Behind the scenes: 39 Steps at Concord Players

Concord Players is a Concord community theatre that has been producing three stage plays a year for over 50 years. The latest is The 39 Steps, opening Nov. 4, based on the 1935 adventure film by Alfred Hitchcock. The performance includes just four enthusiastic actors: the hero and the girl; two other actors play every other character in the show: heroes, villains, men, women, children, and even the occasional inanimate object resulting in this serious spy story becoming a chaotic and hysterical farce. Here’s a close-up and personal look at The 39 Steps’s talented director Andrew Rhodes.

You’ve been working in theater for a long time – what in your past makes you especially suited to direct 39 Steps?

I spent A LOT of time performing in, and directing, fast paced, slapstick, family shows.  Even doing theatre as a kid I was drawn to absurd comedy.  I grew up watching WB Cartoons, Mel Brooks films, Monty Python, and musicals.  I guess it left its mark.  I spent a good part of my 20’s doing live traveling stunt shows, and I have been a Fight Choreographer for many plays.  If you add all this up it, leaves me with a bizarre/dry sense of humor, and experience driven knowledge of physical comedy, and a driving desire to entertain and make people laugh.

Your show is based on the Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935/s film, 39 Steps, how did you immerse yourself in the film and novel and prepare yourself for directing?

I watched, and rewatched, and rewatched, and rewatched the film.  Then I watched the film again with the cast before we started rehearsals.  The play is based directly on the Hitchcock film.  Hitchcock strayed quite a bit from the book. So, I didn’t read the entire novel.  I cliff noted the series of books starring our hero Rhicard Hannay.  I also researched the other 4 film versions of the story.  I wish we could do a double feature, with a showing of the Hitchock film, followed by our presentation of the play.

Was it difficult to capture the noir film style in the set and acting? How did you do that?

It is somewhat difficult to take this black and white film noir, and transfer it to a modern live stage.  the movie has some serious close ups.   I wanted to keep the staging and set small and intimate, and focus on the performances of the actors.  We are  using only white lights, and drab colors. Unless, we are trying to make a dramatic statement during the show.  The fun part is we get to exaggerate that style, and take it too far.

There are only four actors performing 38 characters, which ones are your favorite and why?

They are all fabulous roles, but I gotta say “The Clowns” are my favorite.  Matthew Slepin plays our hero Hannay, Michelle Mount plays our 3 female protagonists, and Will Jevon and Rebecca Bishop play….  everyone else.  They have so many fast changes, physical bits, and the actors get the chance to break character and “mess” with the other actors on stage.  That’s the story of my life.

Why do you love physical comedy?

Who doesn’t?!  Since the beginning of time humankind has laughed when people get bonked on the head, take pratfalls, and step on a rake.  Fake bonk your head and front of a baby and watch them laugh.   I think it can be a form of schadenfreude.  “That’s funny, I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me.”  It takes more talent to do it safely, and competently, than most people think,

The Concord Players presents The 39 Steps, directed by Andrew Rhodes. Nov. 4-19 at The Performing Arts Center, 51 Walden Street, concord Center. For tickets and more information: www.concordplayers.org

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