Between Theatre Western, King’s Players and the Huron Underground Dramatic Society, there's plenty of opportunities at Western University for those interested in the performing arts. Which is necessary in many ways. Play production is a huge effort with a lot of moving parts, so it can be difficult for one person to put it all together, but that’s exactly what Paul Scala, a fourth-year student at the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities, has set out to do.
Scala is in the midst of producing Simon Levy’s The Great Gatsby. As director, every casting and staging decision comes down to him.
The idea of producing a play independently, without the backing of any company, came to Scala after acting in a number of plays with Theatre Western. His first was 12 Angry Men after deciding to audition the night before, and it was there he fell in love with the stage.
“I’ve never produced a play before, so why not?” says Scala. “It’s something that I think benefits not just myself, but everyone involved: to give opportunities to people like I was given my first time acting.”
Even getting the play past the idea stage was a daunting task in terms of the funds needed. Scala turned to his friends at frat brothers at Kappa Sigma for cash, which also allowed him to maintain his creative freedom. Premiering the show at the Palace Theatre in London, Ont. was as easy as asking them, with Scala’s production being one of the few plays not put on by their in-house group, London Community Players.
“I think it marks a sign of their willingness to open the doors to a new generation of people that want to be in theatre,” says Scala.
As director, Scala has brought together a stage manager, a producer and 12 cast members, as well as a composer, second-year music composition masters student, Kevin Gibson. Gibson's solo piano performance for the play marks his first time composing an original score for theatre.
“It’s gonna sound like the classic jazz you would hear but there will be a bit of a modern twist to it,” says Gibson. “Even though [Gatsby] has a happy environment on the surface, you can tell there’s some kind of drama. That’s what I try to express in my music using Gershwin's ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ as a model.”
Scala says the biggest challenge he's faced in adapting Levy’s script is in its prescriptiveness. Unlike the novel, Scala's play won't have a narrator. He wants the audience to be able to interpret the performance for themselves.
For a first-time independent production, The Great Gatsby is a perfect fit.
"It occurred to me that I think [it] can be done with the right sense of determination and support so Gatsby has always spoken to me," says Scala.
The Great Gatsby will play at the Palace Theatre in London, Ont. from April 4 to 8.