“Heathers the Musical” by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy and directed by Brad Watkins will be presented at Howard Community College, Smith Theatre at the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Columbia, MD from March 14-17, 2019. The musical is based on the 1989 film of the same name. It is a dark comedy that takes place in a high school and deals with many of the issues that have confronted teens for decades-bullying, violence, self-acceptance.
Tickets may be ordered online.
I had a chance to ask Brad Watkins, Guest Director, about his viewpoints and creative decisions about the show, including some behind the scene insights on his collaborations with many of his crew and staff.
Brad Watkins began his professional career doing historic performances at Camp David, subsequently toured America with the Catholic University of America’s National Players, and handled just about everything at the acclaimed Harlequin Dinner Theatre. His original revue “Dear Mr. Ziegfeld” toured the U.S. through Columbia Artist Theatricals. Brad partnered in the development and production of Troika Entertainment and, later, consulted during the creation of Phoenix Entertainment, two internationally renowned theatrical touring companies.
Brad spent nine+ years as Producing Director for Olney Theatre Center. His production of “Caris’ Peace,” an original collaboration exploring an actress’ journey following brain injury, played the Flea Theatre, was featured in the New York Times, became the subject of an award-winning documentary, and is currently in development as a feature film. He spent four years seeing over 125 shows a season as a judge for the Helen Hayes Awards.
Most recently, Brad served as Vice President of Communications and Theatre Services for theatreWashington and was Casting Director and Company Manager for “Amazing Grace,” which was a featured part of the opening launch of the Museum of the Bible. He is currently the Programming and Internal Affairs Director for BlackRock Center for the Arts, a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Human Rights Campaign, and Unity of Gaithersburg, lives in Damascus, MD, and loves it when days spent playing board games or tending his gardens are filled with peace and joy.
How were you chosen to be director of this show?
I met Bill Gillett when we worked together at Olney Theatre Center back in the day. Years ago, he invited me to direct a production of Speech and Debate when he was head of the theatre program at Carroll Community College. He had already drafted Production Manager Seth Schwartz into service – a great team – and, for a bunch of reasons, this turned out to be my favorite directing experience ever. Bill, then Seth, moved over to HCC, and Seth called me about a year ago to offer me the chance to direct Heathers. I was unfamiliar with the material, did a little due diligence, fell in love with the piece, and eagerly accepted.
“Heathers the Musical” has several strong themes, bullying and teen violence, for instance. When you conceptualized this show, what themes did you want to highlight?
There are a lot of themes in the show. It is a great piece for a tight ensemble, every actor carrying a lot of responsibility to get us to the finish line. I loved the duality of the satire and the heart of the story. I think for me, the most important theme is that we are all beautiful, we are all worth loving, and we have to take better care of each other all along the way.
How did your young actors deal with the violence in the show? (Stressed, not really bothered, etc.) Was this what you expected or were you surprised at their reactions in general?
I think the young actors are more surprised at my exploitation of certain delicate moments than the portrayed violence. There is violence in Heathers at two levels – the actual fights – there are a few – and the murders. We are blessed to have Jennifer Male as our choreographer. Jenny does great work with the dances, but she is an accredited fight choreographer and brings a level of training and realism to the work that is hard to achieve and rare in any forum. But, at the end of the day, this is satire, not blood and guts. We try to keep that at the front of the action. I did get a good laugh when the room gasped as I directed the leading man to step right over a dead body on his way to wooing the heroine. It was just the reaction I hope the audience has!
What concepts did you have for Set, Lights, Sound, Music, Choreography, Costumes, etc., and how did your designers and music directors and coordinate their talents with your concepts?
I wanted to this show to really reflect High School. These are high school kids, full of all the pros and cons and challenges of teens in that moment in time, regardless of the era. I needed a fluid production that moves like a movie – audiences no longer have any patience – so we worked hard to get that.
HCC threw a LOT of assets on the table, a real bonus, not the least of which was Projection Designer Patrick Pagnano, whose work gave us a flexibility to fashion a world that can be quickly reset by changing projected images. Given that, I drove Set Designer Samina Vieth crazy, tweaking this, adding that, to create a world of sleeked down, iconic high school images – bleachers, lockers, stairways, award showcases, basketball hoops, etc. – while still allowing Patrick space to paint varied locations. We have an exciting track mapped. My fingers are crossed that it all comes together in tech. This should end up being a pretty big visual production.
I have also been tickled as Costume Designer Janine Sunday, a terrific profession actress in her own right, has brought the wild iconic looks to the cast that will really be an 80s throwback – and make anyone over 40 laugh hard.
What is your favorite scene or scenes in the show without spoiling the plot?
My favorite scenes are any of the two-handers between our heroine Veronica and her troubled boyfriend JD. Sometimes you get lucky and find actors who have a full toolbox – flexible talent with lots of colors and emotions – and understand the character well enough to navigate the terrain heroically with confidence. Jo Hollis and Zac Brightbill are both gifted talents plus they have a real chemistry. They take difficult physical challenges and chew them up like candy. I ask them to try lots of odd ideas and they go there with such fearlessness. I tell them once a day, they are making what could be a very difficult process for me very easy. I love what they bring to the table and I am honored to work with them. It is a great collaboration, and I will take all the credit!