Hot off a Barrymore win for Best Ensemble in a Play for Inis Nua Theatre Company’s The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning and having received widespread acclaim for its current Barrymore-recommended production of Radiant Vermin, Founding Artistic Director Tom Reing is in the midst of rehearsals for a revival of his company’s biggest hits, Irish playwright Michael West’s Dublin by Lamplight, produced in partnership with The Mandell Professionals in Residence Project (MPiRP) of Drexel University.
Tom, who is directing the upcoming production, spoke with me about the show (one of his, and my own, personal all-time favorites), his vision for it both then and now, and Inis Nua’s symbiotic relationship with the University’s theater program in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.
Deb: Why did you decide to remount Dublin by Lamplight this season?
Tom: It was our best-selling show ever, when we took it to New York after the Philadelphia run, in September-October 2011. Elysabeth Kleinhans saw the show in Philadelphia and invited us up, to present it at 59E59, as part of the First Irish Theatre Festival, and we won the First Irish Award for Best Ensemble. We knew we were doing the Drexel program this season, and one of the goals of the University is to expose students to different styles of theater, so this seemed appropriate, with its traditions of Storytellers Theatre, Vaudeville, and Commedia dell’Arte. Also, because it’s the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland, the subject was of special interest now. The play is about the foundation of the Irish National Theatre in Dublin, which was extremely influential in the Irish republican movement. So for many reasons, the time seemed right to remount it.
How did the collaboration with Drexel University come about?
Drexel has been interested in working with us for the past couple of years, but had other companies lined up. This was the first year we could fit it into both of our schedules. Nick Anselmo, the Theatre Program Director of the Westphal College at Drexel, approached me about it. I originally had another play in mind that had teenage characters in it, thinking that the ages would be close to those of the students, but he said, “How about Dublin by Lamplight?” I love the play. I was so inspired by it the first time I saw it, it’s one of the main reasons I founded Inis Nua Theatre Company. So I said, “Sure!”
What do you and the University hope to gain through your joint work on this production?
By sharing the production expenses, it has allowed us at Inis Nua to do a fourth show this season, for the first time; we usually do three. We’ve grown our audiences since our original production of Dublin by Lamplight in 2011, so now more of our new followers will be able to see it, since they didn’t know us then. We pay for the professional actors, the dramaturgy, and the rights to the play; Drexel provides the space and covers the costs of the design; and the students get academic credit for their participation. It works to everyone’s advantage.
I’ve been very impressed with the program. The students are treated as professionals, and they have already exceeded my expectations early on in the process! Even though Drexel doesn’t offer a Theater major, they have scholarships for the students and require, in exchange, that they put in extra hours for this. I think that kind of co-op is an interesting idea, and it’s a model that seems to work. We had a summer workshop, to introduce the students to the style of the show. It’s very intensive training because it’s not a large cast; we only have two professionals and four students–Jacob Kemp, Marlyn Logue, Drew Sipos, and Joey Teti–so they get a lot of personal attention and training.
Are there any particular challenges in working with students?
These students have risen to the challenge! They’re eager, they love the professionals working with them, and they’re there to serve the play by creating the best show possible. It’s been a joy for me—the best part of my day! I truly haven’t faced any challenges at all with them. Even though the students aren’t majoring in Theater at this point, I think some of them might go on in acting or singing. Joey and Marly seem interested, Jacob has great energy on stage, and Drew has a beautiful voice.
What memories do you have from your student years that have had an impact on your career in the theater and your desire to undertake this collaboration?
I definitely developed my love of theater in college. I did some in high school, but my school was very small, so it wasn’t the same. I was a Visual Arts major in college, and a friend of mine asked if I wanted to do some art for the theater, so I painted the set for Grease. But then my favorite theater-related activity was stage managing Romeo and Juliet. The school production was set in a futuristic dystopia, caused by the feuding families; I loved the style, and saw the potential in it for me, through having that exposure. I originally thought that I’d be a freelance director, but then I had the opportunity to work as an Artistic Director and to found Inis Nua. I’ve regaled the students in Dublin by Lamplight with stories of my college life! I love the work, and so does the stage management team, and the enthusiasm also comes across from the students.
Who are the professionals in the cast and on the design team?
Mike Dees is returning from the 2011 production; Mike has worked extensively with students, and he’s great with them. And we have Rachel Brodeur, who appeared with us last October in Hooked!, as the other professional actor. Charlie DelMarcelle and Megan Bellwoar, who were both in the original ensemble, weren’t available this time, plus we wanted to cast only two pros and four students, to give enough opportunity to them; the cast of six plays forty different characters, so they’re getting it
For the design, Maggie Baker is flying back to Philadelphia from Florida to do the make-up and costumes again. We still had saved the costumes from 2011, so she’ll be able to alter some, and will add others. Meghan Jones, who designed the New York set, is back, and Andrew Cowles is doing the lighting this time. The room at Drexel allows for us to use haze, so the show will have an antique aesthetic; our other spaces didn’t have adequate ventilation for that, so I’m looking forward to it with this production. And John Lionarons will do the music again; he’s brilliant. He’ll be performing live on piano and following the moods of the characters.
How else does this version differ from your previous production?
A lot of the elements are the same, but I’m watching my actors and shaping the characters to fit their strengths and personalities. For example, Rachel is much shorter than Megan Bellwoar, so it’s hilarious when she’s up against Mike Dees, who is quite tall. Whereas Megan was more stately and controlled in the role, Rachel becomes more aggressive to compensate for the difference in size; she’s a spitfire! As far as the design goes, we’re essentially replicating the two-level space we had at Broad Street Ministry in 2011, but now we have a spiral staircase and we’re renting street lamps, which will be effective in conveying the setting of Dublin by Lamplight, as will the haze.
How should the audience approach the show? What would you like to impart to them?
This is an exciting performance style. As I said earlier, it combines various physical traditions—especially commedia and storytelling–and in that way it’s typical of the signature style of The Corn Exchange in Dublin, which has been a great influence on me. I studied there, and it was where I first saw Dublin by Lamplight. It was founded by Annie Ryan, who is American, so there’s a mixing of cultures, as with Inis Nua. We specialize in doing work from other nations—Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales—so we’re also American theater artists mixing with Irish traditions. This particular play is comparable to James Joyce’s Ulysses, in that it takes place in the course of one day in Dublin in 1904, and among its themes, it considers the relationship of Ireland to Britain. And like a lot of Irish theater, it turns on a dime. You’re laughing, and then BOOM!–it’s devastating. “You have to dance on a razor’s edge, between the heartfelt, the grotesque, and anything for a cheap gag.” That’s the motto of The Corn Exchange, and as seen in the beautiful work done there, it makes for a lovely experience.
How have you managed your schedule, with Dublin by Lamplight opening just three days after the closing of Radiant Vermin?
It’s been difficult and exhausting! But Claire Moyer directed Radiant Vermin, so I didn’t have to worry, I have total trust in her. I knew I didn’t have to be there all of the time, so I wasn’t, and it worked out fine. It’s different than it was when Inis Nua started; now we’re an organization, it’s not just me. There are many talented people working for us, so we were able to extend our capacity at this point, and because of the partnership with Drexel, we could do four shows instead of three. Next year we’ll be back to our usual number, but it worked well this year, and fortunately we were able to coordinate our schedule at The Drake, which we had for October, with the semester at Drexel, which dictated that our Dublin by Lamplight would go up in November.
Following Dublin by Lamplight, what other shows can we look forward to in Inis Nua’s 2016-17 season?
In February we’re doing Lee Coffey’s Leper + Chip, a gritty Dublin tale about two people coming together. It’s an American premiere, as is our spring production of Swallow by Stef Smith, one of Scotland’s most exciting playwrights, which Claire will direct. I saw both of the shows in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago and knew that I wanted to do them. Some plays hold out for a run in New York, but we got these!
Many thanks, Tom, for finding the time during this hectic month to give us some background on your upcoming production. I look forward to you revisiting Dublin by Lamplight, as should everyone who saw it, or missed it, the first time!
From 2011: From Director Tom Reing.
Dublin by Lamplight plays Wednesday, November 9 through Sunday, November 20, 2016, at Inis Nua Theatre Company and The Mandell Professionals in Residence Project, performing at The Mandell Theater, on the campus of Drexel University – 3201 Chestnut Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (215) 454-9776, or purchase them online.
Here is a rehearsal video on facebook.