BY CARY GINELL
YA4Ever’s production of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell marks the directing debut of Chelsea Glasner. Glasner, a junior majoring musical theater at Emerson College in Boston, is a graduate of Newbury Park High School, where she starred in a number of productions, including Guys and Dolls, The Sound of Music, and Bye, Bye Birdie. Home for the holidays, Glasner and a cast of eighteen other VC expatriates staged an exuberant version of Godspell, which concludes a brief four-day run at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts on Sunday, January 12. On opening night, I sat next to Chelsea as she watched her first ever production take shape. The emotions on her face – ranging from tears to laughter – were the result of a lot of hard work. I talked to Chelsea this morning, after having two performances under her belt, about the experience.
VCOS: Have you always wanted to direct?
CHELSEA: I actually haven’t. When they asked me to direct Godspell, I initially said no, because I was so hesitant about directing, but it turned out well and I actually want to direct more in the future.
VCOS: Why were you selected to direct this show?
CHELSEA: They proposed Godspell a couple of times and I had mentioned that I loved the show and had done a really wonderful production of it in 2009, so when they decided to do it, they asked me first because they remembered that it was one of my favorite shows.
VCOS: Your family has a lot of members in community theater – when did you start being involved?
CHELSEA: I did my first show with Young Artists Ensemble in 2004 and I didn’t even want to go to the audition. My mom had to drag me, kicking and screaming. On closing night, I told my mom that I never wanted to do anything else.
VCOS: What show was that?
CHELSEA: The Velveteen Rabbit.
VCOS: Who have you learned from the most in what you do as a performer?
CHELSEA: That’s a hard question. I’ve learned a ton from my acting professor at school in Boston, but it’s been a really wonderful accumulation of people who I’ve worked with over the past ten years. I’ve picked up little nuggets of information from Mark Reyes, Mamie Thompson, Zach Spencer, and all of the wonderful people we have in our community that give so much to community theater and to children’s theater.
VCOS: Your mom, Beth, is basically a costume designer, is that right?
CHELSEA: Yes, for the most part.
VCOS: I recall that you did choreography also.
CHELSEA: Just once, Forever Plaid.
VCOS: So which do you enjoy most, the directing, the choreography, or being on stage?
CHELSEA: That’s such a hard question, but I think I prefer being on stage. I spent most of 2013 doing stuff behind the scenes. I choreographed for the first time, I stage managed, I produced a benefit, and now Godspell, but performing is definitely my first love.
VCOS: I was sitting right next to you on opening night – how was it watching your first show from the audience? I noticed all kinds of emotions.
CHELSEA: (laughs) All day Thursday I was insanely nervous and then the show got started and I kind of took a deep breath and had to tell myself that it was out of my hands and in the very capable hands of the cast. It was nerve wracking but it was a lot of fun watching my friends who were in the cast just bring it to life and have so much fun and tell this story. It was rewarding.
VCOS: Is it kind of like a roller coaster ride, watching?
CHELSEA: It is, because it is so scary. I wanted to shuffle some people around and tell them to move into their light. It was hard to have to sit still and just let it happen.
VCOS: What kinds of things did you see that you noticed but knew that the audience wouldn’t?
CHELSEA: There were a couple of people who mixed up some lines and someone didn’t land perfectly in their light, but they were almost there, and I wanted to tell someone to smile more and I wanted to tell some people to wait for laughs because they hadn’t done the show in front of an audience before, but of course, the audience didn’t notice those things, it was just me being the director who had been watching this thing for the past three weeks, so I knew.
VCOS: What about when the unexpected happens and you’re sitting up there watching and you can’t really do anything about it? It must be frustrating.
CHELSEA: It was really frustrating but I just took a deep breath and just let it happen. There were cast members that were telling me that their parents had no idea that anything was going wrong, so sometimes ignorance is bliss.
VCOS: At one time, I noticed that the cast was vamping and ad-libbing when Harrison (who played Jesus) had to have his head mike swapped out.
CHELSEA: Yes, that’s exactly what happened.
VCOS: It’s a good thing you have someone like Kevin Gilmond on stage.
CHELSEA: Oh, I know! Having his gigantic voice was such a blessing in those mike situations. And he’s a wonderful ad-libber, too.
VCOS: What was the most rewarding part of the show for you?
CHELSEA: When we originally cast the show, we had eighteen cast members and there were only four of them who I didn’t know. Getting to direct all of my closest friends from home and watching them bring this thing to life and thrive so much, with the material and the music, was really, really outstanding and I’m so proud of them. I’ve been with lots of these people since we were kids and it’s really fantastic to see them turn into such wonderful performers.
VCOS: You had to direct your sister, Victoria, too. What was that like?
CHELSEA: I did! She took it really well. We had a little bit of a hard time finding a balance between how I talked to her and how she talked to me because we have a different dynamic than me and the rest of the cast do. But we found it and I think it’s brought us a little closer than when we started.
VCOS: Was the casting process difficult since you were really one of their peers and now, all of a sudden, you’re their superior?
CHELSEA: It was really hard. When we finished it, I kind of shook my head and said, “Oh my God, I never want to do that again.” I understand how hard it must be to cast the show now, especially when you know people so well. I spent a long time with YAE and lost some parts that I really wanted and got some parts that I really wanted, and I understand now that it’s not always the talent, sometimes it’s how you are to work with and how you fit into the costume – there are just so many things that are out of your control as an actor in a casting situation.
VCOS: When you do YA4Ever, it’s kind of like a reunion. Everyone is off at their own colleges and they’re all coming home to do this show over break.
CHELSEA: All of them except three people are either in college or have graduated college, so yeah, it was like a little winter break reunion.
VCOS: What do you do in between shows while the show is running?
CHELSEA: I’ve had other directors who give notes and make tweaks to kind of enhance the show after it opens, and I’ve always kind of hated that because once the show is up, the show is up. So I try to take a step back from giving acting notes and just encourage the cast to keep giving their all and loving what they’re doing.
VCOS: Are there other shows you want to direct, now that this one is under your belt?
CHELSEA: I’ve been thinking about doing one at school next year with one of our student groups. It’s called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. It’s a nineties punk musical about Andrew Jackson founding the Democratic Party. It’s really funny.
VCOS: So are you interested in pursuing theater as a profession?
CHELSEA: I am. I’ve been toying with the idea of directing more now, because it wasn’t as impossible as I thought it would have been.
VCOS: Are you planning on coming home and working in community theater here some time?
CHELSEA: I’m not sure. I’m just going to go wherever the wind takes me after I graduate. I do want to come back to California for at least a little bit, because I miss the weather and the people.
VCOS: Well, we hope you come back. It wouldn’t be Ventura County community theater without a Glasner here somewhere.
CHELSEA: (laughs) That’s very true!
For a review of “Godspell,” see this week’s edition of the Thousand Oaks Acorn