Diversity in the Cast
When Greta Zumbrunnen ’21 was cast to play Billy in “Stage Door,” they said that they were prepared to play the character as a male, just as the writers Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman had imagined in the 1930s. However, performing arts teacher Rees Pugh chose to have Billy identify as non-binary.
Zumbrunnen said they appreciated that Billy’s gender was modified and that having a character without any mention of gender was a welcome addition to the play.
“The inclusion of LGBTQ characters in the play was handled relatively well,” Zumbrunnen said. “While obviously the best representation is clearly stated representation, we also have to take into account that it is likely that Edna Ferber didn’t write most of these characters to be queer, and even if she did, the extreme homophobia of the time period necessitated a certain subtlety.”
“Stage Door” tells the story of actresses struggling to survive and find their place as they attempt to land roles in Broadway plays. The actresses share their experiences while residing in the Footlights Club, a boarding home in New York City.
Pugh also chose to include an LGBTQ relationship involving Olga Brandt, played by Nicole Austen ’21, and Louise Mitchell, played by Felicity Phelan ’21.
“Including [LGBTQ] characters in the play was an admirable idea, but it was difficult to do without changing the script at all,” Austen said. “Olga’s relationship with Louise was a compelling aspect of the story and I thought it was a good addition, but I’m not sure the audience picked up on it.”
The main story revolves around Terry Randall, played by Andrea Yagher ’20 whose dream is to become a leading Broadway actress, despite the challenges posed by Broadway and the lure of Hollywood.
During Randall’s three years living at the Footlights Club, she becomes romantically involved with two very different men.
The first, Keith Burgess (Jake Schroeder ’20), is an unknown playwright who initially appears to be passionate about representing the masses, but is eventually seduced by the film industry. Terry also pursues a relationship with film producer David Kingsley (Charlie Doris ’22), who decides to return to support Broadway.
Many of these actors and actresses experience some form of character development. Jean Maitland, played by Taylor Dees ’21, transitions from a young, naive girl to a very deeply damaged actress in the span of just a few scenes. Dees said that playing Jean allowed her to bond with the other cast members in the play.
“The Footlights Club, where the show takes place, is all about sisterhood and bonding,” Dees said. “Building the ensemble for this show was [like] building a family. We all got so close. It was as if we all really lived in a boarding house together.”
Emery Genga ’21 said playing Kaye Hamilton was an incredible experience for her to be a part of.
She said she consistently found herself lost in the heavy emotions and feelings of the character, and that exploring Kaye’s dark past was an eye-opening experience.
“In our society, we are often expected to hide our emotions,” Genga said. “People who laugh too loud or cry in front of people are seen as strange. We have been so conditioned to hide our true emotions. In acting, however, all of that is different. We are able to express emotions and not be seen as strange or out of the ordinary and instead are embraced for our honesty.”
Liberation through Emotion
Genga also said that performing on stage has a freeing quality about it.
“There is something so liberating for me about being on stage and crying in front of a big audience,” Genga said.” I feel like I am showing everyone that I’m not afraid to show my true emotions, and they shouldn’t be either.”
Behind the scenes, students and professional production staff worked together with the cast to bring the show to its final three performances.
Students in the Technical Theatre class helped with dressing the entire cast, directing the play and managing the stage. Assistant stage manager and soundboard operator Maya Doyle ’21 said she enjoyed being part of the play set up and production.
“I had a wonderful time,” Doyle said. “This was one of my first times doing a show, and it’s crazy how much work everyone including the actors and tech crew put in for a show even though the play wasn’t as big as the musical.”
Pugh said that he was pleased to see that the audiences really enjoyed the show and its impressive stage set.
“Putting ‘Stage Door’ together with this bunch of students was one of the most rewarding experiences in my 20 years here at [Harvard-Westlake],” Pugh said. “This group never stopped working, learning, growing and improving from the first table read through closing night and in so doing, made the whole thing look utterly easy, which, as anyone who has tried it knows, is not. I am immensely grateful to everyone who had a hand in telling this beautiful story. It was a very, very special show that I will remember for a long, long time.”
Genga said she made many new friends with the cast members while rehearsing for the play.
“Everyone is so supportive of each other in every possible way,” Genga said. “Nothing brings people together like doing a show. This cast was full of talented, wonderful, kind individuals, and they are what that I’m going to miss most about this whole experience.”