Playhouse on Park

An In-Depth Interview with Sean Harris on “The Scottsboro Boys”

The Scottsboro Boys are making Connecticut History

by contributing writer, Amanda Forker

After their critically acclaimed, sold-out run of Lin Manuel Miranda’s, In the Heights, last summer, the artistic and executive directors of Playhouse on Park (Sean Harris, Darlene Zoller and Tracy Flater) know that producing The Scottsboro Boys presents some unique risks and challenges they haven’t faced before. They also know that they have a responsibility to produce relevant shows with diverse casts, involve their community through educational outreach and share vital stories that need to be told. They are ready for this challenge and eager to engage the community in the process.

The Scottsboro Boys is a musical that tells the true story of nine, young African-American men who were falsely accused of rape on March 25, 1931, and the grievous injustices they faced throughout the rest of their lives because of it. Written by the popular musical songwriting team, Kander & Ebb (ChicagoCabaretFosse), this musical received the highest of praise, but also met with some harsh criticism during its two-month run on Broadway in 2010. To be frank, this is a controversial show and a box-office risk for any theater company brave enough to perform it…and it’s coming to Playhouse on Park this summer.

As the 88th anniversary of the terrible event approached, I reached out to Sean Harris, who will also be directing the upcoming production of The Scottsboro Boys, to ask him some questions about this exciting and ambitious endeavor.

June 26-August 4

Q:  What motivated you to choose The Scottsboro Boys for the last show of your 10th season?

Sean:  I think The Scottsboro Boys represents exactly who we are as a theatre. Our mission has always been to find ways to challenge, entertain, and educate audiences, while immersing them in the story. We framed the theme of our tenth season around bravery. This production highlights the undeniable bravery of the characters but also calls us to step up to the challenge of producing it. We can think of no better way of not only celebrating our 10th Anniversary season, but doing justice to that achievement by producing this most important story.

Q:  Why is this is an important show for Playhouse on Park to produce?

Sean: This show features a fabulous range of musical styles and the opportunity to develop exciting choreography. But it also tells a profoundly important, true story that too many people know nothing about – nine young men falsely accused of rape in the 1930’s, whose criminal cases ultimately led to two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings reversing their convictions, but whose lives were nevertheless ruined.   Racism, then and now, is often too difficult to discuss or can be brushed under the rug; the story of the Scottsboro Boys is no different. Yet, the music and the dance numbers are not only spectacular but critical to helping the characters tell their truth in a way that audiences can receive and, hopefully, not forget. Using the intimacy of our theater space, we want to create an immersive and visceral connection with the characters as well as a communal experience for our audiences.  

Q:  How do you think this show will benefit the Greater Hartford Community?

Sean:  The show has never been done before in Connecticut, so being able to tell this important story in the Greater Hartford Community is really special. We hope to learn and grow along with the community and we’re excited to engage with people after each show.  

Q:  Professional productions of The Scottsboro Boys have been met with protests and criticism for its use of minstrelsy and blackface. Considering current events, what are your thoughts on why they are necessary aspects of the show?

Sean: From what I understand, many (if not most) of those who protested The Scottsboro Boys during its run on Broadway did not see the show. I believe that Joyce Kulhawik, in an article she wrote on October 27, 2016 entitled; “A Tale of Justice Deferred in SpeakEasy’s Sharp-Edged ‘Scottsboro Boys,'” put it best: “Unlike an historic minstrel show, with its white (and often black) actors in blackface playing stock characters that caricature black folks, this cast of minstrels is entirely black. It proceeds to caricature the white folks, from the women who initially accused the boys to the politicians, police and lawyers who victimized them. The show takes the racial stereotypes of minstrelsy and puts them at the mercy of a true tale of racial prejudice. This subversive device is as brilliant as it is disturbing, affording us a rich menu of gospel, blues, ragtime, jazz and tap, and paying homage to the song, dance and narrative foundations upon which musical theater is built.”

Q:  Were you familiar with the story of The Scottsboro Boys before choosing this musical?

Sean:  I was only passively familiar with the story. My history books in high school and college very rarely addressed the darkest parts of American history, especially those parts steeped in racism. When we started talking about this show as a possibility, I dove deeper into the research and knew that this was a story that needed to be told again.   

Q:  How do you intend to engage the community in this production?

Sean: We will be having facilitated question and answer sessions with the audience and cast after every performance hosted by guests from the community. In the months before the run, we have a committee focused specifically on outreach and we hope to talk about the show as much as possible. We plan to create a study guide, for both students and general audiences, to read in advance of seeing the show and will be adding relevant literature to our website. Additionally, we’re exploring panel presentations, seeking support for small group conversations with skilled facilitators, working on educational outreach for younger audiences and engaging community organizations.

Q:  What do you want the community to know about this show and your production of it?

Sean:  We want the community and our audiences to know that we are going to produce this show with thoughtfulness, sensitivity and a deep commitment to telling this story honestly, using the most of our creative abilities.

Q:  How do you intend to tell the story of these young, African American men and the injustices they faced, in an authentic, informed and compassionate way?

Sean:  Research is important but what has been most important for us as a predominantly white creative team is to acknowledge that it is not our story to tell. This story is masterfully told through the point of view of the nine young men and the last thing we want to do is to tell this predominantly African American cast how to feel. If we are successful in our commitment to tell this story honestly and with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, it is because we will have created and formed this story together. If we are successful in the telling of this story, the audience will feel that connection, too. 

Q:  What are you most excited about for this production?

Sean:  I am very excited for the creative process. I am convinced that we will be inspired and challenged by every moment in the rehearsal room. Given the extraordinary work of Kander and Ebb and the power of the story itself, I anticipate that our creative, artistic, and technical teams, together with the cast, will be pushed to the height of our artistic selves; it will be an unforgettable artistic journey.    I am also eager to have conversations: Conversations about the process, with the press, with the audiences and with the community. Ultimately, I believe that this show perfectly aligns (perhaps more so than any other we’ve ever done) with our artistic mission, which is to challenge, to educate and to entertain our audiences.              

director Sean Harris

*Some of the above responses have been edited for length and clarity.The Scottsboro Boys plays from June 26 through August 4 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m.; with an added Tuesday matinee July 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale now!
$40 to $50; $35 to $45 for students, seniors & Let’s GO Arts members.

860-523-5900 x10.http://www.playhouseonpark.org.

Seven Ways to Save Money at Playhouse on Park

As you may already know, Playhouse on Park keeps ticket prices low as part of our mission to offer professional quality theater at an accessible cost to our patrons! But, of course, we’re happy to offer these additional perks to those who are watching their budget and still want to have a great night out at the theater! If you’re not familiar with the deals we offer, read on:

Lunchtime specials

Do you and your friends want to see a Main Stage show for $10? Simply pick the day of the show you’d like to go to, and visit our friendly box office representative (on the day of that show) between the hours of 12pm and 1pm for a lunchtime special ticket! This amazing deal is available cash only, so if you’re in the neighborhood, come on over and grab your discounted tickets. Our computer system picks your tickets for you, but remember, there isn’t really a bad seat in the house! Please note that given the popularity of some shows, it’d be wise to call our box office when we open at 10am to check and see how that evening’s show has been selling.

Student Rush

What do you need? Your college ID and $10 cash. That’s it. Take a break from the books and join us to escape with live theater. Student rush begins 15 minutes prior to each show.

Senior Discounts

That’s right, you’ve paid full price your entire life and now it’s time to start taking advantage of your “senior” status! Anyone aged 62 and up receive a $5 discount on any of our Main Stage Series shows. Now isn’t that special?

Group Rates

Grab the girls from your book club, or a bunch of friends for a group date night, or a gaggle of little ones for a birthday party celebration and save when you come to see a show! Purchase 10 tickets or more and save 10% off of regular ticket price, and receive 1 additional complimentary ticket.

Let’s Go Arts!

Our friends at the Greater Hartford Arts Council has a discount membership program promoting arts and entertainment in our community. Contribute at least $50 to the United Arts Program and you’ll automatically be enrolled as a Let’s Go Arts! member, earning you discounts at local eateries, museums and theaters. We participate in this program and offer $5 off any Main Stage Series ticket to Let’s Go Arts! members.

Subscribe!

There are so many benefits to being a subscriber to our Main Stage Series here at Playhouse on Park, and for more details, click over to this post for a full rundown of the perks. Subscribe and save up to 20% off of individual ticket sales.

Previews & Tuesday Matinees

The two nights preceding opening night for each Main Stage show (Wednesday and Thursday, respectively) offer deeply discounted tickets. Each seat is only $17.50! These previews are for any last minute changes that the director or production team wants to adjust before opening night – other than that, everything is ready for the public, from lights to costumes! We also offer a 2pm Tuesday matinee during each run with all tickets priced at $22.50!

Any questions?

Our box office reps are standing by for any of your questions about these deals! Give us a ring at 860-523-5900 x10, or email us at boxoffice@playhouseonpark.org.

Cocktail on Park: Spiced New York Sour

Meredith Atkinson, Director of Marketing & Public Relations

“‘Unnecessary Farce’ mocks corruption, curious marital relationships, power abuse and sexist behavior. It may be seen as a necessary antidote to non-farcical real-life news events of recent weeks.” Chris Arnott, The Hartford Courant

What a month it’s been! One of the (many) things I’ve always loved about the Playhouse is the escape it provides for audience members. If you haven’t had the chance to see the Connecticut premiere of Unnecessary Farce, come join us for one of the final four performances! I’m guessing we could all use a few hours of laughter as a welcome distraction.

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Meredith Atkinson

 

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Meredith Atkinson

In honor of playwright Paul Slade Smith, current resident of the city that never sleeps, and West Hartford native, I mixed up a Spiced New York Sour. It’s a New York Sour variation, which is a riff on the classic Whiskey Sour. This is a PERFECT cocktail to serve to your guests next week before an indulgent Thanksgiving meal. And, as if you needed another reminder (I’m lookin’ at YOU, over-the-top gilded store displays), the holiday season is here. This cocktail is a perfect compliment (or antidote) to December festivities.

To make the Spiced New York Sour at home, you’ll need 2 ounces bourbon, 1 ounce fresh lemon juice, and 1 ounce cinnamon simple syrup (click here for the recipe!). Add ingredients to a shaker filled with ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice, and top with 1 ounce fruity red wine. (Protip: kill two birds with one stone and buy an inexpensive bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s young, light, fruit-forward and will go well on its own with turkey and the works!) Garnish with a flamed orange peel for an impressive (and smoky!) finishing touch.

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Meredith Atkinson

Speaking of cocktails, laughter, and overall much-needed cheer, Playhouse on Park is hosting two (BYOB!) comedy events next week: Comedy Night & Improv with Franklin’s Peaches & Friends! For tickets, info, or just a friendly voice at the other end of the line, call our box office at 860-523-5900 x10!

 

Eight Reasons to be a Subscriber at Playhouse on Park

Meredith Atkinson, Director of Marketing & Public Relations

You may be wondering why a subscription to Playhouse on Park would be a good idea, and we’re here to help you understand. In honor of our Eighth Season of being in operation, here are eight reasons to be a subscriber, although I’m sure we could think of more! Let’s kick it off with a general “why?:

  1. Branch Out

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Think about the last time you went to the movies, or loafed on the couch binge watching a new, innovative and addicting TV show. Could you reach out and touch the person you were watching on the screen? Were they that close? It’s a tale as old as time (as Mrs. Potts says): live theater is living and breathing. No option to rewind. No pause button. No post production. Actors and musicians are giving you all they have, and the particular performance you’ve chosen to attend is one-of-a-kind. They tap into emotions that strike a chord with fellow actors and audience members alike. The stage is magic, and Season Eight’s Mainstage Series boasts seven remarkable productions.

2. Same Seats
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Creature of habit? Wanna sit in your same favorite seats every time you come to Playhouse on Park? Say no more! When you become a subscriber, your tickets for each production are in the same spot. Don’t forget….the back row is only four seats from the stage in our intimate theater. So really, there’s not a bad seat in the house.

3. Save Time
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Not only do you have the same seats, but when you subscribe, you pick the date of each show ahead of time. For instance, our shows typically have a five week run. If Thursdays are best for you, sign up for a Thursday preview subscription. Or, if you like to get your fun in on the weekends, why not buy a First Saturday night subscription? It’s always impressive when you’re able to say you were there on opening weekend!

4. Change Plans
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So, now that you’ve got your seats and nights all planned out for the entire season, what do you do when a conflict arises? We totally get it! Things come up, things we don’t plan on, but alas: it’s adulting, y’all. Our friendly box office staff is standing by to help. Give us a call if you need to exchange your tickets for another night in the show’s run. We will try our very best to get you as close to your original seats as possible. You have flexibility as a subscriber.

5. Sneak Peeks
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As a subscriber, you’ll be invited to exclusive behind-the-scenes events, along with subscriber appreciation nights.

6. Be Family
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Being a subscriber pretty much guarantees you’ll be a part of the family here at Playhouse on Park. We’ll be seeing you at every show of the season, and chances are you’ll also get to know the other subscribers too! Our community is growing and we’d love to have you as a part of it!

7. Save Money
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Who doesn’t love saving a buck or two? Individual subscriptions offer a 20% savings over individual ticket prices. Sit down, do a little quick math, and be amazed at the money you’ll save by subscribing.

8. Feel Good
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When you subscribe to Playhouse on Park, you’re essentially giving back to the community. We are a non-profit professional theater that aims to bring the highest caliber of talent to Greater Hartford – and Connecticut’s – theater lovers. In fact, Money Magazine confirms this in their latest issue! We deliver in other ways, too, by offering comedy nights, theater education for children, and a reading series for emerging playwrights….just to name a few.

Subscriptions for Season Eight are still available! We also offer subscriptions for our comedy night series featuring awesome comics from around the country. Subscriptions are also great gifts for friends, too. Did we leave any questions unanswered? Give us a ring if you like, or visit our website, http://www.playhouseonpark.org.

 

Howdy, Neighbor! Meet: Petals & Paws

Linda Starr, Guest Contributor

Fall, with its comfortable temperatures and back-to-real-life vibe, is always a great time to get out and reconnect with neighbors we’ve hardly seen since Memorial Day. So last week, as Playhouse on Park prepared for its fall production of Little Shop of Horrors, a musical featuring a nerdy florist and a man-eating plant, I set off on the short walk to 268 Park Road to visit with neighbor Suzie Mathes at her family’s unique and flourishing business, Petals and Paws. I was especially eager to learn how the Mathes family decided to sell pet supplies and garden and floral supplies under a single roof. Suzie explained, however, that the combination wasn’t so much a decision as an evolution.dsc_0639dsc_0636The business began, Suzie explained, as Canton Feed and Supply, which provided grain to local dairy farmers, sometimes even swapping the grain for cream. As the area’s population of cattle declined through the years, the company gradually turned its focus to providing high quality food for all types of family pets, from dogs to rabbits to gerbils. Eventually, reasoning that people looking for healthful, chemical-free products for their pets would appreciate the same premium supplies for their yards and gardens, they began to grow that side of the business as well. Finally, in 2004, the Mathes family built and moved into a new building at 465 Albany Turnpike in Canton — and Petals and Paws was born!

Today, the Paws section of the flagship store features an extensive selection of natural, preservative-free pet food (including fridges of raw meat specially formulated for dogs), a huge variety of pet supplies, dog-grooming and dog-training services, and a weekly Yappy Hour for pets and their families. The Petals side offers everything a home gardener needs to create a healthy and beautiful yard and garden, including grass seed, lime, fertilizer, straw, mulch, and more. If you’re neither a gardener nor a pet owner, you can shop for house plants and cut flowers, bird feeders and birdseed — and even treat yourself to some homemade ice cream at the in-store Canton Creamery.

Petals and Paws opened its satellite Park Road store in January 2016. Although smaller than the Canton store, Park Road carries a nice selection of the same high quality, chemical-free pet and garden supplies. The most popular items at the West Hartford location, Suzie noted, are dog food (yes, including fridges full of raw meat) as well as bird feeders and birdseed.
I enjoyed my visit to Petals and Paws and was blown away by how knowledgeable and passionate the family is about all their products. Stop in to this Park Road neighbor when you get a chance. You won’t find any carnivorous plants, I’m afraid, but you can pick up some mums and some treats for Fido. And their Canton Creamery ice cream is available at Hall’s Market, only a short walk down the Road.

To learn more about Park Road businesses and to receive promotions and discounts just by visiting local stores and restaurants, be sure to download the free Park Road app. You’ll find it listed as Park_Road at the App Store on your mobile device.

photos: Meredith Atkinson

Cocktail on Park!

Meredith Atkinson, Director of Marketing & Public Relations

With July’s end, so left the cast and crew of A Chorus Line, our Season Seven Closer. Some days it was quiet, but for the most part, there was a different kind of hustle and bustle here at the Playhouse. Our exciting moments included: comedian Mike Jacobs returning to his old stomping grounds for a successful fundraiser, bidding a fond farewell to hardworking summer interns, the meeting of creative (or loquacious? wacky? take your pick!) minds for Play In A Day, and two nights in a row of hilarious improv.

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Meredith Atkinson

We are so excited to open Season Eight with Little Shop of Horrors! On a personal note, the music of Little Shop was one of my favorite things as a child. My cousins – the cool cousins, we all have them – introduced me to the movie when I was probably no more than 7 years old, and I was instantly hooked. It was a time of cassette tapes, and among my collection of hits taped off the radio was the Little Shop soundtrack. I should add that all of the cuss words were dubbed over carefully by my older cousin who considered my age and, therefore, impressionable mind. Of course I knew that “sugar” when uttered by Audrey II was really “shit” but that made it all the more funny, I guess.

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Meredith Atkinson

So anyway, our cast is in the midst of rehearsals and they already sound amazing! What better way to celebrate the beginning of Season Eight and Little Shop than with a cocktail? My list of favorites gets longer as I grow older, and mixing drinks has been on the list for a while now. I decided to turn to Audrey for some inspiration, riffed on a classic cocktail, and the result was Somewhere That’s Green, a pleasantly floral and herbal mix.

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Meredith Atkinson

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Meredith Atkinson

If you’d like to make this at home, you’ll need: 3/4 oz gin, 3/4 oz Wild Moon Lavender Liqueur (made in Hartford!), 1/2 oz Green Chartreuse (a delightful herbal liqueur), and 1/2 oz fresh lime juice. Add all of those ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, shake well and strain into a chilled coupe glass. A word of fair warning: one too many of these drinks, and you’ll be channeling Audrey in your kitchen like:giphySo you’re probably better off calling our box office for tickets before you start mixing. We’ll be waiting for your call! 860-523-5900 x10!

Playhouse Spotlight: Mollie Cook

Nathan Schachter, Summer Intern, UConn ’19

Aside from the many actors, directors, and designers employed by the Playhouse on Park for each show, there are many people who work daily year-round to keep our wonderful theatre running! I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mollie Cook, Stage Manager and Box Office Manager, to hear about the day to day routine of running a non-profit theatre.
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Tell me about yourself!
 I graduated from UMass Amherst in 2014 with a BA in Theater. I intentionally didn’t try to get a BFA and fail. I love golden retrievers a lot, and soon I’m moving to New York City!

How long have you been at the Playhouse?
    I’ve been working here for six and a half years.

What was your first job here?
My first job was Assistant Stage Manager and Wardrobe Chief for Trapezium. It was the last show of our first season in 2010.

What is your daily routine like here at the Playhouse?
    It depends on what I’m doing because I have  many different jobs here. As Stage Manager and during rehearsals, I may not even be at the theatre. However, on a normal day, I come in at 10. The first thing I do is check my email (and I usually have a lot!). I check the phone for any messages and check the ticketing system for any unprinted tickets to be printed and sorted. I then sit and wait for any customers to come in or call to buy tickets! Basically, I make sure everything goes smoothly in the box office and answer anyone’s questions about the Playhouse.

What is the process like before a show opens?
 As a stage manager, in order to get a show up, I coordinate and make sure everything that’s supposed to happen, happens. It’s hard to describe because there are so many different tasks that come under one umbrella – sending lots of emails, networking with people, emotionally supporting a whole cast and crew. I like to think of myself as the parent of the production, but that’s not a great analogy because it implies a difference in status and it’s not. I consider everyone – actors, directors, designers – to be on the same level doing different jobs.
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What is it like being involved both in the office and on a production?
 It’s actually really rewarding because I can experience the full breadth of what theatre has to offer. I really like stage managing but there’s an isolating quality about sitting by myself in a dark booth all the time. I like being in the box office – in the LIGHT – interacting with people. One of my favorite things is when patrons give me honest feedback about the show, but they don’t know I’m also the Stage Manager. Most people wouldn’t get to hear that they messed up a lighting cue or that something went wrong in the show. It’s interesting to have these kinds of interactions being on both side of the business. Both satisfy very different professional interests.

What’s the most challenging part about working for a theatre?
   Artistic personalities! Both of my jobs are about management and being organized. I love arts people, but they’re so focused on their work that often its difficult to figure out the most effective way to communicate to them. I’m not criticizing them; I’ve been in their shoes! I would also consider myself an artist from costume designing shows.

What is the most rewarding?
The best part is when I’m able to figure out how to talk to them! It’s like a piece of the puzzle coming together when everyone gets on the same page to reach a common goal.
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Do you have any other hobbies?
 Honestly, no. Another challenge about working for a theatre is that I have very little spare time. I love what I do at work, but when I’m home, I like to sleep, eat, and not move as much as possible. Kathleen (Company Manager and Education Associate at Playhouse on Park) and I love watching Free Form (formerly ABC) on Tuesday nights.

I know that you’re heading into your last few weeks before leaving the Playhouse after 7 years! What do you think you’ll take with you the most from this experience? What do you see yourself doing in the future?
 I’ve definitely acquired a very intense work ethic.  I’ll be able to be self sufficient in any job because of this theatre. I have no idea what I’ll be doing in the future because I want to be a wedding planner, but I also want to open an old dog sanctuary. I may even be in a scientific study for the aquagenic wrinkling of my palms!  I’ll probably stay in theatre because that’s where my training is. I could see myself stage managing Off-Broadway.