Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on Chip Gertzog

By • Apr 3rd, 2009 • Category: Interviews
Rehearsal for Murder
Providence Players
James Lee Community Center, Falls Church, VA
$15/$12 Seniors and Students
Playing through April 4th

Mike: This is Mike Clark with Show Biz Radio and I am talking Chip Gertzog who is the director of the Providence Players’ current production of Rehearsal For Murder. Thanks for talking with me, Chip.

Chip: Hey, Mike. Thanks for having me on.

Mike: You are the director of this show. What is Rehearsal For Murder about?

Chip: Well, it’s a murder mystery that takes place in an empty theater on Broadway. It is the story of a playwright who use his skills to ferret out a suspected murderer of his once fiance who died about a year before the show takes place.

Mike: What was your vision for the show as director?

Chip: The plot of the play was the main thing that the audience was going to get hooked into. That is where it started. I saw it pretty much as written. It was kind of a basic well designed mystery plot. Actually, in my opinion much better than the average story mysteries which is one of the things that attracted the Players to it. I did it simply and pretty straightforward just as it was written. Thanks to some creative idea from my set designer and my costume designer. We kind of put a sort of black and white feel to the whole story.

A lot of the story takes place in the playwright’s, the principal character that was played by Carl Nubile, memory and his remembrances and they are kind of flash back scenes. We used some kinds of lighting techniques to accentuate the kind of black and white feel of the show which helped with those memory sequences. As he goes bout investigating through a play reading, who might be the murderer of his fiance, we take the audience through the character’s back into what seems to be the remembrances of the characters of things past with Monica Welles, Alex Dennison the protagonist’s fiance.

We did it pretty much as the play is written. It is relatively simple to stage. We do it with a very minimal set and the set design very much involves some lighting work that we are pretty proud of that my lighting designer and technical director and also my son, Jimmy Gertzog put together. We tried to create a sort of old movie feel to the play in something where the audience would focus on the characters and through the characters the story, because it is the story that is the real grabber. As one line in the play says this play really takes the audience by the hand and leads them firmly in many wrong directions in order to fool them.

Mike: What would it have been like if we had done a really complicated set versus the simplistic set that we are using?

Chip: As you probably know about me, I’m a sort of big fancy elaborate detailed set kind of guy. You have had some experience with me in one of those, you have reviewed in other show that I have directed that took that angle. I sincerely believe that to try to do anything more with the set than the writers of the play envisioned would have actually taken away from the whole feel of fit. The audience is left with two fundamental things to work with. If the play works, and it seems to be successful with audiences so far, it is because they are left to focus almost entirely on the characters and the story itself.

I think if you were to produce this and you had the capabilities of doing the various scenes and settings that are depicted more or less in the memories of the characters on a relatively bare stage. At the very least it would not add anything to the story and in fact it could distract from it. My case in point is the original tele-play from which this stage play was drawn. It was actually written as a television show and then ultimately adapted for the stage. So I have seen it where the settings moves from place to place and it really adds nothing to the basic plot of the story. It does not help the audience at all.

I think it is a great vehicle for the actors to try to transport the audience without some of the typical tricks that I like to use which is a great set and a lot of rich detail in the set. It really puts the burden on the actors and the plot itself to carry the story forward and I think one of the reasons we like this play is that it does just that. It is a good yarn as my mom would have said. If you start there and put some interesting people performing interesting characters to tell the yarn, you have got a winner. So far with he audience that seems to have been the case. We are happy about that.

Mike: The cast has really come together as a good group. Is there anybody that you sort of pictured or a type you had for certain roles?

Chip: That is an interesting question. I think at this stage of the production everyone performing on stage is the vision of the person I wanted to play that role which is a testament to this group. As you know the Providence Players likes to develop and nurture talent from within the company and we also like to have new people join the company and be exposed to the Providence Players community theater experience.

This cast is a great example of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. We have some great new people on stage for the Players. Caroline Blackwell and Camille Piazza are two young ladies who are just terrific people to be around. They are marvelous actresses. They do a great job and they in many ways are what I had in mind for the character of Sally Bean, Alex Dennison the playwright’s secretary. Karen Daniels who is played by Caroline Blackwell. They pretty much fit the bill. I have people up there who were not necessarily physically what my original vision was. But I am not even going to bother to name them because like I say, each one of the people up there on stage now is in fact the vision of those character because they have brought them to life for me. It is a good cast and a fun cast.

I have been around a lot of shows. This is my 28th consecutive production with the Providence Players. I have seen lots of casts and most of the casts and most of the productions I absolutely fall in love with which is why I do this work or have this fun. This cast is as tight knit a group of people as I have ever worked with. They seem to enjoy each other immensely. They are very social. There are friendships that are formed that will go well beyond the boundaries of this production. We have got some great catalysts in their personalities that help bring that together. Mary Frances Dini comes to mind who plays two roles. Loretta the stage manager and the female detective. Mary is just a wonderful catalyst for bringing people together pretty much everywhere she goes.

And then Leta Hall who is a mainstay in community theater in the Washington area and a marvelous actress. She is somebody who is by nature is an incredibly inclusive person. She is theatrically deep, but from a personal perspective she is a marvelous person to have around. That catalyses the best in the rest of he group. It is just a great group of people to be around. Love working with them, going to miss it when it is over. That is true with every show that I’m going to do, but I think it is going to be especially true with his show.

Mike: So what is the next show you will be working on?

Chip: The Providence Players is doing Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and we are really excited about that. All My Sons is a play that sort of put Arthur Miller on the map as an important playwright. It is being directed by Beth Whitehead and has what I’m told by people, I have not actually met them all yet, but a really spectacular cast. That is going to be an interesting Providence Players production. A typical Providence Players production because it will have all the rich production values that I think our audience is used to seeing normally from us. An incredible set and just some great production values.

The interesting thing about this show is that as things stand right now, I think what I am going to be doing for that show is simply the production photography and and I will do some videography for that. My son and Sarah Mournigham. The two of them are my technical team for this show are actually going to be doing that production as well. I am told I am not going to be needed for lighting design help. I’m told I’m not going to be needed for booth help. So I think I am just going to enjoy one of my favorite things which is photographing Providence players shows and sit in the audience and clap along with everybody else.

As for beyond that, and that is the closing show for this season. Next season we are still in the process of finalizing things. If we get lucky there is a show I would be very interested in directing, but since we do not have the rights and have not formally announced our season I am going to keep folks in suspense over what that might be.

My next move after All My Sons will be light duty by my standards and maybe it is time to take a little bit of a rest. We will see what next year brings. There is always fun stuff to do with the Providence Players. I will be helping build the set. I do not even count that as a major role kind of thing because it is just something that set build, as you know, with the Providence Players is like a good old fashion barn raisings. There are an awful lot of people who come out to do an awful lot of different things. But All My Sons is up next and I will be around it to some extent.

Mike: Well, thank you very much for talking with me about Rehearsal For Murder. I have enjoyed it, that is for sure.

Chip: And, Mike I did not know if it is appropriate and you can choose to edit or not edit this as you see fit, but one of the other great pleasures I have had in doing this show is to work with Mike and Laura Clark as Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager. You have been fantastic. It has just been a textbook stage management/director relationship. I know I float around and haunt the theater as most of us in community theater do when we direct a show, but it has really been your and Jimmy’s to run and you have done a fabulous job. Anybody who wants a great stage management team: Mike and Laura Clark. I don’t know if that plug is allowed, but I’m doing it and you can always edit it, Mike.

Mike: Ok, well thank you very much. That is always nice to hear and yep, definitely had a good time with it that is for sure.

Chip: That’s great and that is why we do this and I am thrilled that you feel that way and my bet is you will be back to stage mange a Providence Players show sooner rather than later.

Mike: Yep, you never know so thanks.

Chip: Ok.

Mike: Well, thank you very much for chatting with me, I do appreciate it.

Chip: My pleasure Mike and we will see you for pick up rehearsal on Thursday.

Mike: Yep, will do.

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