Jackie is the director and choreographer for The Art of Living. Here, we asked her a few questions about musicals, the show, and what she looks for at auditions.
Q: What do you look for in an actor you’re considering casting in one of your plays?
A: During an acting audition, I look to see what the actor brings to a character without being given any specific notes about a character (a special voice, an accent, body language, facial expression, etc.). If an actor seems like they have a hard time coming up with those details on their own, sometimes I will ask them to do it again but with a specific instruction, to see how well they interpret my direction. In a dance audition, I watch to see how quickly a person learns a combination. Once they learn it, I look to see if they can move past the level of just doing choreography, and actually perform it (I call that “getting your face on”). In a vocal audition, I just listen for the general voice quality and if they can sing on key. I leave the hard stuff to the Music Director.
Q: What makes you excited about working with a particular actor?
A: I love to watch an actor develop a character. Seasoned actors can often do this fairly quickly. But over time, even they find new little nuances they can add to their characters. It’s really fun to work with them because there are usually very few limitations to what I can do with them on stage. Less experienced actors though, for me, are the most fun to watch. Because if they are willing to learn, and they are open to trying new things, no matter how silly, awkward, crazy, or ridiculous they sound, then the actor has a better chance of creating a great character, impressing the audience, and growing in their craft. When I can help someone who is unsure, inexperienced, or maybe even just shy (which is rare in theater, but it happens), pull off a silly character and make the audience laugh, or get so emotional in a scene that the audience starts to cry, then my heart beams with pride for that actor.
Q: Are there any particular challenges in directing a musical, as opposed to a play?
A: Absolutely. There is the obvious challenge of time. With a play, you need rehearsals to learn lines, learn blocking, work on characterization, and then run it with the cast. In a musical, you need all of that, plus, rehearsals to learn music, rehearsals to learn choreography, and rehearsals to practice those with the cast. And if there is a live orchestra/band (as opposed to canned music), then you need rehearsals specifically for the actors to practice singing with them. In addition to the time challenge, musicals do not function like real life. People do not break into song in the middle of a conversation to further emphasize a point, an emotion, or an event (well….non-theater people anyway). So the director’s job is to make sure that there is a fluidity and a sincerity to the actors, and how they move in and out of songs. A director on a musical must also coordinate with a larger team, besides the Music Director and choreographer, as musicals are usually on a grander scale in terms of set, costumes, etc.
Q: What are some of your proudest accomplishments as a director?
A: The very first show I directed was Little Shop of Horrors in 2004 for Essex Theater Company. I knew very little about directing at the time, but managed to pull off a pretty terrific show (mostly because I had a particularly perfect cast). Since then, I have directed over 40 shows. They were each special for different reasons, some more challenging than others. I am proud of every one of them, because no matter what challenges arose, with the help of great casts and crew members, I was always able to overcome them, and put on the best show possible. I do have favorites though! But even the favorites list is long!
Q: What advice would you give a student who is considering becoming a theatre director?
A: Learn as many production aspects of a show as possible before you try to direct. Work on a backstage crew. Help build a set. Help with props and costumes. If possible, learn about lighting and sound tech. Be a Stage Manager at least once. If you can, be an assistant director first, then direct. As a director, you need to be organized, creative, and work easily with people. You need to assemble a team of people that you trust to help you put together a show that reflects your own vision of it. In community theater, the people are there voluntarily. They want to have fun. So you need to be able to encourage them to work hard, while also making sure they are enjoying the experience. It’s a delicate line.
Q: What’s the first thing you ever choreographed?
A: The first show I ever choreographed was Sound of Music in 2000 for Essex Theater Company. Since then, I have choreographed over 70 shows.
Q: What’s your favorite dance style?
A: To choreograph, 1920s style or 1980s. To watch, tap and swing (or any ballroom style really).
Q: What got you started working in theater?
A: My sophomore year of high school, the Drama Club put on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I was hooked. The next year, I auditioned and was cast, and I’ve been in love ever since.
Q: How did you get involved with The Art of Living?
A: Dan Gallagher had worked with me on The Music Man for Chazy Music Theatre in 2004. We became good friends, and he had seen some of my theater work. So when he held the first reading of his play, he invited me to be a part of the reading. Then in late 2015, he asked if I would be interested in directing it as a winter show for the Drama Club at Clinton Community College (where I direct the theater programs). So in January 2016, it finally made its debut performance.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working on a musical?
A: Choreographing it. When a dance comes together right, it’s an incredible feeling of satisfaction.
Q: What do you love about community theater?
A: The people! The most extraordinary people get involved, both on and off stage. Most of my closest friends are, or have been, involved in theater in some respect. I love the diversity in backgrounds, ages, abilities, that all come together with a common passion, a common goal of putting on a great show.
Jacqueline Robertin (Director, Choreographer) has been doing theater for over 20 years. Daughter of an Air Force veteran, she spent her childhood in various parts of Italy, Greece, and Turkey, always in love with the different cultural styles of dance. She fell in love with theater though, here in America, while she was in high school, and has had a passion for it ever since. Over the past 17 years, she has choreographed over 70 shows, and over the past 12 years, directed over 40, for community theater groups and high school drama clubs all over the North Country. She has taught dance classes at Clinton Community College for almost ten years, and theater for seven. She recently became a member of the new local cabaret performance troupe, Scarlett N’ the Rough, as both choreographer and performer. She started choreographing and directing for the Essex Theater Company in 2000 and 2005, respectively. She has since choreographed and/or directed for the Clinton Community College Drama Club, the Lake Placid Community Theater Players, Boquet River Theater Festival, Burlington Burlesque, Adirondack Regional Theater, Chazy Music Theatre, as well as, Saranac Central, Seton High, Beekmantown Central, NCCS, Ellenburg Central, Willsboro Central, and Westport Central school Drama programs. In her “spare time”, she enjoys road trips, reading, and time with friends and family, particularly the loves of her life, her nephews Peanut and Squishy (gangster names of Isaac and Jackson). She is incredibly excited and honored to be working on this wonderful project again with Dan Gallagher. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with such a fantastic team, and for the continued support from the many extraordinary people in her life.