Wyoming in Motion’s Behind the Scenes Theatre Spotlight focuses on the Candlelight Dinner Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast, co-directed and co-choreographed by Jessica Hindsley and Kate Vallee.
Jessica Hindsley answers a few questions on how she and Kate Vallee teamed up to create this magical evening.
1. How did you divide the directing and choreographing responsibilities?
We really worked through both elements of the process together as a team.
We sat down and blocked the show first, discussing the characters, objectives and how we wanted to communicate our vision in each piece of the show. We had to keep in mind that some of the characters are in huge costume pieces and can’t cross backstage quickly or that some scenes change location several times in a matter of pages.
Once the show was blocked we tackled choreography starting with the big numbers (“Be Our Guest”, “Gaston”, etc). To prepare for the show we set aside three days a week to meet and work and would spend several hours breaking down 8-counts and dancing around the house.
Some of the smaller numbers we split up between us so that we could divide and conquer in rehearsal. For example: If one of us choreographed a smaller number we could teach that number and block a scene at the same time.
Both Kate and I have different strengths that are keys to our success as a team, I have a degree in Directing and extensive experience with this show in particular while Kate is a World Tap Dance champion and a former Radio City Rockette. We are also very close friends and found ourselves finishing one another’s sentences and thoughts both in our preparation and during rehearsal. We found that we balance each other incredibly well.
2. What is your process in choreographing the dance numbers?
Sometimes we just turn on music and move! We are both performers as well so we want to create movement that feels good, tells the story and still allows our actors to sing the material.
It’s really fun to choreograph with someone else because if you get stuck you have another brain working with you.
Just like writer’s block, we can get blocked too and the key is to keep moving. Designing choreography for the whole company can be tricky because quite often everyone is doing something different. It’s so exciting to watch those numbers come together but they are difficult to choreograph and teach.
A number like “Be Our Guest” can take 10-16 hours to choreograph and anywhere between 4-9 rehearsal hours to teach. Kate and I were able to do it quickly because we could divide up the sections and teach at the same time but if you have only one choreographer teaching it all it’s much harder.
3. When staging each scene, do you go in order, scene by scene, or do you work on the musical numbers first and then put them together with the rest of the show?
It’s different for each show.
We are working with the availability of our music director and actors so we try make a schedule that works best for everyone.
I like to teach the big numbers as soon as we can so we have plenty of time to make them look great.
We blocked the show pretty quickly because we knew we would spend a considerable about of time adjusting our blocking once we got onto our set.
You rehearse on another show’s set for the first couple of weeks so you can tell the Beast there are stairs going off stage here but it doesn’t feel real until he is on physical stairs. We spent a lot of time focusing on character work and relationships during these weeks.
Once the show is blocked and the dance numbers are learned we can start spacing and cleaning. That means we get picky and make sure the actors are evenly spaced on the stage and that everyone’s arms look the same so the dance numbers look “clean.”
4. Do you “block” movements on stage first with the actors still with their scripts, and then “direct” them after they know their lines without the script, or do you give them direction while they’re still learning their lines?
We like to give them direction while they are learning. They are encouraged to find their own character choices but we want them to know why we’ve decided they move across the stage. It’s called their motivation. For example, if you are sitting on the couch and get angry you might feel motivated to stand up.
The music director works with them on the vocal aspects of their songs but Kate and I work with them on the acting side of their songs as well. –What are you singing about and why? — We want them to be thinking about these things while they are learning so that they can be developing a solid character from the start.
5. Did you have all the scenery available to you while you were working on stage?
The actors had seen drawings of the set and we had access to benches but not much else. Our props designer Becky brought in props for them on the first day of rehearsal which was incredibly helpful. It is tricky for them to imagine the set, especially one this big!
We showed them drawings as we got updated renderings and took them back to the shop as pieces were finished to help give them a big picture. We were also lucky enough to have a week and a half of tech to adapt to our set.
6. Any final words?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with such an incredible cast and team. This show is a monster to put up and the magic is a very important part. We worked tirelessly to get it right and I hope the audience feels like they are seeing something very special.
I’m very proud to have been a part of a powerhouse female production team!