Empathy, redemption, kindness draws theater artist Amy Herzberg to ‘Carol’ – Fayetteville Flyer

The production of “A Christmas Carol” currently on the T2 stage is the fourth adaptation of the story on Amy Herzberg’s resume. Her first was written nearly 30 years ago and was a collaboration with the Fayetteville branch of the particular Salvation Army. ( Wesley Hitt)

TheatreSquared co-founder, associate artistic director, and University of Arkansas Distinguished Professor plus head associated with the MFA acting program Amy Herzberg has created four stage adaptations from the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” — either solo or in partnership with her husband, playwright Robert Ford.

The version that’s running now around the T2 phase is a feast for the senses, making the most of the original’s magic, mystery, and sparkle. It has the towering, intricately detailed set by Martin Andrew that’s immaculately dressed by properties lead Sophia deGuzman, props director Brodie Jasch and props assistant Emily Johnson; bright plus colorful period costumes by Ruby Kemph; a spooky-turned-celebratory lighting design by Megan Reilly; and a rousing holiday music and portentous sound effect score simply by Tommy Rosati. Associate director Bryce Kemph effortlessly wrangles a corps of 14 actors to play an even larger cast of characters — some actors have as many as eight roles in order to play — and once you realize how many costume changes the particular talented cast is making (assisted by a crack backstage team), that job seems even more daunting.

“A Christmas Carol”

Where: TheatreSquared, Fayetteville
When: Through Dec. 24
Cost: $25-$60 in person, $25-$35 digital stream
Tickets: 479-777-7477 or theatre2. org

Which is not to say it relies on flash over storytelling: Herzberg and co-writer Ford have also doubled-up within the meat associated with Dickens’ tale with the framing of the play. A young boy has been seemingly abandoned in London’s public library on Christmas Eve. It’s closing time, and the lone librarian trying to close up is unsure how in order to handle the situation. Flustered, she pulls a newly published version associated with Charles Dickens’ classic from the shelves plus begins reading it aloud, and, eventually, the boy joins in to tell the particular tale. As they do, there are brief, touching scenes in which the audience learns more about the boy’s difficult life. In this way, Herzberg and Ford producer effortlessly emphasize the concerns that are ever-present in Dickens’ work—child exploitation and poverty, to name but a few — and deliver an emotional ending that will leave audiences with a Christmas ornament-sized lump in their throats.

“It has several themes that I’m really taken with, ” Herzberg said when asked what makes this a particular story the girl can’t let go of. ”One is the idea of not ever giving up upon someone, that will everyone offers good within them — you’ve just got to look for it, and you’ve got to give that the chance and a hope. I think that’s terrific. I think it’s all too easy to simply write people off instead of looking with regard to how we can support plus uplift individuals rather than tear them down or even give up on all of them — that seems actually important to me.

“I guess the biggest thing is how much I love the idea of redemption. We want people in order to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, yet we possess to be participants in it. That feels really big to me. ”

Consider the first adaptation associated with “Carol” that will Herzberg wrote, nearly 25 years back: Commissioned simply by Ozark Stageworks, a professional theater operating in Fayetteville in the 1980s and 1990s, the production was a collaboration along with the Fayetteville branch of the Salvation Military. The script made even more pointed connections between Dickens’ traditional themes and newly devised material incorporated into his story. The process included the months-long project of interviewing people who were unhoused and turning their stories into heartfelt monologues that sought to humanize an issue from which too many look away.

“These interviews really have stuck with me, they were so fascinating, ” Herzberg says. “To hear people’s stories about the difficulties that they got in and exactly how we all need people who are looking out regarding us and that kind of generosity.

“I will say that I have got never thought about homelessness the same since then. ”

Once you talk to Herzberg for any length of time, you see the thread of Dickensian motifs like redemption, empathy, plus uplifting others winding through her existence from the particular beginning, perhaps because the girl outsized creativity and talent made her feel like an outsider from an early age. When she started piano lessons at the tender age of 5, Herzberg’s innate, prodigy-level talent was immediately evident. It wasn’t the only area of the arts in which she excelled. As anyone who grew up with an abundance of creativeness knows, that will unusual skill would arranged the phase for a childhood where the only way to escape middle school ridicule was to conform to rigid norms — which, defiantly, Herzberg chose not in order to do.

“I remember this time within seventh grade, we had to do a report on a historical time period, ” the lady said. She chose to cover Patrick Henry’s famous 1775 speech. “Oh my God, whenever I think about it now — it’s very much. All too, too much. I had made what I thought was a noose, had wrapped it around my sister’s [styrofoam head] that held the girl little hairpiece, and put this all under a blanket. And at that part of the speech, We yanked the particular blanket off and waved the stick with the head on it all over the room while yelling ‘Give me liberty, or give me death! ’ There was an audible, horrified gasp, but I was just like, ‘This will be great. ’”

“A Christmas Carol” is usually on stage through Dec. 24 at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville. ( Wesley Hitt)

High school was obviously a better fit for her when she found the girl crowd — theater kids. While musically gifted, the girl yearned intended for the communal aspects associated with live theatre, and though the lady started out with music as her undergraduate degree, it was clear theater had a monopoly on her heart.

“Now, when I actually look at it, the particular idea that will I had been going to be in music is so ridiculous, ” she mused. “I saw everything theatrically. ”

The girl made her career choice official by attending the California Institute of the particular Arts in order to earn the girl graduate degree, quickly followed by stints in the companies of the prestigious La Jolla Playhouse as well as the well-respected San Diego Rep. She was working at the particular latter when a friend suggested she apply to get a teaching position in Trinity University in Texas. The one-year appointment was supposed to be a temporary job change — whilst she experienced considered teaching in her 40s, the girl had no intention of doing anything other than acting until then. Whenever she first showed upward in the Trinity University movie theater administration building, she has been consumed along with doubt from the sight of the girl name on an office door. She turned to her father, who got driven her from California to Tx, and told him to go get the car.

“He said, ‘What? ’” the lady remembers. “I said, ‘We’re leaving. I cannot have an office. We seriously believe I am walking away from this particular job. ’ He said, ‘You are absolutely not walking away from this job. ’”

Two weeks later, she felt like the girl had been struck having a bolt of lightning when the lady discovered she loved training.

“I thought, ‘Why did no one share this with me? Why did they keep this particular under wraps? ” the girl remembers. “It was wonderful. And I loved my students. And am adored teaching. ”

“She stood out because she has been young and energetic plus inspired and funny, ” remembers actor Rebecca Harris, who was one of Herzberg’s first college students. Harris is an accomplished phase, screen plus television actress whose credits include “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”, “The Good Wife”, and “Outsiders”, and was the particular first acting professional to ever perform inside a TheatreSquared show. “She taught us how in order to create work and get inside plays plus characters via a variety of avenues: music and movement plus mask and a lot of text analysis. The lady pushed all of us to become rigorous within our function. I recall during the presentation pertaining to a scene study class her teaching us that nothing could ‘stand in’ for something else. Someone acquired propped up a set couch along with a stack of books, and the lady said, that is fine, but you can’t pretend that it isn’t there. Use it. That has to be your character’s reality. There provides to end up being a reason meant for the broken couch and the books even if it is meant to be a fancy apartment. It served to really force me in order to connect using the environment, whatever that is definitely. ”

After a year, Herzberg found herself applying to colleges and universities across the country. The University associated with Arkansas offered her a job, and, again, she assumed it would be temporary. For someone who had spent the last five years or so in California, Arkansas seemed rural and sleepy.

But the College of Illinois had other plans designed for her.

“[UA Department of Theatre Chairman] Kent Brown looked with me inside this odd way plus said, ‘We’re not worried about that. ’”

As self-assured as Herzberg was at this stage of the girl life, it was one point on which usually Brown knew better. Within a year, Herzberg had been charmed simply by both Fayetteville and her position on the UA. The particular drama department at that will time was filled with highly esteemed educators along with glowing resumes and powerful reputations, yet Herzberg was just a few many years older than the particular theater learners she has been teaching — and she was the working professional. Her audition classes were based on her behalf own recent experience, and her students benefited from her savvy audition methods. She also started a musical cinema class that had the wait list every semester. She has been immediately a popular figure in the department, the girl office constantly filled with college students for whom she always seemed to have time.

“A Christmas Carol” is on stage by means of Dec. twenty-four at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville. ( Wesley Hitt)

As the director, she soon became known for choosing edgier fare, works that were lesser known and ripe for interpretation, and that will had plenty of heart and soul.

“Amy’s show choices are always fresh plus exciting, often taking you to places where you’ve never been, ” said Justin Fletcher, an UA alumnus who offered as artistic/executive director just for Defiant Theatre in Chicago and in the same position for the Chi town Department of Cultural Affairs’ Storefront Theater. “One associated with the best theater experiences I have actually had been her production of ‘The Cradle Will Rock’ during my undergraduate yrs. Preparing for the purpose of it meant listening to the particular 1964 revival from the 1937 ‘play within music’ and digging in not only to The Great Depression and the labor movement, but also seminal institutions like the Federal Theatre Project and the particular Mercury Theater.

“Amy usually challenges a person to use as much of your own intellect plus your empathy in your work as you can while expanding your own worldview in the process. The materials she puts in front of you are one of the main ways that the girl throws that gauntlet down. ”

And, again, echoes of those styles of sympathy and redemption can be found in her former students’ descriptions of her socio-emotional skills as a teacher. To them, she was always available as a soft landing for anyone who had been struggling.

“Amy demands that people are professional, associated with course, but she furthermore understands that will people have complicated lives, ” says Harris. “Those lives make them good actors, yet those lives also require care and maintenance. The girl was constantly delighted by and has been supportive of my relationship with the mom. ”

“She has such love and commitment to the work the lady does plus that love and commitment is also shown to the girl students, ” says Craig Brooks, a former student and, today, an executive producer/showrunner working in Hollywood. “She cares so much. That care and dedication to her craft and her passion for theater made me personally want to work harder, prepare more with regard to auditions. I actually wanted to be in the shows she directed so that I could learn from the girl and feel that warmth plus care, too. ”

Brooks is one of many of Herzberg’s former learners working professionally in the world of arts and entertainment that credit her because one associated with the primary reasons they’ve been successful.

“I think that whenever Amy gave her approval over something — whether a song performance or monologue — it produced me think that maybe I possibly could really do something within entertainment, ” says Brooks.

“One thing I’ll often remember can be her getting my confidence up in order to audition regarding a musical, even though I do not really have a great singing voice, ” stated actor, comedian, and best-selling author Sarah Colonna, who has multiple hit television shows and movies on her resume. “She taught myself to use our personality to balance out what I felt was ‘lacking’ in my voice…and although I still have a terrible singing tone of voice, that training style helped to break me out of the shell on stage, and now I have got a very successful stand-up career. ”

“When I booked our first Broadway show 12 years after graduating through the University or college of Arkansas, Amy was the 1st person We called, ” said Rob Sutton, a New York-based stage actor who has performed upon Broadway and off-Broadway plus who has returned in order to Fayetteville numerous times to perform on TheatreSquared. “Amy was generally at the particular top of my ‘Thank yous” if I ever won the Tony. She’s the reason I believed I really could perform it. ”

Amy Herzberg (left) within the TheatreSquared manufacturing of “My Father’s War” ( Wesley Hitt)

Herzberg carries a full teaching schedule, will be head of the MFA acting program, and has directed nearly 40 productions since she started at the University in 1989. Yet somehow, the girl found time to co-found TheatreSquared, which moved into its brand new, $31 million theater complex in 2019. She serves as associate creative director, movie director, and actor or actress at the theater, and most recently performed in “My Father’s War”, Ford’s play inspired by the particular stories Herzberg’s father, Art, told her regarding his active service during World War II. Herzberg played the girl father inside the creation, an especially poignant role for her given her closeness to him. She also serves as a national co-chair for that Alliance of Acting Teachers, a good organization created to “cultivate, inspire, and lead” acting instructors.

“She is a mentor to many, many people in that setting, ” says Harris.

On a recent night at TheatreSquared, an audience member noted that the enduring nature of Dickens’ classic is that “everyone can see a little bit associated with themselves within the tale. ”

“Mankind was my business, ” cries Marley, Scrooge’s long-time—now deceased—business partner, the very first character in the story to clearly enunciate exactly what Scrooge is meant to understand on this haunted night. “The common welfare was the business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were almost all my business! ”

Herzberg’s business, then, is extending these attributes through training and the arts.

“I truly believe that theater is intended for everyone, ” she mentioned firmly. “I believe that there are so many ways to be involved with all the tale of what it means to be a person as well as the subject of humanity, which is the particular most important subject we have. I believe every college student, and exactly what their story is plus what they can bring in order to it, is certainly incredibly essential. There is some thing about telling the story of people to an audience that helps us to see others, and that is so essential. I really like that, and I think it creates community in a way that I’ve never really experienced elsewhere. There isn’t the person that will isn’t heading to be made better simply by theater plus their encounters with this, if we’re generous about it. ”

“She is really a stellar human being, ” said Harris. “I’m a better, more generous person to get having her as a friend. ”

Lara Jo Hightower is usually a contributor to the Fayetteville Hazard. She is the veteran features and profiles writer, and a marketing associate for TheatreSquared.