Little Theatre vets team to co-direct comedy

Al Chang and Carol Anselmo discuss wardrobes with actress Julie Swenson at the Little Theatre of Walla Walla during a rehearsal for “The Foreigner.”

Al Chang and Carol Anselmo discuss wardrobes with actress Julie Swenson at the Little Theatre of Walla Walla during a rehearsal for “The Foreigner.” Photo by Donna Lasater.

Advertisement

WALLA WALLA — Live theater can take you beyond yourself and into another person’s life and reality. You can be moved to tears or laughter, or both. The laughs abound in the Larry Shue comedy “The Foreigner,” the upcoming performance at the Little Theatre of Walla Walla.

Longtime Little Theatre volunteers Carol Anselmo and Al Chang are teaming up to co-direct the play, which starts Friday.

If you go

“The Foreigner” will be performed at the Little Theatre of Walla Walla, 1130 E. Sumach St., at 8 p.m. May 31, June 1, 7, 8, 14 and 15. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee June 9. For information, call 509-529-3683 or visit ltww.org.

“We work well together; we compliment each other,” Chang said.

Often, just one person will direct a play. Anselmo directed “Steel Magnolias” on her own, and “she did a great job,” Chang said.

However, a play is a tremendous amount of work for one person. It’s often better to pair up, Chang said, as co-directors can divide the responsibilities.

“The Foreigner” is the fifth show Anselmo and Chang have partnered to direct. They both have extensive backgrounds in theater, in many different capacities, and bring a wealth of talent and experience to the show.

Amid a shared love of theater, each has their own individual focus. With their different perspectives they can cover all the angles of a stage production. Chang is usually onstage but Anselmo would much rather be behind the scenes.

“Except for a brief appearance onstage, I’d much rather direct or work as a set designer,” she said.

Because she’s thinking of facing the stage and Chang is facing the audience, they occasionally have humorous miscommunications on directions — stage left or stage right. But they always work it out. “We’re having a really good time” Anselmo said.

Directing a play demands many things, including a visual conception of all the scenes in the production. Before a play is chosen, it is read and then discussed. All aspects of the show are considered: language, suitability and which directors would take on such a play.

“After we choose the play, we talk about it, then do the set design. I’ve found over the years I like to be real actively involved. We talk a lot about the characters, costumes, lights, and plan all the movements, even the gestures,” Anselmo said.

The pair have different — though very compatible — directing styles.

“I look at it from the audience’s perspective. Al has dual vision, from both the actors’ and audience’s perspective,” Anselmo said.

Because of this difference in focus, they have an unspoken division of tasks.

Anselmo does the details and set design, creating the environment the actors live in for the production. “I pre-block everything; I have chess people I move around,” she said.

Blocking and details can make or break a play. “Do they stand two feet apart or 18 inches apart?” Anselmo said. “I have the reputation for being picky to the point of being obnoxious.”

But being exacting can be an asset in stage productions. “When I look back at the set, it looks great,” Chang said. “The set is another character,” Anselmo added.

Chang directs the actors’ speech and movement. “Al is a better acting coach,” Anselmo said.

“Some actors have a natural feel for that script, moving without being told,” Chang said. “It’s hard to explain what makes a good actor. They have a sense of the character and may naturally fall into speech patterns. Or they may just have a way of moving that develops the character. It’s what we expect but not all can give it. Your job is to bring it out of them.”

“I look for a commitment,” Anselmo added. “The best compliment I’ve gotten from someone: ‘I trust you to always make me look good.’ I want the actors to trust me.”

Anselmo said she’s seen some actors apply their character “like makeup, while others develop it from the inside out.” Chang said there’s a sense of creating something, and finds it fascinating to see a character develop.

Anselmo has spent a good portion of her life involved with the theater. Chang has a similar spirit of dedication. “I did my first show in 1999 and haven’t had a year off since,” he said.

In addition to directing, Anselmo helps manage the theater, works on sets and more. She said it’s very close to being her ideal pursuit. “Part of it is the creativity. Creating and shaping something while being with family. It’s like a family here,” Chang said.

But the cast and crew still have their day jobs. “Everybody works full time,” Anselmo said, so rehearsals, set design and performances represent a sizeable time commitment.

Chang and Anselmo try to keep the rehearsals from going longer than two hours. “When rehearsals are three and three and a half hours every night, people get sick,” Anselmo said. “It’s better to have a happy group,” Chang said.

“We have a pretty experienced cast this time,” Anselmo said. Experienced actors know and trust the directors as well as their own instincts. Anselmo and Chang credit the success of the Little Theatre to the dedication and hard work of the numerous volunteers. “We as directors don’t operate in a vacuum,” Anselmo said. “Overwhelmingly, you need a good team,” Chang added.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in