Q&A with Colleen Kelly, the Director of MIDDLETOWN

Middletown opens this weekend! What’s that?! You want to hear from the show’s director, Colleen Kelly? Well, you’re in luck! We here at the Heritage Blog got a chance to sit down and chat with her about the upcoming production, check it out below!

Hi Colleen, thanks for taking some time out of tech week to sit down with me and answer a few questions! I know you’re busy, so let’s not waste any time, what about Middletown first drew you to the play?

Two things. First, the story. I was intrigued by this contemporary spin on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. The citizens of Middletown, however, are more diverse and quirky [than in Our Town] and I was captivated by how the characters deal with the challenges of a modern world. Second, I was drawn to Will Eno’s playful language. He has such a talent for juggling the poetic with the pedestrian and the profound with the simplistic.

Speaking of the citizens of Middletown, your cast spans a huge age and experience range, do you find yourself having to wear a bunch of different director hats to get the best out of everyone? 

I do, but nothing has been a surprise. When I was casting the show, I knew I wanted a company that reflected the age and life-experience of Middletown citizens. As a director, I try to adjust my own directing style and the rehearsal schedule to accommodate what the play demands and the cast needs. For example, I anticipated that a very young actor in the play might be shy about speaking her lines aloud so I scheduled time for her to lead a few vocal warmups with cast members to boost her confidence—during those times she was responsible for assuring actors had a strong physical presence and lines could be heard and understood.

That’s awesome, I’m sure everyone enjoyed that. You mentioned Will Eno’s wonderfully odd writing style, what are some things you are asking the actors to focus on when it comes to the text?

The play has several themes as through lines and Mr. Eno uses repetition of words and ideas throughout. I’ve asked the actors to be aware of connective themes in the play and be aware when other characters use the same words or phrases that they use, but, as characters, to stick to their specific point of view. It is OK if a theme takes a right turn in one scene and a left in another. It is OK if ideas have varying importance to characters in the play or a word has a different definition for one character than it has for another.

You referred to Middletown as a contemporary take on Our Town, do you find yourself leaning into that as a source of inspiration, or are you pulling away from those ideas?

That connection was certainly on my mind when I first decided to direct the play, but then I just focused on directing Middletown. The stories of the citizens of Wilder’s Grover’s Corners and Eno’s Middletown parallel in that people are born and people die and, during the time between, they just try to figure it all out. However, figuring it all out in 1938 is much different than figuring it all out in 2017.

What has been your favorite part of working on this play?

Throughout the whole rehearsal process, each actor has brought their unique talent and perspective to this story of Middletown, and it has been a joy to shape all of that into a cohesive message. The play has a prologue, 2 acts and 24 scenes. Another exciting element of directing this play—and, perhaps, the most challenging—is staging the flow between scenes. Sometimes the challenge is practical: how to get set pieces and actors on and off the stage. Sometimes the challenge is aesthetic: how to seamlessly continue a theme or abruptly change a point of view. Finding these solutions with the cast has been exciting, and I’m looking forward to sharing the work with our audience!

Thanks again for your time Colleen, best of luck with your final week of rehearsals, we’re all really looking forward to seeing the show!