Preparation for The Prizery’s 2018 Summer Theatre season is officially in full swing. Leading the way is director Chris Jones, followed by musical director Carson Eubank and choreographer Patrick Coleman.
Jones serves as The Prizery’s artistic director and is a veteran when it comes to the summer theatre program. Along with directing, he is also currently co-designing the set for both of the season’s productions, “Oklahoma!” and “Gypsy.”
In second grade, Jones participated in his elementary school’s production of “The Three Bears,” introducing him to the theatre. He also began playing piano at a young age and was always surrounded by music growing up.
As he got older, he became more involved in theatre and decided to pursue it while a student at East Carolina University. He then went on to work at various theatres around the country before deciding to return to school at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music to study piano.
Jones later returned home to Halifax County and worked for Leggett’s stores doing visual merchandising, while also teaching piano on the side. The job required him to travel a lot, but he never let his love for theatre disappear.
“I always managed to do a show, no matter what town I was in,” he recalled.
As artistic director, one of Jones’ responsibilities is selecting shows for The Prizery to perform.
“I try to do shows that I have some feeling about,” he said. “People make suggestions, but if it’s a show I don’t have a heartbeat for, I don’t tackle it.”
Jones also has to take into consideration the amount of space The Prizery’s theatre has and what he can and can’t do on a budget when selecting shows.
“You can do anything if you shape it and scale it right,” he believes. “The theatre’s a wonderful place because you don’t have to do anything the way people have done it in the past. You can make your own ideas. You’re telling a story, and that’s the most important thing, and that can be told in many ways.”
Additionally, Jones attends the Southeastern Theatre Conference each year to hire professional actors and technicians to work for the summer.
There is also a day where the theatre hosts auditions for both professional actors and local community members to showcase their talent.
One of the most exciting days of the summer for Jones is the first day of rehearsal where the entire cast gets together for the very first time.
“You cast all these individual people, and you hope and pray that it’ll create a little chemistry,” he said.
The professional cast for this summer is entirely new to The Prizery’s program. However, some technicians have returned from previous summers, that has already proved helpful since they already know the process.
Similar to Jones, Carson Eubank began playing piano around five or six years old, and it helped introduce him to the theatre world. Additionally, his mother took him to his first musical, “Les Miserables,” when he was younger, and he fell in love.
Throughout middle school, high school and college, Eubank was dedicated to theatre. After graduating from James Madison University last year, he was offered a part-time position there as a staff accompanist. He will be returning to JMU in the fall in the same position but full-time.
Though he started as a performer, Eubank found a passion for musical direction during his sophomore year of college when he was given the opportunity to help as an accompanist when there was a lack of staff.
“I e-mailed the director of the program, and I did that, and I saw how much I liked doing it,” he recalled about what drew him to musical direction.
Eubank tends to gravitate towards older musicals but has an appreciation for recent works by people such as Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“I think part of what is exciting about musicals today is that writers are incorporating rap and hip-hop with more classical musical theatre music,” he said.
To prepare for his role as musical director, Eubank goes through the score at least a month in advance to find where most of his time and focus needs to be. He then plans a rehearsal schedule, not an easy task when in rehearsals for three shows at one time. His focus is usually on ensemble pieces first, so the actors become familiar with the music as early as possible. Then, more individual coaching with the lead actors is done later in the process.
“I try to make sure we are all on the same page,” he said. “I try to aid the actor in understanding the music and how it informs their character.”
Also a newcomer to The Prizery, Patrick Coleman was “bitten by the bug” after seeing a production of “The Lion King” when he was young. He began to pursue theatre and attended a performing arts high school for his junior and senior year. Coming from a background of hip-hop and African style dance, he was introduced to ballet and jazz there.
Coleman attends Elon University where he graduated last year. During his junior year, he was given the opportunity to travel around the country of Ghana and dance for the people there, many of whom did not speak English.
“It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever done,” he said. “It showed me that even if you don’t understand what it means, you can appreciate it. I love to bring dance to others.”
This summer will be Coleman’s first time choreographing an entire show by himself, but he is ready for the challenge.
“I have a love for problem-solving, making things up on the fly and making things work,” he said.
When choreographing, Coleman usually decides on a number that he wants to do and then looks to inspiration from pictures or videos. He also considers the story that needs to be told while also making sure everyone is having fun with it.
One of the most significant challenges Coleman will face this summer is choreographing the 15-minute long “dream dance” number from “Oklahoma!” With the show being the first of its kind to use dance as a storytelling device rather than just filler, he has to focus even more on how to make the movements make sense.
“There’s so much detail in the music and heart to be found,” he said.
The three are looking forward to collaborating with each other this summer and to work together to create the best pieces of theatre possible for audiences.
The Prizery’s Summer Theatre opens with “Oklahoma!” on June 22 and runs through July 1. Tickets are currently available by calling the box office at 434-572-8339, online at www.prizery.com, or at the box office located at 700 Bruce Street. Tickets for “Red, White & Broadway” and “Gypsy” are also on sale now.