Getting to Know You - December Blog 2015

An Interview With Advisory Company member Maureen Janson and FTC Supporters John and Jane Norman

Maureen: I'm always curious as to how people initially become interested in theatre. What first sparked your interest in theatre?

John: I grew up in a mining town in northern Minnesota and never knew anything about theater in my youth except high school plays, which I participated in and liked. In college my favorite girlfriend, whom I later married, got me interested in theater when we went to the Tyrone Guthrie theater in Minneapolis. When we moved to Madison in 1988, we learned about the Madison Rep and started going. We have been addicted to local theater ever since then.

Jane: I was in my early teens when I saw my first play and I loved theater right from the start. We didn’t always have live professional theater available to us in the various places where we lived so I was thrilled to discover the Rep when we moved to Madison.

Maureen: What do you like best about Forward Theater?

John: I like the accessibility of it to ordinary patrons. The fund raisers, the first reading of the Plays, a very unusual “back stage” experience with the director, attendance at a final rehearsal just before opening night for Silent Sky, readings of plays in progress of being written, readings of three very interesting plays this past Fall in Memorial Union, social gatherings to get to know theater people, etc. I feel like an intimate part of this theater world and have learned so much about how incredibly talented these artists really are.

Jane: I love the play selection (interesting topics that make you think), the great acting and the intimate setting.

Maureen: Do you have a favorite Forward performance moment? If so, what is it? Why was it your favorite?

John: I know I have had many favorite moments but can not recall many now. One I do recall is the back-stage viewing during a performance of Or with Jennifer filling Jane and I in on what was going on. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. I felt such an intimate relationship with the actors and staff as they expertly carried out their tasks with precision and total commitment. This was a joyous experience in synchrony for me. A second favorite moment was during the recently performed Silent Sky. Having been a research scientist for 40 years, I found the depiction of the discovery process for a scientist to be so realistic as to take me into my feelings during numerous such experiences in my career. This experience was so powerful for me that I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks, tears of joy for Henrietta as if I were a fly on the wall watching the actual event. The performance catapulted me totally into Henrietta’s reality.

Maureen: You have participated in several backstage experiences with Forward. What attracts you to the behind-the-scenes aspects of theatre? What can you tell us about your behind-the-scenes theatre experiences with Forward?

John: What a great question—one that I find it challenging to answer. I suspect that I have an amazing imagination that can take me to where ever I am willing to let my thoughts, feelings or senses take me. For example, I find my immersion experience in the first readings of plays to be greater than my experience at actual performances. With the performance of Or, we were at the first reading, saw the play from the audience and experienced it from back stage. For me the first reading was the most profound even though I can totally forget the story line for each experience. The first reading gives my imagination the most freedom to soar. I am truly amazed at how quickly competent actors can capture a personality of a character, even when they have never seen the manuscript they are reading before. This is an incredible, mystical experience that absolutely fascinates me. I also like people a lot, so meeting such talented people is delightful.

Jane: It has been a revelation to see all the things that go into a performance. It all looks so effortless and put together when you see the final product that you never even realize all of the things that make it work.

Maureen: Is there one particular backstage experience that stands out for you? Was there anything surprising about these experiences? What was the most enjoyable thing about seeing the theatre-making process from these new perspectives?

John: I believe that many experiences I have had with Forward Theater have stood out for me, but I am going to recall the most recent one—that is the rekindled feeling of discovery that I experienced during the performance of Silent Sky. For me, these backstage experiences seem to have a mystical effect on me and I find it so easy to be transported to where ever the experience wants to take me. This is more akin to a spiritual experience for me. Occasionally a movie can do this, but virtually every experience with Forward Theater seems to do this to me and I love it. I believe that the highly talented actors, directors and supporting staff make this happen, as well as my physical proximity to the performance.

Jane: I found attending the rehearsal of Silent Sky very interesting. It was like seeing the bare bones of the play that all the rest of the production rests on. It also taught me a lot more about what a director does and what the jobs of all the other supporting staff involve.

Maureen: With our upcoming production of The Flick, which takes place in a movie theatre, if you could pick one movie (or perhaps two--one each...) that you would like to see adapted as a stage play, what would it be and why?

John: My favorite story of all time is Les Miserables. I read the book, all 1500 pages of it, saw it as a movie and have seen it as a musical several times. I have never seen this story on the stage. The movie and musical have selected only a few events from the book, and the ones selected make an entertaining watch, but for me they do not transmit the essence of the story. I would love to see an imaginative playwright work some magic that could capture the essence of Les Miserables on the stage. I realize that this might require genus, but such does exist.
Jane: I like to see original works made for the stage.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to express our appreciation for what everyone does at Forward Theater.

John and Jane Norman