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.

10 Surprising Facts about West Side Story That Will Make Your Head Explode

10 Surprising Facts about West Side Story That Will Make Your Head Explode

West Side Story, one of the most groundbreaking musicals of all time, opens at The Western Stage on August 9. To get everybody in the mood to join us for this Shakespeare inspired story about forbidden love, we have a BuzzFeed inspired listical for you to enjoy because we all know BuzzFeed is the Shakespeare of the internet age, right? (Sarcasm intended) So enjoy these fun facts that will hopefully not cause any bodily harm.  ws1

  1. Stephen Sondheim has said he wanted West Side Story to be the first Broadway musical to drop the “F-Bomb.”  He actually included it in the original lyrics during the “Gee Officer Krupke” number when the Jets are roughing up Office Krupke before the War Council scene. However, once the creative team learned this would prohibit distribution of the Broadway cast album, Sondheim re-wrote the lyrics.
  2. The original premise for the show involved a young Italian, Catholic boy whose gang was embroiled in a fierce rivalry with a group of Jewish kids.  It was to be called East Side Story.  However, the creative team changed the premise once the influx in Puerto Ricans on the West Side became a hot button issue in New York City.  A reference to the original idea made it into the final script when Riff refers to how Tony helped the Jets beat the Emeralds – the name they were going to use for the Jewish gang.
  3. The original producer of West Side Story quit raising money for the show early in the development process because he thought tackling such serious topics was too risky for a Broadway musical. Luckily, another producer stepped in to take a chance on what would become one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history.
  4. Most of the actors including the leads from the original Broadway musical were rejected after auditioning for the film version because they looked too old on camera to play the roles of kids.ws2
  5. Most people know that West Side Story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  However, did you know Shakespeare based his play on a poem by Arthur Brooke called The Tragic Historye of Romeus and Iuliet, which in turn was based on a poem by the Roman poet Ovid called Pyramus and Thisbe from his masterpiece Metamorphisus?
  6. Two of the actors from the film version of West Side Story would go on to play major roles in David Lynch’s television series Twin Peaks.  Richard Beymer (Tony) and Russ Tamblyn (Riff) went on to play Ben Horne and Dr. Lawrence Jacoby in this likewise groundbreaking show.
  7. In the play version, Tony and Riff make a vow of lifelong friendship to each other that includes the line “from sperm to worm.”  They changed it for the film version to “from birth to earth” to satisfy censors.
  8. All of Natalie Wood’s songs in the film version of West Side Story – and even some of her dialogue – were dubbed by Marni Nixon, a respected voice actor who dubbed musical numbers for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Audrey Hephburn in My Fair Lady.  Don’t worry, there will be no dubbing or lip synching in The Western Stage version.ws3
  9. Although West Side Story failed to win the 1958 Tony Award for Best New Musical, losing to The Music Man, the film version won 10 Academy-Awards, the most awards won by a musical in film history.
  10. Jerome Robbins, who choreographed the Broadway premiere and film version of West Side Story, was such a task master that the actors shooting the film version burned their knee pads in his office after shooting the “Cool” scene for the film.  Natalie Wood even begged at one point to be fired from the film because he was working her over 16 hours a day.

So now that we’ve hopefully stirred your interest with these little known facts, we would love to see you at the show.

West Side Story plays through August 30 on the main stage at The Western Stage, Hartnell College Performing Arts Building. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm.  Purchase tickets through www.westernstage.com or at the box office by calling 831-755-6816. Also consider purchasing a Flex Pass for 2014 and help The Western Stage celebrate its 40th Anniversary. Group tickets are available through Marketing and Group Sales at 831-759-6012.

Author – Daniel Tarker

 

 

Cesar Flores Talks American Song and Mother Earth

Cesar E Flores

Cesar Flores

  If Woody Guthrie Were Alive Today, What Kind of Protest Song Would He Be Writing? I believe he would be writing protest songs on Immigration, Fracking and global warming What Song Are You Looking Most Forward to Sharing with Audiences? Why? The Deportees and This land. Because he says” I am out to sing songs that will make you take pride in yourself and your work. Many of the Songs in Woody Guthrie’s American Song Were Written While He Was Traveling Around the Country During the Great Depression. What Do These Songs Still Have To Say About America Today? We may not be in a Depression now, but the problems resurface and we have come a long way but still have a long way to go to get people to care about someone else others than themselves. Why Do You Think People Are Still Drawn To Guthrie’s Music? It’s the people’s music and says what some people want to say but do not have the means. The Arts is the greatest weapon we have against ignorance. What do you hope audiences take away from this production? That we all live in the same world and we must learn to get along and protect our Mother Earth.american song “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” performs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m through June 22. Purchase tickets throughwww.westernstage.com or at the box office by calling 831-755-6816. Also consider purchasing a Flex Pass for 2014 and help The Western Stage celebrate its 40th Anniversary. Group tickets are available through Marketing and Group Sales at 831-759-6012.  
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