What is your vision for Amazing Grace?
Amazing Grace is based on the true story of John Newton, the author of the most famous song in history; but it is also a show about truth itself. The themes that echo throughout this remarkable and dramatic tale include loss, grief, ego, redemption, and finding one’s true love by finding the truth within you. It is a love story of many dimensions: love between a boy and his childhood sweetheart, a father and his son, and man and God.
My directing approach consists of selecting a first-class creative team that has both experience in period pieces and a rich theatrical imagination to aid me in creating a unique visual vocabulary for this show. I will also bring onboard the right group of actors to breathe this musical to life for the first time and to bring their lives to it. We will find actors with passion for this story, commitment to work, and intelligence to contribute to the process. It is a particular strength of mine, while being clearly at the helm, to make each member of the team feel and become an important part of the show’s creation and to empower and inspire them to contribute their very best. No single idea is stronger than the collective minds of a good team working together toward a common goal. What is especially exciting about this project is that it unquestionably provides the opportunity—in fact, requires us—to rise to the challenge and create something far greater than the sum of us all.
Tell us about your inspirations.
This is an epic tale of adventure on the high seas, which becomes a metaphor in itself for the turbulence in John’s soul and heart, and the destruction that occurs in his wake…that is, until the moment of his epiphany.
What plans do you have for working on your show at The Norma Terris Theatre?
The visual elements of the show will be imaginative, and spellbinding. We must take the audience to all three points of the slave triangle—Africa, Barbados and England—and spend a number of scenes on the way to and from these places onboard various ships. We are starting to devise unique and exciting new theatrical techniques to convey the details of these locations and bring out the contrasts between them, and at the same time engage the audience’s imagination, which is what I believe the theater not only can do best, but must do at its best. The audience will become part of this amazing theatrical journey and will be delivered safely on shore by its end.
The production will depict England, and indeed the world, as it existed in the mid-18th century: dependent on the slave trade to fuel its economy and in denial about the true horrors of what it was doing on a human scale.
Do you expect to make many changes during the rehearsal period/run of show?
Yes…as usual with a new piece, we will be changing the script and trying new staging ideas throughout the rehearsal and even performance process. No matter how much time one has to work on the script, until that most important ingredient—the audience—is added, you really don’t know what is working or coming across. We will learn from you at each opportunity and hopefully respond to what we sense.
Tell us what the audience can expect to see.
We will not shy away from using the latest technology available to make the show come to life for our audiences and that is likely to include the limited use of projections, a sound design that will help create the aural backdrops necessary, as well as an extensive lighting package, all aimed at taking us from battle scenes onboard ships to the depths of the African jungles to the inner sanctum of a small town church in England.
Imagine an old tattered sail from an 18th century sailing ship as the show curtain on which we project, during the overture, the paths they took from country to country, exporting and importing human cargo. Imagine a cast working together, like shipmates on the decks of these ships, to convey the brutality of the times and the harsh treatment of the slaves they so depended on, but also showing the strength of other characters as they stick up for what’s right no matter how unpopular. And imagine a production that sails from scene to scene effortlessly, yet is full of vivid and memorable imagery that captures not just our attention, but our hearts as well.
In summary, we will be providing a rich theatrical environment in which this plot-driven tale can unfold. The dramatic surprises in the story will be matched by breathtaking turns of stage magic and musical theater wonder. However, it is ultimately honest, truthful, good old-fashioned storytelling and acting that will not only engage the audience and allow them to see themselves in these characters, but make clear the undeniable relevance of this piece for our times.