September 28, 2011

Michael Hill-Kirkland, Director of Three Musketeers

Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland

Read what Dr. Kirkland has to say about this special upcoming production!

It is April, 1974. An eighteen year old aspiring actor sits, totally enthralled, in a darkened movie house in Fullerton, CA, excitedly grasping his high school sweetheart’s hand. He is watching actor Michael York, as D’Artagnan, in Richard Lester’s film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, featuring fights arranged by William Hobbs. I sat on the edge of my seat (as if you hadn’t already guessed it was me), my heart racing, a smile on my face, and no little sense of envy as I observed D’Artagnan fighting off several of the Cardinal’s Guard as he attempts to gain entrance to the Royal Ball, and save Queen Anne from a fate worse than death. As the images flickered across the screen I whispered to my girl, “I’ve got to learn how to do that!” And so began my life-long love affair with theatrical swordplay. So you may have already guessed at this point--this one is personal.

I took my first sport sabre class in the fall of 1975 and somehow managed to struggle my way onto the Cal State Fullerton sabre squad. A semester later I was competing at the regional level. The following year would find me competing at the national level. After all those years of baseball and football, I had found my sport! My final competitive bouts were fenced in 1980, at UC Berkley, where I and my teammates on the Salle du Grenadier sabre team would win the Pacific Coast Championships mere months before I would enter graduate school. Unfortunately, working summers as a professional actor precluded attending the Society of American Fight Directors National Stage Combat Workshop until 1990. Once there, I found excellent instruction, a philosophy to undergird the art form, and lifelong friends and associates--one of whom, Richard Ryan, would later become Master at Arms for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, until a burgeoning career as a cinematic fight director would force him to relinquish the position. I was honored when, upon occasion, Richard would invite me to teach his RADA students. I always learned something new when working with him. Eventually, he found himself staging fights for such prestigious films as Troy, Stardust, The Dark Knight, and Sherlock Holmes 1 & 2. In each case he exhibited an uncanny ability for developing a unique martial style which served as a natural extension of character—very much like William Hobbs had achieved in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. There was the naïve, enthusiastic style of D’Artagnan. Then there was the dark, explosive rage of Athos and the playful, devil-may-care approach of Porthos. And finally, the religious gravity of Aramis--offering last rights to fallen opponents. And so it is we come full circle to that darkened cinema in 1974. How so? One of Richard’s earliest mentors was William Hobbs, Fight Arranger for the Richard Lester’s Musketeer films. He learned well. And now, nearly twenty years after rooming together at the SAFD Teacher Training Workshop, Richard and I have teamed up to bring you this recent adaptation of Dumas’ classic tale as re-imagined by farceur Ken Ludwig. (You might be interested to know Richard staged the fights for the premiere production at the Bristol Old Vic, in the UK.) It has been a joy to collaborate with him on this production. And, as always, I have learned from him.

I have always loved Dumas’s story of love, honor, and revenge with a singular passion. It is a story bursting with themes: faith, brotherhood, friendship, loyalty, courage, patriotism--and above all, a swashbuckling spirit of adventure that has always appealed to the little boy in me. In Ludwig’s script, Constance playfully teases D’Artagnan, “You remind me of a little boy from Gascony with a wooden sword shouting 'Death to the King’s enemies!'”

My wife, who sat in that same darkened cinema with me thirty eight years ago, would tell you that Constance has my number. I have a feeling she may have yours as well. And now, mesdames et messieurs, please travel back with us to a time when love was pure, honor was everything, and sons were told by their fathers to “fight for justice and make courage your watchword.” Indeed, a time when friends not only knew but lived John 15:13,

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

A time when friends would say, and back it up with their lives:

“All for one--and one for all.”

Three Musketeers opens October 14 and runs through October 23 in the Mainstage Theater.

September 26, 2011

Featured MFA: Britain Willcock

Britain Willcock is a third-year MFA in Acting student who is currently immersed in rehearsals for his thesis role - Porthos, in Ken Ludwig's adaptation of The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers is being directed by Dr. Michael Kirkland and features the work of Hollywood Fight Director Richard Ryan.  Britain is excited for the role for many reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity to use some of the extensive combat training he's received since coming to Regent.  Here's what Britain had to say about it:

"When I began my M.F.A. experience here at Regent University little did I know that a passion would be unearthed in me by Dr. Michael Kirkland. One of the unique aspects of Regent University's M.F.A. program is its emphasis in stage combat due to Dr. Kirkland's affiliation with the Society of American Fight Directors. Utilizing his training as a Certified Teacher, he has integrated required stage combat classes into the curriculum. Through three semesters of combat (Unarmed, Rapier and Dagger and Broadsword/Quarterstaff) I developed a deep love and passion for this 'illusion of violence' within the theater. It combined my love for sports and physical fitness with the creative world of the theater. Under Dr. Kirkland's tutelage I have attended two Regional SAFD events (Virginia Beach Bash) and tested in all four weapons to achieve 'Actor Combatant' status with the SAFD. My new-found passion then drove me to seek out further training. At the 2011 Virginia Beach Bash I met Fight Master Richard Ryan who opened my eyes to the National Stage Combat Workshop and advised me to consider attending.

Britain at the National Stage Combat Workshop
So, on June 19th, 2011, I left for Winston-Salem, NC to study for three weeks with some of the best Fight Choreographers in the world. The workshop can only be described as a stage combat boot camp as the Advanced Actor Combatant section worked six days a week from 9 a.m. till about 10 p.m. The first week was spent performing SPRs (Skills Proficiency Renewals) in which each day we found a new partner, learned a fight, found and memorized a scene and performed that very evening. The following two weeks allowed us to learn three new weapons (Knife, Smallsword, Sword & Shield) in which we tested on July 8th. While Fight Master Richard Ryan was the head of the Advanced section, we had the pleasure of also working with Fight Masters K. Jenny Jones, Allen Suddeth, and David Wooley. At the end of the workshop I had earned the status of 'Advanced Actor Combatant', had tested in 7 of the 8 weapons receiving a 'Recommended Pass' in 5, and had won the National Stage Combat Workshop award for 'Best Fight Scene.' Ultimately, the experience was an incredible exploration into the world of acting conflicts. Not only has this experience motivated me to become more physically fit and to seek out further training, it has also had a great impact on my acting. Exploring the motivations and actions that lead to physical conflict has clarified my understanding of 'being in the moment' and the idea of being 'made to do' something (concepts set forth in our Meisner-based actor training.)

I feel honored to have studied here at Regent with Dr. Kirkland and am forever thankful for his passion for the world of stage combat and his students. Thanks to him I have become a better actor, athlete, and have found a new love that I plan to pursue further in the future."

Come experience the stage combat technique of Britain and the other accomplished actors in The Three Musketeers, which runs on the Main Stage from October 14 - 23.  Call the Box Office for tickets (757) 352-4245.

September 23, 2011

Great Review for Beau Jest!

Full article can be found at

The Regent Theatre Company lights up the stage once again!

By: Paul Baker

Opening night for Regent’s delightful comedy, Beau Jest was a sight to behold. Not a seat in the small, studio theatre was empty. If you didn’t get your tickets early, you were bound to miss out. Although the set was simple–a dining room table with six chairs and a sofa, the circular stadium seating made you feel as if you were sitting at the table with the actors – right in the middle of a hilarious romp that will keep you laughing in utter hysteria!

Whitney Rappana, brought down the house as Sarah Goldman, a young Jewish woman who tries to avoid her mother’s ploy to fix her up with “nice Jewish boys.” She hires an actor to play the perfect Jewish boyfriend at the family dinner table.

There’s only one problem. He’s not Jewish! Sarah’s real boyfriend, Kris Kringle, played by Chris Bookless, does not carry one Jewish bone in his body. And Jeff Fazakerley’s riotous portrayal of the stand-in actor beau, Bob, will leave you gasping for breath from his hysterical attempts to be Jewish enough for Sarah’s parents.

Beau Jest just gets funnier as the story continues to unfold. You cannot help but laugh from Amy Dunlap’s flawless portrayal of Miriam, the annoyingly perfect Jewish mother, or Michael McLendon’s hilarious rendering of Abe, the stubborn Jewish dad. Even Andrew Wilson lit up the stage, playing Joel, the intelligent but somewhat oblivious brother.

Each scene builds as Sarah eventually falls in love with Bob, the actor–whose lack of Jewishness gradually unravels before her family. By the end of the play everybody wants to know “What are you going to do Sarah?”

Get Your Tickets Now!

Beau Jest is one family dinner you don’t want to miss! You will find yourself rolling in your seat and wiping tears from your eyes at the same time.

September 16, 2011

Heartwarming Comedy Kicks Off Theatre Season

By Rachel Judy
What happens when a young woman is afraid to take her boyfriend home to meet the parents? Audiences will find out in Beau Jest, the season's first Mainstage Theatre production at Regent University, opening on Friday, Sept. 16.

Written and set in 1989, James Sherman's play tells the story of Sarah Goldman and her traditional Jewish family eager to see Sarah settled down and married. The only trouble is, she's afraid to introduce them to her boyfriend because he's not Jewish. Rather than tell the truth, Sarah hires an actor to play the man she introduces to her parents.
"No one writes comedies like this anymore," observed guest director Marianne Savell. "This is a truly funny play with great writing. It has a sharp truth to it that will be very moving to the audience and yet the play doesn't have a mean spirit. It's sweet and it sneaks up on you."
MFA in Acting students Whitney Rappana and Amy Dunlap will perform their thesis roles in Beau Jest as Sarah Goldman and Miriam Goldman respectively.
Returning for a third year as a guest director at Regent, Savell has previously directed Dancing at Lughnasa in 2009 and Our Town in 2010.
Savell credits the theatre faculty and students as the main reason she keeps coming back. "The faculty are fantastic. They are real artists, and they have the skills and passion to pass on their knowledge and experience to the students," she said. "The students are serious and focused."
Similarly, Eric Harrell, chair of the theatre department, is excited that the students can work with Savell. "As an educational theatre, it is important for us to bring working professionals to campus to interact with our students," he explained. "Savell represents the crème of the crop. She has both an impressive resume as a union actor and director, but she also has the heart of an educator. She is a shining example to our students of how one can succeed in a challenging profession while maintaining a positive Christian witness."
Marianne Savell
Savell is an adjunct professor at Vanguard University, an associate artist with Taproot Theater Company and a member of Directors Lab West. She received her MFA in Acting from the University of Illinois and has been a guest artist at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She served as producing director of Actors Co-op in Hollywood and on the advisory board of Provision Theater Company in Chicago and was invited to the prestigious New Harmony Project to direct Margaret Hunt's new play And the Ravens Feed Us in 2008.

Purchase tickets for Beau Jest at the Box Office.
Phone: (757) 352-4245

September 7, 2011

What We Did This Summer!

We're back in school now, but Theatre Artists don't take summers off! Check out what our students and faculty were up to this summer!

Whitney Rappana, Jared O'Dell, Ashley Manning and
Michael Hill-Kirkland in Blackbeard and Calico Jack

Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland wrote, produced and appeared in an original pirate show at the Oceanfront called Blackbeard and Calico Jack. The show also featured Ashley Manning (MFA), Whitney Rappana (MFA) and Jared O’Dell (B.A.)

Scott Hayes appeared at the Oceanfront in the historical presentation Naval Airpower Legacy. The show was produced and directed by adjunct professor Derek Leonidoff, assisted by Sarah Grice (B.A.)

MFAs Andy Geffken, Tabitha Ray, Zachary Bortot, Amy Dunlap, Britain Willcock, Chris Bookless, Diana Coates, Marji Peters, Kristi Meyers, Ashley Manning, Jeff Fazakerley, Chad Rasor, Nathan Schmidt, and B.A.s Stephanie Graybill, Jared O’Dell and Alicia LeBlanc presented a Regent Shakespeare Company production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Scott Hayes.

West Side Story

The Regent Summer C.A.M.P.’s production of Suessical, Jr. was directed by alumna Kaja Dunn with music direction by MFA Alicia Bonham. West Side Story was directed by alumna Hannah Hughes with music direction by MFA Whitney Rappana. B.A. Beka James choreographed both productions. Tianna Yentzer and Courtney Conger stage managed. Ashley Manning , Ash Ragghianti, Nathan Schmidt, Zach Bortot and Britain Willcock all served as instructors. Dave Foster was the Scenic Designer and Technical Director for both camp productions.

Seussical, Jr.!

Derek and Jennifer Martin toured productions of And Sarah Laughed and Private Lives to Massachusetts as part of their Americana Theatre Company. The casts also featured alums Andy Geffken and Hannah Hughes.

MFA Britain Willcock attended the National Stage Combat Workshop and achieved Advanced Actor Combatant Status while also winning the National Award for "Best Scene."

Brad Archer, Marji Peters, Chad Rasor

Marji Peters and Rochelle Cheeks Archer

Katie Fridsma

MFA Alums Alaska Reese Vance and Nathan Schmidt took their original musical The Disorientation of Butterflies to the New York International Fringe Festival where the production ran for two weeks. The cast included a mix of current students and alumni: Brad Archer, Rochelle Cheeks Archer, Katie Fridsma, Beth Litwak, Marji Peters and Chad Rasor. Alaska Reese Vance received the Festival's 2011 Excellence in Directing Award. Congratulations, Alaska!

Zachary Bortot (MFA) worked on fight direction for the Reno Little Theater production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.

C.J. Hill as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd

Costume Shop Manager C.J. Hill played Mrs. Lovett in the Theatrrix production of Sweeney Todd. Mike Salsbury (MFA) played Judge Turpin and Micaela DeLauro (MFA) was in the chorus.

Diana Coates (MFA) partnered with the Virginia Stage Company to develop a five week theatre camp for the Achievable Dream Academy in Newport News. Over sixty students participated in the various workshops and rehearsals and final performance. She continued her efforts of raising support for the Miracle Mansion Project, a theatre and entertainment complex set to open in 2014.

Hal Prince with MFA A.J. Lease

MFA Andrew (A.J.) Lease met famed producer/director Hal Prince (Sweeney Todd, Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story.) Below is a sample of the interview…

AJ: What is the most important musical of all time?

Hal Prince: has the most important book since Sallinger wrote his novels...

AJ: What is the best musical of the last decade?

Hal Prince: The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown

AJ: Who is the best composer out there today?

Hal Prince: Jason Robert Brown

AJ: Finally, what would a short list of musicals be for undergraduate students to be familiar with before they graduate?

Hal Prince: Mostly...the classics- Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, and Sweeney Todd...I say that instead of Company (the most important) because Company was a concept musical after all.

Michael Mclendon (MFA) and Marji Peters (MFA) taught a Shakespeare workshop at Princess Anne Middle School. Michael was also the editing teacher for Regent's Film C.A.M.P.

Mike Salsbury (MFA) played a blind rabbi in the Endowed Student Film, a re-telling of Bernard Malamud's short story "The Silver Crown."

Erin Fossa (MA) performed at the Mystery Dinner Playhouse Theatre here in Virginia Beach.

Marilyn Schappacher (M.A.) with Dancing Waters Drama Group in The Blessing Tree and with Chamberlayne Actor’s Theatre (CAT) in Pirates of the Chemotherapy. Her cast was nominated for the Best Ensemble Award for the Richmond Theatre Awards, the Artsies.

Sarah Brierly (B.A.) spent six weeks working at Ligonier Camp and Conference Center as a counselor in training (CIT) and assisting in both the theatre activities as well as working in the kitchen. For the remainder of the summer she helped a local production of Wizard of Oz.

Matt and Tiana Downey started a new theatre company called The little BIG Theatre Company. They produced their first performance Runaway Cinderella. The company seeks to change the way people look at faith-based Christian theatre and seeks to change the community for the arts. They are currently preparing for the next show, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, directed by recent MFA grad, Chad Gilliland. Runaway Cinderella also featured Mike Salsbury (MFA), Kristi Meyers (MFA), Diana Coates (MFA), Alicia LeBlanc (B.A.), Margaret Beasley (B.A.) and Dan McGary (B.A.) and was Stage Managed by Tianna Yentzer (B.A.).

Andrew Schappacher (B.A.) participated in Ballet Magnificat’s four-week dance intensive in Jackson, Mississippi.

Rachel Migliore (B.A.) spent her summer interning at Airmid Theatre Company, a professional theatre located on Long Island that is dedicated to bringing classic plays written by women back to the stage. She performed in a production of Jack and the Princess Who Never Laughed, and managed wardrobe for the world premiere of A Little Betrayal Among Friends.

Debbie Wright (B.A.) directed Disney's Beauty and the Beast for a local Richmond children's theatre group, Alpha Theatre and Arts Company. She also worked with a student-run theatre guild (Thursdaenite Players) to produce Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in which she directed and played Lady Montague.

Check back often to see what Regent Theater is up to next!