The large photo above the headline shows the cast of The 39 Steps, next show up for the Saint Michael's Playhouse. Above is Chuck Tobin, Playhouse producing artistic director. (photos by Brian MacDonald)
“You audition for so much when you’re an actor—you just never know what’s going to hit, what’s not going to hit. When you do get to do things like this, it’s a reward,” says Jack Herholdt, one of the prestigiously selected New York City actors who is currently staying on campus to perform in the 72nd summer of professional Saint Michael's productions.
Herholdt plays nearly 50 characters in the next Playhouse show, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (July 3 through July 13), the second of four shows this season.
While occupied by the Fine Arts Departments during the academic year, the McCarthy Arts Center becomes home to the Saint Michael's Playhouse each summer. Operated as an auxiliary enterprise of the College, the Playhouse brings 15,000 people to the theater annually, reports Chuck Tobin ’80, producing artistic director of the program. In fact, audience members leaving the shows got so chaotic one year that the state traffic department prolonged the green light exiting campus onto Route 15 to account for the number of cars pulling out of the lot outside McCarthy.
Despite the shows only being rehearsed and performed for a couple months of the year, producing them is a fulltime job: “I am so unbelievably busy, it surprises everybody,” says Tobin, whose tasks include selecting the shows, hiring design crews and directors, and traveling to New York City to audition and cast actors out of pools of two to three thousand.
“When people see actors in a play, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many people it takes to actually make a collaborative piece of art,” Tobin says, referring to the team of nearly 70 employees who have now joined him on campus to put the plans into action. Actors, designers, directors, carpenters, and costume workers are all staying in the 200s townhouses.
Working closely with the Fine Arts Department, Saint Michael's theater students are given the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through a summer internship with the Playhouse, allowing those considering a career in performing arts to “find out what it’s like to work in a professional theater environment,” Tobin says.
Internship offerings are what brought Tobin to the Playhouse in the first place. An alumnus of the College, Tobin started working with the Playhouse as a theater major during the summer of his junior year. “I knew right then and there from that experience that my life was a career in theater,” he reflects. Since then, Tobin has worked backstage, performed on stage, and now is the mastermind behind the entire operation.
As is tradition, the Playhouse is presenting four different shows this summer, each rehearsed for two weeks and running for another two. With sensitivity to theme, popularity, relevance, and a personal bucket list of stories he wants to bring to life, Tobin chose to produce a revived Broadway show, Godspell, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, and two more comedies: the season’s second musical, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, and the non-musical 1993 Neil Simon play Laughter on the 23rd Floor for the 2019 Playhouse season.
A comedy based on a thriller novel and the next show to be performed in the series, The 39 Steps has been on more than just Tobin’s bucket list; two of the four actors who will be together working to play the 150 characters in the story say that they’ve been wanting to do the play ever since they learned about it years ago. “It’s a real big challenge, and that’s really rewarding,” says Charlotte Munson another actor in the show who plays all three female characters in the show.
The actors all agree that coming from the city to the rural, welcoming, and talented St. Mike’s community has provided a much-needed change of scenery. “It’s like an artist retreat,” reflects Marc LeVasseur, the actor playing the role of Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps. “It’s refreshing, even though it’s a lot of work.” interjects actor Tyler Nye who plays nearly 50 characters.
Challenge and reward seem to be at the heart of the endeavor for all parties involved. Tobin says that seeing a year’s worth of work payoff in these next months is both fun and intimidating—everything rests on him.
With so much energy and talent in the air, the 2019 Saint Michael's Playhouse season is off to a great start.