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A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Kiss Me, Kate
Posted 03/10/2016 11:00AM

This spring, TASIS brings Kiss Me, Kate back to Montagnola! With music and lyrics by Cole Porter and a script by Bella and Sam Spewack, this funny, poignant musical follows the backstage story of a theatrical troupe mounting a new musical based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It will be performed in the Palmer Center from April 21–24.

As the show begins, we discover that it’s opening night of The Shrew, directed by impresario Fred Graham (who is producing and acting as well as directing) and starring both his ex-wife, stage and screen star Lilli Vanessi, and his new girlfriend, Lois. Complicating the relationships even more are the fact that Lois is also dating Bill, the actor-dancer playing her onstage suitor, and that Lilli is newly engaged to a WWII war hero. The plot is as complicated as the relationships are. We learn that Bill has signed a $10,000 gambling debt I.O.U. in Fred’s name, and gangsters show up to collect. Of course, through all of this, the show must go on….though it does not always go according to plan!

It’s fitting for TASIS to be putting on this musical in our 60th anniversary year, as it combines so magnificently Mrs. Fleming’s love of both Shakespeare and musical theater. And like Mrs. Fleming, co-writer Bella Spewack lived well into her 90s and was very much a smart, creative, successful woman working in what was so often a man’s world. Also like Mrs. Fleming, the Spewacks and Porter were brave and bold. In 1948, protesters against racial segregation were picketing Ford’s Theatre in Baltimore for its policies on and off-stage. They set their play at Ford’s Theatre with the only African-American characters being servants—but by making those characters leads, Kiss Me, Kate’s creative team quietly but pointedly made social commentary on the situation and provided a vehicle for an interracial cast to rehearse and perform together.

As Kiss Me, Kate gives audiences a glimpse into what happens backstage during a musical, we wanted to hear from our TASIS production team about their experiences working backstage. A show’s crew is truly the engine of the performance, and many of our students and staff have been involved backstage for much of their high school careers, while others have been bitten by the theater bug this year.

Set Design

Aida Loggiodice ’17 (Venezuela) has worked on set design for the past three TASIS productions. In her second year at TASIS, Aida has acted in two fall Shakespeare plays and is a visual artist and a dancer.

What prompted your interest in set design?

I have always worked as an actor, but the idea of constructing what the actors work with really interested me. Without it, performers can’t do what they do; they can’t convey as much without the proper set or props. That inspired me to start doing set design.

How do you approach your designs?

I research and look at past productions to get an idea of what they did. Sometimes I mix the ideas or modify something I like. I also work with Ms. Carlson. She is a really good source.

How does your experience performing on stage inform and inspire your set design?

I find that when I work for a musical and I’m not acting in it, it’s much more difficult to get involved in the set. As an actor, you have a very personal feeling for a play. That allows you to be better as a set designer. The feel of a play has a lot to do with the colors that you use or the way you lay things out, how much space actors need. As an actor, you realize that. You’re actually walking on the stage, acting with the set. It’s helpful to act and design, although it’s a lot of work! I don’t act in musicals, though. It’s not my thing.

How have your visual arts classes influenced your designs?

My art teacher (Martyn Dukes) has given me a lot of ideas and suggestions. He’s worked as a set designer before. He did Kiss Me, Kate once (the 2007 TASIS production), and showed me pictures of his set. Sometimes, when we have a project in class, I make connections between the two – they may be in the same era, or style. I think it’s important – you can’t just simply focus on set design. You have to look around you and think how you can use everything around you – teachers, friends, everything.

What are your favorite parts of the process?

When it’s done and you get to see the show – that’s so satisfying. It feels good. Nobody knows how much work went into making something. You design, then sketch it out, choose the right paint, the right material, and nobody really knows how much work went into it, but at the end it doesn’t really matter because you feel good about it. Watching from the audience, I think, “I did that!”

What has been unexpected or challenging?

Meeting the deadlines. Sometimes we’re set back, but it’s not even a personal thing. For example, the wrong material was ordered for building the staircase, so that set us back a week or so.  Some are outside factors.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

We don’t really sing to one another backstage. There’s a friendlier vibe here at TASIS. I’ve acted at a lot of other schools and sometimes you can feel the rivalries between actors. But not here. It’s more a family, I find. You support each other and give advice. We all become very united because we work so hard and for so long, we really become a family. There’s the crew family and the cast family. Though sometimes they don’t align, as you don’t always see eye to eye.

Costume Design

Juniors Celine Cialdini (USA, France) and Julia Womack (USA) are assisting with costume design and production for the first time.

What drew you to costume design?

We have both always been very interested in fashion and costumes. The play offered us the perfect opportunity to discover and learn more about the fashion world and what people were wearing in the past. As well, we wanted to take advantage of everything the school has to offer. It is our first year here, and we wished to get involved somehow and believed this would be a fun and interesting way to do so.

How is it working with a professional costume designer?

It is very interesting because she is able to teach us many things which we would have never learned otherwise and we can get her opinions on things and actually make sure that everything is on track, especially since this is our first show.

What are some of the challenges of this role?

The challenge is the large quantity of different costumes we have to find. Also finding the right costume for each character is also quite challenging.

What is your favorite part about it so far?

Our favorite part is to come up with the different outfits and combine different pieces of clothing to make the outfit as nice as possible and transform those who are performing on stage into stunning characters.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

The actors get along much better, and backstage life doesn't seem as serious. Also, Ms. Carlson is doing a great job directing.

Lighting Design

We spoke with rookie general lighting designers Madyson O’Connor ’17 (USA) and Fiona Perdomo ’17 (USA). This is the third show for Lisa Hess ’16 (Germany), who is working the followspot for the second time.

What made you interested in lighting design?

MO: I’ve always had an interest in theater, but I don’t like to act or sing, so thought this would be a good way to be involved backstage.

FP: I wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone because I’m not a very creative person at all! And I thought lighting would be a good opportunity to see where it leads me.

LH: I chose the followspot because I get to see the performance differently every time, and see the differences in performances.

How does lighting affect the productions?

LH: It influences the environment that the actors act in and gives perspective to the audience. With the followspot, everything is focused on that person, so it affects how they act and how they’re seen by the audience.

FP: The spotlight emphasizes details in specific actors, but general lighting sets a mood, ties things together, or contrasts them with each other.

MO: Lighting sets the mood. For this play, since it’s a musical within a musical, it’s important to make the lighting help the audience understand what is Taming of the Shrew and what is Kiss Me, Kate. That will play a big role in making it more real.

How do you approach the project?

MO: I’m taking it one day at a time! Being here and watching the run-throughs helps us figure out what to do. If they’re singing about love, we’ll do a pink light. We take what the actors are doing and translate it into light.

FP: We’re visualizing what will go well with some scenes, but we have to keep an open mind to factors that could change our lighting decisions. Ms. Carlson has given us a lot of good advice on what she wants to see in certain scenes.

LH: I need to see the show finished to have a sense of it. I start to see where a followspot is needed.

What are the biggest challenges of lighting design?

LH: When to decide to apply a followspot. During the show you need to be really careful of the actors’ lines, you need to know the play well. That’s the biggest challenge for me—it’s easy to get lost. If I don’t put the right light on the right person, it screws it all up!

FP: Lighting is subjective. You have to respect others, but have your opinion respected as well. We have to work collaboratively and communicate efficiently with the audience about what’s important in that scene.

MO: I’m new to this, so I’m anxious to see how what I’m thinking in my head will translate. For one scene we’ll have a pale rose, but if that doesn’t work, I have to go back and think about it again.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

LH: We’re a little more organized! The show is made to be funny, and here we’re more coordinated. Overall we’re much better than the show!

Sound Design

This is the first show for Italian juniors Andrea Parmegiani and Umberto Lima, who are in their fourth and fifth years at TASIS, respectively.

What got you interested in sound design?

  Fun Facts about Kiss Me, Kate  
 
  • Kiss Me, Kate won multiple Tony awards for its original Broadway run in 1948-49, including the first Best Musical Tony ever awarded! A Broadway revival in 1999-2000 resulted in five Tonys and six Drama Desk Awards.
  • The musical was Cole Porter’s response to “integrated musicals” (such as Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!), where the music and lyrics are connected to the script. It was Porter’s biggest hit and his only show to exceed over 1000 performances on Broadway and 500 performances in London’s West End.
  • The Original Cast Album issued in 1948 by Columbia Records was the very first Broadway cast recording to be issued on LP.
  • The musical’s most recent West End revival was in 2012-13, a production TASIS theater and English students were treated to during Academic Travel that year.
  • Kiss Me Kate was also made into a film during the golden age of movie musicals. The film was released in 1953, with two of the most popular movie musical stars of the time, Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson, playing the leads.
 
     

AP: I wanted to try something new at TASIS. I always watched the shows but wanted to take part this time.

UL: Same here. I have seen many shows over the years but haven’t had the courage to join. Since Andrea decided to join, I thought I’d do it too.

What does a sound designer do?

AP: We listen to the show as it goes on, follow the script, and think, where could cool sound effects be added to make the show more interesting for the audience? You can’t throw a plate on the floor, but we can do that with sound.

UL: I thought sound was not hard, but actually you have to listen carefully and it’s tricky to find where extra sound spots could be. Sometimes when you look at a video you don’t really understand the sound effect, but you hear it and think it’s cool.

What are the challenges to sound design?

AP: So far some of the challenges have been looking at what sound effects we could add since there aren’t many in the show. We are trying to add some more sound effects to make it more interesting, trying to add things that would work in some scenes.

UL: Going through the script and figuring out where to insert the sound cues since this is my first time looking at a script! It was challenging.

How do you approach the project?

AP: Just now we were listening to the first few scenes and realized where we could add sound. We’ll choose which one will be better for the scene and add it in. We still have to learn how to work the sound board.

UL: We’re going to look at the scenes and watch where there is interaction with external objects, such as the telephone—the phone could ring, or smash, or something.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

AP: It’s very different. Watching the show you see something that you didn’t expect people—the actors—to have: courage. You discover more about a person’s personality when you see them acting.

Stage Management

Raid Husney-Bey ’17 (Libya) is a first-time stage manager.

What drew you to stage management?

I love keeping things in order; it’s an OCD-type of feeling. I usually play the lead role or the manager role. I enjoy being able to make people do given objectives to their full potential. When I see the play succeed, I will feel that all my effort paid off. It’s now a waiting game and the hard part is yet to come.

What are some of the challenges you've had so far?

The biggest challenge so far is learning to take down the blocking and calling characters out on missing cues or missing parts. It’s a very hard thing to focus on multiple things on the same time but you have to do your best and having Ms. Carlson teach me is a plus. I don’t know how she does it but she’s great at it.

What has surprised you most about this role?

Definitely the amount of time I have to put in. I’m generally busy with other things—studying, a relationship, my friends—and I enjoy just spending time with myself. Being stage manager completely takes up every free minute I have, and now I have to rush between going to the Palmer Center and changing clothes to run to gym, take a shower, and jump into study hall and squeeze in all my work before lights out to get a good night of sleep.

What is your favorite part of stage management?

The fact that I can give my voice to what happens. I can tell people how to improve because every time I see the rehearsals, I view them as if I’m watching the play from the audience’s standpoint. I get to tell people what looks better from my standpoint.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

The “staged” backstage is different because the people acting tend to exaggerate what they do solely because they imagine the audience looking at them. I think this is a really big positive as it gives everyone in the audience a look at what’s happening. It’s very interesting to see the difference in the personalities of the actors on and off stage.

Hair & Makeup Design

Day student Lisa Tregubova ’18 did hair and makeup for Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2015 and does extensive research and photography to ensure the actors look as realistic as possible.

What drew you to hair and makeup design?

I’ve had this passion for a long time. I love working with different people and always discover new techniques and strategies to improve my work. From a really young age I watched different videos and tutorials about makeup, and I felt involved with this art right away. I find it incredible how many different things you can create with makeup and how the result of a musical or drama performance can improve by adding little details.

How does the cast respond during dress rehearsals, when they are finally physically in their role thanks to your work?

The cast is always excited about trying new things. I had the opportunity to lead a workshop about dramatic makeup and I noticed that everyone was interested and they were having a lot of fun by sharing this together.

What is your favorite part about hair and makeup design?

I love being able to try my work on everyone, because each person is different and until now I only had the opportunity to try everything on myself!

What are some of the challenges you face?

Working with that many people is really difficult and sometimes confusing, but when I get help from the team everything becomes a lot easier and more satisfying.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

There is really a lot of teamwork here, and everybody is sharing their different talents in a more concrete way, even compared to what happens every day at school.

This is the first TASIS show for Eugenie Cates ’17 (USA) and her first year at TASIS.

What drew you to hair and makeup design?

I’m very interested in design and art. So I thought Hair & Makeup was a creative and good way for me to get involved in the production. Also I truly enjoy doing makeup and hair, especially for this play which takes place in  the 1940s.

How does the cast respond during dress rehearsals, when they are finally physically in their role thanks to your work?

They find it fun, I think. To them it’s like playing dress up, and also it helps them really discover who their character is, and it’s an exciting part of the process.

What is your favorite part about hair and makeup design?

The independence that we have in making decisions. Also I have met some new people and that’s really great.

What are some of the challenges you face?

Teaching the cast how to do their own makeup for the show because we can't do everyone’s! Also trying to take into consideration who is wearing what and who is a dancer, and if they are a dancer, how do we keep their hair in place while making it look 1940s, and so on. Little obstacles like this are a challenge, but are fixable.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

There is not nearly as much drama, but the play does show how much work it takes from each person to come together to put on something as a whole. It is hard, but as in the play, It is worth it. And you learn important lessons for life. Like how to work with others, “fake it till you make it”, and “the show must go on”.

Dramaturgy

A dramaturg puts together the background information that the cast and crew needs to understand the show’s context. These can include cultural references, allusions, slang, and other terms. Carmen Alban ’16 (USA) was co-Sound Designer for the 2015 TASIS production of Fiddler on the Roof. She is an IB student, a proctor, and a member of the TASIS tennis team.

Why did this role interest you?

I have been involved behind the scenes of TASIS productions for three years now. This year, becoming involved was a bit more of a challenge because I am an IB student. Exams are the same time as the musical, so I knew I couldn't have a major production role. Dramaturgy was a perfect compromise. I am able to be involved in the story and contribute to the show while also having time for my school work.

How did you choose what is included in the dramaturgy?

This was more difficult than you would think. Because I am American, a lot of the terms used and people referenced in the play are familiar to me. Things like "10 Gs" and "Truman vs Dewey" make sense to me, so my first draft wasn't very long. I just looked through and saw what I thought were obscure references or slang from that time period. Ms. Carlson had to explain to me that there is so much more I needed to add because terms like these don't make sense to everyone in our international cast.

How would you explain this role to someone who doesn't know what it is?

Dramaturgy is like the composition of the musical. I made a list of parts of this composition that need some extra explaining, like terms that are unclear, slang from the time period, or allusions to people or places that everyone may not know.

What is your favorite part about it so far?

Because I've had to read through the script many many times, I am very familiar with the story and the characters. That's one of my favorite parts about being included in the show at all. I like to know the story and get to see how it transforms from the first rehearsal to the last performance.

Kiss Me, Kate is a show about a show. Have you noticed any similarities between what happens in the play and what happens in real life backstage?

For every musical I've been a part of, I've been in the booth during the actual production of the show. The booth is definitely the most tame aspect of backstage. I sit there with three of four other people and we watch the show from above, controlling lights and sounds. I'm sure downstairs is where all the real action happens that could be compared to the craziness of Kiss Me, Kate.


Director Valerie Bijur Carlson on working with the design and tech students:

This is a play in which the lines of reality are constantly and purposefully blurred, which has allowed me the opportunity to have our crew play a more public role than usual. Being a show about people putting on a show, we have all these mixed realities going on—and we’re trying to heighten that even more than the show calls for. The script calls for us to have our actors play actors who are playing characters in The Taming of the Shrew. We also have actors playing members of the stage crew—but we also have real backstage people playing backstage people!  For example, our actual student stage manager is playing the part of the stage manager in the show.  Our 1940s-era crew guys are being played by 2016 TASIS students who signed up to be crew guys and have really been doing that job. This has certainly been fun for the company, and we hope it will be for the audience, too, as we make it a show within a show within the production of a show.

See the results of the production crew's hard work!

Photo gallery 1

Photo gallery 2
Video highlights

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