City Lights Theater Company and Notre Dame High School of San Jose have a unique relationship. Derek McCaw and Kit Wilder help shed some light on it!
Jeff Mosser: Derek, can you tell me a little bit about Notre Dame?
Derek McCaw: It’s the oldest girls’ school west of the Mississippi. We’re in the 162nd year of this school. Since I’ve been there we’ve kind of struck a niche in the area for doing edgier theatre pieces. We’re committed to social justice and critical thinking! We have the support of the administration to have our dramatic selections reflect the school’s mission. We like being on the edge with these kinds of things. 44 Plays is just right in line with us. This is exactly the kind of thing we’d like to do. It’s fun, it pokes fun at history, and the social studies department can really get into it too. The timing is perfect! We’ll play a week before this year’s election, so it will definitely be on our students’ minds! This is a fun way to talk about it.
JM: Kit, can you tell me about City Lights?
Kit Wilder: It has carved itself a niche in the past 10 years, with Lisa [City Lights’ Executive Artistic Director], as being the theatre that does more uncommon works. Newer works, issue oriented, etcetera. Not to say that we aren’t doing work that’s entertaining. If the story is worth telling then we’re going to want to do it. What’s worth telling more than the history of the US presidency, especially in a humorous vein? And especially right now? That’s what we do – building connections between the past and the present.
JM: How is it that City Lights and Notre Dame High School decided to work together on this one?
KW: We’ve done a cooperative before. We produced Dead Man Walking basically as a co-pro with Notre Dame; we had students working as design interns, and on stage as actors.
DM: City Lights has been kind enough to for the past eight years to let us work in their space, and that was the beginning of our collaboration. We have no theatre space on campus, so we rehearse in the chapel and move out for performances.
JM: How did both of your theatres land on 44 Plays?
KW: Derek was thinking about 44 Plays for 44 Presidents for the students at the same time Lisa was thinking about it at our theatre. It just seemed like kismet. We’re taking the opportunity to combine forces, and the plan is that we’ll sit down and come up with a production design that fits both our ideas and then we will perform it on that set. Then we [City Lights] will vacate and Derek’s group will come in and do everything with a different staging and a different cast.
DM: It’s also a chance for us to combine resources. Our tech students get to intern and learn a lot… they are learning under pros.
KW: We consider ourselves a kind of “teaching hospital” of theatre, so we’re always excited any time we can invite students to come in to help, and to learn.
JM: Are there any anticipated challenges?
KW: Not particular to 44 Plays, but we’re used to taking a 5-6 week rehearsal periods and we’re doing 44 Plays in 3-4 weeks. This requires five really versatile actors — almost triple threats – and that’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to.
DM: I try to keep them [the students] from seeing the film of the show that we’re working on. I don’t want them to be influenced by someone else’s performance — of course they’re going to want to see it — so the challenge is to make sure the students have the confidence to create their performances and not feel in the shadow of the adults – which I’m not worried about.
KW: My sense is that our whole process is leading up to you guys [Notre Dame] — to make a big deal about you doing the show!
DM: We’re doing it with 20 females which makes backstage scarce. That’s my real challenge.
KW : Just keep them on stage all the time. Then you wont have to put them backstage. That wont be challenging at all. [laughs]
DM: The other thing that I love about this show is everybody can have something really good and juicy to do — too often I look at plays and say, “ok, you’re neighbor number one,” but they all get a moment to stand out. Every student will have a chance to be memorable — and a chance to remember why we do theatre.
JM: Will you be doing any further Community Outreach?
KW: Leading up to the performance we will hook up with Rock the Vote. We do a lot of audience interaction — meet and greets, stay and talk with the cast. The timing of this is perfect to get people to talk about issues, what’s going on in the country, etc.
DM: We will be working cross-curricularly – some of our students will be 18 and voting for the first time, so that will raise awareness — but our student body is very engaged so I think this is a chance for… our students to become more politically active. If I may say this show will take shots at both sides and the ideologies and its fair in making fun of everyone, which I think is important in a comedy. What is the other side of the issue? Let’s talk about it and respect the other side. The power of theatre and community should be where we can actually talk and respect each other’s opinions without walking away thinking the other person’s an idiot.
JM: If you can, in a” tweet” can you tell us why do this show?
KW: I think two reasons — it’s vastly entertaining and you can do anything you want with it to make it unique to your own company. That’s what it needs to be to any company. And IT’S REALLY GOOD.
DM: It’s fun. It’s challenging. It’s what theatre should be.
Derek McCaw has worked as an improvisational comedian for 24 years with ComedySportz and taught Drama for 16 non-consecutive years, just like Grover Cleveland. His work can also be read in various comic books including Bela Lugosi’s Tales from the Grave.
An actor, director, designer, fight director, and playwright, Kit has served as Associate Artistic Director of City Lights Theater Company of San Jose for the past seven years. Acting and directing experience ranges from Shakespeare and the classics to Musical Theater, farce, and contemporary drama. Kit has taught stage combat, and staged fights and other mayhem, for numerous theatre and opera companies, and he has penned adaptations of several historical novels — including Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After.