BY CARY GINELL
Putting on a play or musical is a daunting enough task, but to do it with only a handful of people and no budget, is something only the most passionate (or crazy) individuals can attempt. Brittany Danyel is a little of both – along with her partners-in-crime, the eminently talented Hanna Mitchell and Ezra Eels, Danyel, using the production name “The 3 Masketeers,” has made an iconic, funny play even more uproarious. Their manic story of Hitchcockian espionage finishes its run this weekend at the OYES Theatre in Ojai and if you like knockabout, frenzied comedy, this is the show for you. You can read our review of the show in the December 11 edition of VC On Stage. https://vconstage.com/the-3-masketeers-make-the-most-out-of-the-least-in-the-39-steps/
We got a chance to chat with Brittany on how all this came to pass:
VCOS: How did the 3 Masketeers get started?
BRITTANY: We were sitting in the hot tub in my backyard this past July, and the three of us were just discussing theater and everything that we’d like to do and what we had done, and we decided that with our combined skills, it was possible for us to put on a show ourselves. So we threw plays out there that would be easier to do with smaller casts and easier sets, perhaps less money for rights because of our limited budget, and we started talking about The 39 Steps. For a while, I would say things like, “If we end up doing this…” and every time I said this, Hanna would say, “WHEN we’re doing this…” So she was really the one that pushed it as something we could actually do. She had more faith in this than Ezra or I did from the beginning.
VCOS: How long have you three been friends?
BRITTANY: I’ve known Hanna since she was little but we’ve been close friends for the last year. Ezra and I have been friends for two or three years. Then Ezra and Hanna ended up doing a show together – I think in January or February. So the three of us have been friends for about a year now.
VCOS: Walk me through the process on, once you got the idea, what you did, how long it took, and the various obstacles you had to overcome to put this show on.
BRITTANY: First, I went on line and found out how to get the rights because none of his had ever done this before. So I found Samuel French on line and contacted them. They responded pretty quickly and told me how much it was going to cost for each show. Then we had to find a venue. We searched around Ojai and different areas and met with the people over at OYES and when they agreed to do a profit-share with us, we thought that was the best option since we were just starting out, and that way we wouldn’t have to pay for rehearsal space and insurance, and even though we were sharing the profits, that would be the best thing for us to do at this point. After we solidified that with them, we worked on dates that fit into their schedule with the children’s shows they were doing. So we got dates in December. We knew the three of us were going to be in it, but Ezra and Hanna mentioned Aaron Gardner, who had been in As You Like It with them at the Ojai Arts Center. So we asked him if he’d like to play Richard Hannay and he agreed. Then, we got a friend who was going to direct and we all got together for a read-through. We did that while Ezra and I were doing Dr. Dolittle at the Arts Center. So after rehearsal one night, we all got together and did it and it went stupendously. Aaron fit into the part really well and everybody clicked, so it was great. Probably the biggest obstacle was when we found out that our director had some family stuff come up and he couldn’t do it for us. So we were left without a director. We contacted multiple directors in the area, people we all knew and respected, but since it was going to run during the holidays and it was on such short notice, there were no directors available. Finally, we got to the point where we decided – you know what? Hanna and I both had directing experience, Ezra had good vision for theater – and we just decided to direct it ourselves.
VCOS: Tell me about the concept of using the two “clowns” to play all the extraneous parts in the show. Was this done because of necessity? Because, as it turns out, that is the core of the humor in the show.
BRITTANY: Yes. I read something on line that the stimulus behind creating this play was that some friends got together at a wedding, and they were all Hitchcock fans, and they decided to do an impromptu performance of The 39 Steps with just a couple of guys. So they went through it and im-provved the whole show. One of their friends, Patrick Barlow, saw it, and he decided to turn it into the play that we’re doing. So that’s where the concept of the two clowns came in.
VCOS: So is this their concept that you’re doing?
BRITTANY: Yes, the play is written this way. We knew, that with Hanna and Ezra’s acting styles, they would do an excellent job as the clowns, knowing that they were going to be the scene-stealers of the show. You happened to come on an extra special day when Ezra’s kilts fell off, so he actually did get some improv in there. When his kilts fell off, he grabbed the sign on the wall and wrapped it around him.
VCOS: How much improvisation is there?
BRITTANY: There’s not a whole lot but there was a lot in rehearsal. What there is came from Ezra.
VCOS: You guys did a lot with just four steamer trunks and two doors.
BRITTANY: Yes, we really tried to keep everything simplified because, one, we didn’t have a big budget. We also knew that the stage wasn’t huge and the off-stage space wasn’t large, so we got the idea of doing it with just four boxes, the doors and one chair. I think it was Hanna’s idea to do it so that we could keep all the props inside the boxes, which went really well.
VCOS: Is this harder to do than a full-fledged production? Without a prop master, a full cast, stage manager, etc.? I mean, you had to hang your curtain on a clothesline, for crying out loud.
BRITTANY: There are definitely some things that are more difficult about this, especially just having a smaller group do it. It’s the first time any of has produced, so adding that into it made it a lot more difficult, but there are also things easier about it. We have a scrim that comes across the stage where we do the shadow effects. We weren’t sure how we were going to do that until we got into the theater, which was two weeks before our first performance. So there was a lot of stress on us from the beginning, knowing that we wouldn’t really be able to practice the shadows until we got into the space.
VCOS: What this shows is how ingenuity comes out of necessity.
VCOS: Are you planning on doing this again in the future?
BRITTANY: Probably, yes. We love how this one turned out and we all had a lot of fun with this show. I think we would definitely do another show like this, but we’re looking all over the spectrum to find shows that we think that we can enjoy doing and that the community would enjoy as well.
The 39 Steps plays through December 20 at the OYES Theater in Ojai. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.