Fans of local theatre appreciate the myriad ways it supports the community – sharing stories, building business for local merchants, creating jobs, and of course, entertaining us. Another way theatre professionals contribute is by teaching. Nothing is quite the same as learning from a working professional, where students can benefit from the real-world experience and mentorship of a veteran.
Case in point—many of us know Tracy L. Spada as the Resident Stage Manager for Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, but she has been directing theatre and teaching kids for over 16 years. She is an Arts Management graduate of Eastern Michigan University and has also worked professionally at the Purple Rose Theatre Company, Performance Network Theatre and Planet Ant. Tracy was last seen on stage in TPT’s production of “Mrs. Mannerly” (2013 Member’s Choice Award “Best Actress” recipient). She is a proud member of the Actor’s Equity Association and a 2013 Wilde award “Best Mentor” recipient. Through collaboration with Northville High School, Tracy has been directing NHS’s Fall plays and Spring musicals since 2009. This weekend marks the opening of a big NHS production of “The Little Mermaid,” a stage adaptation of Disney’s beloved 1989 film.
Tracy took time away from rehearsals, production and scheduling juggling to talk with us about her work.
Patty Nolan: You have been a critical part of the Tipping Point Theatre professional staff as resident Stage Manager and also are the director of the Northville High drama club fall and spring productions. It makes sense that your work as a pro will help the students, but how does your work at the high school inform your professional work?
Tracy Spada: That’s a really great question! I work both professionally as a stage manager and as an actor. When directing the students… I need to have many “things,” “options” and “tricks in my bag,” ready to pull out immediately. I may be able to say to one student, “Make a different choice” and he/she will know what I mean by that direction. Other students may need more from me and I need to be able to communicate, demonstrate or coax to help them make their choices. I have found that when working with professionals, I sometimes use the same bag of tricks to illicit the direction that I’m seeking. In addition to communication/directing… I have found that as an actor, my ability with making decisions/choices has been enhanced from working with the students; I can quickly try a choice and then get rid of it and try something else if it doesn’t feel right.
PN: Tell us about your current Northville High production of “The Little Mermaid.” How does your approach to working with students compare to your work with professional actors and crew?
TS: I love The Little Mermaid! Of course audiences will be comparing our stage production to the Disney cartoon; that is true of any well-known story or movie that has its time on the stage. We have honored (or copied) some recognizable things like Ariel’s red hair, and Sebastian’s Jamaican accent. I am, however… always looking for ways in which we can separate ourselves from what is expected and do what moves us as artists. I encourage our actors to think outside the box and try things that feel right for them as actors, even if it’s not how it was done in the movie. When audiences come to our productions… they will see our vision and exploration of a script, not what was seen over and over from a movie.
Students versus Professionals – with the students… there is always the learning aspect of what you are doing. To learn any skill, you need the tools and lingo and you need to be taught these things. Professionals, on the other hand, come in as artists that have been working in the field and theoretically do not need nor appreciate being taught. The professionals come in with perhaps only three weeks to get the show up and running. There isn’t time for teaching. The students come ready to play, and learn and we have three months to explore.
PN: TPT is running “Rounding Third” in the same timeframe as your run of “The Little Mermaid.” How do you juggle your schedule?
TS: I have been juggling the professional world and children’s theatre since 1990! It is all muscle memory for me! :)
Ms. Spada is proud of the work her students are doing and encourages everyone to catch their production of “The Little Mermaid” this weekend, April 21 – 23, at Northville High School (45700 Six Mile Rd., Northville). Performances are at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday plus there is a matinee on Saturday at 1 p.m. There will be a “Meet and Greet the Characters” fundraiser after Friday’s show and the Saturday Matinee. For a $5 donation, cast members will be available for souvenir photos and autographs.
Tickets are available by calling ShowTix4U at (866) 967-8167, or at www.showtix4u.com . They are $15 for reserved seating and $12 for general admission. For groups of eight or more, tickets are $14 each. Email Beth at Bethhanlon22@yahoo.com for group tickets. Tickets will be available at the Northville High School theatre box office one hour before each performance.