Monthly Archives: July 2015

An Interview with Theatre Under the Trees Director, Michelle Denise Norton

Director Michelle Denise Norton sat down with DreamWrighters to answer some questions about Theatre Under the Trees. You won’t want to miss a performance. There are three performances left! July 31 @ 6:30pm William Kain County Park, Aug 1 @ 6:30pm Codorus State Park, and Aug 2 @ 2:30pm at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre. Admission is free!


DW: What is Theatre Under the Trees?  

MDN: Theatre Under The Trees is a branch of DreamWrights that tours the comedies of William Shakespeare in local parks.  Admission is free.  

DW: When/How did it get started?

MDN: In 1998, I wanted to direct an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the DreamWright’s Board agreed to support it.  The first year was a success and we have continued evolving over seventeen years.  I like to say I want to direct a show I’d love to sit in the audience for.  We aim to show people why Shakespeare still draws audiences after more than 4 centuries.  And to remind the world that Shakespeare wrote comedies as least as well as he wrote anything else.  I am amazed and very grateful that so many people have volunteered their time and talent for a program I feel so strongly about.

DW: How has it changed over the years?

MDN: Well, I took a year off, only to discover I missed it terribly and everyone still talked to me about Shakespeare anyway. <wink> Each year is really different.  I have learned to plan just enough ahead that I am ready to see who auditions and build the show from there.  Some years have different needs. The last time we did The Tempest, I knew I wanted to create a storm with dancers so I started discussing the show with a choreographer several months in advance.  But what we were able to do started from the people who showed up at auditions to share their talents. 

DW: What is your favorite performance and why?

MDN: I have two. One was a dress rehearsal of the original production of Twelfth Night and it was just a beautiful night outside, listening to one of Shakespeare’s best plays, done well by people enjoying the challenge. The actors had responded to every note I’d given them. Everything clicked.  It was perfect. The other was sitting in the grass at Sam Lewis Park watching Merchant of Venice.  One of the actresses had missed the previous performance due to a family emergency. I’d had to perform in her stead and when she came back, the entire cast had a new energy.  It was amazing.  Plus, I could sit in the grass in casual clothes rather than being onstage in a sweater, skirt and pantyhose.

DW: How is Shakespeare challenging and rewarding?

MDN: It’s rewarding for me because I get to see some of my favorite characters, vibrant, on stage, having new dimensions thanks to the actors who make them live.  The challenge is taking a random group of people and merging them with a play I’ve picked far in advance.  It can be a little scary the night between audition days.  

MDN: From a directing standpoint, I try to forget a lot of what I’ve done before so I can discover things again with a new cast.  It’s a group challenge to work out the meaning and dynamics of each play and relationship, as well as the physicality required by comedy in the Theatre Under The Trees style. With Shakespeare, we have to pay a lot of attention to the language, but the reward is the wonderful pictures Shakespeare created that the actors get to paint for the audiences.  

DW:   How is performing outside different then in a traditional theatre setting?

MDN: Performing actually started outside, with the Greeks and their theaters with seating cut into the sides of hills for better acoustics.  And in Shakespeare’s time, theaters lacked roofs and were open to wind and weather.  For our actors, we spend a lot of time building our voices and becoming aware of the mechanics of projection.  Changing locations for every performance brings unique challenges.  We learn to be flexible. We rehearse outside as much as possible and have tech and dress rehearsals in people’s backyards, weather permitting.

DW:     How can/ does weather play into your performances?

MDN: We stop for lightning.  The rest we mostly adjust to.  Everyone who has done Theatre Under The Trees has at least one good weather story. It’s always fun to hear people recalling their rain/hail/wind adventures for newcomers.  

DW: What’s the best thing for you about Theatre Under the Trees ?

MDN: The people I’ve met.  

Four Tips for Nailing your Dance Audition

Grease Audition Team

So you are excited for the next DreamWrights show auditions, but you realize that there will be dancing and you are worried that the audition team and choreographer won’t like what they see.  Here are some tips about what your choreographer is looking for and how you can make the most out of your audition.


Choreographers want to see how you naturally move

Maybe you’ve never taken a dance class.  It doesn’t matter.  Even if you don’t know your pirouette from a grapevine, if you know how to shift your weight you’ll do fine for a DreamWrights show.  Come ready to dance.  If you aren’t dressed to dance it is a dead giveaway that you can’t or don’t care to.  Stay loose and just do your best to put your feet and hands where they should be on the appropriate beats.  Your natural instincts and reflexes should take over from there.

Choreographers are looking for how quickly you can learn the work

The audition starts the moment you start to learn the sample combination.  The quicker you can pick it up, the more valuable you’ll be as a performer.  Even if you don’t feel like you are naturally gifted at dancing, if you can demonstrate that you can remember what comes next you’ll have a huge advantage over performers who are tourists in the dancing portion of the audition.

Choreographers are looking for performers with poise

Choreographers know that everyone screws up every once and a while.  The faster you can get back into the combination after making a mistake the better.  Don’t wince or indicate any displeasure, and you might find that the audition team might not even know you made a mistake.

Choreographers are looking for performers who “make it a moment”

2015-07 Andrew Smith

When a choreographer says “make it a moment”, they mean that they want to see you be aggressive and stretch to reach each step to make it as big as possible.  Own the combination and actually perform it rather than just going through the motions.  Stick the beats, and extend energy away from your body like a superhero when you reach and point.  Be authentic and enthusiastic!  Don’t groan and look pained.  Overall, have fun and accept your dance audition as a new challenge.  If you approach it as a great opportunity rather than a chore, you’ll find that you can get the most out of your theatre experience.

Andrew Smith
IT Professional by day
Choreographer by night


The Importance of Not Knowing Everything

We all know this person.  Sometimes we will be impressed by them for a short time.  They are so supremely confident.  All of the answers to everything are at their command.   Just ask them … anything!

I have known for 68 years now that ‘knowing everything’ is A) not possible, and B) not to be wished for.  In fact it is extremely detrimental!

know it all

I will speak particularly of this malady as it occurs in my area of expertise … live theatre.  Beware, it can happen at any age.  No one is born with it.  It does not, thank heavens, appear to be contagious.  So how do you become infected?

All actors receive praise via applause.  This is good and healthy.  However, well meaning family and friends can often go overboard. We’ve all heard them raving, sometimes long after the show, about their son, daughter, husband, friend.  They say such things as,  “I can’t believe how good you were.”  ” You really were that character.”  “You’re just a natural.”  “You were better than Broadway.”  “Did you see what he/she did?  Wasn’t it unbelievable?”

You hear this once or twice and you’re safe.  If this is constant, you risk getting an enlarged head.  Soon you realize that you are indeed better than every other actor in the universe.  This, however, is not true.

It is also self defeating.  I have witnessed this many a time.  Try as I might not to cast these folks, every now and I then I slip up.  Some are good enough actors to fool me at an audition.  However it doesn’t take long for their superior selves to emerge.

The sad thing is they generally have some ability.  However they can’t work WITH other people (which is what live theatre is all about) because they (think they are) are better actors than the others.  It is impossible for them to take direction, because they know everything.  They tend not to work at all.  Saying such things as, “I’m saving myself for the audience.”  That, friends, is garbage!

Those who are thusly afflicted have effectively stopped any and all possibility for growth … professionally and personally.  Live theatre and life is meant to be interactive, which means interacting is a must.  Plus, if you already know everything then what is the point?  I would surely perish without questions to ask, and constant new moments that take my breath away.  Life is much more exciting not knowing everything!

Diane Crews, Artistic Director and Playwright in Residence