Smile Politely

The holidays are too busy for theatre? Nunsense!

Twin City Squared is a new theatre company made up of old hands at the theatre. Michael Galloway and John Tilford are names known even to me, a relative newcomer, and they are just two of the founders on a mission to keep local theatre constant, relevant, and fresh in the Champaign area. Part of that is putting on plays that don’t overlap with other area theatres, which is nice, because sometimes I run out of writers or photographers. Still, no one should have to choose between productions. 

December’s production is Nunsense!, that crowd-pleasing, catchy musical that started as a line of greeting cards and has become a franchise with eight sequels! Michigan native Dan Goggin, having grown up Catholic with nuns as teachers in his school, wrote a comedic work loosely based on some of the personality types he encountered throughout his youth. Think about it… cooking that is so bad it kills over fifty nuns in one fell swoop? What elementary-aged kid hasn’t had that daydream? The nuns not present for the meal are left holding the bag to pay for all those burials, and when money runs out with a few to go, they decide to hold a fundraising variety show. 

Everyone could use a laugh during the high-stress holiday season, but in case you’re curious about some of the finer points of the production, director Garth Gersten had a few things to say. 

Smile Politely: [We’ve] seen and enjoyed most of the performers in your current cast. How are they merging together as an ensemble? 

Garth Gersten: This cast has melded much better than I could have hoped for.  They listen to each other. They are supportive. They discuss how they view their character should act with each other — and discuss with me, of course! They are able to make each other laugh — when appropriate — and occasionally, when it is not appropriate.  We have had a tight rehearsal schedule, but they all came in prepared and have worked real hard.    

SP: Nunsense is a great comedy for people looking to laugh, and take away a toe-tapping number, but what, if any, are other reasons to come see the production? 

Gersten: Well, first people should come just because it’s a great show. But, there are some other compelling reasons! We are presenting this show in the Second Stage at Parkland. It is a more intimate space, and we think — and hope — this makes for a more immersive and entertaining experience.  I’d say this is the same show — but different! Each actor in this cast has her own unique take on each of the nuns — which we all worked on developing so these nuns are different while true to the material. The choreography by Whitney Havice is not just toe-tapping, but expresses the story and adds so much to these characters.  We have a rockin’ three piece band led by a newcomer to the Champaign Urbana area.      

SP: I’m sure there are a lot of great stories about the cast and antics during rehearsals. Could you share a favorite? 

Gersten: There is a single line in the script which comes right before a song in Act One which, frankly, is only slightly humorous on the page.  However, the actor’s delivery was so different — unexpected — and hilarious, that everyone broke up the first time. And the second time. And the third time.  I do not think we have gotten through that scene without someone on stage breaking character and laughing.  I hope they hold it together during the actual shows — and, of course, I hope that the audience will find it just as funny. 

SP: What did you hope to bring to our community by staging the original Nunsense? There was talk of bringing the playwright into town, did that come to fruition? 

Gersten: Unfortunately, Dan Goggin’s schedule did not work out for him to make it to Champaign. However, Dan was able to do interviews with the News-Gazette and will be on Penny For Your Thoughts on Thursday, December 10th. Dan did send us some special signed Nunsense merchandise which we will be raffling off.  Why stage Nunsense? Simply, we wanted to bring some holiday cheer since the original Nunsense has not been performed in this area for quite some time. Depending on this show’s success, we are considering trying to do an annual Nunsense show in December — since there are, at last count, 7 of them!  We also wanted to start Twin City Squared out with a show that hopefully would be popular so that we can do some of the other shows on our wish list.

SP: The thing I keep hearing about Twin City squared is the desire to be different, and to give under-represented actors a voice. While casting men in Nunsense isn’t unusual, it could seem contrary to your mission, since middle-aged white men are the most prevalent demographic in theatre. What factors went in to the decision to cast Jim Dobbs as Mother Superior in your production? 

Gersten: Well, we only have one middle aged white man in the show — whereas other shows have many more.  We are spotlighting four very talented women.  We are hoping to continue to produce shows which have more female roles as well as people of all ethnicities. Indeed our next show is For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf, which is a cast of seven African American women. The opportunity to present Nunsense this month at the Second Stage at Parkland opened up rather late in the game.  We did not have time to audition the community.  Instead, we asked people to be in the show whom we knew could jump in and meet our tight rehearsal schedule and whom we could trust to do a terrific job.  And, when we talked about Mother Superior, and how much of a broad comedic part it was — that it called for not just comedic timing, but improvisational skills and a dominating presence — we agreed we were looking for a female version of Jim Dobbs. So, we decided why not just ask Jim Dobbs. And he’d played Edna in Hairspray at the Station.  While there are other people in the community who would have done a great job, there is only one Jim Dobbs.  And when people see this show, we think they will agree.      

SP: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know before coming to the show? 

Gersten: The show is at the Second Stage at Parkland, not the Miner Theatre. We will have a sign, but people need to know to move to the left when they enter the Theatre doors across from the Planetarium. There are about 110 seats available for each show and there are no assigned seats, so buying seats in advance and getting there when doors open is advisable. We have a special four-pack available online only.     

Nunsense! will be staged this week and next, December 11th, 12th, 17th, 18th, and 19th at 7 p.m. There will be matinees on December 12th, 13th, and 20th at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and the student/senior discount takes the price down to $12. While the Second Stage at Parkland College is hosting the production, it is brought to you by Twin City Squared. 

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