In a historic collaboration — one trilogy, one cast, one creative crew, three plays, three theaters, three Vermont towns — Dorset Theatre Festival, Weston Playhouse, and Northern Stage have banded together to bring theatre-lovers across the state beloved British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s classic comedy trilogy The Norman Conquests. A meditation on loneliness, family, and marriage, the plays are both wildly funny and poignant, as the complex relationships among six characters are examined. All three plays are set during the sexual revolution of the 1970s and take place over the same weekend at an English country estate, each in a different part of the house.
Dina Janis, artistic director for the Dorset Theatre Festival, first suggested The Norman Conquests as a possible collaboration between the theaters during a series of meetings that took place over a year ago. Janis says, “From the start, it’s been an exhilarating process for everyone involved and we are certain audiences are going to feel that energy.” Opening on June 16, Table Manners, second in the trilogy, is helmed by renowned director Evan Yionoulis, known to regional audiences for her recent revival of Hapgood at Williamstown Theatre Festival, with the same creative crew working on the entire trilogy – Set Designer, David Arsenault; Costume Designer, Charles Schoonmaker; Lighting Designer, Stuart Duke; Sound Designer, Jane Shaw. Together they now move from the living room in Living Together which opened at Northern Stages, to the dining room in Table Manners. Creating a vision conceptually that works in three different spaces, with three different directors and across multiple months has been an extraordinary experience for all.
Collaboration is the key word, with a process that has offered up great opportunities as well as unique creative challenges. The actors have had the inspiring experience of traveling from theatre to theatre as they bring their characters to life. In that sense, the process itself has been an example of true collaboration. “What has been an unexpected perk of working in this way is the enormous sharing of ideas, practices and creative impulses that individually, none of us would have been party to,” says Dina Janis, DTF Artistic Director. The collaboration has allowed the exchange of ideas and resources from casting choices to joint marketing strategies, as well as a shared design team that moved from theatre to theatre. Beginning in the spring with casting, and continuing with on-going design meetings and late night phone conferences, the staff and production teams from all three theaters have worked tirelessly to tackle obstacles, challenges and to share spontaneous creative impulses. ” We have certainly had more late night Skype sessions than usual, as there are a lot of cooks in this kitchen for sure. But the results have been more exciting than any of us could have imagined” says Michael Giannitti, DTF’s Director of Production. For all involved, it has been a huge learning opportunity and the relationships that have been built through this collaboration will certainly continue into the future.
“It is so exciting to see our audiences cross-pollinate as they travel from theatre to theatre, discovering both the brilliance of the trilogy and Vermont’s top theaters at the same time!” says Molly Hennighausen, DTF Managing Director.
Audiences are invited to hear more about the collaborative process on Sunday, June 19 at 1 pm at the Dorset Playhouse in a special talk with the artistic and design teams for the Trilogy as they share their experience of moving this historic trilogy from theatre to theatre while creating the world of the play.
The Dorset Theatre Festival creates bold and innovative theatre that engages a diverse, multi-generational community, enlightening, entertaining, and inspiring its audience through the celebration of great plays produced with the highest degree of artistry. For more information on this program as well as the Festival in general, please go to dorsettheatrefestival.org or call 802-867-2223.
Feature Photo: Dave Mason, Jenni Putney, Richard Gallagher, Mark Light-Orr. All photos by Rob Strong Photographer. For related articles, click here.
To purchase a copy of The Norman Conquests, click here.