Friday, October 1, 2010

M. BUTTERFLY: The Director

Michael Thomas acting: in the NCRT production of Jake's Women.

Michael Thomas is a busy guy. He’s Managing Artistic Director of North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka, where he directs and acts. He’s teaching theatre this term at both HSU and College of the Redwoods. Conducting daily three-hour rehearsals are only part of what he does as director of M. Butterfly. But directing for the first time at HSU, he’s not complaining.

He’s got a cast of various ages and levels of experience: mostly HSU students but also actors from the larger community. “I’m very pleased with the cast,” he said. “They’re all very hard-working, they have wonderful attitudes, everyone’s on time for rehearsals every night. They all have different needs, and I work with each of them the way they need to be worked with--I think that’s part of the director’s job.”

Playing the key role of the 65 year-old diplomat Gallimard is an experienced local actor who in productions like this one goes by the name of Lincoln Mitchell. “He’s an excellent actor with professional experience, so it’s a great opportunity for younger students to learn by watching this guy and seeing what he does. Especially since he’s on stage for most of this play—there’s a lot for them to observe.”

The other key role is Song Liling, the man who poses as a woman. In a few productions of M. Butterfly, this part was played by a woman, and in several by a non-Asian man. In contradiction to the playwright’s stated preference, sometimes this may indicate a difference in philosophy (i.e. “color-blind casting”) but in HSU’s case, it was the luck of the draw.

“We advertised for Asian American actors all summer,” Thomas said, “and we contacted Asian American actors we knew, but none were available. So we have an Asian American woman in the cast, but no Asian American men at all auditioned for the play.”

“But in other ways, Kyle Ryan is the perfect candidate. He’s a very strong actor, and he moves very well. He’s a dancer as well as an actor, and he knows what his body is doing on stage. He’s been in high heels from the first day, and has picked up the movements very quickly.”

“These two are very strong anchors for a generally strong cast.”

Thomas is also enjoying the technical capabilities of HSU and the Van Duzer Theatre. “The student designers, for set, makeup, costumes—their faculty advisors—we have production meetings of like 20 people giving their input, guidance and support. It’s a wonderful feeling for me that I have all these people I can depend on for their support and good work. It’s such a treat for me.”

“This play is a great opportunity for technical support because it is in many ways an Expressionist play—we see everything through the eyes of the main character, so the colors in a scene maybe aren’t what they really were but richer, more dreamlike. We can create some beautiful images that aren’t strictly realistic.”

And then there’s the music, and the dancing. “The play does call for a little dancing in the style of the Chinese Opera, which is new to our Western eyes. We researched it and our choreographer is working to duplicate some movements. That’s exciting, too.”

He wanted to direct this play because “it tells a good story. But also I like the way it’s structured. It’s not a linear plot, it skips around in time. It’s constructed in relatively short scenes—it’s glimpses, almost like memories, very dreamlike in a sense. It’s very fluid without being confusing. A character from a scene in one time will walk into a scene in another time. I like that a lot. The tweaking of time and space, it adds a whole other level.”

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” he concluded, “and I’m really enjoying being here."

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