Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Empathy and Adaptation: A Conversation with Gale Childs Daly

Author Gale Childs Daly, who originally
completed her adaptation of
by Marcella Kearns

At MCT, we’ve got a voracious appetite for great literature. So does Gale Childs Daly. It’s a match! 

Recently I caught up with Gale to talk about her history, the story of her adaptation of the beloved novel GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and Charles Dickens, the author of the novel. [Warning: If you haven’t yet experienced GREAT EXPECTATIONS, spoilers below.]

Marcella Kearns: What is the history of this adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS? It’s had an interesting life so far!
Gale Childs Daly: This adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS started as a 45-minute outreach play. I created it for six actors, because that’s how many actors were in the Outreach Company at PCPA Theatrefest in Santa Maria, California. [MCT Note: Outreach Tours’ mission is to enhance education by taking performances to schools, libraries, etc.] The production was a success, so the theatre asked me to complete it in a two-act version of the whole thing. I got to work on my Christmas break in 1992 and completed it in May of 1993. 

I directed the first production; since then there have been many productions of the play. It was the production that was done at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma that gave GREAT EX new life. A young graduate student there named Jason Gerace loved the piece, and when he left school, he asked the stage manager for a clean copy of the play. Chris Sadler, who had been my stage manager for the first production, had such a thing and gave it to Jason. Jason moved to Chicago to be a director and shopped the play around. Strawdog Theatre Company loved it and slotted Jason to direct it for their holiday show in 2014. The play was a great success there—standing room only, sold-out houses and amazing reviews. Kate Seidel of Dramatic Publishing Company came down to see it and as a result of that production the play was published in 2015. In Chicago, the play was nominated for Best play, Best Adaptation, Best Ensemble, and Best Director by the Jefferson Award Committee.

MK: What inspired you to adapt GREAT EXPECTATIONS in such an innovative way (5 narrators, Pip, and a musician…)?
GCD: When given the task of adapting this Dickens novel, I immediately tapped into a production that I had been part of in 1982. There was a production of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY created by the RSC. A producer grabbed the first American rights (and the only rights at the time) for a production at Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. It was done in a beautiful old theatre like the Cabot, only larger and there were 36 actors playing at least a hundred parts. I was privileged to be in that company—as was Jon, my husband.

 So—with that experience under my belt, I heard actors speaking narration, saw them changing character with a simple costume piece, and telling the story in a minimalist way. But, my job was to write a play that successfully tells Pip’s story using only 6 actors (there was no musician in the original piece). Putting the play together was like making a jigsaw puzzle. It was hard work, but great fun.

MK: This adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS weaves in scenes about the theatre—Shakespeare in particular. Why was this element important for you to include?
GCD: The scene of Mr. Wopsle playing Hamlet is one of my favorite scenes. It was great fun creating it and such fun for me to watch it performed. I also love the pantomime (the song that is sung was written by Jon in those far off days. I think he enjoys being part of the production and getting to sing his very own song)! I think it is important to add these scenes because Dickens was an actor and loved Shakespeare, so Mr. Wopsle’s readings of RICHARD III and HAMLET are my salute to the author who created the novel I adapted. 

Also, Shakespeare has been a huge part of my life. As an actress and director I have played many parts—in fact I have worked on twenty-eight of the plays. I taught Shakespeare Studies for fourteen years in California at PCPA, and then I have been the text coach in over twenty Shakespeare plays since moving to the Midwest. I have also continued to teach Shakespeare in the Milwaukee area, and until I retired last year I have had the pleasure of directing quite a few plays myself. So — Shakespeare! Mr. Wopsle and I have something in common, only it is not my intent to build the theatre up and then “crush it”! (However, I have been known to give some performances myself that were “massive and concrete”!)

"Dickens' Dream," painted by Robert William Buss.

MK: Dickens is arguably most well-known to Americans as the author of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. What ideas or themes—social justice, how humans treat one another, etc.—do you find most compelling in that work and GREAT EX? Why is GREAT EX an important story for the present?
GCD: I believe the single characteristic that makes us human is empathy. One of the most prevalent themes in both A CHRISTMAS CAROL and GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and in fact, all of Dickens’ work, is the human need for understanding and compassion. Pip and Scrooge both are seeking connectivity—Pip by being a gentleman and Scrooge by opening his heart that has been closed for so many years. Pip learns to love at the end of the play—not only Estella but Joe and Magwitch too. He puts himself in their shoes and at last understands what it means to have empathy. Scrooge finally understands what it means to have the Christmas spirit all the year long. Both lead characters discover that generosity and forgiveness make them good men. They also learn that money means nothing to them though it can be a means for good—as in Scrooge giving to the charity men, or Pip giving his allowance to Herbert to start his own company. There are so many other lessons, morals and themes in the works of Dickens—the fun thing is to read all the books and see how the themes recur and intermesh. Dickens’ characters, though, no matter what role they play in the story, always learn empathy.

MK: Which of the characters in GREAT EX do you find most sympathetic, and why? Do you have a personal favorite (and if so, why)?
GCD: The character I find the most sympathetic (and he’s my favorite character, too) is Magwitch, the convict. I know it might seem odd to have the “villain” of the piece be the most sympathetic character, but I think Magwitch and Pip are much alike. Pip would have been the boy Magwitch was if he had had a chance to be taken care of and loved. Magwitch is a gentle man deep inside — and finally has a chance to help someone besides himself. He learns empathy by loving and taking care of Pip. He and Pip both have that other important human characteristic — a conscience. When we first see him on the Marshes he confesses that he stole the pork pie—protecting Pip. From the very beginning, Dickens lays in that Magwitch is a “good” man. And he is — Pip just doesn’t know it yet.

MK: You come from a history of acting and directing yourself. What drew you to playwriting, and what kind of work do you find most satisfying to pursue?
GCD: I was drawn to playwriting in 1986 when I was pregnant with my son, Samuel. I read a book about a pioneer child named Opal Whiteley. It was called THE STORY OF OPAL and was a copy of her diary that she kept from the age of 5 to the age of 12. I fell in love with Opal and her interesting language and world view. I was reading the diary when I went into labor with Sam. About one year later I felt the need to create something that spoke to the mother in me—and that was Opal’s diary. I started adapting it whenever I got a few minutes, and before I knew it I had a one-act play. I put it on the road with the Outreach Company at PCPA. It has had several productions over the years, most recently at the Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee. Since then I wrote GREAT EXPECTATIONS and many short plays. My favorite of these short works was an adaptation of THE LAMENT FOR IGNACIO SANCHEZ by Federico Garcia Lorca.

As for satisfying work, I prefer directing to any other theatre activity. I like having a vision and seeing it come to life. I love rehearsing and having tech week. I like to be the boss! I am more of an objective artist than a subjective one, although I was an actor for nearly twenty-five years. I also love writing, but it is much more difficult than directing or acting. Now that I have “retired” I can concentrate on writing and am enjoying my next project—adapting FRANKENSTEIN.

MK: You have other family members in the theatre. What advice would you give (or have you given) to those who are just beginning their career? What expectations should they or could they reasonably have about the future, in your view?

GCD: It’s funny — Jon and I are theatre artists and we have been able to raise a family (two children) on the money we make as actors and or directors/playwrights. It hasn’t been easy, but we accomplished it and our children are on their way. Samuel is 30 and just finished a doctorate in Contemporary African History at Columbia University in NYC. He is beginning his career, and it is about as far from the theatre as you can get! Emily, on the other hand, has wanted to be an actress since she was four years old. She got a B.A. from The University of Evansville in performance art and is currently in her second year of an M.F.A. at the University of California-Irvine. 

Here’s what we told her: You’ve seen how your dad and I live. Sometimes it is paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes we have had to work apart — he out of town, me out of town  to make a living. Sometimes we have to do work we are not thrilled about just to bring in the money. But we have managed to work in the theatre for over 40 years and never take a day job (yet!). We have told Emily how hard it is — she has seen how hard it is and she still wants to do it. So we support her unconditionally. We hope she has a great career—at least one that pays the bills and allows her to have a family if she wants one. She is beautifully talented, and as one friend of ours says — "She didn’t get it licking it off the sidewalk!” Ha, ha!

Monday, March 27, 2017

MCT Board Member Profile: Kathryn Herman

by Max Seigle

I grew up in Milwaukee on the Southwest side and went to Pulaski High School. I left the city in the '50s to study education at Carroll College in Waukesha and have lived there ever since. My husband and I currently live in downtown Waukesha. We love it there. It’s an easy walk to coffee shops and restaurants. We have three children and four grandchildren who all live in the Milwaukee area.


I found out about MCT from a dear friend of mine, Linda Loving. She is a former MCT board member and actress in the community. She always talked about this theatre company and one day mentioned an opportunity to sit on the board. From there, I met with Michael Wright and Kirsten Mulvey and just knew immediately that they were people that I would love to work with. They were so welcoming and enthusiastic. We all felt I could serve the board well as a representative from one of the western counties and as a retired community volunteer. I think the latter is an important voice to have on the board as retirees are part of the mix that we serve.

I have been on the board four years now and really enjoy it. I love coming into the city and being part of the theatre community in the Third Ward. You are surrounded by a lot of fun, creative and highly skilled individuals. I’ve never been so close to the theatre as I am now with MCT and it’s been a wonderful addition to my life.


I loved UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL in 2013. It was a one-man show with James Ridge and he made a tremendous impression on me. He was just amazing in that role and it’s one of those plays that I think of often. I also enjoyed THE TRAIN DRIVER in 2015. It was very powerful and extremely well-done. I loved the fun of BOEING BOEING in 2015 and was a huge fan of the all female company in A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR last year.


James Ridge. As I mentioned earlier, he was outstanding in UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL. He is such a versatile actor. He can be very serious and a bit dark but he’s also a great comic actor.

Also (MCT associate artistic director) Marcella Kearns -- she most recently appeared as Berthe in BOEING BOEING and directed VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE. Her comedic timing is amazing and she also brings a lot of versatility to the stage. I admire her work as a director as well. She is a real gem for MCT!


I really enjoyed my experience on the Adopt-a-Show committee for A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR. As board members, we select different shows to adopt during the season and help the staff with audience development and promotions. We did some fun things with LOVELY SUNDAY, like raffling off a gift certificate to the Milwaukee Public Market. We encouraged the idea of buying a “Picnic at the Park” to go along with the picnic at the park you heard so much about in the show. I was also able to attend the first rehearsal for this production and loved the behind-the-scenes look that these rehearsals offer. You become more intimately involved in the show by hearing first-hand from the actors, the director, the costume designer and the set designer.

I have also been proud to arrange a few groups from my retirement community to see some MCT shows. We rent a big bus and usually pair the experience with a meal. There are many people in the community with a lifetime love of theatre but they can no longer do the drive and miss not being able to go. With the bus, they can get out and enjoy a show easily, so it works out really well. We are going to see GREAT EXPECTATIONS in the spring.


I am retired now but spent my professional years in education. I was a first grade teacher in the Waukesha public schools for 15 years. Teaching reading was my speciality. My first school was Blair Elementary.

I later went on to work in adult education, focusing on adult literacy. I was the first executive director of what is now called the Literacy Council of Greater Waukesha County. I spent those days recruiting volunteers to work with adult learners, training the tutors and doing publicity and fundraising. This was really heartfelt work, meeting students who went through much of their adult life without knowing how to read. I was impressed at how motivated they were to learn. I remember grandmas who wanted to be able to read stories to their grandchildren and women who wanted to read the Bible. It was very fulfilling and exciting to be a part of this educational renewal.


My husband and I love to travel. We’ve seen theatre and opera all over the world. London is my favorite city. The theatre there is not to be missed! We also spend time in Cornwall, a county in the southwestern most part of England. About 15 years ago, we bought a cottage in the town of Penzance and travel back and forth during the year. I love being in the small town and getting to know the neighbors and the shopkeepers. Being so close to the sea, you quickly see how the livelihood is guided by the water and the fishing industry. It’s been a wonderful and enriching life experience for us.

I also enjoy reading modern fiction, and reading and writing poetry. I belong to a book club and an adult poetry appreciation group. I like to write my life stories as well so my children and grandchildren can learn more about my background and where life has taken me.


I like the Skylight Bar & Bistro upstairs in the Broadway Theatre Center. I have eaten there with groups from my retirement community before a show.

I also love Swig nearby, and recently had brunch at the new Journeyman Hotel in the Third Ward. It was very nice, too.


I think I like the City of Milwaukee itself as my favorite spot. The lakefront, the world-class art museum, wonderful restaurants, theatre, music, dance and opera — Milwaukee just has everything. I love being in the city. I think I’m a city girl at heart.


I like the music, food and ambiance of GermanFest. In Waukesha, my husband and I enjoy Friday Night Live. The festival takes over part of the downtown area and there are live bands to enjoy. It’s nice to get something to drink, wander around, listen to the music and meet up with friends. It’s very informal. People bring their dogs, their children and even set up lawn chairs in the streets.


I am proud of the work I do with organizations tied to my Cornish heritage. One is the Cornish Society of Greater Milwaukee. The other is the Cornish American Heritage Society and I am the president of that group. We organize and present educational seminars and conferences that highlight all aspects of Cornish culture. We cover the history, language, literature, genealogy, food and travel ideas. We also stay in close touch with what’s going in Cornwall today.


I think people should know about MCT’s commitment to working with local actors and production crews. Michael Wright is so dedicated to promoting Milwaukee’s theatre community and I appreciate that so much. I also love Michael’s commitment to diversity in the plays and actors he selects. You will find well-produced, thought-provoking life stories on the MCT stage, and characters that you can connect with. It’s a very unique experience and I just think everyone should be enjoying it as much as I am!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review Roundup: THE FEW

by Kaitlyn Martin, marketing and development assistant

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's THE FEW opened this past weekend and positive reviews from critics and audience members alike have been reaching our ears! Be sure to read the press that we've received as well as making a trip to see this Samuel D. Hunter script on our Studio Theatre stage. THE FEW closes on March 19!

Mike Fischer,
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Outstanding Chamber cast delivers 'The Few'

Mary MacDonald Kerr and James Ridge in THE FEW.
Photos by Paul Ruffolo
"Featuring C. Michael Wright’s nuanced direction and an exceptional cast, it’s the best Wisconsin production I’ve seen thus far in 2017."

"QZ can be forgiven for seeming wary and confused, as well as angry, truculent and even a bit vengeful. Kerr gives us all that and something more, from this hurt and disappointed woman: Tender regard and lingering love for the broken man darkening her doorway."

"Bultman’s Matthew can remind one of a puppy: starved for love, eager to please and unbearably open. Physically bigger than either Ridge or Kerr, he can also seem uncoordinated, gangly and much too large [...] Because he’s such a bad fit for the space he fills, Matthew gives this dark play much of its humor; he’s also a reminder to his two elders of their best younger selves."

"Despite a few explosive moments during which all this simmering comes to a boil, there’s nothing overt in Ridge’s work, here; true to the character he plays and the themes coursing through this play, communication and connection are never that easy."

Paul Kosidowski,
Milwaukee Magazine

Life is a Highway...

James Ridge in THE FEW.
"Ridge plays Bryan with great attention to his damaged spirit and his passionate resilience. Watch him listen—early in the play—to a personal ad phone message from “Cindy.” He routinely types her message, then stops dreamily as her rambling story becomes more than ad copy—a familiar tale of a lost and lonely soul."

"MacDonald Kerr plays QZ with the hard edge of a pragmatist—a Mother Courage of the interstate, perhaps—but reveals her heart in the care she shows for Matthew."

"Bultman, who is making his local major theater debut, gives his character touching honesty and vulnerability. Personal ads and all, The Few is Matthew’s refuge from a cruel past, and Bultman is heartbreaking in his tenacity to get the paper out on time."

"It’s all orchestrated by director C. Michael Wright, who helps imbue the characters with intricately wrought humanity. It’s a great play for our troubled times, and MCT’s production offers a welcome dose of compassion and respect for the troubled fellow travelers."

Dave Begel,
On Milwaukee
Chamber Theatre gives 'The Few' solid, sensitive treatment
James Ridge, Mitch Bultman and 
Mary MacDonald Kerr in THE FEW.

"Milwaukee Chamber Theatre offers a wonderful treatment under the bright and sensitive direction of C. Michael Wright and a cast featuring two of the best actors in this state."

"Kerr and Ridge are among the finest actors this state has ever produced, and this production clearly shows why. [...] Kerr can say more with a single discouraged glance at Ridge than you might get in a full page of dialogue. Ridge wears his forlorn life like a shroud, never once stepping outside of what we think he ought to be. They are both brilliant."

"Bultman is new to me and an absolute delight. He's funny and sensitive and angry and not a single one of those traits strikes a false note."

Harry Cherkinian, 
Shepherd Express
Chamber Theatre's "The Few" Explores the Disconnect of High-Tech
Mitch Bultman and James Ridge in THE FEW.

"[The Few] is a beautifully wrought, stark and poignant reminder of the ever-constant need for human contact—this largely due to the excellent cast and seamless direction of C. Michael Wright."

"Ridge is perfectly suited to the gaunt, burned-out drifter and completely inhabits the role."

"In a stunning breakout MCT performance, Bultman is the catalyst (and catapult) for the explosive transformations that follow. His insecurities, kindnesses and fearfulness transform his Matthew into more than what the script provides."