Dan Myers can probably be forgiven for thinking his current show might be just a little bit cursed.
Over the past three weeks Myers, who’s directing Strollers Theatre’s upcoming production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, has had one of his main stars, Sarah Streich, drop out of the show altogether and another miss a full week due to illness. In some cases, that might be enough to sideline a production completely. But not here. We’re talking about a guy who, as a playwright, photographer and director, has worked with the majority of Madison’s arts organizations in one way or another.
“I have a lot of friends,” Myers chuckles. “The minute it looked like we’d have to replace her [Sarah], I started making phone calls. Plus, I’m an engineer for a living—I cover my butt.”
One of those calls went to Alicia McCanna, who had actually auditioned for Ruth, the role Streich had to surrender while she deals with personal health issues. (If your Noel Coward is a little rusty, Ruth is the second wife of Charles, a man who hosts a séance that inadvertently summons the spirit of Elvira, his first wife. In other words, it’s kind of an important role.) McCanna happily stepped in. Streich, meanwhile, graciously volunteered to help get her up to speed.
While McCanna made quick progress—she was nearly off book after her first week of rehearsals—it has still been challenging to pivot and shift everything.
“You can teach blocking, but I spent five weeks directing Sarah Streich,” says Myers. “I had to give the crash course on what Ruth looks like in my vision of the play.”
Cast changes isn’t the only thing Myers has had to manage with this particular show. He’s also directing his real-life wife, Jessica Jane Witham, who’s playing the role of the ghostly Elvira.
“I’ve never had her as an actor before,” Myers confesses. “I didn’t want to be walking on eggshells the whole time.” Instead, the two sat down and agreed on some ground rules. One of them was that they’d each focus exclusively on their roles in the show.
“We just decided to compartmentalize the acting side from the production side,” he says. “That way she can do what she needs to as an actor and I can do what I need to as a director. We didn’t want to ‘cross the streams’ as it were.”
Now that the shows on the verge of opening, Myers is hoping the major obstacles are behind him.
“There’s been a whole bunch of things that went wrong,” Myers says. “But we had so many people willing to step in and step up. The show is bigger than any of us at one time.”
Blithe Spirit opens tonight and runs through Saturday May 21 at the Bartell Theater.
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