A new show is opening tonight at the Fire Hall Theatre (review to come soon!) and we here at the World of Champagne are thrilled to bring you our first ever double-profile of the show’s co-directors who are featured in this short advertisement, directed by Tim O’Neal.
JANESSA: This post is a World of Champagne first – a dual profile! I’m very excited to be joined today by Pat DeMars and Lana Stallard DeMars, a husband and wife team who are very active in the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre and are currently working together as co-directors of the show Dearly Departed which just opened at the Fire Hall Theatre. Welcome you two!
PAT: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be in the presence of a true diva.
LANA: I am flattered to be interviewed by you.
J: I’ve known both of you through the theatre for a while now. And last April, Pat starred as George Hay in Moon Over Buffalo which I assistant directed. I was always ready with the first aid kit just in case anyone got impaled with a fencing foil!
P: As I remember, you also stood-in for Ethel a few times in rehearsal and were magnificent. There is definitely room for you on the pine.
J: Well, thank you! I do have a knack for “finding the truth” in crazy characters – perhaps because I’m 21 yowling tabbies away from being a crazy cat lady! Anyway, let’s get started. I would love to know how each of you first got involved with theatre? Tell us about some of the shows you’ve done.
P: I came down to attend U.N.D. in the mid 80’s. I intended to major in Journalism and Creative Writing. On a lark, I auditioned for a show at Burtness Theatre. I was cast and from that point forward, theater wormed its way into my being like a virus. Some of my favorite shows over the years include You Can’t Take it With You and Rashomon which I credit for training me to act against my type – and stage combat. One of my favorite things I have been able to do is perform the role of Oscar in The Odd Couple three times so far, which is meaningful to me because I consider Walter Matthau my doppelganger.
L: I have been directly involved in theater in Grand Forks only a few years. However, I loved theater in high school and was in every show. My career took me into the sciences, completely away from the arts. Then I met Patrick and I began to help in the shows at Fire Hall and Frost Fire Theater that he was involved in. I even played in several small parts in shows like Not Now Darling. It took me several years to work up the nerve to audition for a larger part. In 2012 Fire Hall was casting for A Christmas Carol, which I have always loved, and I was lucky enough to get a part. Last summer I also played in The Music Man at Frost Fire Theater. In between those shows I also was stage manager for two shows at Fire Hall: Don’t Hug Me and Good People. I found that I also enjoyed that part of the theater world.
J: Do you have a favorite role that you’ve played?
L: Mrs Cratchitt from Christmas Carol will always hold a dear place in my heart. But each show is so different that I have found I relish that unique energy that the cast and crew create no matter what the show is.
P: I LOVED being able to portray Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. I also once was able to play Matt Friedman in Talley’s Folly. That was a wonderful experience. My favorite play ever is a play called The Dining Room by A.R. Gurney. That play more than any speaks to me. I have had the opportunity to direct that twice. You are asking questions that create run-on answers.
J: Once you start talking theatre it’s hard to stop! Tell our readers what we can expect from Dearly Departed.
P: Dearly Departed is a rowdy, fun, raucous southern-fried play about The Turpins and their relatives & friends who gather after the patriarch of the family, Bud, passes away. It is a play about hilarious dysfunction & everything that can go wrong when people of differing views come together. It is also a play about how funny it is when a taboo is broken. It is a play about farting in church.
L: We have such a funny, funny script and such an incredible cast! You will see the absurdities that we all face such as crazy family members and funerals. Listening to the Turpin family talk about mobile homes, unemployment and corn dogs with a southern accent is intrinsically funny. But DD uses more than just caricatures. Through the use of humor it actually breaks down stereotypes because we all face the same challenges that the Turpin family does. DD is about the value of family and power of love to overcome differences. This cast was able to combine slapstick moments, sarcastic wit and a little heart.
P: Another unique aspect we were able to bring to this production was to cast the part of Bud Turpin (the father who dies in scene one) with local celebrities. We will have a different local celebrity guest star grace our stage every night. I got the idea from the play The Will Rodgers Follies a few years back that used a similar premise as a promotional tool. [To find out more about what local celebs will be playing the part of Bud Turpin, click HERE!]
J: What was it like sharing the director’s chair on this production?
P: For me, very difficult and not entirely successful. I have never directed with anybody else and I’m afraid I have lessons to learn in collaboration. I think Lana would say I need to share more. I agree.
L: Since Pat has so much more experience than I do; I looked at this as a chance to learn from him. I took on more of the scheduling, interacting with the actors off stage and prop collection. But Pat is right. I did try to contribute to the blocking, but we ultimately divided the job to perform the tasks that we were better at.
J: Can you tell us a little bit about how you approached your roles as co-directors? What was your process like? Did you decide on a vision for the show before you started, or did you negotiate along the way?
P: There was a lot of re-imagining with this play. The play is organic in nature in the sense that is has multiple settings including interiors, exteriors, car scenes, etc. That led to a lot of design discussion.
L – From the beginning I think we agreed on a vision for the show. Fortunately our thoughts on life, death and humor are pretty similar! We definitely spent a lot of time together well before the show was cast discussing blocking and set design. As Pat mentioned we had to be creative is how we used space on the set because so many settings had to be represented. We would often end up talking about the show over coffee in the morning in impromptu meetings because one of us would have an idea. This part of the show preparation was very shared, very collaborative.
P: Adding celebrity guest stars lead to an extensive process of community reach-out and public relations. The part of the play that I think we worked well at together was character development and agreeing to character qualities that defined different family members, etc. We had a great time often laughing as we would draw a character to their extreme then work on molding them back.
J: You’ve both been in stage in a number of productions. What was it like to transition to being off stage and directing the action?
L: Having done some stage managing I don’t mind being off stage. I still have a lot to learn about directing. But I can see you have to be good at a lot of things to be a good director. You have to wear a lot of hats, juggle a lot of things at once.
P: Personally, I much prefer acting. Acting is a fun release and social activity for me. Directing is too much like work. I also fear directing brings out the micro-manager in me. Acting by far is my first choice on-stage.
Are there any dream roles you’d love to play, or maybe a dream show you’d love to direct?
P: For me, acting would be Noises Off. I have always loved that show. I would love to play the director. As far as directing, Of Mice and Men.
L: I too have always loved Of Mice and Men but for acting I like the spunkiness of Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing. And I still love Nancy from Oliver!
J: Everyone is very busy, and so choosing the way we spend our time is very important. Both of you spend a lot of time working with community theatre productions. Why is that? What do you enjoy most about the community theatre experience?
L: I find energy of the people in theater very enjoyable. My career finds me surrounded my scientists, all very linear and controlled. I love the enthusiasm creativity and emotion that I find in people here at Fire Hall and in the arts in general. I enjoy contributing to a production in some way; I love the little “family” that is created when you do a show, everyone working together to make the final product. It isn’t important to me that I be on-stage; just to be able to contribute to the process.
P: UND gave me a foundation that turned into a life-long lover of theater. I knew early on that I didn’t have the skill to do this professionally; theater requires diverse skills: singing, dancing, etc. But I’m perfectly fine going through the years attending extraordinary local productions, both adult and at the college and high school level, and being able to participate in some of them. It’s become a fine hobby.
Why do you think it’s important for a community to have a community theatre, or an arts scene more generally? How does the community benefit?
P: Geez is that an essay question!
J: Well Pat, I was an English major. We do love ourselves a nice, meaty essay question!
P: Let me say it in one word: Richness. Explore that word in all its meaning and you will understand the value of art.
L: It would be a pretty dull place if we didn’t have the arts scene that we have here in town. I know from personal experience what it is like to be around people who are similar to me – scary! Having a place like Fire Hall that allows you to watch theater and become involved is invaluable. Whether you want to perform, work on costumes, or find props, there is a way to express yourself in a community theater. Besides finding new skills, you make new friends. Even if all you do is attend the show, having a community theater enriches your life.
J: Tell us a little more about your non-theatre interests as well.
P: We both love to travel. We try to travel every few years. In between that time we explore our next place to travel. We love the research of travel almost as much as the experience, finding out about the country and their language, food, customs, etc. We also are involved in rescuing pets. There is a rescue group that moves dogs across the country in kind of a fireman’s carry; 100 miles at a time from various places across the U.S. to Canada where the pets are moved to a no-kill shelter.
L: Yes, Pat is right. My love of animals includes those I have at home: 2 dogs, 2 cats and 2 parrots. And I do as much as I can to help rescue organizations in our area as Pat described. In various spurts I also work on our old home. We are in the process of renovating it to look as much as possible as it did 100 years ago.
J: Can you share a favorite moment from the rehearsal process?
L: There is one scene when the whole family shares a tray of corndogs. We pantomimed that for several weeks. I remember the first time I made the corndogs for them to actually eat. Rather than dread it, the cast was actually excited about eating them!
P: This cast has been brilliant. The rehearsal fun will be seen on-stage. This play lent itself to a cacophony of ideas; many of which made it into the final production.
J: Any final thoughts for our readers?
P: Want to laugh? Come prepared. You have been warned.
J: Well thank you both so much for taking the time to sit down with me. It was wonderful to have you!
P: Thank you for having us. Can we have your autograph?
J: Sure, can I have five dollars?
Dearly Departed runs Thursday – Saturday at the Fire Hall Theatre in downtown Grand Forks from February 13 – March 1 at 7:30 pm. The first two weekends also feature Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for students/seniors/military.
Tags: A Christmas Carol, Bud Turpin, comedy, dark comedy, Dearly Departed, Don't Hug Me, Fire Hall Theater, Fire Hall Theatre, Firehall Theater, Firehall Theatre, Frost Fire Theater, Frost Fire Theatre, funeral, funeral comedy, George Hay, Good People, Greater Grand Forks Community Theater, Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Lana DeMars, Lana Stallard DeMars, Lynn Stauss, Michael Brown, Miss Jaye, Moon Over Buffalo, Not Now Darling, Pat DeMars, Pat Mars, Patrick DeMars, Rashomon, Robert Kelly, Terry Dullum, The Dinner Party, The Music Man, The Odd Couple