It’s been a wild few Viking-infused months for Skyler Gray, artistic director of Children’s Musical Theaterworks. When he announced in September that CMT had nabbed the rights to produce the full-length premiere of the musical “Yo, Vikings!,” I decided to follow the project from the first workshop reading through to opening night. The culmination of the coverage is a cover story in Friday’s 7 section.
I caught up with Gray for one last interview just two days before opening.
Question: It’s been a while since we caught up with you to talk about “Yo, Vikings!” Did the rehearsals go smoothly? Now that you’re in the middle of tech week, how do you feel about opening night?
Answer: Rehearsals for this production were unlike anything else I have ever experienced before. It was freeing to create the action of this piece for the first time. Josh Montgomery (the choreographer) and I had moments of trial and error, deciding what devices and staging worked best to tell this story. It was both terrifying and liberating to not have a right or wrong way to approach this story. Because we are the first to embark on this new adventure, we had limitless possibilities to create the world of the play. The cast was very willing to allow Josh and I the freedom to try things and experiment with different scenarios. The final product is the result of a great group of actors and imaginative team.
To say that I am excited about opening is an understatement! This piece has been more terrifying and exciting than anything else I have directed. We will be introducing our audiences to a new story and taking them on a brand new journey. I am sure that I can speak for the cast in saying that opening night is bound to be a night we will all never forget. The cast is ready, the designers work has paid off, and now it is time to release this piece into the world!
Above: CMT’s new promotional video for “Yo, Vikings!”
How much contact did you have during the rehearsal period with the musical’s creative team, Sam Willmott and Marcus Stevens? Would you say that you ironed out most questions with them during pre-production, or did things pop up in rehearsal that you consulted about?
Sam, Marcus and I were in weekly contact during rehearsals and I would try to update them about possible questions and concerns as they arose. Sam is also our [musical] tracks designer, so Laurie King (our vocal coach) and I were in constant contact with him about minor tweaks and additions. We actually received a new page of dialogue on Tuesday night of tech from Marcus, which strengthens the Act 2 opener. It has been an exciting week with minor tweaks emerging and new dialogue popping up!
It can be different reading a script on the written page or listening to it read in a workshop performance and actually translating it to the stage. Can you give us an example of a storytelling or staging issue that didn’t confront you until you actually started rehearsing?
This show is a big one! Not necessarily in terms of length, but in terms of the technical demands it presents. We are portraying Emma’s vibrant imagination in this play, so it is important to capture the magic that lives in a child’s mind. It is one thing to read that “a dragon stalks Emma” or “an enormous frost giant appears” and quite another to stage it. Plus, there was no model from which to build off of, so the possibilities were endless. Luckily, we have a great team of designers that were able to capture what was on the page and translate it for the stage. Vye Robinson, Laura Vogt, Trina Short and Charles Ottavio have been instrumental in helping to create these mythical creatures for the stage.
How about the technical or design aspects of the show? Did you have to change any of your ideas once you started rehearsing?
The production team had a pretty solid plan of the technical aspects of the show before rehearsals began. Of course, as things begin to materialize, minor edits need to be made. It is always true that something that may seem brilliant in a director’s head, may not look so brilliant onstage or in the rehearsal space. This show has been a large game of trial and error, but it is the errors that have helped strengthen and validate the final product.
As you’ve grown with this show, have any themes or insights emerged?
At first glance this show can be boxed into the simple category of “a children’s show.” But, what sets this show apart from many other family shows I have seen/read in the past is the extra layers it has to it. Once you get past the colorful exterior, there is true heart to this piece. Emma is not just a little girl who dreams big, but a young person trying to find the adventure in life. Sam and Marcus have crafted a piece that is suitable for the whole family, leaves you with a strong message, and is able to find the fun and humor of it all along the way.
How are you marketing this show? Have you found that it is difficult in Fresno to “sell” a brand new musical?
Marketing a new musical is always tough, as it is usually not a recognizable title. We wanted to capture the vibrancy of the piece in the poster and I think we succeeded at doing so. We ordered more bookmarks, posters, and postcards than ever before and set a goal to get the word out in a person to person approach. This is a great show for the whole family and has a very positive message. Because of that, we are partnering with local libraries (where we did a reading of the show in November), local schools, and local businesses. As Emma rallies her community to join in a cause, we are hoping to rally the community to come out to see this new piece of theater.
As opening night approaches, what’s your biggest worry?
The opening night jitters are always present, but this show is something else! It is scary to present something new to the masses. Did Josh and I stage things the correct way? Did the design team and I imagine and interpret the show correctly? The exciting thing is that there is no right and wrong answer to those questions. Still, there is nothing more vulnerable in theatre than presenting a new play, but on the same token, there is nothing more exhilarating!
Anything else you’d like to say about the “Vikings” journey you’ve taken?
I would like to thank Sam and Marcus for entrusting us with their child and allowing Fresno the opportunity to see this new musical come to life. The whole experience has been incredible and the whole team has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Fresno has such a rich arts community and a wide range of talent, so I am so excited we are able to showcase that in this new show. I hope audiences find the same magic in the piece that I did the first time I read it.
PREVIOUSLY ON THE BEEHIVE
From page to stage: Designing the set for “Yo, Vikings!” (Feb. 28)
From page to stage: Creating the costumes for ‘Yo, Vikings!’ (Feb. 17)
From page to stage: ‘Yo, Vikings!’ cast announced (Jan. 12)
From page to stage: “Yo, Vikings!” (Nov. 22)
A busy theater weekend (Nov. 14)
Children’s Musical Theaterworks nabs a brand-new musical (Sept. 29)