photo by Marie Schrader of LCTC
I joined a group of actors and crew members at their storage facility in Lakeport the other day. They were there to build set pieces, paint flats, and try on costumes for the latest comedic endeavor from the Lake County Theatre Company, Fishwrap, by Ben Bromley. They were meeting on a Saturday morning after working all week at their day jobs and rehearsing nights. Yet, the mood was energetic. People were talking, joking, and getting the work done.
I followed Director Becky Vreeland around for a while waiting for a break in the action to conduct my interview. I watched as people came to her for assignments and with questions. I watched her helping basically everyone at once. She had a clear vision, directed everyone without hesitation-making decisions on the spot. At one point, she even got me to help move a flat and load the electric staple gun. (I told her not until she unplugged it.) I was struck by just how much she had changed from when I interviewed her last Fall for her directorial debut, Driving Miss Daisy.
I asked her about it. She credits her growth in confidence as a director with a few things. She says that she learned a lot during her time on Daisy working with two professional actors and one very experienced amateur. She also gives credit to a book on directing lent to her by Doug Cembellin, the actor who played Boolie in the last show; and, to Cembellin himself. Cembellin currently plays a reporter and is also her Assistant Director for Fishwrap. Vreeland says that she’s fortunate to be working with someone who has so much experience acting and directing.
The first thing she did for this show was to cross out all stage directions in the script. A tip she picked up from the book. The idea was to justify what was crossed off before allowing it back in. This surprised many of the actors who kept saying, “But, the script says…”
She and Cembellin also worked on a schedule to maximize their rehearsal time. Not everyone was available to rehearse at the same time, so the schedule took some careful planning. It really paid off since the most challenging part of this show ended up being a number of illnesses and limited rehearsals due to weather. Vreeland hasn’t been able to have all of the cast all of the time. But, she said that they got through it with something they learned from working on the show Oklahoma! – hand sanitizer.
Additionally, she worked on making everyone think about the premise of what they were saying as they learned their lines. She worked with them on internalizing the story and becoming the character. Between this and the maximized rehearsal schedule, Vreeland says that they were able to start full run-throughs of each act much earlier than any show she’s worked on before.
Vreeland has no desire to get out on stage herself. She enjoys being the one with the overview and bringing the vision in her head to life with the cast. She says the main difference between this show and her last is the number of cast members and the various levels of experience of each cast member. With the cast of Daisy she had 3 highly skilled actors. She just had to “point them in the right direction and they ran with it.” For Fishwrap, it’s been a bit of a learning curve. She’s been more engaged in telling them what to do. She has a total of 11 actors. One is a professional and the rest are amateurs ranging from highly skilled with 20 plus years experience, to returning after a 20 year hiatus, to never having been on a stage before, and everything in-between. They all have different wants and needs from a director. “It’s a little bit like herding cats.”
“While Daisy was more cerebral, this is really good fun.” And, it’s timely right now. This show is about a struggling newsprint newspaper in an internet world. “Just how does any local print paper survive in a small town?” asks Vreeland.
Written in 2015, Fishwrap is a comic behind the scenes look at a local print newspaper. There is a costume party/fundraising event; a pollution scandal at the EPA; lots of shenanigans in the bullpen; and tons of funny groaning jokes and puns. The show is also filled with several over-the-top characters like Jessica the ditzy ad saleswoman played by Claire Jacobs. Says Jacobs, “Ditzy is being generous. She is the comic relief. She breezes in and out of the scenes.”
This is Jacobs’ first time acting with LCTC. She hasn’t acted since high school. It’s always been a passion of hers and when she saw the audition notice, she decided to take a shot. She says that she came to have fun and she got so much more. “It’s more like a family. That sounds cheesy but the audience will know we’re having so much fun.”
Stern Mr. Hoffman, the publisher of an independent newspaper, is played by Michael Maravich. He’s caught in between the CEO, the Board of the Directors, and the staff. He reminisces about writing as he struggles with the news moving more and more to the internet, losing revenue, cutting costs, and trying to make everyone happy.
This is Maravich’s second show with LCTC. He had a small part with Lore of the Lake because he “just wanted to get back into acting.” He’d done plays in college and was a TV Producer for 10 years, but it’s been a while since he’s actually been on stage. When the auditions for this show came around he said he was a bit intimidated by the more experienced actors. When he got the call from Vreeland and she started off by saying, “We appreciate your coming out” he thought for sure he was being turned down, but in fact, he got the part.
And then there’s Steve, played by Cembellin. “Once upon a time Steve aspired to be a big time journalist, but then life happened. Now, he works for a small, rural newspaper. He’s the classic burnout. Likes to dabble in the drink, if you will. He’s also never one to pass up an opportunity to make a joke.”
Cembellin has also been enjoying his time rehearsing. He has found this to be a fun way to build his community. While he enjoyed his time working on Daisy, this show, has been quite different. “It’s been fun finding in the script all the humor and all the best moments for maximum reaction. It’s super fun working with actors with a wide range of experience. In fact, both Jacobs and Maravich mentioned how much they enjoyed working with Cemblin and Laura McAndrews Sammel. And how much they appreciated how kind they both were.
The cast also includes a hypochondriac Office Manager played by Kathleen Escudé; an Investigative Reporter/office nerd Sci-Fi freak living in his mother’s basement, played by Justin Braider; a smelly Newspaper Carrier, played by Tim Barnes; a rabble rousing disgruntled news source played by Jeffrey Schmidt; a toupee-wearing, disgruntled advertiser payed by Rod Rehe; the voice of the police scanner played by Margie Loesch; and, the young carrier, played by Miles Lewelling. The latter of which is a “good kid” according to Vreeland who ended up creating lines for him.
The cast is headed up by Laura McAndrews Sammel who plays Judy, the editor. “It’s been so fun working with such talented people. Everyone has been willing to play and take feedback. Lots of new people I’ve never worked with. “She says that she didn’t realize how much she missed the process of rehearsals, meeting people, and creating synergy. While she prefers musicals, she hasn’t been in a play without music since 2012 when she was in The Odd Couple. She’s really having a lot of fun working on this show. “With musicals, you have to add the extra things – the music and the choreography. This is more relaxing, not as much pressure. Though, there is more dialogue to memorize than in a musical. “Memorization has been an adventure.” And, since she’s in all of the scenes except one, she’s considering her “choreography” to be all of her 10 costume changes. Costume Designer Barbara Clark, has been having a lot of fun with all of the costumes for this show. She adds, “Pay attention to the character arc over the course of the show for the ladies.”
I am personally looking forward to this show since so many really funny LCTC regulars are in it. I even got my 14 year old son to agree to go with me. All I had to say was (in a German accent) “I broke my leg” is in this show… which is code for Tim Barnes. I drag my son to a lot of shows and that line and the actor who spoke that line was particularly memorable for him as an 8 year old watching The Producers. If that doesn’t persuade you to go, I’ll tell you what the director told me, “With three retired nurses working on this show – the stage manager, the producer, and me, this show is really just a prescription for a good time.”
Fishwrap opens Friday, March 31st at the Soper Reese located at 275 S. Main Street in Lakeport. Showtimes are March 31, April 1,7, 8, 14, & 15 at 7pm and April 2 and 16 at 2pm. Visit LCTC.us for tickets.