Siena’s Cast and Crew Make for Good “Company”
LOUDONVILLE – I recently had the opportunity to chat with some of the cast and crew from Siena College’s production of Company. It was an entertaining and enlightening conversation. Dr. Krista Dennis oversees the Creative Arts department at Siena. She is a theatre-maker, open to adventuresome theatre, and always looking to stretch her students. She promotes the actual productions more as an end result of their thought processes, allowing them the opportunity to delve into the characters the performers are inhabiting, where they are coming from, their own backgrounds, and how that all ties into the play at hand. Her warmth, willingness to share, and clear excitement about what she is doing is patently obvious. Also taking part in the conversation was Company‘s director Sharon Paluch, a Siena alumna and founder/Artistic Director of Consortium Actors, who shares Krista’s contagious enthusiasm for this production.
Paluch was particularly excited about the ability to produce the new, recently seen on Broadway, gender-flipping Company. This Company is updated, and very youth-relatable. According to Paluch, gender is a nonissue. Non-binary is simply who they are, and what their world is about. She felt that incorporating things like cell phones offers these characters a sense of isolation in New York City, rather than the mobs of The City swirling around them.
Both Dennis and Paluch said they feel that Company is a great college show as it offers opportunities for a large number of students; they are able to add any number of ensemble players to participate. The students have been much more willing to delve into their characters and look at new concepts and ways to work than many adults, who come to the table with preconceived ideas not only about their characters but also the world that those characters inhabit. The students built backstories about their characters that, while the audience might never see reflected on the stage, the actors know who they are and where they come from.
Paluch has also built her production of Company with that same intensity. Take the song “Another Hundred People,” for instance, about all the goings on in New York. It was constructed under Paluch as a celebration of all that goes on in Manhattan; set in Grand Central Station, the character Marta being a part of what is happening around her. This is an almost 180-degree flip from the original Broadway staging, where the song appeared to have been almost an indictment of New York, and all that was wrong with Manhattan. What a difference 50 years can make in terms of what one sees; the song is still a mirror of the world around the character, but how that reflection has changed.
The highlight of my conversations was when, after the performance, I had the opportunity to casually meet with some of the cast and crew. Olivia Burns (who plays Bobbie, a woman in this production, with a wonderful mix of confidence and confusion), Mike Denihan (Andy, April in the original), Kendall Paluch (Sarah), Maria Massi (Joanne), and Jack Ellis (Larry) joined me along Stage Manager Jillian Fiddler around the piano in the lobby of the theatre. Each knows exactly who their characters are and how they got the way they are. As a group, they reinforced how the whole gender “thing” was not an issue. As our conversation continued, we seemed to attract more and more cast members to our group, who were eager to listen to the opinions of their peers and join in the conversation.
Company becomes a play more concerned with growing up, taking responsibility for one’s self, and seeing the world with a very different eye, than Sondheim did when he wrote the play in 1970.
Interestingly, there are practically no theater majors involved in the production. These are just a group of very talented young adults who have a passion for theater. The show’s choreographer is also a student.
The series of couples all just want Bobbie to settle down now that she has reached 35. Each couple, (whether gay, straight, or non-binary), attempts to project their version of happiness onto Bobbie, and each looks a bit disparagingly down their nose when she does not appear to care to conform to it. What the audience sees are the insecurities of each couple percolate to the surface throughout the course of the production.
Siena’s theater department, along with Dennis, Paluch, and Musical Director Tim Reno, have banded together to offer these students a safe, warm, nurturing setting to hone their craft and stretch their abilities. The production’s set offers many doors for the performers to go through. Siena has clearly offered its students many doors to pass through as they explore and grow their lives in the theatre.
If you’ve not yet had the opportunity, Company, Stephen Sondheim’s love letter to New York City, runs through this weekend. For more information go to www.siena.edu/creativeartstickets.