“Harvey” Actor Arlene Nissen Talks About Her Ideal Invisible Friend and the Secret About Veta’s Tea

Arlene

Arlene Nissen

Who are you playing? What’s his/her favorite cocktail?

I am playing Veta Louis Simmons, Elwood’s sister and Harvey’s biggest fan (insert sarcastic smile here). Veta enjoys her tea with a little something extra in it.

If you had an invisible friend, what kind would it be?

It would have to be a dog, a weird combination of my dogs over the years – Kiowa -a wolf hybrid, Duchess – a Cocker Spaniel and Gracie Boo – a Carolina Dog.

One of the reasons Harvey was so successful when it premiered on Broadway in 1946 was that it offered a welcome escape for a war weary nation – much like the main character Elwood uses his invisible friend to create a more palatable reality for himself. Do you think the play still offers a similar escape almost a century later? How? Why?

Absolutely! We are all so caught up in our lives & with trying to stay “connected” via technology, that we are missing the joy of actually being connected – with ourselves, family & friends and the world around us.  Elwood represents all of that connection in a pure & simple way.

What part of the play are you most looking forward to sharing with an audience?

The ending, because it illustrates that no matter what – family is first.10703816_10153235704958154_8580645118547958753_n

Arlene Nissen began performing in local theater in 2004. She is excited to return to The Western Stage to participate in the 40th Anniversary Season and to work with everyone involved with Harvey. She has performed in the ensemble of several musicals over the years:  Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific, Bye Bye Birdie, My Fair Lady, and Footloose.   Her favorite roles to date have been Reggie Fluty in The Laramie Project and Luz in Sunsets & Margaritas.  She works full time in Commercial Property Management and enjoys spending time with her daughters and grandsons, as well as dancing with her Hula Sistahs.  She dedicates this performance to her late father and all those who struggle with dementia.

 

Jeffery T. Heyer Talks “Harvey”, his favorite whiskey, and his pooka.

Jeffrey T. Heyer

Jeffrey T. Heyer

Who are you playing? What’s his/her favorite cocktail?
Dowd is my name, Elwood P. I prefer Mark Twain Whiskey for that relaxing glow.

If you had an invisible friend, what kind would it be?
A pooka, or as they are known in different parts of the isles pucks (yes, there is more than one), pixies or piskys. Ever set your car-keys down for a moment and then find they are not where you put them, search the whole house and then find them exactly where you could swear you first looked for them? That’s a typical pooka trick. You might say they are that part of nature that constantly messes with you and laughs at your little troubles – then throws out a little coincidence to save your life when the chips are down.

One of the reasons Harvey was so successful when it premiered on Broadway in 1946 was that it offered a welcome escape for a war weary nation – much like the main character Elwood uses his invisible friend to create a more palatable reality for himself. Do you think the play still offers a similar escape almost a century later? How? Why?
Absolutely. That is why I enjoy working on this play, watching it in theaters or viewing the James Stewart classic film. I feel rejuvenated after a pleasant dip into a world of peace and joy even amid chaos. Elwood has found the eye of the storm and I enjoy being there with him.

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What part of the play are you most looking forward to sharing with an audience?
The climax, one I trust will feel well earned.

What about this particular production will surprise audiences – especially those only familiar with the film version?
How funny the play is. The movie concentrated delightfully on the charm of the story. The play rounds its characters more satisfyingly and is much funnier than the excellent film.

Jeffrey T. Heyer (Elwood P. Dowd)
Veteran of 80 entertainment industry employers, TWS Program Associate, Actors Collective co-founder and former Pac-Rep Actor-in-Residence, Jeff also freelances as actor, director and writer. Among the 53 shows he has directed are PacRep’s Twelfth Night, Cymbeline and Richard III and Actors Collective’s Boston Marriage and Old Times. Roles at PacRep include Kipps (Woman in Black), King John (Shakespeare’s King John), Prospero (The Tempest), Henry VI (Royal Shakespeare Company’s cutting of Shakespeare’s tetralogy Henry VI Pts. I, II, III and Richard III into The Plantagenets trilogy), Falstaff (Henry IV Pts. I & II), Dr. Willis (The Madness of George III), John Honeyman (A Walk In The Woods) and Ratty (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride).
Roles at TWS include Rev. Casy (The Grapes of Wrath), the Ghost of John Barrymore (I Hate Hamlet), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure and The Mask of Moriarty in which he doubled as Moriarty), Max Prince (Laughter on the Twenty-Third Floor), Jonathan Brewster (Arsenic and Old Lace), Drummond (Inherit The Wind), Lopakhin (The Cherry Orchard) and Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol).
At various theaters he has played n A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Oberon, Theseus, Egeus, Philostrate, Lysander, Peter Quince and Bottom.
Favorite role: King Henry II (The Lion in Winter) Actors Collective.
So far, Jeff has performed in 43 Shakespeare productions, 44 historical reenactments, 27 Public Play Readings, 16 Puppet shows, 7 Musicals, 51 theatrical performance events, 164 other plays, 8 commercially produced films (including educational), 3 industrials, 14 commercials, 14 voice-overs, 30 amateur films and 2 Radio shows. On other fronts, he has coached 18 shows, choreographed fights for 20, scripted 24 and teched 48.
Jeff studied theater at nine institutions of higher learning and with several coaches.

Designer Donna Federico Talks West Side Story and the Name of Her Fantasy Gang

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Donna Federico

What are you designing? How are you approaching the design for this particular show?

Hair and makeup…I am going for a period fifties look taking into great consideration the individuality of the cast and the characters they portray.

If you started your own gang, what would it be called and why?

We’re Better Than You Think We Are Gang….self explanatory

West Side Story is one of those rare musicals that tackles a serious theme or topic. What do you think this musical has to say about the topics of race and immigration today?

That nothing has changed.

What is the biggest design challenge you face with West Side Story?ws1

Using all of the actor’s real hair…no wigs.

At its core, West Side Story is a timeless story of forbidden romance where the characters take great risk in the name of love. Some of those risks are silly. Some serious. What kind of risks have you ever taken because you were madly in love with someone?

“You and me…we’re not there yet.”

What do you think audiences will be surprised by in this production?

The commitment of the cast to a story well-told…with a nineteen piece orchestra to back them up.

Actor Tasha Tormey Talks West Side Story and Her Own Fantasy Gang – The Lumberjack Society

Tasha Tormey

Tasha Tormey

Who are you playing? Whose side are you on – the Jets or the Sharks?

I play Maria, technically a Shark, but I fall in love with a Jet, so I suppose I am not very loyal to the gang mentality

If you started your own gang, what would it be called and why?

The Lumber Jack Society. We would wear flannel and eat pancakes all day. Our key tactic to recruit members would be offering them free pancakes…

West Side Story is one of those rare musicals that tackles a serious theme or topic. What do you think this musical has to say about the topics of race and immigration today?

We are all part of the same race—the human race. All other subdivisions are truly societal constructs used primarily by government institutions to pit us against each other. The depiction of the police in WSS attests to this, encouraging the ‘us v. them’ mentality. Furthermore, we are all immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, who came to this country for a better life. If we can remember that commonality, and our new shared identity as American citizens, then hopefully we can approach people of different cultural heritages with curiosity, love, and acceptance instead fear, hatred, and violence.

West Side Story is also known for its demanding dance routines. What has been the most challenging dance number for you so ws2far?

The dream ballet before “Somewhere”!

At its core, West Side Story is a timeless story of forbidden romance where the characters take great risk in the name of love. Some of those risks are silly. Some serious. What kind of risks have you ever taken because you were madly in love with someone?

Staying up all-night or staying out too late. My sleep-time is precious to me, so if I am choosing you over sleep, you better know I care!

What do you think audiences will be surprised by in this production?

Well, if they have never seen this musical before, maybe the ending. Specific to this production, I would like to think the acting. Our cast is definitely made up of strong actors. We all created back stories, relationships, and bring our unique interpretations and energies to the characters we play.

Actor Heather Osteraa on West Side Story and Starting a Performance Art Gang

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Heather Osteraa

Who are you playing? Whose side are you on – the Jets or the Sharks?

I’m playing Graziela – a Jet girl, and Diesel’s girlfriend.

If you started your own gang, what would it be called and why?                          

If I started my own gang, it would be open to anyone who would like to commit random, public acts of theatre. Like guerilla theatre or performance art. Sometimes we’d put on demonstrations that held profound meanings, or carried some kind of strong message. Sometimes, they would be meaningless, or have no purpose at all other than to make people smile. Probably more of the latter. We’d be a gang of shameless weirdos that just want to make life an adventure and laugh a lot.

West Side Story is one of those rare musicals that tackles a serious theme or topic. What do you think this musical has to say about the topics of race and immigration today?

The musical debuted nearly 50 years ago; yet, the question of who is really an American is still hotly debated today. I think our generation may be more comfortable talking about it than in 1957, but a universal solution is still yet to be agreed upon. The musical is important for everyone to see, because no matter what side of the debate you’re on – if any – it forces you to see the consequences of a society of hate and intolerance.

West Side Story is also known for its demanding dance routines. What has been the most challenging dance number for you so far?

West Side Story has been on my bucket list since I was a kid, simply because of the dancing. It’s so innovative and unique in its use of “dance theatre” – using dance as a primary mechanism of driving the action. And I think Lorenzo has done a beautiful job staying true to Robbins’ original concept, fusing traditional ballet with jazz and modern dance. Personally, there hasn’t been one challenging number; rather, trying to learn dance choreographed to Bernstein has been the challenge. The time signature may change several times throughout each song, and it’s really hard to count. I have to sit and listen to portions of songs over and over to memorize the rhythm to know how to dance it. It doesn’t just come automatically like other composers.  But, it just makes the dance that much better – unexpected, breathing with a life of its own, fleeting, chaotic. Dancing to Bernstein is a much closer depiction of real life than Rogers and Hammerstein

At its core, West Side Story is a timeless story of forbidden romance where the characters take great risk in the name of love. Some of those risks are silly. Some serious. What kind of risks have you ever taken because you were madly in love with someone?

Oh boy. If I divulged any of the stupid, reckless things I’ve done for a boy, I’d probably incriminate myself. I plead the 5th.

What do you think audiences will be surprised by in this production?

We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet going into it, so that’s no surprise.  What I believe our audiences won’t expect, is to get wrapped up in their world. When I watch the scenes take place, I get transmitted to this retro 1957 streets-of-New-York teenage warzone. Partially, because we have some top notch talent in this show, and it’s mesmerizing to watch these actors work, and you can’t help but let them take you away. At some point, you forget Romeo and Juliet, and you’re really gunning for these kids to make it and for there to be a happy ending. I think as human beings, we WANT to see people succeed. We want the adults to succeed in bringing peace to the neighborhood. We want the gangs to see eye to eye. We want Tony and Maria to run away together. And just when you think there’s a chance, the unthinkable happens, and it’s heartbreaking. And in a way, you didn’t see it coming.

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