Bigger is better at Olney
Stephen Nachamie has directed at Olney Theatre Center before. He helmed “1776,” “Camelot” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” They were, he said “pretty big” shows. But none was as big as “A Chorus Line.” With 24 performers and eight musicians, “A Chorus Line” is the largest musical Olney has ever produced.
That means everybody had better be on the same page. “As a director, it’s about making sure the audience’s eye is where it needs to be,” he said. “But also making sure that there’s a truth being told the whole show.” The ideal, he said, is to create so many vivid individuals that audience members can all be rooting for different characters while still following the through line that connects them all to this time and place.
Nachamie, who is also the show’s choreographer, said he has to remind the performers what things were like in 1974, “that pre-Oprah, pre-individual” time, when talking about your innermost hopes, fears and insecurities was “groundbreaking and nerve-racking. That you’re talking about yourself for the first time. [I’m] taking the current generation back to a generation where everything was said for the first time.”
Actors have “a leg up” when it comes to a show like “A Chorus Line,” he said. “You’re not asking them to create a world that doesn’t exist. It’s dancers wearing what they wear, doing what they do where they do it. And it’s a reality we know a lot about: putting yourself on the line.” Nachamie’s job, he said, is to guide the actors to “look inside themselves and see the truth in the situation.”
Although the show is familiar to audiences, Nachamie thinks our collective cultural memory is a bit selective. “I think a lot of people remember the finale, great dancing and great singing,” he said. “But I don’t think a lot of people realize, when they come to see it, that this is a business. . . . The cold, hard fact is, you can’t hire everyone. And I think people tend to forget that it’s a business when they see it. And they look at the director, going, why is he being so mean?”
The way Nachamie sees it, this is a job interview like any other. Nothing personal. Except, that is, for the fact that the performing arts are intensely, inevitably personal.
“Theater and dance is where you’re your own CEO and your body is your own product and instrument,” he said. “The interesting thing about the theater business and the dance world is that our identity is so entangled in what we do. Who we are is so entangled in the work we do.”
Aug. 1 to Sept. 1, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, 301-924-3400, olneytheatre.org.