POSTED ON JULY 10, 2013:
A Cultural Affair
Plus classic stories and music
When Priya Rayu first stepped into the Tulsa Performing Arts Center for a SummerStage show five years ago, she looked around in wide wonder and thought to herself that she'd like to direct her own show some day.
As it turns out, some day is here, and she's directing.
"Now that I am, it's almost surreal," she said. "It's been really good."
But not without its ups and downs, although the downs haven't been all that down at all. Her biggest problem, Rayu said, has been serving in two capacities for the show -- both director and dancer.
"Up until now, I am a dancer and performing," she said. "That's the biggest challenge I'm facing -- I'm directing and performing. I cannot not perform."
And that's a tough gig for a seasoned director, which Rayu, in her directorial debut, is not. Still, she's loving what she's doing with Dhadkan, the dance show she conceived to tell the story of music bringing everyone together.
"Basically, the word 'dhadkan' means 'heartbeat,'" Rayu said. "The entire show is based on the idea that dance and music are the heartbeat of the human soul. That's important to me, because I'm from India, and when I came here to America, I learned all these different dances from all different cultures."
She went on with details that reveal a plot, so that the evening will be much more like an evening in attendance at a classic ballet rather than a dance recital.
"The whole show is about this little girl who loses hope that people could come together and dance," Rayu said of her self-penned show. "She sees people on their iPods and on their phones and they're isolated from each other. She remembers a time when her grandmother told her about people dancing together. And she learns that music is still out there and bringing people together around the world."
She knew that this was the kind of show she wanted to do from the minute she was invited to direct, and set about to bring different cultures to the audience.
"I knew that I wanted to present something where I can bring all these different artists together under one roof into a giant community," Rayu said. "The audience is going to feel like they took a journey around the world. We have Chinese lion dancing, hip hop, Bollywood dancing, and belly dancing."
So she's got a story, she's got 31 one cast members, and she's got tons of different cultural dances on which to draw.
Once she knew what she wanted to do, it was actual script-writing time--not the easiest time in anyone's life.
"This is the first script I've written," she said, but having been in many dance shows before, it's not like she was starting from scratch. Plus, she had one thing going for her. "Once you've started, the inspiration just keeps going."
With Dhadkan about ready to debut, Rayu has enjoyed her time in the director's chair.
"So far, it's been really wonderful," she said. "I feel like I have the elite dancers in Tulsa. All of them have gone out of their way to do this work. It's been a humbling experience."
Dhadkan runs this weekend, the 12th and 13th, as part of SummerStage in the Liddy Doenges Theater at the PAC. Showtime is 7:30pm, and as with all SummerStage shows, tickets are available at 918-596-7111 or myticketoffice.com.
Courtneay Sanders and Playhouse Tulsa have been through some changes of late. While losing co-founder Chris Crawford to the Sunshine State, the company was soldiering on with a planned production of Pippin for SummerStage this year. After some consideration, though, artistic director Sanders chose to go with Little Women -- perhaps thinking that a classic story might help ground things in the wake of all the changes.
"There were a couple of things that happened," Sander said. "Like our music director for Pippin ended up needing to have surgery, and Chris was moving to Florida, and there were lots of extenuating circumstances. I was out looking for props for Barefoot in the Park and listening to shows in the car and Little Women came up. I just love that show, and this seemed like a good thing for us."
But the company that gave Tulsa Home and Garden -- you remember that's the production that was actually two shows playing at the same time in different theaters with the same actors making perfectly-timed entrances on each stage and oh my god I'm exhausted just typing that -- isn't one to just order a copy of Little Women and start memorizing lines. After all, Sanders has playwright Cody Daigle as a part of Playhouse Tulsa.
"Cody hadn't had a chance to adapt this one, so we thought it would be a good," she said. He's a wonderful playwright. I love the way he structures a story. One of the great things about having a resident playwright, he knows the voice of the company. He knows the kind of things that we gravitate to."
And there's the whole exclusivity thing,
"The idea of doing something that no one has ever done before, I love that," Sanders said. "It's very exciting and intriguing."
With a cast of 16, Sanders has her hands full, but it's not like they're all bumbling amateurs. Although the youngest cast member is 14, she's also got some strong actors from several local colleges, among others. Everyone is pitching in to make this a fresh production of the classic story.
"Everybody knows the story of Little Women," she said. "But it's important to me that the audience to see Little Women like they've never seen it before. I want the actors playing as if they're not characters from a book, because I don't want them to play stereotypes."
The world premiere of Playhouse Tulsa's SummerStage production of Little Women runs July 12 at 7:30pm, July 13 and 2pm and 7:30pm, and July 14 at 2pm in the John H. Williams Theater at the PAC.
Something of a living legend herself around these parts, Janet Rutland presents her ninth SummerStage cabaret show, A Song Is Born July 11 and 12 at 7:30 in the PAC's Norman Theater.
Her theme this year -- she almost always has one--is the muisic of living songwriters. So no Rodgers and Hart, no Stephen Foster, and no Jimi Hendrix.
"After nine shows, you gotta really think," Rutland said. "I try very hard to present shows that are different than what I've done the year before. Last year, I went with Irving Berlin."
Another non-living songwriter you won't hear this year.
And in trying to do things differently, she's always presenting something different instrumentally, as well.
"I've done a big country band, I've done the [guitar-bass-drums] trio before, I've done just piano a couple of times. Just for the sake of variety, and it's a budget concern, as well," she said of her reasons for never doing the same thing twice in a row. "But you know, two years ago, I used a five-piece band for a country show. And that's a lot of fun, but it seemed like for the Irving Berlin stuff, piano was the way to go."
This year, rather than do exactly the same piano-and-vocals thing she did for her Berlin show, she's added a few extra elements to augment what she and pianist Scott McQuade present.
"I have added my son, Isaac Eicher, on mandolin, and Emily Chapell and Alex Walter singing with me for parts of the show," Rutland said.
But she didn't just add them for the sake of having something different, but also for her own benefit.
"It was a lot of material for me to learn, and it's more fun working with other people," she said. "And it's kind of lonely learning 25 songs by yourself."
And she promises something new, though she wouldn't say what.
"We've got some surprises. I've been thinking about this all day," she said. "If people think they've already seen a Janet Rutland cabaret show, they haven't seen this one, and it's not like any of my other shows."
We'll see what the songstress is talking about July 11-12 at 7:30pm in the Norman Theater.
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