Pictured: Haley Bolithon and Kyle Whalen. Photo by Jessica Ridenour.
In this 3-part series, PerformInk takes you inside The House Theatre of Chicago’s HATFIELD & McCOY through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past INSIDE articles, click here.
By Director Matt Hawkins
The House first produced HATFIELD & McCOY in 2006. It was the first play I ever directed. It’s an interesting thing to revisit a project you worked on over 10 years ago. I was proud of the work I’d done in 2006, but since then, I’ve changed and grown as a person and as an artist. The world has changed. So, it was really exciting to get my hands on this story again and find new ways to honor and share it.
My process began with meeting with the playwright, Shawn Pfautsch, and figuring out what we wanted to preserve from the original production and what we were eager to improve upon. I began reading the script we had at that point as many times as possible. The more familiar I am with the words, the story, the and overall feel of the characters, the more open I am to conjuring a world and all its possibilities. It also helps me share a vision and communicate with designers.
As I began imagining a new production of HATFIELD & McCOY, my first impulse was to find ways to make it expressionistic. Basically, I wanted to re-investigate how music worked in the world and how to go beyond naturalism. In our first production, every song was diegetic. There was nothing theatrical or heightened about the use of music. This was something I knew I wanted to re-explore and redefine. I wondered if amping up the presence of music and movement would afford us the opportunity to delve into the story in ways that could be more revealing. This heightened storytelling also felt right in conjunction with the epic story that was being told, along with Shawn’s poetic language and philosophical dialogue spoken by the characters. It is, at its core, a play about big ideas and big feelings. It feels like an epic classical play.
I invited choreographer, Katherine Scott and musical director, Matthew Muñiz to the table to help shape this new world I was imagining. We held workshops to experiment with and devise a specific music and movement vocabulary for the show.
I also knew I wanted a cast of actors that was incredibly diverse. I needed actors who could sing and move. The new production would have dance, along with the muscular fight choreography we had created for the first production. I needed actors who could handle poetic language and some who could play instruments. And, I really wanted actors to fit the ages of the characters. I wanted to create a feeling that we were truly looking at two distinct generations. It was a tall order but casting director, Marika Mashburn and I held a ton of auditions and call backs (not really a ton…just more than I can count!) to find an incredibly talented cast of 20 actors. I knew it was going to be a beast to rehearse such a large cast, with the variety of elements and all the modes of storytelling I wanted to use. And, being older and hopefully a little wiser, we had many more conversations about what we were trying to do and say with the story.
I don’t believe in expectations. I try to focus entirely on the work I’m doing in the moment. I also don’t believe anyone ever gets “finished” working on a show. You just stop working when you have to open the thing. That being said, I’m very proud of how I navigated this process and I’m eager to see how it feels to share HATFIELD & McCOY in 2018.
HATFIELD & McCOY runs January 19th – March 11th. For more information visit thehousetheatre.com.
Hawkins is a Chicago-based director, actor, fight choreographer and movement director. He is a Founding Member of The House Theatre of Chicago and an Artistic Associate with Strawdog Theatre Company. Over the past fifteen years, he has worked with theatres such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Festival, Kennedy Center, South Coast Rep, American Players’ Theatre, Drury Lane, Marriott, Paramount, Steppenwolf, Goodman, Lookingglass, Court Theatre and Writers Theatre. He has also worked extensively with Chicago Shakespeare and their education department, by serving as the director and voice/movement director of the Chicago Public Schools program, which was the recipient of the Humanities Youth Program Award in 2014, awarded by The White House and First Lady Michelle Obama. He holds a BFA in acting from Southern Methodist University and an MFA in directing from The University of Iowa. He has been nominated for thirteen Jeff Awards and has received five. Later this year he will direct and choreograph Spring Awakening (Notre Dame) and choreograph violence for Macbeth (Chicago Shakespeare). He is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame, where he serves as head of musical theatre for the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre. He is married to actor/director/documentarian Stacy Stoltz