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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Songs We’re Addicted To

Our workshop production of The Gambler goes into previews tomorrow. To celebrate our fifth show of the season, we’ve assembled this playlist of Songs We’re Addicted To. Featuring our favorite gambling songs, like Sinatra’s Luck Be A Lady, and the songs we just can’t stop listening to, like Ed Sheeran’s The Shape of You, this playlist is a safe bet for some nostalgia and dancing!

Enjoy these tunes and then visit Villanova Theatre for this special workshop production.

THE GAMBLER runs at Villanova Theatre from April 26-30 at Vasey Hall. Tickets are FREE, but pre-reservation is suggested. For more information or to book your free ticket visit or call the Box Office at 610-519-7474.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The heart of THE GAMBLER with Dramaturg Kasey Phillips

Second year graduate student Kasey Phillips, who you may recognize from this seasons LAGAN and ELECTRA, is stepping behind the scenes as Dramaturg for our workshop production of THE GAMBLER. She took some time out of her busy schedule to give us an inside glimpse into the "quick and dirty" world of Owen McCafferty's play:
Dramaturg Kasey Phillips

As a dramaturg and writer, it would be an understatement to say that I am lucky to be working alongside internationally recognized playwright and Villanova’s Heimbold Chair, Owen McCafferty. It is the first year that the Villanova Theatre Department has added a workshop production to its main stage season, and to have the opportunity to help lead The Gambler to the stage for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget.

When dramaturging a show, it’s not often you have primary source material so readily available in the process of sifting through a play. With Owen in the room, the actors, assistant director Sarah Kelly, director David Bradley and I never have to wait for the answers to our burning questions about the play. It’s a really incredible energy swarming the theater. David can turn to me to uncover the logistics of status of the 19th century Russian aristocracy (one of the many layers of Dostoevsky’s novella The Gambler, from which McCafferty’s play is based), or he can turn directly to Owen and ask where the heat of each scene is hidden. It’s such a wonderful chemistry to have the romance of the history and the immediacy of the story at hand at our every beck and call.

David Bradley and I throw around the phrase, “quick and dirty” dramaturgy, which I think is such a fun, practical and brilliant summation of what this process from my end has been like, and what I imagine will continue to be.

Unlike the other four main stage productions this season, The Gambler has a shortened rehearsal time, which quickens the momentum of production—both externally and internally. Where it could be very tempting to get lost in the rabbit holes of research areas in this play—for example, the psychosis surrounding gambling, addiction and into the extended history of Russian, German, and French aristocracy—David challenges me to look for the tangible data. In theatre terms, I look for the “playable” research—bits of information that could fall into these categories, but instead of the actors spending precious time reading in depth research – I try to give them research they can put immediately into their bodies and onto the stage.

The stakes are high, both for the characters in the play, and for us as a team building the world around them. In a way the quick process makes sense. After all, we are in Roulettenburg, an imagined casino town where people play for keeps, bet it all to win, and lose it all for a chance. A “quick and dirty” process is logical. The rehearsals themselves give resonance to the spinning wheel McCafferty has created, and the true nature of these characters as each begs the question—what would you gamble for a chance at love? 

Owen McCafferty's copy of
Before our first read through, Owen handed me the copy of Dostoevsky’s novella he used to write his adaptation. I carry it to each and every rehearsal, and even if I don’t pull it out, it’s a helpful behind the scenes companion to the piece. In the margins, Owen has scribbled notes of his own as to what he thinks are the most important moments of the novel to bring to life onstage. In our many conversations, Owen reiterates that no matter how this story is placed in history, at the end of the day, at its heart, The Gambler is a modern story of how human beings interact with one another. In his copy of the novella, Owen underlines a piece of speech spoken by one of the lead characters, Alexei Ivanovich: “…as for gains and winnings—people everywhere, not only at the roulette table, do nothing but gain or win something from each other.”

It is here we find the heart and soul of not only 19th century Russian national character, but of this new play, and most importantly, ourselves. It is my hope that Owen’s blend of brilliant story telling and our team’s artistic vision keeps the audiences' minds spinning—wanting to take a chance and invest in these characters just like I have done.

THE GAMBLER runs at Villanova Theatre from April 26-30 at Vasey Hall. Tickets are FREE, but pre-reservation is suggested. For more information or to book your free ticket visit or call the Box Office at 610-519-7474.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Taking On An Iconic Character with Laura Barron

Second year graduate assistant Laura Barron, who you may recognize from our Fall production of MARISOL, is now tackling the lead role of Jo March in our current production of LITTLE WOMEN. Laura took some time out of her insanely busy schedule to discuss her process of building the character of Jo March. Get to know more about Jo and Laura here:  

Laura Barron as Jo March. Photo by Paola Nogueras.
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is a story for the ages, it has inspired and been loved by readers for generation after generation. That love stems from an overwhelming connection to the characters in the story and the ability to relate to them on many levels. Alcott's main character, Jo March, is no exception. She is revered by many as a favorite character in literature. She was not like many women of her time, outgoing, outspoken, driven by her passions, and yet similar in that she is deeply invested in her family. As an actress, it was intimidating to know how important and loved Jo is as a character, to women and men alike. How would I be able to embody the Jo they picture in their head, or bring her spirit to life? Instead of letting that overwhelm me, throughout the process I tried to have fun with the role, and bring my own spirit and passions into the mix. I stayed grounded knowing that it's not the exact Jo that Alcott put on the page, but a re-imagining of her by the writers of the musical. The material I needed to learn in a short amount of time was so vast, that I almost didn't have time to stop and worry about if I was being the "Jo March" readers would expect. With that being said, I loved the rehearsals in which we were able to do character work and dig a little deeper into finding a balance in the role that would be a good fit for me.

The four March sisters and their Marmee.
Photo by Paola Nogueras.
Another challenge I faced was understanding the bonds of sisterhood, from the strength of the love that is shared between them, to the utter chaos that might ensue when they don't get along. I grew up with two older brothers, so while sibling rivalry and love still exist between us, I have come to learn through the process that it's not quite the same as having sisters. My cast mates and director Valerie Joyce helped me gain a better understanding of what having sisters might be like, through their personal experiences. It was fun to have new "sisters" in my life for this process. 

At Villanova, I have the unique opportunity to work in the costume shop while getting my Masters. I have an Assistantship in costumes and have helped cut and sew different garments for the show since last Fall. We began making petticoats and hoop skirts back in November and we haven't stopped. Stepping out onto the stage in something I helped make is an absolute joy. I have the opportunity to sing one of the most challenging songs I've had to tackle in a show, "Astonishing", while wearing a top I sewed. I am extremely proud of the work the whole costume crew has done under the direction and guidance of our extremely talented cutter draper, Jenn Lanyon, and show designer and shop coordinator, Janus Stefanowicz. I have learned so much from both of them and can't wait for audiences to see not only the costumes, but all of the design elements brought to life by the hardworking, talented, prop and set shops at Villanova. 

Laura Barron as Jo March. Photo by Paola Nogueras.
Stepping into the shoes of Jo March became a little easier when leaning on others throughout the process. The support of the entire cast and crew has helped me immensely, from the dressers who
help me change over 8 times, sometimes in under 40 seconds, to the stage management team who helped with lines and are always ready with props and kind words, to a cast full of such talented and amazing scene partners, the dramaturg who helped us step into the time period of Alcott's book, to the music directors that are always helping us to sound our best, and a director who has an overarching vision that put all the pieces together. I am inspired by and proud of the work everyone has put in to bring this show to life.

LITTLE WOMEN runs at Villanova Theatre from March 28-April 9 at Vasey Hall. Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, faculty/staff, and senior citizens. For tickets or information please visit or call the Box Office at 610-519-7474.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Bringing the characters of LITTLE WOMEN to new life

Second year graduate student Sean Connolly, who you may recognize from last season’s TRANSLATIONS, is completing his Dramaturgy thesis on our current production of LITTLE WOMEN. He took some time to chat with us about Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel and inspiring play. Learn more about LITTLE WOMEN here:

Dramaturging Little Women: The Musical has been an fascinating challenge. Having been constricted to straight plays since childhood, delving into a musical has not only opened my eyes to music, but helped me find those nuggets of drama magic and nuance in dialogue that only musicals can provide. For me, it has been a truly exciting production to be a part of. Firstly, Little Women takes place in such a rich time period to research, it is honestly a dramaturg’s dream, especially since it is a part of history not often discussed. When we talk about the Civil War, we often think of great battles, or burning Southern towns. If we are especially attuned we might even consider the dramatizations presented in Gangs of New York or Gone With The Wind. But real in depth exploration of the home front, particularly the Northern Home Front, has been left to very few aging historians. That is for the exception of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. What’s really exciting about Little Women: The Musical, and particularly working with Valerie as director of the musical, is that we are really trying to bring this classic story into the 21st Century.

Louisa May Alcott
The roots of this modern interpretation are already explored by Alcott herself, but have often been lost in the nostalgia of the piece. At the time Alcott’s tale was radical and revolutionary. This was partially because she was a Transcendentalist, a passionate Abolitionist, feminist and reformer. Which brings up one of the most contentiously talked about moments in Little Women. Thousands of readers of the novel have asked the question: Why doesn’t Jo marry Laurie? This resulted in some very forceful conversations with publishers and fans of the novel in 1868. However, the answer is actually quite simple. Alcott didn’t want Jo to marry at all.

Alcott wanted to create a female character, Jo, who didn’t need a man. This was very radical back then. Hundreds wrote to Alcott to complain when Jo refused Laurie’s proposal. Eventually publishers got involved and threatened to not publish  Little Women Part 2 if Jo remained unmarried. Clearly they were hoping to force Alcott into marrying Jo to Laurie. Alcott was so furious, she developed a new plan. She would marry Jo off, but not to Laurie, the man everyone wanted, but to Professor Bhaer. All of this had an unintended consequence. There are moments of possible passion in the music and on the page, but they have been hidden beneath a Victorian view of Alcott’s world and a holy reverence of the novel. On the surface all the characters are in their head, they all have an intellectual affection for one another but not a physical one. All this comes back to that original question that thousands of readers have been asking since 1868, why doesn’t Jo marry Laurie?

For our production we wanted to connect these characters to the 21st century in which open sexuality and human desire are more present on the surface of our interactions with someone we might be interested in. This has led to incredible discoveries during the rehearsal process. For instance, to find Laurie’s motivation, we had to make him a little boastful - he can’t just be the kid next door; he needs to have swagger.  Laurie must be a complex character, driven not only by an intellectual admiration of Jo but also a sexual drive. Jo is similarly complex. She is driven intellectually, but we also we need to know she is free-thinking and passionate as well. Jo's desire becomes a powerful impetus behind her decision to not marry Laurie. Instead she finds an equal partner in both intellect and passion when she falls for Professor Bhaer. These explorations of character have made working on this production so much more fascinating beyond the rich historical time period. For me, it proves that these characters are just as real and exciting now as they were in 1868.

LITTLE WOMEN runs at Villanova Theatre from March 28-April 9 at Vasey Hall. Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, faculty/staff, and senior citizens. For tickets or information please visit or call the Box Office at 610-519-7474.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Not-So Little Women Playlist

We're getting into the musical spirit, just in time for our upcoming production of LITTLE WOMEN: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL. In the spirit of the production we've assembled this Not-So Little Women Playlist, featuring some of our favorite female artists. From Janis Joplin to Beyonce; Ella Fitzgerald to the Spice Girls; this playlist has something for everyone, and will certainly inspire you to get up on your feet and dance.

Get into the musical spirit and then join us at the theatre for LITTLE WOMEN!

LITTLE WOMEN previews on March 28th, opens on March 29th and performs through April 9th. Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, senior citizens, and groups. For tickets and more information visit 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Impossible Here and Now: An Actors’ World of LAGAN

Second year acting scholar Chris Monaco shared his thoughts with us about our current production of Stacey Gregg’s LAGAN. In addition to playing Ian, the young writer, LAGAN is Chris’ thesis play! Learn more about Chris’ process and the kaleidoscopic world of LAGAN here:

I had no idea what to expect when they announced the third show last year. “Lagan? How do you pronounce that? La GAHN? LAY-gin? Is the ‘g’ silent?” Little did I know I would eventually fall in love with the city of Belfast as written in Stacey Gregg’s play, or that I would end up doing my acting thesis on the play. The process thus far has been a huge learning curve - I’ve discovered crucial things about myself as an actor and also as a person. I’ve been keeping a journal as part of the thesis, and as Allyce (who plays my sister Aoife) pointed out, my real-life journaling blurred the line between Chris and Ian, who is also a writer and spends much of his time negotiating his external life with his inner world - trapped in his own thoughts as life goes on around him. I’ve never journaled before so it’s been really useful. Journaling has been a great way to check in with my process, how each rehearsal feels, and allows me to track my process night by night as I chip my way into the show.

Working with our director, KC has also been incredible. She’s an inspiring woman, in that she knows exactly how to coax the perfect performance out of her actors without ever exhibiting anger or panic or any of the other ugly emotions that can scare an actor in the wrong direction. She’s funny, cool, laid back, and has been absolutely fearless at the helm of this massively challenging show, one which has never been seen on American soil! 
Lagan is Irish to the core. 50% of my genetic code is Irish, but I grew up 100% Italian. All I know about Northern Ireland is that Game of Thrones films there and that Irish names are the coolest names on earth (I did a film once with an Irish guy whose son was named Diarmuid. Isn’t that such a cool name?! It took me a full day to figure out how to say it, though.) Needless to say, any time I work on an Irish play – Lagan is my third foray into that beautiful country - an obstacle that stands in my way is the accent. There are so many variants on the Irish brogue, and each experience has required a complete re-evaluation of the way I pronounce vowels and consonants.

I worked on Translations at Villanova last year in which we decided to ‘create’ an Irish language because it took place in a fictional Irish town, thus giving us the liberty to create an accent which would fall easily on American ears. Lagan takes place in contemporary Belfast, thus requiring an authentic accent. Lucky for us, Villanova was able to provide us the most valuable asset possible: Andrea Ainsworth, the vocal coach from the Abbey Theatre. Andrea nearly broke me, in the best possible way. In order to learn the Northern Irish accent, I had to forget everything I thought I knew about the English language. Any of my fellow actors could tell you how much I struggled with certain words - I still get red in the face trying to pronounce the word “school.”The accent was a challenge on its own, but Andrea also taught me to rethink the way I use my voice onstage - as an actor I tend to be quiet, not using much of the resonant space in my mouth. Andrea did tons of exercises with the cast to expand, accentuate, and punch different areas of the body to access different parts of our voices. The process was really incredible, even though I left more than a few rehearsals positive I would never get things right.

Near the end of Lagan, Ian asks: “Am I a cliché?” It’s an important question for the character, but also for myself as the actor playing him. There are many aspects to Ian which could inevitably lead an actor to playing him as a stereotype: he’s a writer who frequently falls in love with his own clever witticisms; he’s a tweed-wearing Anglophile; he’s quick to judge others: he compares old women to men in drag and girls who wear makeup must dabble in self-harm; and he’s gay but unable to come out to his mother. An actor playing a role like Ian could easily fall prey to judging him as harshly as some of the characters in the play do and choose to play only his cliché traits. Oddly enough, early in the process I struggled with the opposite problem: I chose to ignore Ian’s less-desirable qualities.

Typically when approaching a role, I immediately grab ahold of the similarities between myself and a character and consider how the character views the world. In the first weeks of rehearsal, I had absolutely no doubt that Ian was supremely likable and was 100% justified in saying everything that he does. When KC asked me to consider the way characters like the Taximan and Aoife talk about Ian, I realized this guy’s human. He’s not a cliché, but he’s also not some blameless superhero. He’s just a 24 year old guys, a writer, dealing with life just the same as I am.  

I look forward to greeting audiences into the world of
Lagan. We’ve reached a point where everything feels familiar because the cast has grown to know these characters, this world, and the amazing interconnecting stories about a Belfast still learning to knit itself together. It is exciting to share this with an audience and let them in on the beauty of it all.

Lagan is the kind of show that keeps on giving - it’s smart as hell and so rich with character tics, backstory, humor and wit. Audiences who come with an open mind and a willingness to be transported into what Ian calls “the impossible here and now” will be rewarded ten times over. There’s so much love imbued in this production - the painstaking care each cast and crew member has given to this show is really palpable. It’s the kind of show I’d want to see twice - once to take it all in, and again to close my eyes and just listen to the music of the script Gregg has given us to work with.

This has been one trip abroad I never want to come back from.

LAGAN runs at Villanova Theatre through the end of this weekend (closing on February 19th). Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, faculty/staff, and senior citizens. For tickets or information please visit or call the Box Office at 610-519-7474.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Belfast Ballads Playlist

Tonight is the preview performance of the American premiere of Lagan. Set in Northern Ireland's capital city, Belfast, we decided to celebrate the music of the city. From well known artists like U2, Van Morrison, and The Corrs, to fun folk songs and melodies inspired by the Troubles; our Belfast Ballads playlist has something for everyone.

Get into the Irish spirit with the playlist below, and then join us in Belfast for Lagan! 

LAGAN previews this evening, opens tomorrow Wednesday, February 8th and performs through Sunday, February 19th. Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, senior citizens, and groups. For tickets and more information visit