Our third production by The NOLA Project has already opened and closed, and they did it with 20 students in 12 days. Jeff gets to the bottom of it with their Artistic Director, A.J. Allegra.
Jeff Mosser: You put this up at a breakneck pace! How did you do it?
A.J. Allegra: Our total cast is 20 and the interesting thing is that it’s 17 girls and 3 boys. We did it… 12 days [minus auditions and Thursday & Friday’s performance]. They take classes from 9:00-12:00, then lunch, and from 12:30-4:00 they have rehearsal for the show. I’m very impressed with how they handle the material. The oldest kid we have is 17 and the youngest was 11 turning 12. Across the board they’ve handled the language with adeptness, and we’ve tried to talk about the history of each one.
JM: Did you give your props designer leg up?
AA: We have the best props guy, Michael. He loves building things rather than buying. I think my favorite prop is the money fan. It’s absurdly large.
JM: This is the first year of your education programming. Did you do any further community engagement?
AA: In terns of outreach, we’ve been really paying attention to the kids. Every day our students can take two of four main core classes such as Technique, Character, Movement, and, Voice and Speech. Friday they select an elective and those classes have included Stage Combat, Audition Techniques, Costume Design, Directing, Acting for Camera, and Shakespeare Verse.
AA: I think they like to do the different material. There are ones that are far more used to musical theatre and some who’s parents who’ve had them auditioning for film. They’ve had a nice exposure to a wide variety of theatrical styles. Nixon plays into our musical theatre folks. They don’t come with the political mindset or baggage or personal bias that a lot of professional theatre artists have by performing the show like that, so with students it’s a clean palate of political things they get to make an opinion on. There are so many learning opportunities beyond the presidents, about the style of theatre. Sometimes you ask them to set a house on fire and they miss that it’s a physicalization of the piece. It took some getting used to, but we stressed it every day. Talk to them [the audience]. Make sure your talking to them. I think kids can go into representational rather than performance so one of the big things is we’re covering material in class… to say, “you’re not a living text book.” I want you to excite or scare the audience or tell a secret. So I think more than the direct address is just getting them to find ways of interpretation on expository direct address stuff.
AA: Practice your transitions. That’s the biggest one. There are literally 43 transitions. With students that’s the hardest thing! And just enjoy the history of it. Enjoy learning about presidents we don’t learn about any longer as actual human beings.
JM: Any final thoughts to share?
AA: I agree that the real discovery is that it’s not one show, it’s 44 plays. Our director, Beau Bratcher, said, “I don’t know if I have it in me to create another aesthetic.” Of course, with each play there’s a set of props and requirements.Were very happy to be a part of the festival — the record-breaking-ness of it and hopefully the show will get its message across, and I hope we get lots of voters out in Louisiana. If people are voting, democracy is working.
A.J. Allegra is the current Artistic Director of The NOLA Project. A.J. is an original member of the company, along with original Artistic Director, founder, and friend Andrew Larimer. He moved down to New Orleans after graduating from NYU with other members of The NOLA Project in 2007 and could not be happier about it. He has been nominated for seven Big Easy Awards and has won two, for directing Assassins and acting in Mr. Marmalade. He also teaches full-time at NOCCA in the Musical Theatre and Drama departments. He recommends to all artists to come down to New Orleans and give it a try.