Playing Opus

By on 28 September, 2012 in Fun, Greg Thornton with 0 Comments

“It was like he was … conversing with Mozart, like the composer was making it up on the spot, and it was just coming out, no intermediary, direct from the source…” Opus, Michael Hollinger

Opus is presently in rehearsal at the Playhouse, and opens on October 11. The actors who make up this fine cast are: Cushing Phillips, Mark Hunter, Matthew Givens, Scott Page and Desire’ Gaston. Phillips appeared in the Playhouse’s Irish Voices and is a veteran of the Montgomery Little Theater and many other productions. Hunter was another MLT standout. With Tina Posterli, he is the author of a new play, Comin’ Up a Cloud, that received a stage reading at the Playhouse last February. Givens has performed around the River Region in many of the community theaters. Page, a favorite of MLT and AUM Theater audiences, played Jack the social worker in the Playhouse’s The Boys Next Door. Desire’ Gaston attends ASU and appeared in Whitney at the Playhouse this summer. They very graciously took time out of rehearsals to share some of their thoughts on this wonderful play. It is a true privilege and pleasure to be directing this and working alongside these actors.

Note: Cushing Phillips was not able to join us for this interview.

What was it about Opus that attracted you in the first place?

Desire’ Gaston: The music and the story line are what originally attracted me to Opus. because the story ends in such an unexpected way, it made me read and reread the play over again.

Mark Hunter: I had read about the play when I lived in New York City in 2007. I never got a chance to see it, but I had heard great things about it from my friends. Honestly, I wanted a chance to be in a play directed by you. It was an added bonus that when I read the play I realized how well written it was and how each character was a piece of a puzzle that, when locked together, would present a fully realized portrait of a what it means to work in a true ensemble

Matthew Givens: I like music and I even dabble at playing the Celtic fiddle, so the musical aspects of the play appealed immediately. I’ve even done a little amateur composing, so I’m no stranger to the attraction of music. After reading the script, I was entranced by the excellent writing and the intricate relationships of the characters. In many ways, their relationships are as complex and interrelated as are Bach’s string quartets; the blend of comedy and serious issues is difficult to perform well, and I’m always up for a challenge.

Scott Page: Well, as you know, I originally wanted to assist you in directing this incredible play, but after reading it for about the fourth time and really giving it some thought, I just could not resist the opportunity to play this multi-layered, amazingly interesting character of Carl. This is an actors dream. The characters are so well written in such a concise, tight manner.

Opus is truly an ensemble play. How do you see your character in relation to the other players in the quartet?

Desire’: My character, Grace, is somewhat the odd ball out simply because she is so young and of course because she is a woman in the midst of 4 older men. Besides those two obvious points, her passion for the music and skills are not too far fetched from those of the other characters. Grace has little to say in decisive matters and does what she is told.

Mark: I think it could be easy to dismiss Elliott has the antagonist in the piece but his love of the quartet and the music is what motivates his actions. The actions may be viewed as flawed but I think he is devoted to the quartet and what it stands for rather than one individual in the group. That thought process alone seems to isolate him from the others who seem to be able to relate to each other on a more personal level.

Matthew: In the world of the quartet, Alan is their organizer and de facto campaign manager. He arranges the bookings, works out the details, and manages their massive store of musical scores. Personally, he is the joker of the group, always ready to lighten a moment with a ready quip. His light attitude doesn’t translate to his music, which he takes as seriously as anyone. Alan tends to work things through by feel more than by intellect, and is more than willing to follow his feelings. He is closest to Dorian and Carl, and is the first of the quartet to really accept Grace into the group. He’s a very open person, quick to trust and slow to withdraw from a relationship.

Scott: I have never had the opportunity to play a character quite like Carl: completely grounded, and in most cases, the voice of reason in an overly high maintenance group of friends. He is the “grounded one” the family man with his feet planted firmly on Terra Firma. It is quite fitting that he is the cellist of the quartet, the one that adds the solid, strong musical undertone. To see his reaction to a “life altering” event – his illness, and the way it affects his “role” with his musical family, I hope, will add an interesting layer to the story. That is my goal as an actor anyway.

Let’s talk about the music. It is so integral to the story. As an actor, does that affect the way you approach your character?

Desire’: The complexity of the music shows how serious a musician my character is, and also shows her appreciation for the craft. Because the Lazara Quartet is an older elite group, I assumed my character would need to be intelligent, mature, dedicated, and obedient.

Mark: Absolutely. The music is a sixth character in the piece. Michael Hollinger chose pieces that dictate the tone of the scene. I think unless you can relate to how a particular piece of music affects your character and what is about to unfold in the scene it is impossible to grasp the meaning of the scene.

Matthew: Music undoubtedly can affect moods, and much of the music used in the play is very moving. Obviously, Alan loves the music and is at times affected by what they create, and that comes out in his reactions and actions. In my view, Alan isn’t one to totally immerse himself in the music he plays. Oh sure, he works hard to do the music justice, but he also pursues a separate life that has nothing to do with the music. Whether that is dating or enjoying sports, Alan prefers to keep a separate life to balance his musical world, and it shows in his relationships with the others of the quartet. I also think that the relationships between the other members of the quartet echoes, in some ways, the music they play. From the dissonance in the Bartoks that is reflected in personal disagreements and stresses to the beautiful and intricate harmonies in Beethoven’s 131 that reflect their efforts to work together despite everything, the inter-personal relationships of the players can be viewed as a very complex musical composition in and of itself.

Scott: It is essential. We talk a lot in rehearsal about how the music is another character really. It weaves in and out of every scene, establishes moods and shifts and effects all of us in intricate and expansive ways. Just reading about the play, potential audience members will probably have no idea that they are going to enjoy a really fascinating look into the art of making music, the tears, passion, anger, frustration, drama and laughter that it takes to create an ephemeral wisp of beauty.

Any thoughts about the Playhouse and its place in the community?

Desire’: In my opinion, the Playhouse is stationed in an integral area of the community. With it being so close to two universities, it is an escape for the students who love theater and enjoy watching, and participating in shows. As for the rest of the community, the playhouse is in central Montgomery where it is accessible to a wide range of families, schools, and businesses, making it the ideal place for beautiful theater.

Mark: Having been away from the community for 18 years I did not witness the closing of the Montgomery Little Theater where I performed for years. For too long the city has been deprived of a true community theater. For those of us who have a creative drive, it is imperative that the community offer an outlet for those needs. It is not just the artistic community that thrives but to a degree it impacts the economy of a city. The many businesses around the theater benefit whenever the Playhouse has its doors open. Also, when the artistic souls of citizens are not fed, you risk the loss of those citizens. They can be motivated to relocate to be near those venues, especially when they have children that aspire to a career in the arts. (As it is said in the play: “That sounds buggy. You can edit that out.”)

Matthew: What I like most about the Playhouse is how it emphasizes the community aspect. Most community theaters feature three or four theatrical productions a year, and without question the Playhouse offers that. But instead of leaving the theater inactive the rest of the time, the Playhouse features traveling productions and other special events to keep the community involved. From the monthly guitar pull to guest performances of shows like Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, the Playhouse succeeds at being much more than just a community theater. I am convinced that it is that aspect of the theater that will lead it to long-term success… there’s always something going on at the Playhouse, something that the community wants to be a part of.

Scott: I think that Opus is one of those plays that the people of Montgomery would probably never have the opportunity to see, if it were not for the gutsy choices of the board of The Cloverdale Playhouse. Also, I am so happy to be working with some very dear old friends, Mark Hunter and Cushing Phillips, and two new friends, Matthew Givens and the unbelievably talented Desire’ Gaston. If you need a reason to come see Opus, other than the ones I have shared, it is to see this incredible young woman before she leaves us for even greater things. I have very little doubt that she is going to be a major player in the theater world one day!

Greg Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse.


Opus: October 11-21
Performances: Thursday –Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m.
Joe Thomas, Jr. 3rd Tuesday Guitar Pull October 18, 7 p.m. Featured Artists: Wynn Christian, Andrew Lewis & Bret Mosely
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, October 26, 27, * 28 at 7 p.m.

For Tickets and Further Info, call: 334.262.1530


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