Directing Fables

By on 9 July, 2012 in Art, Greg Thornton with 0 Comments

“Nay, are there not moods which shall find no expression unless there be men who dare to mix heaven, hell, purgatory, and faeryland together, or even to set the heads of beasts to the bodies of men, or to thrust the souls of men into the heart of rocks? Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.”
― W.B. Yeats

It was such a piece of luck that John McWilliams agreed to direct the very first production of the Cloverdale Playhouse Children’s Theater Troupe. Being an actor, educator, director, and historian, he brings a mix of gifts that inspire and excite young actors and encourage them to discover the truth and, ultimately, the heart of every story. John shared a bit of what brought him to the Playhouse for this production.

Greg Thornton: You began a career as a young actor with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. What drew you to that?

John McWilliams: I grew up in Selma as a boy soprano at the First Presbyterian Church. From my earliest years, I always loved to sing, but it was attending a performance of A Christmas Carol at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 1988 that convinced me that I wanted to be on stage. The next year, I auditioned for the show and was fortunate enough to be cast in the production. Over the next five years, I performed in eight ASF productions. Not only did that experience open my eyes to the amazing world of professional theater, but it also introduced me to an incredibly talented community of artists. After one production at ASF, I caught the theater “bug” and I’ve had it ever since. Of course, one of my fondest memories of ASF was having the opportunity to share the stage with you, Greg, in several productions. That’s why it has been particularly exciting for me to work with you at the Playhouse this summer.

Greg Thornton: How did you feel the theater and performing, both as an actor and a singer, influenced your future life choices?

John McWilliams: For a long time, I thought that I would definitely pursue theater as my main career. But it turns out that I ended up in education instead. However, I strongly believe that my experience in the theater has had a powerful impact on my career as an educator. First of all, as a history teacher, I found my theater training to be extremely helpful in helping my students understand the “story” of what has happened in the past. Furthermore, I think that theater teaches powerful collaborative skills that are essential in an educational environment. Finally, I developed a passion for the arts that extends to my entire approach to my career and in my life. Although I am not able to perform on stage often, I have found a way to stay engaged as a singer and performer throughout my adult life.

Greg Thornton: And now with directing, Fables Here and Then at the Cloverdale Playhouse, the inaugural Children’s Theater production, you bring a wealth of experience as an actor and an educator. Is directing younger actors a different kind of challenge than directing older, more seasoned performers, do you think?

John McWilliams: I agree that working with younger performers is a different experience than working with older actors.  While older actors are often more comfortable being on stage than young performers, younger actors often bring a form of unfettered energy to the stage that can be very exciting to watch. Most of my experience in the theater over the past decade has been with younger performers though, so I’ve become accustomed to dealing with the way that young people approach performing.

Greg Thornton: What about Fables? These are tales and legends from around the world, there’s music and storytelling, with a wide range of cultural influences. What kind of a directing challenge does this present?

John McWilliams: I am very excited about this production, and I’m pleased that you decided to include this script in the inaugural season of the Playhouse. This play does pose a challenge because of the way in which the performers have to be comfortable playing many roles. In the performance, all of our young actors play at least 10 roles each. That can be a tremendous challenge with limited rehearsal time and busy summer schedules. However, I’m extremely fortunate to have a talented cast and an amazing production staff to meet the challenge. I love this play because it is, essentially, a celebration of what theater is ultimately all about — telling a story. I love the way this script gives us an opportunity to tell good stories from around the world in creative (and hopefully entertaining) ways. I also like the way that this production is so overtly theatrical. We don’t shy away from the fact that there are limited sets and costumes; we embrace the fact that most of the storytelling comes from the performers themselves. While that approach creates a challenge for our performers, it is a challenge for which they are ready.

Greg Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse.


Fables Here and Then adapted by David Feldshuh
Thursday, July 12 and Friday, July 13 at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 14 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
For Tickets: Call (334) 262-1530

3rd Tuesday Guitar Pull (Singer/Songwriters Night)
Tuesday, July 17, 7-9 p.m.
Featured Artists: Blaine Duncan, Michael Thornton, Riley Yielding
Admission:$10 (at the door only)

Playhouse School Summer Sessions
July 17-26
Workshops and Classes for K-Adults
Visit our website or email:

WHITNEY: One Moment in Time by Anthony Stockard

July 27 at 7 p.m. and  July 28 at 2 and 7 p.m.
The Playhouse hosts ASU’s Alpha Psi Omega National Theater Honor Society for this musical tribute to Whitney Houston. The piece is conceived and directed by ASU faculty member Anthony Stockard and proceeds from these performances will benefit the honor society’s Seek a Life Useful scholarship. Tickets are $10. Tickets will be available at the door one hour before each show. For more information, please call (334) 229-5800.

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