Alison Garrigan, Director and Artistic Director, responded to Cleveland Stage Alliance’s “5 Questions” from CSA resident critic Kevin Kelly.
Finn McCool (a Tale of Irish Mythology)
L to R: Leah P. Smith, Sean Seibert, Christopher Walker
Photo Credit: Steve Wagner
Why did you choose to direct this show?
Christopher Johnston approached me over a year ago with an idea to tell the story of Finn McCool, the Greatest of All the Irish Giants. I had always wanted to work with Chris, and the play fell WELL within our parameters of adapting international folk and/or faerie tales (in this case, both), so I was intrigued. As I grew up hearing tales of Finn and other Celtic heroes, I was even more excited to walk back down the path of my youth, sharing those amazing tales with a new generation of children.
Why does the world need this production, or, another production of this show?
This play helps to continue the Celtic tradition of oral story-telling, music, and dance. It also passes on to a new generation the stories of old, while igniting imaginations and excitement in its young audiences. I think this particular show is so loaded with music and magic that it is a perfect vehicle for getting children in the audience involved in the production, letting them be a part of the story in a way that gives them a sense of ownership of what they are watching and experiencing. It tells children of the importance of telling stories–and that we are ALL story-tellers, with a wonderful story to tell. There is a joy and mystery in this show that touches every heart and imagination that sees it, or worked on it. In this story, too, Finn and his wife, Oona, overcome a huge bully by using their minds and creativity, rather than their fists–it provides an excellent anti-bullying message that any child (or parent) can access, hear, and understand. I feel that everything about this show–the joy, the stories, the music, the magic, the growth of the artists, the intelligence (and the silliness, don’t forget the silliness!) make it extremely important to get out to the community.
Can you share some memorable moments from the rehearsal period?
- I loved the joy and tenacity with which the entire cast embraced learning the dances and movement for this show, and learned the lilting Irish brogue.
- There was one night when, for whatever reason, everyone had been having a rough time outside of the theatre before rehearsal. We do a check-in at the beginning of rehearsal that includes everyone present, and I was so amazed and moved by the caring and unwavering support that came together to bolster every single artist in this group. Not one person stumbled that night, because there were so many arms and hearts to catch them. That’s the kind of group that this amazing ensemble is.
- The first time we met John Busser’s Cucullin, we were in stitches. He just sprang from the gate fully formed, and it was hysterical to watch him take (lumbering, blustering) flight. We all laughed so hard when we first met him that we had to stop rehearsal to catch our breath.
- There are two very magical moments in which Cucullin has to a) turn a house completely around, and b) dig down and find a buried water source that lies under tons of rock–all in full view of the audience. Watching the cast come up with solutions and magic to make these things happen is something that will live with me forever. There were several different ideas that got floated around, but seeing what they came up with…well, you’ll just have to see for yourself!
As you watched your opening weekend, what resonates with you from the audience?
The joy. Watching every child in the audience sitting on the edge of their seats, or standing so they could lean forward and be closer to the stage, hanging on every single thing being said or happening in front of them. Hearing the glee in their voices as they helped with the songs and problems that characters in the show faced. The smiles on the faces of the parents. The laughter. At the end of the opening performance, there were two little ones, not sitting together or with the same group, who jumped up in the aisle and started to imitate the step-dancing of two of the characters. It was priceless, and moving.
What do you think you and the actors have accomplished?
Every one of the artists in this show has had to grow and stretch out of their comfort zones in some way for this production. Whether it was learning the Irish brogue, or the dances, or the language itself…or playing parts that they never would have seen themselves playing…I think that this group of actors has created a totally believable world, and a very tight ensemble that is truly seamless. As to what we have all accomplished as a whole, I’d say “magic.” Working as such a tight ensemble (one that includes myself, the playwright, the movement specialist, and the designers) we have been able to create an entirely believable world that makes you want to jump in, tell your own story, and dance with the faeries. We have created a world where anything is possible, and everyone is welcome.
John Busser, Sean Seibert, Leah Smith, Devon Turchan, Christopher Walker, and Margi Herwald Zitelli
$10-$15 General Admission
5209 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102