Amanda Dehnert is an Associate Professor at Northwestern University who teaches: Special Topics, Music Theatre: Song Performance, Music Theatre Techniques: Principles of Auditioning, Studies in American Theatre & Drama: Conceptualization, Music, and Theatre.
“The Verona Project”, A New Musical written and directed by Amanda Dehnert, her latest work, is currently playing Northwestern University’s Josephine Louis Theater until November 4, 2012. Check the Chicago Splash Magazine calendar for details.
An Interview with Amanda Dehnert follows:
1. In addition to Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, what was your inspiration for creating “The Verona Project”?
I wanted to write music for theatre again; I hadn't done so in awhile, and it's something I really enjoy. I also wanted to make something that was really based in a group, an ensemble, and something fun and funny and lovely and moving.
2. My daughter and her family greatly enjoyed seeing “The Verona Project” production at Cal Shakes. What factors lead to your opening the play there?
It's where I was asked to do it! Jon Moscone, the artistic director, had hired me to direct Shakespeare’s play - and then, the more we talked, the more it started to turn into something inspired by rather than adapted from. And so, it really was very impulsive in a lot of ways, and I think that is actually part of what makes the piece as fun as it is.
3. What are some of the differences between working with the professional cast at Cal Shakes and the primarily student cast here at Northwestern University.
Well, honestly, the biggest difference is simply one of time. The cast out at Cal Shakes was hired to do nothing except work on the Verona project - and we only worked on it for four weeks before it opened.
Here at NU, the American Music Theatre Project was able to get us some rehearsal before school started so we could get ahead of the curve on some things (particularly the music, which is very involved -) but once school started these students become full-time students. They've given the show an amazing amount of their time and energy in addition to being in classes all day long!
4. How do you balance your teaching and creating and producing a work like “The Verona Project”?
I just try to be where I'm at when I'm there. I really love teaching, and so, it's not hard for me to show up and be present in class; I really love working on this piece, so the same holds true there.
5. In this Northwestern production, I thought the lighting was outstanding and a star in its own right. How did the plan for lighting develop as a concept--both separate from and integrated with other elements (music, staging, etc) in the play? How does it change from venue to venue?
Lighting was actually one of our biggest challenges! When we were an outdoors show (in California), much of what we were able to do was determined by when the sun would go down. Inside a theatre we are more responsible for creating lighting throughout, and still trying to capture that lovely open energy that one has on a nice summer night outside. The show is so free-wheeling, there are so many different ways to approach things. We experimented a lot, and we will continue to do so.
6. Pursuing that line, how much do the music, costumes, scenery, and staging from production to production? What elements are integral to the play and won't ever change?
It's hard to say that nothing will ever change because, of course, in live theatre things are always evolving. Also, I do hope that this show will be done by other companies someday, and it will be up to them to do whatever they would like. But as far as I'm concerned, I wrote about four new songs for the production here at NU, and I think at least three of them will stick around into the next production. The setting and the costumes are very tied into my imagining of what the world of the play is, but I still try and look at them and ask myself "is this still working?" We have done some things differently here in Chicago and I expect we will continue to do so as we move on to our next production.
7. What future plans do you have for this musical?
We are being produced by the South Coast Repertory theatre this spring (May of 2013), and I'm in discussions with a theatre on the East coast for a production in the fall.
8. You have lived in many places. What do you like best about being In the Chicago area?
The lake, hands down.
9. Here at Northwestern University "The Verona Project" is presented under the auspices of the American Music Theatre Project in partnership with the Theatre and Interpretation Center. Can you offer any information about these programs?
AMTP is a great program that brings new work to our audiences both on campus and the community. The Theatre and Interpretation Center is where all our theatre offerings happen - productions directed by faculty and guest artists, featuring the work of our students. AMTP specifically serves to find new musicals and help them develop - and along with that, we are able to give our students experience working on new work, which is going to be a big part of their future professional lives. We expose them to many different artists, lots of visiting guests, and it's really a great, exciting thing.
Theatre and Interpretation Center
1949 Campus Drive, Room 229
Evanston, IL 60208-2430
Photos: Courtesy of Northwestern University