Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on CAST in McLean

By • Jul 13th, 2006 • Category: Interviews

Listen to our interview with Doug Stroock and Shelly Horn [MP3 26:43 7.7MB].

Mike: Today the ShowBizRadio Spotlight is on CAST in McLean, with Doug Stroock and Shelly Horn.

Laura: Well, welcome to you both. Thanks for coming down today. Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Shelly: I’m the director for this particular show. This is my third show with CAST in McLean. Previously I did Annie and Grease. I’m glad to be back. I love this theater. I love this company and the Alden itself. It’s a great old theater. I’ve been directing for about twenty years in all different places throughout the area, starting at the University of Maryland and here I am today.

Doug: I am the producer for the show. I am also on the board of CAST. This is my first community theater show. I was a professional pianist that played all over the place. I played in shows in high school and I’m married to someone who is in community theater. Here I am today producing a show. I’m really excited, CAST is great. I’ve seen a whole bunch of their shows and I’ve seen community theater all over the place here. Now it’s fun to be involved.

Mike: Which do you like better; playing the piano or being involved in the show part of things?

Doug: Ask me that question do I enjoy playing piano in shows or just playing piano? I like them both for different reasons. The producer part I can really go after the business aspect of it. The piano aspect is fun because I get to play around with the creative side. I really enjoy both of them for completely different reasons. It’s kind of fun to do something different with this area.

Laura: What made the 1940’s Radio Hour interesting to you that made you want to choose it?

Shelly: This show is different than a lot of other musicals. It’s almost a straight play and then a show within a show. It was interesting because it has a whole different dynamic and approach. It’s not your same old musical, which I love. That was one thing. The other thing is it’s almost a parallel to community theater. It’s really about a second hand group of radio show people who think this is the best thing in the world. They work regular jobs. And then they come and do this. It’s very similar to what we all do. We all have jobs to make sure we can pay our mortgage and feed our family and everything. And then at night we go and do theater. We can relate to it in a lot of ways. It’s a lot of fun. We’re getting a lot out of it because everybody can relate in their own way.

Doug: From my perspective I can agree with everything Shelly said. It’s a unique show. You see in community theater the same shows being done over and over and over again. You sort of get tired of seeing them. So when you go to do a more unique show, there will be a lot of things people will not know about the show. This show is different. All of the music in it, is all the great music from the 30’s and 40’s. Some of it is from the 20’s that everybody knows. There’s Gershwin and Cole Porter and the like. You don’t see that very often so it has a unique play aspect to it. Then there is this great music bam, one after another. It is very recognizable. That just made it very enticing to do.

Mike: Was getting performers that could sing and dance a hardship? Trying to get someone that could do both?

Shelly: No. It really wasn’t. One of the beauties of this show was that we have three actors who don’t sing at all. They were great character actors who were able to come in and do a musical which normally you can’t get. And then we have the people who would be in a regular musical who can sing, who can act, who can dance. And we really hit the jackpot. It’s a small cast, there are only thirteen people. So we only needed ten actors who could sing and dance, etc. Plus we had this amazing choreographer, that I may say, who was able to take each level of talent when it came to dance and really do something with it.

In another case, we have a young lady who’s playing a role who needs to tap a lot. We lucked out because she actually has experience tapping. So when you see her on stage and you think, “Good golly, where did this come from?” Because she’s so talented. So it all came together exactly as we needed it to. It wasn’t difficult. We had a lot of people try out for this show and we only could cast thirteen. It was a good opportunity and we ended up with great people.

Doug: In the DC area what I’m amazed by is just the astounding level of talent. Something that I’m not used to, growing up in Pennsylvania and seeing what goes on there. Going to Philly or New York and there’d be a lot of talent there. DC really has a lot of talent. Especially people who have done things professionally in the past and have retired from it, but still do community theater. I mean you see, I don’t know how you feel Shelly, but I think this cast is probably one of the most talented I’ve seen together and from top to bottom. A lot of times in community theater you have a couple stars and then it kind of exponentially drops down and you kind of have your background chorus of people who just had fun. But who can’t really sing or dance or act or really do anything. This is a very ensemble show so everybody had a very equal role in it. There’s no real true star. Everybody is talented from top to bottom. It’s really an amazing thing to see.

Laura: How did you go about casting? Do you have an email list? How did you get the group together that you have?

Doug: We have an email list. We put posters up. We talked to our friends of our friends of our friends. We put an ad out. CAST has been around for thirteen, fourteen years now. Through the network we knew a lot of people and through Shelly’s network of doing this for twenty years and x number of years in this area she knows people and then our affiliation with other groups. We could go with Great Falls Players and Foundry Players and other groups in this area. They send emails out to their area lists. It’s just kind of a big web and “ping!” and tons of people get hit. It works really well that way.

Mike: So the team of people behind the scenes. Did everybody work together well? Were there any issues that came up or any differences? Differences of vision for how the show should work?

Shelly: In this show we had a first time producer, a first time musical director, and a relatively new choreographer. So there were a lot of things we had to cover that we might not have had to cover in other situations. Because of that we had to communicate an extra amount. For instance I sent emails almost everyday at the beginning to the musical director and choreographer and cc’d Doug to say what have you covered, where are you, what do you need type of thing. There had to be extra communication. Were we on the same page? We were definitely on the same page.

The director is usually the one who comes up with sort of the vision and then everybody goes along with it. But based on their own approaches and their own attitudes and things. So I met individually with the choreographer and said, “These are the kinds of things I’m thinking. It doesn’t have to be this way, but this is what I’m thinking.” Especially in this case I was very lucky as I said earlier with a very talented choreographer who was able to take those things and make them happen. So we did all work pretty closely together in an unusual way because we had new people. But in a way that I think, I hope, will enable them in the future to work with other people. We are ending up with a pretty good product.

Doug: We have a great mix. Intentionally, a great mix of experience. We have two stage mangers. One of them it’s her first time being a stage manger. She’s been in fifty shows in this area. The co-stage manger has been doing stage managing for probably twenty years. It kind of goes back and forth a lot with all of the areas throughout. New people, and then more experienced people, to compliment them. I like the mix. Sometimes you can bring new people in they can bring a fresh perspective on things. Sometimes when you’re involved with something for five, ten, twenty years you understand one certain way of doing things and you don’t necessarily look out of the box. That’s not to say that’s how it is within our organization or the people in our organization. But when you look at boards and people who have been in certain areas sometimes that can happen. It’s good to bring in fresh meat I guess you could say once in a while, especially in community theater.

There’s a tendency for boards and groups to have the same people over and over and over year after year after year and eventually we all look around and say, “Wow, we’re all seventy-five. Where are we going to get the next group of people?” I think over all when you take a look at it, yes it was interesting, but I think the product in the end is excellent. I think it’s going to be a really good show.

Mike: When did the whole process start? I know you didn’t start last week, it takes time. How much time does it really take to do a three week production?

Doug: Two to three weeks ago?

Shelly: Yeah, that’s funny. Let’s see we started. When did we start? The middle of April? I think we had ten weeks.

Doug: We technically started in December. From a board perspective we had to pick a show. We had to figure out in December, which is technically pretty late to do this. We decided to come down to two or three shows. We actually sent bids out or actually sent ads out and had people come in and make bids on shows that they wanted to do. That’s where we got Shelly from.

Shelly: Interviewed.

Doug: Yeah interviewed.

Shelly: You don’t bid on a show.

Doug: So she interviewed and then started from there between January and April a lot of the back work was done in terms of setting up logistics and finding rehearsal spaces and doing some of the side events that we were working on and marketing and making money. All of the fun and exciting stuff that no one ever sees. Then auditions in April and I’ll let her continue from there.

Shelly: Then we started rehearsing right away. And as always happens in community theater, we lost a couple of actors for other reasons. We had to bring new actors in. So we needed all that time to really get ready. We did music, choreography, blocking as much as we possibly could. About two weeks ago we started running the show as much as possible over and over again. We started teching the show on Saturday. Now we’re adding in sound, lights, set, props, costumes, makeup, hair, everything.

Laura: How is putting together a musical different from putting together a play? Is there a different process?

Shelly: There is definitely a different process from putting together a musical than a straight play. A play is definitely easier. Although it depends on the show and how complex it is and the actors and things, but the beauty of putting a play together is that you don’t have the music, you don’t have to teach the music. You don’t have to get the orchestra together. You don’t have to do choreography. So you have a lot more time to block a show and put a show together and run it. Do a speed through, which is always a luxury. You start at the beginning and you just do line after line after line as fast as you can without pausing. This really helps the actors get to know their lines. You really get to spend a lot more time on character when doing a straight play. You really can delve into it and be creative.

When it comes to a musical you don’t have as much luxury because you have to spend more time doing music and choreography and etc. This show, actually was a combination of both. Even though this show doesn’t have an intermission. It’s one whole act. We’re calling it Act One and Act Two. Act One is the show before the musical part. We have almost an act where it’s like a play. We were able to do a speed through a bunch of times. And then the second art is the music and the choreography. It has some bits and things in it. So we almost had the best of both worlds for this particular show. Musicals you definitely can’t delve into character as much unless you really spend a lot more time outside doing it because you really have to put all those components together.

Mike: Tell us about some of the special events that are going on with the coordinating of the show.

Doug: Sure. We have a different event for every show. Some of them are a little bit redundant, but they’re all great events. The first event we have is on opening night. It’s our Veterans Night. What it is is there is a strong military theme to the show, so we wanted to honor our veterans. There is a lot going on in the world right now with our military and the like. So we wanted to honor our veterans by offering free tickets to any veterans who would like to come and offering discounted tickets to their spouses. Hopefully it will be a great event. It looks like it will be well attended. We’re actually working right now with busing in a bunch of veterans from Walter Reid who were injured in Iraq. So we’ve got the transportation all lined up, now we just need to find the veterans. It should be good.

The concept of all this is that we don’t want this to be just a show. Amateur shows are a bunch of people who get together, put on a show and they go away and that’s that. Maybe they become friends, maybe not. It’s like a boat with no wake. It just kind of goes and after the boat passes by there is nothing left of it. We wanted it to be more of an experience where we wanted to reach out and sort of touch the community and bring it back in and make it more of a community theater thing. So that’s why we’re doing it.

The other events we’re doing is some wine and cheese events that are sponsored by Cabot Cheese and Fine We’ll do some tasting and learn a little about cheese and some wine. We’re doing that on the first two Saturday nights.

On the Sunday matinees we’re going to do student matinees. A sort of behind the scenes thing. We’ll do some pictorial exhibitions of the production process. So you get to see picture of putting together the set, and auditions. You get to see all the set designs from the beginning to the end. Take a look at the sound effects. It’s a radio show so there’s a lot of sound effects in the show. So we get to play around with those and learn how they work. Listen to some of the old radio shows, see some of the old scripts. Then take a backstage tour. Talk a little bit about what’s on the stage and take a look back at the greenroom and the shop and stuff like that. All to reach out to kids and talk about that.

Lastly we have what’s called the Perspective Discussion series. It’s three diferent talks. The first is with Ed Walker who is a luminary in terms of radio in this area. He’s been hosting the Big Broadcast for fifty years. He did radio with Willard Scott and NBC for twenty-five years. He’s going to come and talk about his experiences doing radio shows and radio shows during the 40’s. We have Rob Bamberger who was the host of Hot Jazz Saturday Night on NPR and also WAMU. He’s going to come in and talk about the music and some of the history around the show. Lastly is Bob Phillips who was a sound engineer for Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. He was there when Bing kind of changed how radio was done. They used to do a live radio show and Bing got tired of doing the live things because it was really intensive and really a lot of work. So he wanted to record it so he could be out at his ranch and hang out and be relaxed. So he was doing a lot of the engineering with magnetic tapes. He will be able to play some clips and talk really about first hand experience about how radio changed from the 40’s to the 50’s.

It’s a very wide range of events, but when you take a look at the discussions we kind of hit every area of the show. So it’s really sort of an over all learning experience. All of the events are free. We hope that people will buy a ticket to come see the show as well, but they are more than welcome to come to any of the events for free. I could talk about the raffle, too.

Mike: Ok, tell us about the raffle.

Doug: We are raffling off quite a few events. One of which is headlined by a resort and spa. A five day four night resort spa to Top Notch Resort & Spa in Stowe, Vermont. It is like a four or five star resort, sponsored by both Cabot and Top Notch Resorts. It includes things like spa treatments and stuff like that. We have all sorts of tickets to area venues like Wolf Trap, George Mason University, Round House Theater. Also gift certificates for restaurants in the area such as Pulcinella and J. Gilbert’s. Gift certificates to Tree Top Kids during the Sunday matinees. Washington is also helping us out. We also have a full subscription to the McLean Symphony Orchestra, two tickets to that. So quite a wide range of things.

Shelly: How do you get a raffle ticket?

Doug: You come to any one of our events. That’s a good question to ask. We are selling our raffle tickets one for five dollars, four for ten dollars. They’ll be available before and after any event. We will be doing the final drawing after the last show, but every night we will be raffling off something different.

Mike: There was some controversy up here in McLean a few months ago regarding the use of the McLean Community Center. There are several groups that use the community center. CAST and Great Fall Players have merged together. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Doug: Sure. We haven’t merged together yet. We’re in the proces of merging. We went before the full board of the McLean Community Center. They thought it was a great idea and they forwarded it off to a diferent subcommittee to talk about it. I think there are some bylaws that have to be changed to allow this to happen. It’s something that CAST and Great Falls Players have been talking about for many years. It really makes sense. CAST has always produced somewhat of a big musical during the summer and Great Falls Players has done a number of things. They do a couple plays. Occasionally they do a couple of plays and a musical. It kind of varies back and forth.

When you take a look at it, we’re all here at the same place. It’s a lot of the same people doing a lot of the same things on the back side and performing. It didn’t make sense for us to continue being two separate organizations. It’s a huge advantage to the McLean community. It’s a huge advantage to us as an organization to merge. We have twice as many assets. We can start marketing a season as opposed to a show in the Fall and the Spring. Or a show in the Summer. It’s a lot easier to get advertisers. It’s a lot easier to go out and do bigger things combined. Plus working with the McLean Community Center really improves our relationship on a number of aspects. It wasn’t something that the center was forcing us to do or even asked us to do. It was something that we see as being able to have one interface between us and them as opposed to worrying about, “well Great Falls is going to get this thing and CAST is going to get this thing.” Together we form a really strong partnership. I think it’s major benefit to everybody. I’m real excited about it.

Mike: So when do you think that might be official? Is it like months and months or years?

Doug: No. I hope not. Probably by the end of the Summer. There are a lot of legal things that go into doing a merger. From the perspective of the McLean Community Center it’s probably fairly easy. I won’t speak for them specifically. It’s not very difficult. From our side there’s the legal aspect of becoming one corporation, a non-profit organization. Merging the money and the decision making stuff. Most of that has been done already. We’re mid season right now for us. Great Falls Players has one more show coming up this Fall. After that’s done is pretty much when we’re aiming to do it. We’re about as close as you can get now because when you take a look at everything we’re doing. We have Great Falls people helping out backstage. Our stuff is housed in the same facility. From a personnel and a people stand point, we really are one organization now. It’s just that legaleze that really needs to be cleared up.

Laura: Will you have a new name?

Doug: Yes. We will be the McLean Community Players.

Mike: Is there anything you’d like to share with us that we haven’t touched on about the show or future plans or anything? What are your future plans after this closes?

Doug: Shelly’s looking at me. A long vacation. The show itself has really been a lot of fun putting this show together. I’ve learned so much from the perspective of interacting with people and learning how a show gets put together. I played in the pit a lot. You don’t really see a lot of what goes behind the scenes and what really goes on in a show and all the blood and guts that go into it. It’s a full time job in a lot of aspects and not just from a producer, but also from a director’s stand point and a music director’s stand point. The work that the cast has put in. It’s really impressive to me to see people doing something with such passion. There’s no money involved in this. They’re not in this to make money. They’re in this to have fun and enjoy themselves. It’s a lot of work to do something just to have fun. That’s been impressive to me. I’m really looking forward to seeing the show for real. Seeing how everything works out. I think it’s going to be great.

Shelly: I am going on to my next show.

Mike: And what’s your next show?

Shelly: For right now, my next show is Fiddler. I have the CD in my car already to go. Last year I got a call from someone at my mother’s synagogue where I grew up, also in Potomac, saying that they were supposed to do Joseph. The woman who was supposed to direct it who was also a seasoned director wasn’t sure she would have enough time to put it on. It was getting late and she didn’t have a musical director and they didn’t know what to do. I said I’d be happy to help out and before I knew it I was directing the show. I brought in a buch of my friends and we put Joseph on. We made more than seven thousand dollars for the Synagogue. We had a heck of a time. We were sort of a combination, half of community theater people that I let know to please come audition, and half members of the synagogue.

Everybody bonded. It was just an amazing experience. In one performance we had more than 600 people. It was phenomenal. Everyone was so supportive. So we said we’re all going to go back, the same production team and we’re all going to do Fiddler. Our plans are to audition in November and then do the show in February.

When we were done with Joseph we took it on the road and went to some old age homes and different places and did sort of a smaller version and we’re going to do the same thing with Fiddler because everybody gets such a kick out of it. So that’s the plan.

There is the possibility that I might be doing Nunsense either before or after, but I don’t know about that yet. That’s where I’m going to go. Probably rest. I can’t help it. I’m like eager now to start again. Every stage that you’re at in a show you want to be at the next stage.

I love casting a show. It’s the best part because everybody wants to be your best friend. Then you cast it and not everybody is your best friend because you can’t cast everybody. Then you go through the rehearsal process. I always feel so creative because this is symbolic of that and nobody may notice, but I know that this is this and we start with his or we end with this or whatever happens. Then you get to where you’re putting it together and it’s not as much work and you can watch it and detail it and things. And that’s the best part. Then you tech and that’s always great. Like you Mike, I always take that week of from work. I stay up all night and sleep all day. It’s fabulous. Then you have performances and you have people coming up and saying,” Oh, what a great show.” You hope. But that’s great. And then you’re ready to start casting another show. So you always want the next step.

Doug: No one told me about the whole take the week off from work. I’ve just been up all night and then going to work.

Shelly: You have to learn that on your own.

Doug: Yeah. Next show. I just want to say for me, this whole process has really been an honor to work with Shelly. You hear this from the actors that she is really one of the best directors in the DC area. She has her act together. I’ve seen a bunch of shows and heard horror stories from my wife here or there about different things. Everybody is so happy in this show. You can see that her act is together. There is a lot of thought that goes into what she does and how she acts. I have learned so much from her from that stand point. Not from the show, but from the life’s perspective on how to interact with people. For me, I would work with her again in like a millisecond. There would be no decision in terms of that.

Shelly: If you weren’t married I swear. . .

Doug: In my book she is probably one of the best, if not the best, director in the DC area.

Mike: Well, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Shelly: Thank you.

Doug: Thank you.

Mike: We’re looking forward to coming this weekend and seeing the 1940’s Radio Hour. It’s at the McLean Community Center. Fridays and Saturdays at eight and Sundays at two.

Doug: Yes, two o’clock. Our special events start at seven and the matinees the McLean Community Center will actually open at noon and will run until like 1:45 or so.

Laura: And now, on with the show.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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