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Behind the Scenes of ‘The Foreigner’

Mar 09, 2016 12:50PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Amanda Butler \ amanda@mycityjournals.com

Midvale - Midvale Arts Council (MAC) presented “The Foreigner” by Larry Shue on February 19-27. The play tells the story of Charlie Baker, a shy guest at Betty Meek’s fishing lodge. In order to spare Charlie from having to socialize with others, his friend “Froggy” LeSueur convinces everyone that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn’t speak English, and high jinks ensue.

But before audiences could enjoy that story onstage, another story took place behind the scenes. Bringing the world of “The Foreigner” to life required a great deal of work from a few very dedicated people. 

“For this show we actually have a limited staff. We have a director, a stage manager, a set designer and a lighting tech. So there are basically six of us on the production side, and there are seven actors on stage,” Stephanie Johnson, president of the Midvale Arts Volunteer Council, said. “We estimate that with our combined efforts it is going to take over 2,000 hours of volunteer work to put on this production. For our larger outside productions that number is almost triple.”

Many of those hours included rehearsals, which were held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights as well as Saturday mornings for about three to four hours each. “They have been rehearsing since Jan. 9, so it will be five weeks of rehearsals, one week of tech and then one week of performance,” Johnson said.

Long hours of extensive effort also went into building the sets, according to Melody Chapman, who produced the play. “It takes weeks to get this kind of thing done and get the set dressed so it is finished and looks like an actual bed and breakfast fishing lodge.”

“All of our actors are volunteer,” Johnson said. “We do pay our production team a very small stipend for time, but we kind of did the math and it turns out to be about a penny an hour. So we certainly don’t do it for the money. All of this is done because we love bringing art to the community, and we cannot do what Melody and I do without volunteers who love to share their talents.”

The cast and crew members spoke of that love and how much they enjoy working in theater. 

DeeDee Palmer, who was the stage manager and prop mistress for the play, said, “Some people think of theater as something else to do on the side. For me it literally has become my drive and what I love to do.” 

Palmer has worked with MAC for five years and has been involved with nearly every production in that time. She shared her personal connection to the play: “This set reminds me of home, because a lot of the things we have as far as set dressing are from my parents’ house. So it’s nice to see all of those older, antique-looking things being incorporated into something that I love.”

For some of the actors, the show provided the fun of being someone else for a while and a chance to meet like-minded people.

“In reality, I’m a very shy person. I’m kind of timid; I have a hard time getting to know people,” actor Chris Kucera said. “The two things I really enjoy about it is at least for the month or two or however long the rehearsals and performances are going on, I get to become part of a whole new family of people. \Especially in small casts like this, you get very, very close. And then it’s an opportunity to go up on stage and be someone else. So for a little bit, I get to not be me.”

Actress Nancy Jensen agreed. “It’s a very interesting thing about a lot of actors; a lot of us are pretty shy [and] pretty reclusive, but we can get up there and do that because it’s not us,” she said. “We put on another persona, and we can do things that we couldn’t do in real life.”

Chapman said she particularly likes “The Foreigner” because she can relate to Charlie. “I have social anxiety, believe it or not, being in theater, and the main character in the show also has anxiety being around other people. So it’s his way to come into an environment he’s uncomfortable with and be comfortable with it in the end because of all the great characters.”

Bruce Craven, who has been with MAC since its inception, as both an actor and a director, directed the play. He said his favorite thing being a director is “creating -- taking the words that the author has written and making them come to life. Sometimes maybe I interpret them different than another director, but it’s my interpretation, how I want to see it come to life, and trying to find the meaning behind the lines.”

“I’ve been lucky to be able to do a lot of things I’ve wanted to do,” Craven explained. “I got into directing because I just felt there were other stories to be told that sometimes other directors didn’t pick up on. I just wanted to make people feel good. I wanted to make people feel a rollercoaster of emotions no matter what the show. This is a comedy, but we have a love story, we have tragedy, we have all different kinds of layers, so people feel an emotion when they come to this show—they’re not just sitting and watching funny things.”

A few of the actors had been in other productions of “The Foreigner,” while some were experiencing the play for the first time. All of the cast and crew members spoke of how much they liked the play.

“This is actually my third time doing ‘The Foreigner,’” actor Jenner Bate said. “Each time is a different role, so it’s kind of fun to play Charlie this time. I think the best thing about ‘The Foreigner’ is that it just tells a genuine story of somebody who was once very frightened and he’s forced to become something else, and to see that transition and the effect one person can have on the whole group.”

Actor Thomas Kulkus enjoyed the play’s humor and message. “The writing is so funny,” he said. “It’s so well written and it’s so well scripted. I’ve never actually seen it before or read the script before until auditions for this came about. It’s just a really sweet story, and it has a really strong message about acceptance and not seeing people for their definition necessarily, but for who they are. That’s something I really love about the script.”

Craven agreed. “There’s visual comedy, and there’s wordplay comedy,” he said. He also spoke of the play’s relatability. “There’s feelings of things we’ve all been in—we’ve all been in those uncomfortable positions, whether we’re on an airplane and we don’t want somebody to talk to us, or we just want to be left alone, and yet some personality is bigger than that and makes us talk and makes us part of that, wherever we are. And that’s what this show is. It’s slices of life that we all feel at one time or another.”   

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