Writing and Directing Your Own Show: An interview with playwright and director, Mary Zuzik Andrechik
It is difficult enough to direct a show, but to direct a play you’ve written as well? Our next PopUp production, Sleight of Hand, is written and directed by our own member, Mary Zuzik Andrechik. Make sure you save the date on your calendar, as Sleight of Hand opens this coming Friday, September 4, and will be made available to the public. So, make sure you share links and other information with friends and family.
To describe the joys and challenges, please enjoy this question and answer session with Mary on this next PopUp production.
Q: What was the motivation and why did you decide to write Sleight of Hand?
A: “Sleight of Hand was originally written and produced as an audio play for The War of the Words podcast from Cone Man Running Productions in Houston, TX. You can listen to the original version anywhere you get your podcasts! I performed as a voice actor in several of the plays that were competing in the audio play bracket battle, which was the foundation of the podcast. The producers reached out to the actors with an opportunity to write a bonus play that followed the same parameters as those in the competition. I had been wanting to write for a long time and when the pandemic hit, I had ample time to do so. I jumped on this chance to flex a new creative muscle.
The parameters given for my audio play were that I had to incorporate the theme of “bucket list,” use a sound effect of a splash (Harvey throwing his glass of lemonade into a fountain), and create a character with the name of a donor to the Company (Officer Bakri, although I changed the first name for this version). I wanted to write something funny, and the idea of a bank robbery gone wrong was stuck in my head. I thought I could use this to fit the theme of “bucket list” if I made it into someone’s search for excitement in their life.
I wanted an unlikely bank robber, and I wanted a woman to be the alpha of the entire situation. The idea of senior citizens worked nicely. It seemed plausible that an older person might feel pangs of adventure and might have little fear about it. Furthermore, seniors are, unfortunately, often discounted by our society, so I thought that an older person trying to rob a bank would not cause much alarm or suspicion and could offer some real laughs. It also allowed me to have a woman run the entire situation in a very clever way. I thought of the age group I was using (WWII vets), as that made me think of the USO shows for soldiers, which brought me to the idea of a magician’s assistant (someone who would know how to trick people).
It all reminded me of my Aunt Iris Zuzik, who was a WWII vet, having driven trucks on the front lines, and who never shied away from any adventure in her entire life. You name it, she did it! She actually passed away the day after I completed this (she was 97!), and I really believe that her spirit was guiding me in its creation. The four senior characters are all based on her.”
Q: Have you ever directed your own work before, and if not, what was it like?
A: In high school, I wrote a version of Cinderella in French that I also directed for a foreign language competition. That was quite different as it was more academic in nature and had strict rules, and, of course, I was a teenager. It was more of an assignment than sheer creativity. Directing Sleight of Hand was fantastic! I love the story…it is clever and fun and great for these trying times…and I thought it would adapt well to the virtual format. Also, I ended up with an incredible cast — all awesome, talented people that jumped aboard for the ride. We had a blast, and I really enjoyed steering the ship!
Q: As a director, did your “writer hat” kick in – and did you make changes to the script as you went along?
A: Absolutely! The “writer hat” was on from day one! I made changes to the characters at the start to allow for more gender-neutral casting (Leland Trumbold in the original became Leila Trumbold in this production). I also had to change the ending of the story somewhat to allow for a virtual production. If you listen to the original audio play, Esther asks to take Leland Trumbold’s arm to help her out of the bank. As a director of a physically distanced production, I knew this would not work. I changed the script to better accommodate the situation by having Esther drop her purse, have Trumbold pick it up for her, then Esther holds on to Trumbold’s arm for a moment to “admire her blazer.” Visually, this worked much better, and it still allowed for the twist at the end.
Q: Why should people see Sleight of Hand?
A: Sleight of Hand is pure entertainment, plain and simple. It is funny and charming and a nice little escape from the daily stresses of this “new normal.” We had a wonderful time making it and hope the audience enjoys it too.
Thank you, Mary, for sharing your work with Providence Players and your insights for this interview. Don’t forget to see Sleight of Hand, which opens September 4.
David P. Whitehead
Editor, Providence Players WEBLetter
Board Member Spotlight: Janet Bartelmay – Board Member, Founding Member, Producer & Actor
Janet Bartelmay currently serves as Secretary of Providence Players. She was among the original incorporators of the company. She retired in 2018 as an attorney for a DC trade association where she specialized in nonprofit tax matters, employee benefits, and corporate governance. She is a mother of two grown children who reside in the area. She spends as much time as possible spoiling her two grandsons, Daniel and Wesley.
Ruminations of an “Old PPF’er”
“Among the greatest gifts I have ever received was a visit from Chip Gertzog and John Coscia in the late 90’s. They told me they wanted to talk to me about something serious – but they could barely contain their enthusiasm. At this point in our history, we had performed our original run of You Can’t Take It With You at Mantua Elementary and were now staging a production on the cafeteria stage at Frost Middle School (a modest venue to be sure – but a step up from the elementary school gym.) ‘We’ve got to keep this theater thing going,’ they told me. ‘And we’ve got to find a better place to perform.’ I told them I was with them. After all, what project doesn’t need a nerd?
Over twenty years later, we have a company with a rich history and a home at James Lee Center. Back then, this was beyond our wildest dream. Kudos to Chip, John, Mary Angelo, Mike Daze’, Susan Devine, Kevin Harnisch, Beth Hughes Brown, and Tina Thronson who served on PPF’s original Board when we incorporated in 2001 and helped launch this incredible company.
Finding a home at James Lee was truly a “providence.” Gerry Connolly – a neighbor to many of us and an up-and-comer government power back then – arranged a meeting for several PPF folks with representatives of the James Lee community and other county officials who were involved in the renovation of the Center’s theater. At the meeting, we all realized what a great match it would be for PPF to work with the James Lee community on this project. (A slight ‘hiccup’ was when Kevin Harnisch staunchly stood up for the need for our artistic freedom. ‘You’re talking about performing shows in good taste, right? You’re not talking about nudity or anything, right.’ As the rest of the PPF representatives vigorously nodded their heads, Kevin spoke out. ‘Well, we want to stage what we feel is good theater. Let’s be honest, Hair was a good show on Broadway.’ We managed quickly to brush past that, but the moment is one I’ll not forget.)
Since our inception, PPF has been lucky to have scores – no, hundreds – of incredible people join with us in staging shows and otherwise running a theater company. We have made lifelong friends – and also enjoyed brief interludes with people who at that moment soothed our sorrows, sparked our imaginations, or made us laugh so hard that our stomachs hurt.
During this crazy time when a pandemic has closed us off from so much, and when hate is spewing all around us, it is comforting to enjoy the warm embrace of an old friend. Thank you, Providence Players.”
Providence Storage Moves to the “Tower”
We have a new storage space! And guess where it is? The Clock Tower – yes, The Clock Tower – right across the street from James Lee Community Center. Can you believe it?
Clock Tower Thrift Shop is a special program of Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) which offers unique quality goods to clients of all kinds, whether you are a thrifter, a collector, or a savvy shopper who’s in the market looking for a new piece of art, handbag, accent piece or home essential for your space.
Providence Players, in agreement with NVFS, now uses a portion of the top floor which includes a storage space for costumes, furniture, props and electrical equipment. Better yet, there is space to do costume fittings and a working table for production meetings, if needed.
Thanks to everyone who came out to help, but especially to “storage shed maven,” Beth Gilles-Whitehead, who organized volunteers, transportation (the truck with the hydraulic lift worked great!), and organized everything that was moved into the new space. (She’s good at pointing.) Also, thank you to volunteers who came out to move items from Alexandria to the Tower: Mike Dazé, Mike Donahue, Jason Hamrick, Kevin Harnisch, Nick Manicone, Mike McLaughlin, Amanda Ranowsky, Bobby Welsh, Elise Welsh, David Whitehead, and Andra Whitt. A good time was had by all!
Please join us for the next Virtual Happy Hour, September 8th at 6:30pm. Put it on your calendar! Grab your phone or iPad with your cocktail because we are going to play BINGO! Graciously Organized by Providence Players of Fairfax (Prepare your own beverage at home!)
Where: Zoom RSVP to get the Zoom log-in information
- Welcome back renewing members: John Coscia and Alex Marshall.
- New members: Frankie & MyChi Haan, Danette Illig, Amanda Jones, Joe Puzzo, and Robin Renner. Welcome to Providence Players!
- If your membership is lapsed and you wish to renew, you can click here.