I have been privileged to work with some of the actors before, and LTA does a great job at promoting and really my cast found me.
Introduce us to your cast and tell us who they play and what they each bring to the role that is unique.
Lars Klores is Gordon Paige. Gordon is the Artistic Director of the Playhouse; the fearless leader of the group. His dreams are almost always bigger than his budget and abilities. Lars is a wonderfully talented actor, which has the wonderful ability to be both grand and vulnerable sometimes at the same moment.
Michael Dobbyn is Jack Morris, an actor. Jack is really the most normal one of the group. Pondering his future wondering if acting really is the way to go.
Kat Sanchez is Susannah Huntsman a recent graduate and director of Charley’s Aunt. She has lots of education, not enough experience. Kat is a brilliantly funny actor. She is fearless and I love the way that she explores her character.
Abigail Ropp is Mary Pierre an actor, the classic ingénue. Sweet, sincere and pretty may. Abby had more smarts in her little finger then dear sweet Mary does in her head, but Abby plays this not so bright role perfectly.
Will MacLeod is Tyler Taylor an actor. Tyler believes leading roles are his natural right and the method is the only path.
Tom Flatt is Vernon Volker who is an actor. He’s been doing this for way too long and has become cynical. I think Tom’s performance is brilliant his timing is impeccable. What I love about his Vernon is that he has given what could be a one dimensional character depth.
Ted Culler is Richfield Hawksley an actor and the elder statesman of the troupe. He has done it all…he’s pretty sure. His memory’s not quite what it used to be. Ted is a wonderfully talented comedic actor, the man with 1,000 faces. Keep an eye on him for sure.
Natalie Fox is Daisy Coates; yet another of the acting troupe. She too has been around since the beginning. A sweet and lovely lady. Natalie brings a quite reserved quality to Daisy, the performance is subtle and yet nuanced and meaningful.
Larry Grey is Craig Conlin the business Manager. Without Craig to keep things grounded the theatre would most definitely fold. Even at his audition, Larry was Craig for me. He has the perfect delivery and really knows how to play the different levels of Craig’s anger and frustration.
Melissa Dunlap is Sarah McKay, the stage manager. Efficient, acerbic, addicted to caffeine (or whatever that is in her mug). Melissa has the wonderful ability to show both Sarah’s sarcasm and harsh exterior all while revealing her softer and venerable moments.
Richard Isaacs is Henry Mills the production designer. An expert at creating “something out of nothing.”
Hilary Duff is Karma Schneider the inexperienced, overworked intern #1.
Brian Selick is Braun Oakes the inexperienced, overworked intern #2.
Christian Mendez is Ian Milliken inexperienced, overworked intern #3.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced directing the show and working in LTA space?
Working at LTA is always such a treat there are such an array of talented hard working people here that I feel the challenges are very few. That being said this show is one that is extremely props heavy and the technical elements are really another character in the show. The set designers and builders, as well as the rest of the crew have risen to the challenges and made it seem easy!
What was the hardest scene to direct and block, and which scene is your favorite and why?
I think the hardest was the rehearsal of Charley’s Aunt and the Performance of Dracul. These are both among my favorites as well. There is such rich comedy in both, and the actors in each of these scenes are still making me laugh every time; which is saying something since I’ve seen them about 40 times at this point. However, I really like some softer moments. The end of Act one for example, is this really tender scene between Sarah and Gordon, the chemistry that they have in this scene really makes it and I really love this moment.
Which character is most like you and why?
I think at different times in my life I have been or will be all of these characters, except maybe Mary, I am just not the ingénue type. Current circumstances have me looking at the direction of my professional career though, so at this moment at least I feel a little like Jack. Ask me during tech week though and I may feel a little more like Vernon.
How has your design team brought your vision to life?
This show is very tough technically. There are some many different elements. It is extremely dependent on all the elements melding together in order to have a cohesive product. Having zero ability to build, I am always in awe of the set designers and carpentry staff. It is also a very props heavy show, and the detail and brilliance of the props team has also been wonderful to see. I come into a show with ideas and no clue of how to implement them. Each designer has brought their talent to my vision and in the magic of theatre, which is blood, sweat, and yes even the tears; made it a reality. I am always in awe of the Stage Management team as well. They are the people that are responsible for making all this happen and they do it flawlessly.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Laughing Stock?
Mostly I want them to laugh, but if perchance they take away a tiny bit of understanding as to why each of us theatre; why we choose to spend months preparing and working to tell stories on a dark summer night.