Director Tsigaridas, I presume?

Published 6:21 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

By Craig Challender

Special to The Farmville Herald

For The Waterworks Players, 2023-24 is becoming a season of “firsts.” Last October, “Godspell” was both Waterworks’ first musical since the COVID pandemic and seasoned director Kolby Logue’s first time helming a Waterworks production. And now “The Vagrant,” which opens on Feb. 23, will mark Greg Tsigaridas’ debut as a director. 

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Though he has long been a familiar onstage face to Waterworks patrons, this will be the first time that Tsigaridas will direct a play instead of acting in it. And there is one more intriguing first: the show’s author, local playwright Brett Hursey, has previously directed Tsigaridas in one of his ten-minute plays.

Interviewing both men at Tsigaridas’ home, the conversation got started by asking what was it like to be directed in a show by the author, and what is it about “The Vagrant” that made you want to direct it? 

 “I loved it,” he said. “Brett brought great energy to that play. His stuff always has at least one character that draws me in. Often there’s a speech or even a single line that has wonderful humor, but also a ‘character moment’ of interaction that really moves you. ‘The Vagrant’ is like one of his 10-minute plays blown up full length.”

As for Hursey, what was it like to have an actor he’s directed now directing this work of his?

“It’s interesting,” Hursey said. “As a writer, you know that the director and actors are gonna do their version of your play. When I see what they’re doing, it gives me new ideas for the play. I think Greg has a good eye; his instinct as an actor will work well for him as a director. Flexibility is the key — you have to have a plan for what you want, but be flexible in that plan.”

More about Hursey’s work 

The Waterworks Players have done three separate productions of Hursey’s work, putting together several of his ten-minute plays in “Shortcomings” (2009), “Small Doses” (2015, and “Lucky Charms” (2018). Hursey said the collaboration with Waterworks over the years has been great. 

“Waterworks has been kind of an extension of my experience with a small regional theater that gave me a shot by doing one of my plays,” Hursey said. “When I was still an undergrad, I wrote a play I called ‘Figment,’ about a psychiatrist who begins to see some of his patients’ ‘imaginary friends’ for himself. I thought it was a good script but felt it needed other folks’ opinions. A little theater group agreed to table-read it and invited me to sit in. After they finished act one, they told me to stay put and then left the room. A few minutes later, they returned and began reading again. This happened twice — once for each act — and then they told me they wanted to do my play. ‘The Figment’ did quite well in that theater.”

 “During my first year of grad school in Oklahoma, I got a phone call from New York,” he added. “They wanted to do my play in a theater Off-Off Broadway. It turned out that a tech guy from that little regional theater got a job up there, took his copy of my script with him and showed it to people. That’s how I got my foot in the door professionally.”

Meanwhile, several years ago, Tsigaridas hosted a reader’s theater of Hursey’s short plays at his house. 

“It was real ‘living room theater,’ Tsigaridas said, smiling. “I had six actors, and we read five or six of Brett’s ten-minute plays. We had an audience of around 20, and it was wonderful.”

So how are things going with “The Vagrant” after its first two weeks of rehearsals?

“I’m incredibly fortunate to have such talented actors,” Tsigaridas said. “It’s a small cast, just six people. Four of them — Leigh Lunsford, Jordan Whiley, Melissa Meinhard and Billy Tucker — are Waterworks veterans. The other two, Rick Anderson and Maria Sentz, are new to this stage. They all work together so well.” 

“This experience is making me, as an actor, aware of how much is required of a director: pulling a team together, getting a schedule laid out,” he added. “I’m finding out that the stage manager is an unsung hero. And there are so many things to figure out for the first time, like blocking for an entire cast and not just my role. Oftentimes when an actor makes a mistake in blocking or gesturing, I discover that that “mistake” actually makes things better. The key is collaboration and flexibility, like Brett said.”

Bonuses of local productions

For someone like Hursey, whose 10-minute plays have appeared nationwide, as well as in places like Armenia and South Korea, what are the bonuses of having your work locally produced? 

He thought for a moment, then smiled. 

“Every now and then it’s nice to have people you know and love in the audience and laughing at your work,” Hursey said. “I don’t write plays not to get produced. It’s an opportunity to watch your play with an audience of folks you know, and see ways you can improve it.”

More about the show

“The Vagrant” will run on two weekends in late February and early March. It starts Feb. 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. nightly, with a Sunday matinee on Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. Then it continues on March 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. each night. 

There will be a moderated “talk back” session between the audience and the playwright and director following the matinee performance. The proceeds from the Sunday matinee will be donated to Madeline’s House. For ticket information, go to the Waterworks website, waterworksplayers.org/buytickets.