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The Stage Manager Chronicles: Megan Fae Dougherty

For those civilians out there who don’t necessarily know the ins-and-outs of live theatre, the stage manager is the one who keeps everything in order. Obviously the job is way more monumental than that overly-simplified description, but put another way, a production would probably disintegrate, dissolve and collapse in on itself in a rage of despair and chaos if not for their guidance.

Thank goodness for stage managers, and especially good ones!

Among that class is Megan Fae Dougherty who is currently working hard behind the scenes of The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer. As you know the musical is preparing to open on December 2, but thankfully I was able to catch Dougherty at a convenient time to ask her a few questions about herself and the show.

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Megan Fae Dougherty (center) with director Peter Moore (left) and assistant stage manager Samantha Diekman (right) at rehearsal for The Soul of Gershwin. Photo, Connie Shaver.

She let me know that she has been stage managing for much of her life, choosing the career in college at Bemidji State University. Although like so many theatrical artists, the seeds were planted long before by a high school director who pushed her into a stage management job in eighth grade. It was at Bemidji, however, that her break came when a professor needed a replacement stage manager right away. Already assigned as the show’s assistant stage manager she was ready to step in. The position was a seemingly temporary one, but of course fate turned it into something a little more permanent. She remained the stage manager and the rest was history.

After college, Dougherty moved to the Twin Cities and has worked with several different theatre companies around. Park Square has been a mainstay since 2011 when she worked on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Working with Joe Chvala and his Flying Foot Forum is another artistic home, especially when you know that Dougherty is a practitioner of the flow arts, which encompasses such endeavors as hula hoop, fire spinning and stilt walking. She is also a frequent stage manager with TigerLion Arts and was able to recently tour with their immersive walking play, Nature. 

Clearly whatever project Dougherty is attached to is bound to be unique, engaging and highly rewarding. The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer is no exception and she is excited for audiences to share in the music and storytelling the show has to deliver!

The Legacy of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

One of the most intriguing works of George Gershwin is the opera, Porgy and Bess, that he wrote along with his brother Ira and African American poet DuBose Heyward. Strikingly different from other major works such as Rhapsody in Blue or An American in Paris, the musical depicts the lives of the most downtrodden. In this case the people living in a rundown neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina.

The main character, Bess, is a woman trying to escape her past as a prostitute and drug addict. She is romantically involved with a criminal named Crown, who flees after committing a murder. This in turn, leads Bess to finding acceptance and solace in the arms of a crippled beggar named Porgy. When Crown returns, the pair have to make a stand.

Porgy and Bess, 1935

Porgy and Bess, 1935

You can tell from this description alone how vastly different it is from the Roaring ’20s that Gershwin is so famously associated with. As those previous orchestrations were products of their time, so was Porgy and Bess which premiered in Depression-era New York in 1935.

A “folk” opera, the work was seven years in the making and inspired by DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel, Porgy. Now regarded as a classic and a standard in the American operatic canon, the initial run was deemed a commercial failure with mixed reviews. The New York Herald-Tribune, for instance, said that Gershwin’s ambition to include jazz and blues into a serious operatic score was “falsely conceived and rather clumsily executed…crooked folklore and half-way opera.” The run lasted four months and Porgy and Bess languished in mediocrity for decades until 1976 when the Houston Grand Opera produced the work to glowing reviews. This is when the piece secured its reputation as a classic.

It is amazing how perceptions can evolve over time, not just artistically but socially. One of the greatest merits of Porgy and Bess today, is conversely a reason for its initial short run. Gershwin was adamant that the show be entirely cast with classically trained African American singers. Of course this was a radical casting idea in 1930s America as the common practice was for a white performer to don blackface. Al Jolson, for example, had himself almost produced an adaptation with this idea in mind. Gershwin’s casting was brave and inspiring, giving work to dozens of African American performers on the mainstream Broadway circuit.

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The original 1935 production. Courtesy Photo.

 

That bit of history, in addition to the composition and songwriting of the piece, have made Porgy and Bess the fixture in American pop culture it is today. We all know the songs, “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” Produced all over the world, the last Broadway revival was in 2012.

Fortunately you won’t have to trek across the globe or travel to New York City to experience those songs, you can just get on down to Park Square Theatre this December. Selections from Porgy and Bess as well as Gershwin’s other timeless tunes will be featured in the show, The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer Dec 2 – 31. I hope to see you there!

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