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The Glass Menagerie Directors on "The Culture Buzz"


Assistant Director Maggie Schmitt and Director Alex Wendel sit down with John Busbee on the 2/21/24 edition of KFMG's The Culture Buzz.


LISTEN HERE:


TRANSCRIPTION:

Note: transcription edited lightly for clarity. Emphasis ours.


Introduction

JB: John Busbee with The Culture Buzz, and it is my honor to be able to share with you a couple of the creative brain trusts of Central Iowa that expand Iowa. You know we got some of the best folks around right here in our own community, and these two happen to be part of Iowa Stage Theatre Company. Iowa Stage has gone through some retooling recently, and their season is now a calendar year season, so that's why we're just now talking about the first production of the year, which is fascinating to me.


Unless you've been living in a cave, you know by now that [Iowa Stage is] starting the season with a bang, a classical bang at that: The Glass Menagerie. This is a show that is not done that often, and I think one of the reasons it's not done that often is because a lot of community theaters shy away from it. They say, “you know, I don't know… that's an awful lot of good stuff there that we have to kind of make happen.”


As soon as I saw [The Glass Menagerie] on the docket for Iowa Stage Theatre Company, I knew Tennessee Williams’s script was in good hands. This was a bold choice.


Introducing Maggie Schmitt and Alex Wendel

JB: Let me introduce my people. I have with me Maggie Schmitt, who is the Assistant Director of this show, and if that name sounds familiar, it should. You'll see her name pop up on both sides of the curtain, and she's this dynamo of activity here in the community.


Alex Wendel is the Artistic Director for Iowa Stage Theatre Company, but that's not enough hats for him. He’s also the Director and Producer for The Glass Menagerie. You need to find out more information.


Interview

JB: Bold choice. Very bold choice. You and Davida D. Williams are the Artistic Directors for Iowa Stage, and so what'd you do? Like get a double dose of bold pills the morning you decide to start selecting the season?


AW: The Glass Menagerie is a play that's always been dear to me through my entire development as an artist and into what I do now. As I got to Des Moines—I think I've been here just under two years now—I realized I had a lot to learn about the history of this community. So of course I'm going to run into things about StageWest and RTI and how they were different and what they brought to the community.


And as we kind of retool the company and figure out what the vision is going forward, I thought that the first show, the inaugural show of me being in the position that I am in and directing, needed to be something that I believe can marry what Stage West was and what RTI was. A classic, but also something that will push at seams of what we can tell, story tell with theater.


Tennessee Williams had written several plays you'll all be familiar with, but this is the play that has sat closest to me artistically, because he wrote a foreword for it talking about the importance of expressionism on stage and how things are much closer to the truth when they use expressionism and shy away from trying to represent the truth exactly.


And going through some of [Tennessee's] journals and things written about him, I feel as though there was a lot of artistic freedom given for a production of The Glass Menagerie that is rarely taken advantage of. There are things that I believe if we can approach armed with knowledge, both dramaturgically and theatrically, we can put on stage to present a version of The Glass Menagerie that I don't think Central Iowa has seen before.


JB: Well, there you are folks. It starts March 1st, runs through the 10thtwo weekends at the Stoner Theater. And what a sublime space for this. I can only begin to imagine how it's going to be there, because there's an intimacy that few other spaces in Iowa offer.


Now, Maggie, you keep adding feathers to your well-feathered cap, and now you're taking on a director-type role, which, I mean, folks, I wish you could see her. She's kind of glowing right now because she's enjoying this journey, this artistic journey, because you get to kind of expand on the experience you've garnered, the observations you've made, and the studying you've done. Talk a little bit about what it's like to be part of this. I mean, this is like jumping in the deep end. It truly is.


MS: I feel very, very lucky and privileged to be in the position I am. I am learning from some of the greatest artists we have in Des Moines. Alex Wendelwe have in the roomand our actors Davida D. Williams, Jennifer K. D. Hughes, Carl Lindberg, and Brittny Rebhuhn. So every night I go to rehearsal, it's a master class of both directing and acting. I'm just excited to continue my directing career and also jump into my next acting role with this newfound knowledge of how it works behind the curtain. It's kind of become a creative iceberg where people see this part of the iceberg, but beneath the surface, there's so much more...[as you] are learning more.


JB: When was your first experience of learning about Tennessee Williams and The Glass Menagerie?


MS: Similarly to Alex, The Glass Menagerie has held a special place in my heart for well over a decade now. It was actually the first play that I read independently out of interest as a young teenager.


I did a performance of it for speech in high school my sophomore year. It was solo acting, so I played both Amanda and Laura in the business college confrontation scene. I was in over my head a little bit as a 15-year-old playing those roles. As a young person, The Glass Menagerie really taught me what a play can do and what a play can be. So I am thrilled to be revisiting it. I love it.


JB: The Glass Menagerie in the hands of Iowa Stage Theatre Company. I am singing the praises with a choir of fellow anticipatory patrons who are waiting to see what this show is going to be like and what this script is going to be like in the hands of Iowa Stage Theatre Company.


Alex...talk a little bit about your approach, your concept for immersing people into this Tennessee Williams world.


AW: We're currently working with a dramaturg, Giovanni Bahena, who has done a wonderful job with arming all of us in the room with the knowledge we need to make specific choices. This has been an idea that I've had for a long time of seeing this show as something that tells so many different universal stories and perspectives all in the confines of a single room, that everyone can relate to it, which means I believe this is a show that anyone can be a part of.


Williams wrote the Wingfieldsthe mother, the brother, and the sisterwho are all going through different struggles, that at different times in our life we're going to be able to touch or empathize with. And the people who I have cast in these roles are people who specifically have empathetic connections to the character they are playing, even though they might not be a traditional casting choice.


I believe that even if you come into our production not knowing the story, and you see the cast and are confused by how they can be family members, you will be able to sit down, and by the time Tom finishes his opening monologue, you'll be along for the ride as you watch three people in a family grapple with the same things that many of us in the audience grapple with on a daily basis.


JB: You set us up nicely. If people don't want to come to this, then they're missing the boat, folks. That's all there is to it.


Talk about how the two of you work together, because, you know, this is where it's so important. You almost have to be psychically bonded to kind of determine roles and things like that. You probably have had extensive coffee sessions outside of the process. ...Talk about that relationship. I'm gonna let you start, Maggie.


MS: Alex and I have worked together on a number of projects now, and I think it's a common experience for people in Des Moines to be afforded the luxury of having their collaborators be their friends as well. So it's been a real joy to grow in our friendship, to learn from Alex as a director, and to act with him. We have traversed all forms of the artistic terrain together. And yeah, it's a really lovely collaboration, I think.


AW: One of the things that is amazing about having an assistant director who I do feel bonded with artistically is, sometimes we'll get into a rehearsal and we'll be watching a scene, and I'm taking furious notes. And then we get to the end, I realize the only notes I took were for the production team. And then Maggie has all of the things that I would have wanted to catch and write for the actors, but couldn't get on there.


So we get through a run of a scene or an act or the full play, and there are no gaps in what we have to develop and work on further. I get to hyper-focus on a particular thing because I know the rest of it will get picked up by the person right next to me.


JB: A very comprehensive, focused team effort here to make sure that you are going to experience an exceptional production of The Glass Menagerie.


Iowa Stage Theatre Company is producing this show March 1st through the 10th. Go to www.iowastage.org for more information, and most importantly to get your tickets because I don't want you to miss this show.


It will be a great one. Break a leg. I almost said break something else but that would have been so inappropriate. For those of you out there who are groaning, I apologize. For those of you who are scratching your head, come see the production. You'll understand what I mean.


Have a great run. I know it will be. Congratulations on this kind of energized, ubered up version of Iowa Stage Theatre Company. Looking forward to what this year will bring.





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