by Jake Lipman · September 9, 2015
Adapting started out rather lonely, sitting at my laptop in the semi-darkness of last winter, typing out The Inn at Lake Devine. It got easier when I sent off the script to the novelist, Elinor Lipman (no relation), and then on to other experts in the field. It felt amazing when a group of trusted actors read a much more developed script aloud for an invited audience in April. I wasn’t alone anymore, and this was exciting. It meant my adaptation was going to go from a solo concept to a fully-realized production, and for that, I was going to need a lot more people who shared and could expand upon my vision.
First came Molly Ballerstein, whom I have admired for years and started working with directly in 2014. She directed the staged reading of the The Inn at Lake Devine in April, and has since taken on an associate producer role for the full production, for which she will also serve as assistant director and stage manager. She’s smart, no-nonsense, always has my back, and I honestly think she knows the script better than I, because she can see it from a different perspective.
Then came the accomplished director Kimberly Faith Hickman, who will direct the fall production. She was referred to me by Liz Carlson, who is the artistic director of Naked Angels.
Kimberly is one of those impressive yet humble people who has worked extensively on new works, with giants in the theater community, both on and off Broadway. From the moment we met, I’ve loved how on-the-ball she is, how high her standards are, and her keen eye.
And so began our production team: Molly, Kimberly and me. The three of us have worked together for a few months now, and I see three big benefits from this trio:
(1) Three times the contacts. When we were looking for designers for the production, all of us reached out to our personal contacts and got strong referrals for designers and actors we wanted to bring on board. We’ve now hired Tyler M. Perry as scenic designer, Lisa Renee Jordan as costume designer, and Richard T. Chamblin III as lighting designer. And my husband, composer Philip Rothman, has composed and orchestrated music and sound design for the production.
(2) Three times the hours in the day. Without my even having to ask, Molly combed through the script to create a master spreadsheet for which characters are onstage, when. As director, Kimberly has outlined every hour of the rehearsal process, creating a comprehensive production schedule. As producer, I oversaw the first round submission process from actors, gathering and scheduling well over a hundred actors for two jam-packed nights of auditions (out of more than a thousand who submitted).
(3) Three different perspectives. In the audition room, we were all looking for the same general things: actors who are as nice and professional as they are talented and a fit for the role. But we also each focused in on different traits. Kimberly is a stickler for credits and overall personal presentation. Molly was keenly aware of the actor’s behavior in and out of the audition room, helping us assemble people who work well with others. I got to focus on chemistry, since I’ll be onstage with all the people we cast, and I read with all our called back actors. Of course, we were all looking at all these things collectively, and a dozen other measurable things like preparedness, availability, training, height – but we each noticed things the others might have missed, and when it came down to two equally strong actors, we would discuss these other traits very seriously.
While auditions and callbacks were long days, we saw a dizzying array of talented people. Each person who walked into the room helped us refine our process. When the three of us sat down together to pick our top cast members, we were confident we had each weighed in and were invested in bringing these new people into the circle.
We sent out our offers to 14 actors in early August; everyone accepted. As I write this now, we just finished an enthusiastic first read through and design presentation with 20 people in the room: our cast of 15 and the production team. I am still pinching myself that I went from doing this on my own, to sharing it with a production team of three, to having 21 people involved, nearly all of whom I had never met until this summer. I’m no mathematical genius, but I know The Inn at Lake Devine adaptation will be exponentially better as a result of this expanded team. We have five weeks of rehearsal ahead of us; with each new day, this production will grow still further. I am bursting with excitement.
Up next: I’ll talk about producing an adaptation, from budgets, marketing, to paperwork and other seemingly dry essentials that ensure a creative idea sees the light of stage.